|Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 5 - Defiance at Kraglowka|
|by Travis Petkovits|
How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death.
- Napoleon Bonaparte
After spending weeks performing road security duties, and trying to contain Soviet units from breaking out of the Minsk pocket, Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland was placed under the command of 10th Panzer Division. It would be the mission of the Regiment to lead the divisional assault across the Dnepr River. Once a bridgehead was established, Panzergruppe 2 would be able to continue its dash towards the city of Smolensk, the most vital in western Russia
The assault commenced shortly after dawn on 11 July. Using inflatable boats the intermixed companies crossed the river under fire and began to fight the immediate Soviet counterattacks. For a short time 1st Battalion was faced by the elite Soviet unit ‘Stalin Students'. Despite fierce enemy resistance, by early on the 12th, the Wehrmacht pioniers had completed a bridge over the river.
With the addition of vehicles and reinforcements, the attack towards Smolensk resumed. Over the next few days, the Regiment assaulted numerous villages as it drove to the east. It was noted that Soviet resistance had increased dramatically after crossing the Dnepr. On a few occasions, Grossdeutschland units were pushed out of captured villages, or forced to fight on the defensive against strong counterattacks.
On 16 July the northeastern portion of Smolensk was captured by the 29th Motorized Infantry Division. With Moscow only 400 kilometers to east, Marshall Timoshenko, Soviet Commander-in-Chief in the west decided to throw almost every unit at his disposal against the German spearheads around the city.
During the night of 19/20 July, Grossdeutschland was transferred to the Kasskowka area, south of Smolensk. Amongst the varied duties assigned to the regiment, 1st Battalion was tasked with guarding the Smolensk-Roslavl road. On the 21st they took possession from the Waffen-SS of a defensive position on the road. The following excerpt is from a report from the battalion. ‘There is a level crossing on the major road from Smolensk to Roslavl about 7 km southeast of the Waskowo station, which can also be found on the largest scale maps. The road is paved, which is not often seen in this country.’ The level crossing was over the Stomjati, a swampy stream. The crossing contained both a road and railway bridge. The 1st Battalion was on its own, the nearest unit was 2nd Battalion 20 kilometers to the east. To the west there was a 50-kilometer gap until the next friendly unit.
Stavka viewed July 20 as the start of the second phase in the battle of Smolensk. With the better part of three armies partially encircled around the city proper the decision was made to try and form a new defensive line, while the 16th, 19th, and 20th armies fought eastward out of the pocket. To the south of Smolensk the so-called “Timoshenko Offensive”, centered on the Sozh River, was launched by 13th Army to relieve pressure against units in the pocket. The Smolensk-Roslavl railway line/road formed the eastern boundary of the 13th Armies attack. If they could eliminate the enemy forces blocking its path, a significant breakthrough would occur.
Scenario: Grossdeutschland Campaign Pt. 5 - Defiance at Kraglowka
The Soviet attack commenced on 23 July with a heavy artillery bombardment, followed by a regimental sized infantry assault against the level crossing. The attack managed to get within 50 meters of the 2nd and 4th Companies before being beaten back by heavy fire. A dangerous situation developed on the German left where the Soviets had managed to flank the grenadiers’ position before the attack faltered. During the night 3rd Company was moved up to form the left wing of the defense.
The attack of the 23rd was but a prelude for the trial awaiting 1st Battalion over the next four days. Throughout the night of 23/24 July the Soviets moved additional units opposite the German line. The renewed assaults began at dawn as the Soviet forces advanced in skirmish formation under the cover of a heavy artillery bombardment. Due to many of the panzergrenadiers automatic weapons being knocked out by shrapnel, the Soviets were able to encircle the battalion. Although many soldiers were killed by Stuka attacks as they tried to cross the Stomjati. It was not until late in the afternoon that the enemy was dislodged from the German rear by the assault guns of the 16th Company. Soon to be reassigned to aid 2nd Battalion to the east.
The following three days of the battle were dominated by brutal close range fighting. Often the opposing forces were only 20 meters apart, as the soldiers exchanged rifle fire and heaved grenades at slit trenches. By the 26th Soviets forces had made penetrations in all three companies defensive sectors. With the battalions position untenable, the decision was made by Corps to deploy a machine-gun battalion a few hundred meters behind the Kraglowka embankment. Under cover of darkness, early on the 27th, the depleted Grossdeutschland companies pulled out of the line.
A portion of the Grossdeutschland regimental order of 29 July read: “In the period 11. 7. to 27. 7., during the determined attempts by the enemy to recover the bridgehead we had created and later to break through the front held by us, the regiment successfully held out in the most difficult defensive fighting against a numerically far superior enemy in the strength of several divisions on a width of front that only you – Grenadiers and Cannoneers – could be expected to hold.”
The defeated Soviet attacks were not without merit. Resistance against Army Group Center had been so fierce, that Hitler and OKW diverted the main thrust of the German attack south towards the armies around Kiev. Rather than face the Soviet defensive lines west of Moscow.