|43rd Guards Rifle Division (October 5, 1942 – April 1947)|
File:Soviet Lieutenant General Detlev Karlovich Brantkaln.jpg|
Maj. Gen. D. K. Brantkaln after promotion to lieutenant general in 1945
Battle of Demyansk (1943)|
Riga Offensive (1944)
Maj. Gen. Yan Yanovich Veikin|
Maj. Gen. Detlav Karlovich Brantkaln
Maj. Gen. Alfred Yurevich Kalnin
The 43rd Guards Rifle Division was formed as an elite infantry division of the Red Army in October, 1942, based on the 1st formation of the 201st Rifle Division, and served in that role until after the end of the Great Patriotic War. The 201st was the only division made up of Latvian nationals in the Red Army after 1941, and the 43rd was immediately nicknamed the "Latvian Guards" division, which stuck through its existence. Formed in Northwestern Front, its initial service was in the dismal fighting around the Demyansk salient until that was evacuated by German Army Group North in February, 1943. Through the rest of the year it fought in that Front, mostly facing the several German strongpoints in the area of Velikiye Luki. Beginning in January, 1944 the division took part in the offensive that finally drove the German forces away from Leningrad and before the summer offensive, now in 22nd Army of 2nd Baltic Front it provided a cadre to form the 130th "Latvian" Rifle Corps, and it served in that Corps for the duration of the war. Through 1943 and into 1944 the division was able to remain closer to full strength than many other Soviet units because it drew on a relatively large pool of Latvian refugee Communist Party members and Komsomols who had escaped ahead of the Germans in 1941. It crossed the border back into Latvia in July and entered Riga on October 16, winning a battle honor in the process. For the duration of the war the 43rd Guards served in Leningrad Front, containing and reducing the German forces trapped in the Courland Pocket, and also engaging in restoration work in its war-battered homeland. It continued to serve in this manner until it was disbanded in April, 1947.
The 43rd Guards received its Guards banner and title in a ceremony on October 19. At this time it was serving in the 11th Army of Northwestern Front, north of the "Ramushevo corridor" that connected German 16th Army with its II Army Corps within the Demyansk salient. After the subunits received their designations the division's order of battle was as follows:
- 121st Guards Rifle Regiment (from 92nd Rifle Regiment)
- 123rd Guards Rifle Regiment (from 122nd Rifle Regiment)
- 125th Guards Rifle Regiment (from 191st Rifle Regiment)
- 94th Guards Artillery Regiment (from 220th Light Artillery Regiment)
- 48th Guards Antitank Battalion
- 44th Guards Antiaircraft Battery (from 100th Antiaircraft Battery)
- 55th Guards Machine Gun Battalion (from 270th Machinegun Battalion) (until February 28, 1943)
- 45th Guards Reconnaissance Company (from 112th Reconnaissance Company)
- 47th Guards Sapper Battalion (from 53rd Sapper Battalion)
- 65th Guards Signal Battalion (later, 47th Guards Signal Company)
- 50th Guards Medical/Sanitation Battalion (from 49th Medical/Sanitation Battalion)
- 46th Guards Chemical Defense (Anti-gas) Company
- 49th Guards Motor Transport Company
- 51st Guards Field Bakery
- 41st Guards Divisional Veterinary Hospital
- 1476th Field Postal Station
- 911th Field Office of the State Bank
Maj. Gen. Yan Yanovich Veikin remained in command of the division after redesignation. As was the case with most newly-designated Guards divisions the 201st had been somewhat reduced in strength in the assaults that earned it its new status. It was noted as having 9,453 personnel, close to establishment for that period of the war, but had only 5,713 rifles and carbines, 65 heavy machine guns, 197 light machine guns, 1,202 sub-machineguns, 18 120mm and 85 82mm mortars, 212 antitank rifles, 8 122mm howitzers, 29 45mm antitank guns, 135 trucks, and, most unusually, no 76mm guns at all. The 44th Guards Antiaircraft Battery was also without weapons until March, 1943.
