|309th Rifle Division (10 July 1941 – October, 1941)|
309th Rifle Division (30 Dec. 1941 – 1945)
Battle of Kursk
Battle of the Dniepr
Siege of Breslau
Col. N.A. Il'iantsev|
Col. D.F. Dryomin
Col. B.D. Lev
The 309th Rifle Division was formed for the first time as a standard Red Army rifle division shortly after the German invasion. It fought its first battles at the Yelnya Salient, participating in that early Soviet success before being swept up in Operation Typhoon, encircled and destroyed. At the very end of 1941 the division was reformed. It served on mostly inactive sectors during 1942, but in 1943 it played an important role in containing the offensive of 4th Panzer Army at Kursk. It followed this in September with one of the first successful assault crossings of the Dniepr River, for which many men of the 309th were named as Heroes of the Soviet Union. The division continued in combat through Ukraine, Poland and Silesia before ending the war near Breslau.
The division began forming on July 10, 1941 at Kursk in the Oryol Military District. Its order of battle was as follows:
- 955th Rifle Regiment
- 957th Rifle Regiment
- 959th Rifle Regiment
- 842nd Artillery Regiment
- 558th Sapper Battalion
- 738th Signal Battalion
- 362nd Reconnaissance Company
Less than a month after forming, the 309th was assigned to Reserve Front, moving to 24th Army of that Front on Aug. 5, just as that Army was itself forming up. Its first divisional headquarters was established at Gordunovka. By the end of August the fresh division had arrived at the front and took part in the third counteroffensive against the Yelnya Salient, beginning on Aug. 30.
The division was assigned to the central Shock Group, intended to hold the German forces in the salient while it was pinched off by the northern and southern Groups. Attacking alongside the 19th Rifle Division, the 309th made almost no headway on the first three days. At the end of Sept. 1 it was shifted, as previously planned, to reinforce the 107th Motorized Division of the northern Group. It was still regrouping in its new positions on Sept. 3 when Army Group Center ordered its forces to withdraw from the salient, which was carried out over the next four days. General G.K. Zhukov gave the 309th little credit for this success, stating that "The... 309th... operated poorly and without initiative". It was not chosen to become one of the first four Guards rifle divisions. As of Sept. 12 the rifle regiments of the division averaged only 657 men each, indicating excessive casualties.
At the beginning of Operation Typhoon the 309th was still holding positions on the right flank of 24th Army, and by Oct. 7 was deeply encircled north of Spas-Demensk. The divisional headquarters had disintegrated by that date and was disbanded, although it appears some elements fought on separately for another week or so.
A new rifle division, initially numbered the 449th, began forming south of Krasnoyarsk on Dec. 30, 1941. It was re-designated as the second 309th Rifle Division in January, 1942. Its order of battle remained as previous, with the addition of the 343rd Antitank Battalion. The division spent about three months forming up in the Siberian Military District before moving west in April. In June it was assigned to the 6th Reserve Army, which became the 6th (active) Army on July 10, and joined Voronezh Front by the end of the month. The 309th remained in Voronezh Front (renamed 1st Ukrainian Front on Oct. 20, 1943) for the duration of the war. It remained in 6th Army until the end of 1942, when it was reassigned to the 40th Army. During the Soviet winter offensive of 1942 - 43 the 309th took part in the liberation of Belgorod on Feb. 9, and the town of Bogodukhov on the 17th, but these gains were later lost during the Third Battle of Kharkov. 40th Army was forced back into what became the Kursk Salient, and spent the next months preparing for what the summer might bring.
Battle of Kursk
In the lead-up to this battle, the 309th became part of the 52nd Rifle Corps, still in 40th Army. That Army was in the front lines, somewhat to the west of the sectors where 4th Panzer Army would make its main attacks. By July 7, the third day of battle, the division was moved east to reinforce the 1st Guards Tank Army. Late on the fifth day it formed a line south of Novoselovka and halted, with the assistance of numerous supporting antitank and artillery units, an advance of the 11th Panzer Division. In the following days the 309th was subordinated to the 23rd Guards Rifle Corps of 6th Guards Army, where it remained until August. As the battle reached its height on July 12, the division, along with 204th Rifle Division and 3rd Tank Corps, was ordered to make a counterattack against the 11th Panzer and Großdeutschland divisions beginning at 0830 hours. This was a spoiling attack intending to disrupt these divisions as they regrouped for their own attack towards the Psel. The attack made little headway, and the tanks of 11th Panzer soon threw the 309th back to its start line, but the overall objective of holding the Germans in place was achieved. That evening the German offensive was officially discontinued.
