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16th Guards Rifle Division (February 16, 1942 – September 1, 1960)
File:Soviet Major General Mikhail Andreevich Pronin.jpg
Maj. Gen. M. A. Pronin, Hero of the Soviet Union
Active 1942–1960
Country  Soviet Union
Branch Red Army flag.svg Red Army
Type Division
Role Infantry
Engagements Toropets–Kholm Offensive
Battles of Rzhev
First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation
Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive (1943)
Operation Kutuzov
Battle of Smolensk (1943)
Battle of Nevel (1943)
Operation Bagration
Vistula-Oder Offensive
East Prussian Offensive
Battle of Königsberg
Decorations Order of Lenin Order of Lenin
Order of the Red Banner Order of the Red Banner
Order of Suvorov 2nd Class Order of Suvorov
Battle honours Karachev
Maj. Gen. German Fedorovich Tarasov
Col. Sergei Alekseevich Knyazkov
Maj. Gen. Pyotr Grigorevich Shafranov
Maj. Gen. Efim Vasilevich Ryzhikov
Maj. Gen. Mikhail Andreevich Pronin Hero of the Soviet Union medal.png

The 16th Guards Rifle Division was reformed as an elite infantry division of the Red Army in February, 1942, based on the 1st formation of the 249th Rifle Division, and served in that role until well after the end of the Great Patriotic War. It was in Kalinin Front when it was redesignated and remained in the northern half of the front throughout the war. In the summer it was assigned to Western Front's 30th Army to the north of the Rzhev salient and took part in the stubborn and costly struggle for the village of Polunino just east of that town in August. It returned to the fighting in March, 1943 in the followup to the German evacuation of the salient, then was reassigned to the new 11th Guards Army, where it would remain for the duration of the war. During the summer offensive against the German-held salient around Oryol it assisted in the liberation of Karachev and received its name as an honorific. By December, after fighting through western Russia north of Smolensk the division was in 1st Baltic Front, attacking south towards Gorodok and winning the Order of the Red Banner in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to seize Vitebsk. By the start of the offensive against Army Group Center in the summer of 1944 the 16th Guards had been redeployed with its Army to the south of Vitebsk as part of 3rd Belorussian Front, where it would remain for the duration. Driving westward during Operation Bagration 11th Guards Army helped create the "Baltic Gap" between Army Groups Center and North and advanced through Lithuania to the border with East Prussia, being further decorated with the Order of Suvorov for its efforts. As part of the Vistula-Oder Offensive the Front entered that heavily-fortified region and gradually broke the German resistance there. The 16th Guards remained in the Kaliningrad Oblast well after the war until finally disbanded in September, 1960.


The division, which had been recruited on the basis of a cadre from the NKVD internal troops, was officially raised to Guards status on February 16, 1942 in recognition of its role in the Toropets-Kholm Offensive, the annihilation of the German 189th Infantry Regiment at Okhvat in January and the subsequent liberation of Toropets. Its sub-units would not receive their Guards redesignations until a few months later. Its order of battle, based on the first wartime shtat (table of organization and equipment) for rifle divisions, was eventually as follows:

  • 43rd Guards Rifle Regiment (from 917th Rifle Regiment)
  • 46th Guards Rifle Regiment (from 921st Rifle Regiment)
  • 49th Guards Rifle Regiment (from 925th Rifle Regiment)
  • 44th Guards Artillery Regiment (from 779th Artillery Regiment)
  • 21st Guards Antitank Battalion (from 307th Antitank Battalion)[1]
  • 20th Guards Reconnaissance Company
  • 23rd Guards Sapper Battalion
  • 26th Guards Signal Battalion
  • 18th Guards Medical/Sanitation Battalion

Maj. Gen. German Fedorovich Tarasov, who had led the 249th Rifle Division since it had been formed in July, 1941, remained in command. At the time it was redesignated the division was in 4th Shock Army of Kalinin Front where it remained until May when it was moved to the Front reserves for much-needed rebuilding and replenishment.[2] On March 16 the division received the Order of Lenin, which it had been recommended for while it was still the 249th.[3] Tarasov was reassigned as acting commanding officer of 24th Army on April 12; he went on to a rather spotty career over the next two-and-a-half years, including as the first commander of 70th Army, ultimately being demoted to deputy commander of 53rd Army before being killed in action in Hungary in October 1944.[4] Col. Sergei Alekseevich Knyazkov took over command of the 16th Guards.

Battles for Rzhev

At the beginning of July the division was in the reserve 58th Army and by the end of the month it had been assigned to 30th Army, both in Kalinin Front.[5] For the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation the 30th Army was committed along with the 29th Army of its Front and two armies of Western Front to break through the defenses of German 9th Army north and east of Rzhev. Kalinin Front's offensive began on July 30 with a powerful artillery preparation. The commander of the Front's artillery, Maj. Gen. N. M. Khlebnikov, recalled:

The power of the fire attack was so great, that after several tentative attempts to answer the fire, the German artillery fell silent. The two forward positions of the enemy's main defensive belt were smashed, and the troops occupying them were almost completely wiped out.

