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“Missing” in the Kharkov battle

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“Missing” in the Kharkov battle
Maidan Kusainov, leader of the student search unit “Memorialnaya Zona”, tells about the front fate of the 106th National Cavalry Division formed in Akmolinsk.

Professor of the L.N. Gumilyov ENU has been heading the student search unit «Memorialnaya Zona» more than 20 years. Each year, brigade commander Kusainov goes to the Sinyavin Heights near St. Petersburg and villages near Kharkov with a group of students. That is the place where our countrymen, soldiers of the 106th National Cavalry Division, the 310th and 314th Infantry Divisions formed in Akmolinsk and Petropavlovsk, fought against the fascists.

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They look closely at our eyes, the commanders of the 106th National Cavalry Division. Fifteen commanders: division commander, deputy commander, chief of staff, regimental commanders and senior political officers of regiments. Courageous, determined and strong-willed faces reproduce unprecedented energy and willingness to crush the enemy launched an invasion into their Fatherland. There is no doubt that they will fight boldly, bravely and skillfully, lugging away soldiers and commanders of the cavalry division.

It could not be different. After all, the photo was taken not in July and August 1941 when the Red Army retreated stubbornly clinging to every inch of the native land; the picture was made on April 5, 1942 after the defeat of the Army Group «Center» near Moscow. Faces of the commanders and political instructors express the expectation of spring-summer offensive to oust the invaders outside the Fatherland.

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April 5, 1942. The commanders and political instructors of the 106th Kazakh Cavalry Division. Upper row: first left — Senior Political Instructor Kulmagambetov Sagadat Mendygazinovich; third left — Deputy Division Commander on Political Work, Political Instructor Seitov Nurkan; fifth left, probably, Division Commander Pankov B.N.; sixth left, probable, Deputy Division Commander Borisov A.B.; seventh or eighth left, probably, Chief of Staff Osadchenko P.M. Middle row: second left — Chief of the Special Unit Utebayev Uali Gusmanovich, third left — Regiment Commander Major Uvaisov Tazhigali. Bottom row: second left — Senior Political Instructor Kapazhanov Kairbek, third left — Squadron Commander Senior Lieutenant Beisembekov Mukan. The others should be recognized by their families.

They could not know that at the very moment when they posed for the photographer their front fate was decided — none of them escaped from the Kharkov pocket. The fatal fate fell not only to them but several hundreds of thousands of soldiers and commanders of the South-West direction who participated in the Kharkov offensive operation in May 1942. At the Kharkov battle soldier and general were equal going to break the encirclement, if it’s true, under the ballets of shooters to be killed by the fire and to be not captured.

And they lie side by side, soldiers and generals, near the poor-known little village Lozavenka, not identified and recognized as «missing». There are no any other pictures except those taken in Akmolinsk before sending to the Army. They didn’t have time to take photographs any more. From the arrival of the soldiers to the Army the War rapidly twirled their front destiny and gave them only 18 days — from 12 to 30 May 1942.

What was the destiny of the 106th National Cavalry Division and its soldiers and commanders? The destiny which lasted from the arrival to the Army of the first echelon on April 28 and the last echelon on May 12, 1942 till the beginning of the Kharkov offensive operation and its tragic end on May 30, 1942. In 18 days of May 1942 soldiers and commanders of the 106th Cavalry Division, attached to the 6th Shock Cavalry Corps broke through the front and passed through the rear of the enemy, destroying the SS elite unit, protected the retreat of the main forces of the strike group of Major-General L.B. Bobkin, broke out the encirclement near unknown village Lozavenka where their died on the battlefield together with the generals of South-West direction. Just in 18 days they experienced the triumph of the winners and the liberators of towns and villages and knew the bitterness of irreversible losses in the hell of the encirclement.

Nobody knows and unlikely will ever learn what was the military situation in the Barvenkov projection from May 17 when Wehrmacht General Kleist encircled the troops of the 6th and 57th Army and Army Group of General L.V. Bobkin to the East from village Lozavenka till May 30, 1942 when 239 000 soldiers and commanders were captured while only 22 000 people escaped. We will never know how many soldiers died during the break-through of the inner, middle and outside encirclement.

Documents on the battles will never be found as encircled divisions always buried lock boxes with document before break-through or eliminated them if they failed. There is also a possibility that they could fall into the hands of the enemy. Therefore, the chronology of the battles can be formed only by a combination of analysis of traditional military actions of encircled generals taking into account the memories of those who escaped, data from the memoirs of Baghramyan I. Kh. and German generals Kleist, Lanz, Boc, as well as the ability to get used to the conditions of the Kharkov pocket of the platoon commander, company commander, battalion commander, brigade commander and division commander in 1941 and 1942. I believe that I managed to get used to, to feel and to reconstruct the battle in the battle.