Battle of the Dniepr
In August the division was back in Gen. K.S. Moskalenko's 40th Army. During the next weeks the defeated German forces fell back through Ukraine as a race developed to reach the crossing points along the Dniepr River. Along this path, on Sept. 18 the 309th was credited with the liberation of the city of Piryatin, and was later given its name as an honorific. Two days later, the forward detachment of the division, backed by elements of 10th Tank Corps, reached the river near the town of Rzhyshchev. The main crossing operation began on Sept. 23. 40th Army, in conjunction with 3rd Guards Tank Army, seized four bridgeheads on the western bank, eventually forming what became known as the Bukrin Bridgehead. STAVKA had offered great rewards for the men who made this crossing and followed through: 136 officers and men of 40th Army, including no fewer than 47 of the 309th Rifle Division, were named as Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Over the following month, however, the Bukrin Bridgehead proved a dead end, due to difficult terrain, a strong German reaction, and the failure of a major Soviet airborne operation on the night of Sept. 24 - 25. On Oct. 23 Stalin informed Gen. N.F. Vatutin of 1st Ukrainian Front that it was "impossible to take Kiev from the south. Now take a look at the Lyutizh bridgehead which is north of Kiev and held by 38th Army." According to the new plan, 3rd Guards Tank Army and a rifle corps of 40th Army were secretly evacuated from Bukrin and moved to Lyutizh, as Moskalenko took command of 38th Army. On the morning of Nov. 3, Soviet forces at Bukrin, which included the 309th, now in 27th Army, staged a diversionary attack while the forces at Lyutizh broke out of their bridgehead, and a day later Kiev was liberated.
In late January, 1944, the divisional returns of the 309th showed the following strengths:
- 955th Rifle Regiment: 1187 officers and men with 518 rifles; 274 SMGs; 47 LMGs; 14 HMGs; 3 120mm, 13 82mm and 2 50mm mortars; 4 76mm howitzers; 5 45mm guns; 21 AT rifles
- 957th Rifle Regiment: 1177 officers and men with 512 rifles; 149 SMGs; 22 LMGs; 8 HMGs; 5 120mm, 8 82mm and 1 50mm mortars; 2 76mm howitzers; 4 45mm guns; 12 AT rifles
- 959th Rifle Regiment: 1253 officers and men with 537 rifles; 115 SMGs; 64 LMGs; 9 HMGs; 5 120mm, 16 82mm and 4 50mm mortars; 3 76mm howitzers; 6 45mm guns; 14 AT rifles
- 842nd Artillery Regiment: 8 122mm and 3 (captured German) 105mm howitzers; 19 76mm cannon; 7 AT rifles
The division briefly moved from 27th to 38th Army, then served from February until July 26 in 1st Guards Army. it was then reassigned to the 47th Rifle Corps in 13th Army, remaining there until Dec. 20. Its final Army reassignment was a return to 6th Army, first in 74th Rifle Corps, then in 22nd Rifle Corps, and finally back in the 74th. The men and women of the division ended the war besieging Breslau, and by that time had earned the official title of 309th Rifle, Pryatin, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Kutuzov Division. (Russian: 309-я стрелковая Пирятинская Краснознамённая ордена Кутузова дивизия.)
- Charles C. Sharp, "Red Tide", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From June to December, 1941, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. IX, 1996, p 70, and Russian Wikipedia
- David M. Glantz, Barbarossa Derailed, Vol. 2, Helion and Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2012, pp 322-57
- David Stahel, Operation Typhoon, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2013, map on p 79
- Sharp, "Red Tide", p 71
- Walter S. Dunn, Stalin's Keys to Victory, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007, p 100
- Sharp, "Red Swarm", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From 1942 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. X, 1996, p 116
- Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 116-17
- Valeriy Zamulin, Demolishing the Myth, trans. and ed. by Stuart Britton, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2011, pp 136, 157
- Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 117
- Zamulin, pp 427, 429, 434
- John Erickson, "Kiril Semenovich Moskalenko", in Stalin's Generals, ed. by Harold Shukman, Orion Books, Ltd., London, 1993, p 144
- Erickson, in Stalin's Generals, p 144-45
- Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 117
- Sharp, "Red Swarm", p 117
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