Battle of Demyansk
In mid-October Marshal S. K. Timoshenko, the STAVKA coordinator for Northwestern Front's operations, began planning another offensive to cut the German corridor; in part this was intended as a diversion from the upcoming Operation Mars. The attack was to involve 11th Army from the north and 1st Shock Army from the south, to commence on October 22. However, as with Mars, this operation was postponed several time, mainly due to adverse weather. When it finally began on the night of November 23/24 the 11th Army consisted of ten rifle divisions, including the 43rd Guards, plus five rifle brigades, one tank brigade and three battalions, and 26 artillery regiments. It faced elements of the 8th Jäger, 290th and 81st Infantry Divisions, giving it an advantage of about 3:1 in infantry and 5:1 in armor, although the rough and roadless terrain and miserable weather hampered supplies and negated much of the numerical advantage.
After probing attacks by the 202nd Rifle Division in the direction of Pustynia which gained little ground over several days, on November 27 Timoshenko ordered the two armies to commit their main forces in an attempt to break the stalemate. While the 202nd was finally able to gain its objective, overall the attackers seized only pitifully small footholds in the German defenses at the cost of heavy losses. While the STAVKA soon recognized the offensive had failed it insisted on December 8 that it continue and several equally fruitless efforts were made into mid-January, 1943. Meanwhile, on December 30 General Veikin was effectively demoted to command of the 14th Guards Rifle Regiment of 7th Guards Rifle Division, and the next day he was succeeded in command of the division by Col. Detlav Karlovich Brantkaln, who would be promoted to the rank of major general on January 29. Early in February it was transferred to the 27th Army of the same Front, which was located closer to the mouth of the Ramushevo corridor.
In the wake of Operation Iskra, which broke the German land blockade of Leningrad in January, Marshal G. K. Zhukov conceived a plan to encircle and destroy Army Group North: Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. The first phase of the overall operation would be yet another attempt to cut off and eliminate the Demyansk salient. Zhukov finalized his plan during the week preceding the planned attack date of February 15, and the 11th and 27th Armies together had nine rifle divisions, including the 43rd Guards, plus 150 tanks, massed between Penno and Ramushevo against the 5th Jäger Division. However, in light of the encirclement and upcoming surrender of 6th Army at Stalingrad, on January 31 Hitler had authorized the evacuation of II Corps. Operation Ziethen began on February 17 before the delayed Soviet attack could get fully underway, and effectively short-circuited Zhukov's entire plan; 27th Army would still be redeploying as late as the 21st. Demyansk was abandoned that day and by February 26 most of the corridor was evacuated as well.
Into Western Russia
Ziethen freed up sufficient German forces to reinforce their positions at Staraya Russa and along the Lovat River. The town of Kholm had held out under siege until May, 1942, and while Velikiye Luki had been liberated by the 3rd Shock Army in January, 1943 there were several several German strongpoints, most notably Novosokolniki, that continued to block further Soviet advances to the west. During the remainder of the year the 43rd Guards was one of the units of Northwestern Front responsible for keeping guard over these garrisons and engaging in local battles to improve positions and gain intelligence. During this time the division came under several commands. In April it left 27th Army and joined the 68th Army. During May it was moved to the Front reserves, where it remained into June. In July it was assigned as a separate division in the 34th Army. In August it came under the command of the 12th Guards Rifle Corps with the 7th Guards and 26th Rifle Divisions, back in the Front reserves, and remained there into October. During that month it was reassigned as a separate division to the 22nd Army in the new 2nd Baltic Front, and would remain under those commands for most of the rest of the war.
At the beginning of January, 1944 the 43rd Guards had 8,127 personnel on strength, which was considerably more than most rifle divisions at this period of the war. Given the large percentage of well-motivated Communist Party members the unit gained the unofficial status of an assault division. It was armed with 3,489 rifles and carbines, 2,709 sub-machineguns, 308 light machine guns, 142 heavy machine guns, 105 82mm and 24 120mm mortars, 169 antitank rifles, 12 122mm howitzers, 36 76mm cannons, 29 45mm antitank guns, 12 light antiaircraft guns, and 165 trucks.