May 23, 1942

May 23, 1942 the Army Group of Kleist closed the encirclement of the troops of the South-West direction in the Barvenkov projection to the East from village Lozavenka. On the night of May 23 Deputy Commander of the South-Western Front Lieutenant General F.Ya. Kostenko arrived to the village Krasivoe by the U-2 plane. Marshal S.K. Timoshenko appointed him the Commander of the Southern Group of Forces, combining the 6th the 57th Army and Army Group of General L.V. Bobkin. By a portable radio the commander ordered all the divisions staying in Krasnograd city and near the villages Paraskoveya, Okhochie, Verkhnii Bishkin, Sahnovschina, Aleksadrovka to move to the village Lozavenka to organize breakout of the encirclement.

In his reserve Lieutenant General F.Ya. Kostenko had the 103rd Infantry Division located to the East of from Alekseevka village, and a part of the 106th National Cavalry. Division (288th Cavalry Regiment arrived on May 11 and 12, and a part of the 307th and 269th Cavalry Regiments) located to the South-East from Alekseevka village. F.Ya. Kostenko sent the 106th Cavalry Division and the 103rd Infantry Division towards the troops of Kleist occupied villages Volvenkovo, Copanci, Mikhailovskii with the order to dig to the East from Lozavenka and hold the approaches to the village until the arrival of the troops of the 6th Army of General A.M. Gorodnyanskii and troops of the Army Group of General L.V. Bobkin.  

Cavalrymen of the 106th National Cavalry Division and infantrymen of the 103rd Infantry Division had to move through deep ravines «Razorennaya», «Krutoi Log», «Mikhailovskii» as enemy aircrafts prevailed in the air. More maneuverable 106th Cavalry Division arrived to Lozavenka first. German infantry just approached the eastern edge of the village was thrown back by the sudden cavalry attack. Since cavalrymen had few rifles the attack allowed to grab some and one machine gun MG-34. By evening, together with arrived 103rd Infantry Division cavalrymen dug in on the eastern edge of Lozavenka and placed anti-tank 45-millimeter cannons.

May 24, 1942

On the night of May 24 spotters of 76-milimeter cannons from the separate Artillery Regiment were sent to help cavalrymen of the 106th Cavalry Division and infantrymen of the 103rd Infantry Division. In the morning spotters of 152-milimeter cannons arrived and it was in time: the noise of tank engines increased in the East. Spotters climbed onto the roof of the tallest building to determine the coordinates of the tank column, by the radio gave them to batteries and solid breaks covered a column of tanks.

Thus, tanks and foot troops of the enemy remained near Novoserpukhovka village.  

May 25, 1942

From the morning till the evening of May 25 forces of the 6th Army and Army Group of L.V. Bobkin arrived to gullies «Mikhailovskii log» and «Krutoi log».

May 26, 1942

In the morning of May 26 the troops of the southern group launched an offensive to break through the encirclement. The first echelon of the strike group included 103rd Infantry Division and the 317th Infantry Division. Infantrymen were concentrated in front of cavalrymen from the 106th Cavalry Division and especially couples of riders with lassos, and tank units of the 23rd Tank Corps. As a result of fierce fighting, during which the enemy suffered considerable damage, only few managed to escape. The encirclement was broken only for a brief period, and then because of the vast superiority of the enemy and his ability to maneuver our soldiers were encircled again. 

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On this day, the commander of the southern group and his staff made a valiant efforts to save personnel, military equipment and weapons from the ongoing massive air raids and artillery strikes of the enemy, to put management in order and develop a more decisive action to break out of the encirclement. [1]

In the vicinity of yet unknown village Lozavenka from 26 to 29 May continuously battles that had no equal in the Second World War rattled. There the Red Army generals went to break through the encirclement, shoulder to shoulder with their soldiers and commanders and fell under the cross machine-gun fire of mountain shooters. In his diary General Kleist wrote: «On the battlefield, everywhere, as far as the eye can see, the ground was covered with dead bodies of men and horses, and so tightly that it was difficult to find a place to drive a car».

They were cavalrymen of the 6th Cavalry Regiment together with our countrymen from Akmolinsk, Karaganda, North Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Chimkent; those of the 106th Kazakh Cavalry Division. Those who stayed alive were captured and executed by political instructors and commissars there near Lozavenka village. Like others who are considered to be missing cavalrymen from Kazakhstan are still on that field near Lozavenka which was observed by General von Kleist after the battle.

In his historical work German historian veteran of the War Karel Paul writes: «The battle near Lozavenka was one of the bloodiest of the entire war in Russia. The story of this we find in the archives of the 1st Mountain Division of Major-General Lanz. Under the lights of thousands of white missiles Russian columns attacked German frontiers. Brandishing the guns commanders and commissars drove forward their battalions by sharp cries. Shoulder to shoulder, clasping hands the Red Army stormed and hoarse „Hurrah!“ roared in the night.

— Fire! — commanded German obergefreiters standing at machine-guns and infantry guns. The first wave of attackers failed. Brown like ground columns turned to the North. But here they came up against the locking positions of mountain shooters. Russians rolls back and again, despite the loss, attacked and attacked the Germans. They crushed everything and everyone on their path repulsed several hundred meters but then the onslaught weakened and menacing trees collapsed under heavy fire of German machine-gunners. Those who did not die, wandered staggering and stumbling or crept back into the ravines of the Berek River» [2].

