The Battle of Arbuzovka was fought between 22 and 25 December 1942 in the valley of Arbuzovka (near Chertkovo, Russia), between Italian and German forces and Soviet forces, as part of the Battle of Stalingrad.
During the Axis retreat during Operation Little Saturn, the remains of the 52nd Motorised Division Torino, retreating towards Chertkovo, became separated from the rest of the ARMIR and were encircled by the 35th Guards Rifle Division of the Red Army in the valley of Arbuzovka, 30 km east of Chertkovo, a place where the temperatures often dropped to –50 °C during winter. Together with them were 6,000 men of the 298th German Infantry Division and the remains of the "3 Gennaio" Blackshirt Group (made of the 63rd Assault Blackshirt Legion "Tagliamento" and the 10th Ordinary Blackshirt Legion "Montebello") under Console (Colonel) Antonio Galardo.
The battle lasted three days, with the Italian and German forces trying to break out of the encirclement. These attempts, including several bayonet charges by the Italian units, were repelled with high casualties, and the situation seemed hopeless enough that the Italian regimental commanders were ordered to burn their units' flags. The extreme cold, exhaustion and hunger further worsened the situation, along with the complete exposure of the Axis forces (blocked in the valley floor) to the Soviet fire (coming from the sides). Some men committed suicide out of desperation. A Russian colonel was sent three times to ask for surrender; in the first two occasions, the offer was refused, but a number of Italian soldiers individually accepted to lay down their weapons and were marched to the Soviet lines. The third time the colonel was sent, however, German Schutzstaffels intervened during the parley and gunned down both him and the Italian negotiators.
During the battle two Italian soldiers, carabineer Giuseppe Plada Mosca and flamethrower soldier Mario Iacovitti, rode their horses against the Soviet troops, waving the Italian flag (both were later awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor; Mosca was killed in the battle, whereas Iacovitti was wounded and captured, but survived captivity). This act had the effect of stimulating the Italian soldiers, who gathered their last forces and launched another series of attacks, which, after fierce hand-to-hand combat and in co-operation with renewed German attacks, finally managed to break the encirclement on 25 December. Only a small number of Italian and German soldiers, however, managed to reach Chertkovo on the following day; in what the Italian soldiers came to call the "Valley of Death", at least 10,000 Axis soldiers were killed, 5,000 were wounded or frostbitten, and between 10,000 and 15,000 taken prisoner.
- G. Scotoni, L'Armata Rossa e la disfatta italiana, Ed. Panorama 2007
- E. Corti, I più non ritornano, Collezione "I rossi e i blu", Ed. Garzanti, 1968, I edizione
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