When the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive began on January 14 the 2nd Baltic Front was assigned a mostly diversionary role in tying down German reserves. At this time Lt. Col. Yan Ludvigovich Rainberg was the deputy commander of the 125th Guards Rifle Regiment who had earlier distinguished himself in the fighting near Ramushevo. Overnight he led an assault force consisting of two ski battalions, one from his own division and another from the 33rd Rifle Division, into action north of Novosokolniki. The ski troops broke through the German defenses at the village of Fedoruhnovo and raided into the rear, cutting the Novosokolniki - Dno railway and seizing the village of Monakovo where they captured the headquarters of an engineer battalion with 25 soldiers and one officer. The raid provoked a strong response and over the next 12 hours Rainberg's detachment was forced to fight off 11 counterattacks by infantry and tanks, gradually running short of antitank ammunition and grenades. German armor eventually advanced to within 30-40m of the Soviet positions and Colonel Rainberg was at some point killed in action. Despite this his men were able to hold out until relieved by the division's main forces and officially accounted for up to nine tanks and three battalions of infantry. On June 4 Rainberg would posthumously be made a Hero of the Soviet Union.
As part of the same fighting, on January 16 Cpt. Mikhail Ivanovich Orlov, commander of the 4th Company of the 125th Guards Regiment, was forced to take command of the 2nd Battalion from Major Gubanov and lead it into an attack on German positions near the village of Borsuchka. The battalion succeeded in occupying several trenches and bunkers and killed or captured 60 officers and men. For his actions Orlov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
On June 5 the division provided a cadre to form the headquarters of the 130th Rifle Corps, including General Brantkaln who became its commander. He was replaced in divisional command by Col. Alfred Yurevich Kalnin; this officer would be promoted to the rank of major general on September 13 and remained in this post for the duration of the war. The Corps included the 43rd Guards and the 3rd formation of the 308th Rifle Division, which was also made up of Latvian nationals, plus the 2nd formation of the 208th Rifle Division, which was not. On July 10 the 2nd Baltic Front launched the Rezhitsa–Dvinsk Offensive and over the next seven days it broke through three heavily fortified German defensive lines and advanced up to 110km westward. At 0430 hours on July 18 lead elements of the 43rd Guards crossed back into Latvia. On August 3 Captain Orlov, who was now the acting commander of a reconnaissance company, led his troops to the vicinity of the Mezhare station on the Krustpils – Rēzekne II Railway, well into the German rear. This incursion provoked a series of counterattacks by infantry and at least one assault gun and the company became surrounded. Orlov received several wounds and many of his men were also killed or wounded while inflicting heavy casualties on the German forces. Eventually he led a breakout which recrossed the railway and the remainder of his company dug in and repelled additional attacks until relieved by their battalion. Captain Orlov soon succumbed to his injuries and on March 24, 1945 he was posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union.
- Charles C. Sharp, "Red Guards", Soviet Guards Rifle and Airborne Units 1941 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. IV, Nafziger, 1995, p. 61
- Sharp, "Red Guards", p. 61
- David M. Glantz, After Stalingrad, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2011, pp. 94-95, 98-100
- Glantz, After Stalingrad, pp. 101-06
- Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, p. 59
- Glantz, After Stalingrad, p. 417
- Robert Forczyk, Demyansk 1942-43: The frozen fortress, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2012, Kindle ed.
- Sharp, "Red Guards", p. 61
- Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1943, pp. 106, 132, 158, 186, 215, 245, 273
- The Gamers, Inc., Baltic Gap, Multi-Man Publishing, Inc., Millersville, MD, 2009, p. 41
- Sharp, "Red Guards", p. 61
- http://www.warheroes.ru/hero/hero.asp?Hero_id=13374. In Russian; English translation available. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
- http://www.warheroes.ru/hero/hero.asp?Hero_id=14280. In Russian; English translation available. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
- Sharp, "Red Guards", p. 61
- Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1944, p. 218
- Sharp, "Red Guards", p. 61
- http://www.warheroes.ru/hero/hero.asp?Hero_id=14280. In Russian; English translation available. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Grylev, A. N. (1970) (in Russian). Перечень № 5. Стрелковых, горнострелковых, мотострелковых и моторизованных дивизии, входивших в состав Действующей армии в годы Великой Отечественной войны 1941-1945 гг.. Moscow: Voenizdat. http://www.soldat.ru/doc/perechen/. p. 179
- Main Personnel Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union (1964) (in Russian). Командование корпусного и дивизионного звена советских вооруженных сил периода Великой Отечественной войны 1941–1945 гг.. Moscow: Frunze Military Academy. http://militera.lib.ru/h/sb_komandovanie-korpus-diviziya-vov/index.html. pp. 315-16
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