May 26, 1942 commander of the Army Group von Bock in his diary wrote: «... I’m going through the group of Bright, 44th and 16th Tank Divisions to the 60th Motorized and 1st Mountain Divisions. Everywhere is the same: captured enemy nevertheless is still trying to break through, but the end is close. From one height to the South-East from Lozavenka everybody could see that the fire of our batteries clubbing the battlefield from all sides obtains increasingly weakening response ... Crowds of captives move to the rear, next our tanks and parts of the 1st Mountain Division go to attack — stunning picture».

May 27-29, 1942

On the night of May 27 west of Lozavenka units and formations protected retreating Army Group of General Gorodnyanskii A.M. were concentrated: the 47th Infantry Division, the 393rd Infantry Division. By the morning of May 27 the 266th Infantry Division of A.N. Tavantsev which fully preserved its fighting capacity arrived. Tanks of the 21st Tank Corps came as well. The headquarters of the Southern Group of Lieutenant General F.Ya. Kostenko grouped forces to re-break of encirclement. Tanks T-3421 of the Tank Corps with a full-blooded 266th Infantry Division were put at the forefront of the strike group. They should be followed wracked units of the 393rd Infantry Division, the 47th Infantry Division, cavalrymen of the 6th Cavalry Corps survived the night attack and departed to the rear, the remains of the regiments of the 106th Kazakh Cavalry Division. All the generals headed by Commander of the Southern Group of Forces F.Ya. Kostenko had to go out the encirclement with the second wave of attack. On the night of May 28, the last organized strike group of forces, led by the generals, went to break the encirclement at Lozavenka village. 

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The first echelon of the strike group formed by the remains of tanks of the 21st Tank Corps, soldiers and commanders of the 266th Infantry Division broke through the encirclement east of Lozavenka and by the morning of May 28 had reached Volvenkovo, Volobuevka. The rest of the units and detachments located to the West from Lozavenka reached this place together with them. On the night of May 29 this group of forces with the assistance of the troops of the 38th Army broke the front line of the enemy on the right bank of the Seversky Donets and successfully entered the location of the major forces in the city of Chepel [3].

In his memoirs about this episode Marshal of the Soviet Union Moskalenko wrote the following: «… I remember that at first six T-34 tanks came. K. A. Gurov, member of the Military Council of the Southwestern Front and Divisional Commissioner, came from one of them. The tanks were followed by the waves of thousands of Soviet soldiers led Major-GeneralA. G. Batyunya. On their faces through severe pain and fatigue shone exorbitant joy of returning… in total about 22 thousand soldiers and commanders broke the encirclement… " [4].

The group of generals of the headquarters headed by Lieutenant-General F.Ya. Kostenko followed the first echelon of the attack but German snipers habitually chose commanders and especially political officers, and shot, shot. Artillery fire was not able to define soldiers and generals. That night in the battle were lost: Commander of the Southern Group of Forces Lieutenant-General F.Ya. Kostenko, Commander of the 6th Army Major-GeneralA. M. Gorodnyanskii, Commander of the 47th Infantry Division Major-GeneralP. M. Matykin, Commander of the 270th Infantry Division Major-General Z.Yu. Kutlin, Commander of the 393rd Infantry division, Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel I. D. Zinoviev, Commander of the 21st Tank Corps G. I. Kuzmin, Commander of the 150th Infantry Division Major-GeneralD. G. Egorev, General of Artillery F. G. Malyarov, Commander of the 7th Tank Brigade Colonel I. A. Yurchenko [5].

German historian Paul Karel describes the fury of battle near Lozavenka village in such manner: «The next evening all reiterated (on the night of May 28). But this time the attack of infantry supported by several T-34. Russian soldiers also pin all hands were under the influence of alcohol, how else these poor creatures could go to the death shouting «Hurrah!»? «

Indeed, where the Soviet commanders could find vodka when they even didn’t have any crackers on their warehouses.

On the third day the onslaught of Russian forces weakened — the Germans managed to achieve a breakthrough. Both commanders of the Soviet 6th and 57th Armies Lieutenant-General Gorodnyanskii and Lieutenant-General Podlas together with the officers of their staffs laid dead on the battlefield. The battle ended with the defeat of Timoshenko. The enemy lost the main forces: twenty-two infantry and seven cavalry divisions. Fourteen armored and motorized brigades were destroyed completely. Approximately 239 000 Red Army soldiers were captured. The Germans destroyed or taken as booty 1250 tanks and 2026 guns.

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So ended the battle south of Kharkov. The battle in which Soviet forces tried to encircle the Germans but were surrounded themselves.

References:

1. Baghramyan I.Kh. Tak shli k pobede. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1977. pp. 120–121
2. Paul Karel. Vostocnyi front. Kniga 1. Hitler idet na vostok. 1941–1943. Moscow: Izografus, EKSMO, 2003. pp. 406–407
3. Baghramyan I.Kh. Tak shli k pobede. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1977. p.121
4. Baghramyan I.Kh. Tak shli k pobede. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1977. p.122
5. Serdcya, obpaleni viinoyu, Kharkov, 2010. pp. 11–12

M. K. Kusainov, Candidate of Technical Sciences, Professor, L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University

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