By the end of the first day units of 30th Army had broken through on a front of 9 km and to a depth of 6 to 7 km. However, on the same day heavy rains began which continued for several days. Roads became quagmires and small streams widened to significant obstacles. Under these conditions the Army's units became bogged down in bitter fighting in the area of Polunino northeast of Rzhev and its offensive ground to a halt.[6]

Due to the weather Western Front's forces delayed their offensive until August 4. When it began it immediately made significant progress on either side of the village of Pogoreloe Gorodishche. On the following day Army Gen. G. K. Zhukov was appointed to overall command of the two Fronts and proposed to liberate Rzhev with 30th and 31st Armies as soon as August 9. However it was not until August 21 that Polunino finally fell to the combined efforts of 16th Guards, 2nd Guards Motorized and 52nd Rifle Divisions, after which these severely depleted units advanced to the outskirts of Rzhev. After a limited regrouping 30th Army resumed the offensive at 0530 hours on August 24. Over the next two days it reached the Volga River 5–6 km west of the city and forced a crossing on August 29, but was unable to go farther. On the same day the Army was transferred to Western Front. During September 30 Army continued to attack, gradually gaining several blocks in the northeast sector of the city before finally going over to the defense on October 1. In the course of the fighting through August and September it suffered total personnel losses of 99,820 to gain 10 km on its right flank and 20 km on its left.[7][8]

During the offensive, on August 15, Colonel Knyazkov left command of the division, soon taking over the 28th Rifle Division. Col. Pyotr Grigorevich Shafranov was reassigned from command of the 44th Guards Artillery Regiment to command of the division the following day; he would be promoted to the rank of major general on November 27. 30th Army played a supporting role only during Operation Mars as it recovered from the summer's bloodletting.[9] In January, 1943 the division was moved to the reserves of Western Front for further rebuilding and in February it was assigned to 50th Army in the same Front but considerably farther to the south.[10] On March 1 the 9th Army began Operation Büffel, the phased evacuation of the Rzhev salient; 50th Army played only a limited role in the pursuit, being located near the base of the salient. Its history recounted:

The 50th Army's formations reached the enemy's main defensive belt on 17 March, where they encountered stiff resistance. Attempts to penetrate [the German defenses] failed in spite of the commitment of the second echelon... The army's forces went over to the defense along a line northeast and east of Spas-Demensk on 1 April.[11]

Prior to this date the 16th Guards had been again transferred, now to 33rd Army, still in Western Front.[12]

Into Western Russia

In April the division was shuffled once again, now to the 16th Guards Rifle Corps of 16th Army, remaining in Western Front.[13] It would remain in this Army (and its successor 11th Guards Army) for the duration of the war. Before the German offensive at Kursk had ended the Bryansk and Western Fronts began an offensive against the northeastern flank of the German-held salient around Oryol on July 12. 11th Guards Army achieved a deep penetration at the boundary between the German 211th and 293rd Infantry Divisions. The Army commander, Lt. Gen. I. K. Bagramyan, committed his mobile forces in the afternoon and advanced about 10–12 km. Army Group Center hurriedly brought up the 5th Panzer Division to mount a counterattack in the evening, which was unsuccessful. The next morning 5th Panzer launched a new attack even before sunrise. More than half of its tanks and panzergrenadiers attacked over a commanding height and ran into the 16th Guards Corps, which was itself preparing for an attack with strong tank support. The German armor, driving eastward, was blinded by the rising sun and did not see the Soviet tanks and guns until they were at very close range. Within a short time the German attack was decimated, with 45 tanks completely destroyed. 16th Guards Corps soon began its own attack which inflicted heavy losses on the 14th Panzergrenadier Regiment. For 5th Panzer this became the "blackest day of the entire Russian Campaign."[14]

On August 15 both the 16th Guards Corps and the 16th Guards Division were among the units recognized by the Supreme High Command for their roles in the liberation of Karachev, and the division was one of four that were awarded its name as an honorific.[15]



  1. Sharp, "Red Guards", Soviet Guards Rifle and Airborne Units 1941 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. IV, Nafziger, 1995, p. 49
  2. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1942, pp. 44, 63, 82, 101
  3. Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union 1967a, p. 110.
  4. Aleksander A. Maslov, Fallen Soviet Generals, ed. & trans. D. M. Glantz, Frank Cass Publishers, London, UK, 1998, pp. 162-63
  5. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1942, pp. 122, 143
  6. Svetlana Gerasimova, The Rzhev Slaughterhouse, ed. & trans. S. Britton, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2013, pp. 79-80
  7. Gerasimova, The Rzhev Slaughterhouse, pp. 82-83, 86-87, 92-99
  8. Petr Mikhin, Guns Against the Reich, Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., Barnsley, UK, 2010, p. 47
  9. David M. Glantz, Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1999, p. 359
  10. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, pp. 37, 62
  11. Glantz, After Stalingrad, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2011, pp. 329, 333
  12. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 84
  13. Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 108
  14. Roman Töppel, Kursk 1943: The Greatest Battle of the Second World War, Helion & Co., Ltd., Warwick, UK, 2018, Kindle ed., ch. 2, sect. Operation Kutuzov
  15. In Russian. Retrieved December 3, 2019.


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