16th Rifle Division (Soviet Union)

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16th 'Lithuanian' Rifle Division
Active 1918 – May 1945
Country Soviet Union
Branch Soviet Army
Type Infantry
Size 10,250
Nickname 'Lithuanian'
Engagements World War II
Battle of Kursk
Operation Bagration
Baltic Offensive
Battle honours Order of the Red Banner
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Major General Feliksas Baltušis-Žemaitis (1943)
Major General V. Karvelis (1944–1945)
Major General Adolfas Urbšas (1945–)

The 16th Rifle Division (Russian: 16-я 'Литовская' стрелковая дивизия, Lithuanian: 16-oji 'Lietuviškoji' divizija), was a formation in the Red Army created during the Second World War. The division was formed twice, and was given the title 'Lithuanian' during its second formation. It was originally established at Novgorod in October 1939. It was wiped out at Mga in 1941. Reformed and given the title 'Lithuanian', the division participated in several battles against Nazi Germany, including Kursk, Belarus, and the Baltic. It was disbanded at the end of the war, although it was briefly revived in 1955 before being disbanded once more.

History[edit]

The division was originally formed in 1918. At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa the 16th Rifle Division (I Formation) was part of North-Western Front's 27th Army, reporting directly to Army headquarters along with the 67th Rifle Division and 3rd Rifle Brigade.[1] As noted above, it was destroyed at Mga amid the first German drive on Leningrad.

Re-formation[edit]

When the 16th Division was reformed after its destruction, it was given the name 'Lithuanian' largely for political purposes. As Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, had only been occupied by the USSR in 1940 (and then again later in 1944 after the Germans were forced to withdraw), there was a concern among the Soviet planners that the Lithuanians might choose to collaborate with the Germans rather than fight against them. However, it was hoped that since the division was officially labelled "Lithuanian", that citizens of the newly formed Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic would be inspired to enlist.

The decision regarding the re-formation of the division was made by the State Defense Committee on 18 December 1941. It was decided that it would be formed in the Moscow Military District, in the city of Balakhna, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.[2] Personnel were assembled from staff and remnants of the 184th Rifle Division (29th Rifle Corps) and any Lithuanian speaking refugees that had fled Lithuania after the German invasion. The officers of the division were by and large graduates from the Vilnius infantry academy[citation needed], who had been evacuated after the invasion to Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo Oblast.

Battles[edit]

Formation and training of the division came to an end by February 1943 and the division entered the war on 21 February 1943 at Alekseyevka, 50 km southeast of Oryol. This brought the division into the path of the Wehrmacht's "Operation Citadel", where it served with the 42nd Rifle Corps of the 48th Army, Soviet Central Front. In the first days of the battle, the 16th Rifle Division withstood the attack of the German 383rd Infantry and 18th Panzer Divisions, that were accompanied by 120 planes.[3] After suffering serious losses, the Soviet armies eventually emerged victorious. During this battle a private named Viktoras Jacenevičius, was wounded, taken prisoner and then tortured to death by the Germans. He was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.[citation needed]

Following the victory at Kursk, the division was assigned to the 1st Baltic Front. On 1 June 1944, the division was directly subordinate to the Front, along with 47th Rifle Division.[4] Along with the three Belarussian Fronts[disambiguation needed], they invaded Belarus and much of Lithuania. On 2 August 1944, division had arrived at the suburbs of Šiauliai, which was home to their commander, Vladas Karvelis. The division was stationed there for one month, to receive reinforcements from Lithuanian forced-volunteers.

In mid-August the city of Šiauliai was hit by a German counter-attack. The Wehrmacht divisions were armed with 900 armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. For three days the 16th Division stood its ground, and in the end as the German attack ran out of steam the Division emerged victorious. On 31 October 1944 the Division was presented with the Order of the Red Banner for successful operations in clearing Samogitia.

On 31 January 1945, the Lithuanian division received orders to join the fight against the Germans in the Courland Pocket. The German resistance was incredibly strong and elements of Army Group Courland did not surrender to the Soviets until 8 May and 9 at the end of World War II in Europe.

The 16th Rifle Division was disbanded after the end of the war, but briefly reactivated in 1955 in the Volga-Urals Military District before being finally disbanded.[5]

Structure (World War II)[edit]

Ethnic composition[edit]

As of 1 January 1943, of the 10,250 soldiers and officers of the division, 7,000 of them were ethnic Lithuanians and/or inhabitants of the Lithuanian SSR. The total ethnic make-up of the division was: 3720 Lithuanians (36.3%), 3064 Russians (29%), 2973 Jews (29%), and 492 of other nationalities (4.8%). Although other sources cite figures of 2378 Jews (23.2%) in the division, it is still the highest number of ethnic Jews amongst all divisions of the Red Army.[6] Jews made 13% (136 persons) of all officers in the division and 34.2% of all soldiers in the infantry regiments. 12 soldiers of a division have been awarded the title, Hero of Soviet Union, of them, four were Jews: major Volf Vilensky, sergeant Kalman Shur, corporal Grigorijus Ušpolis and private Borisas Cindelis (posthumously).

Originally, commands and orders were given in the Lithuanian language. However over third of all soldiers in the division did not speak Lithuanian. More problems arose when officers from other divisions were sent to train and transfer their fighting experience to the soldiers of the 16th. Most of them had never heard a word of Lithuanian in their lives, and were mainly Russophone. For these reasons, the language of commands, orders and even conversation, became Russian and also Yiddish.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Orbat.com/Niehorster, 27th Army Order of Battle, 22 June 1941
  2. ^ Арон Шнеер. Плен. Глава 7. 16-я Литовская дивизия
  3. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1 July 1943 lists the 16th as part of 42nd Rifle Corps along with 202nd and 399th Rifle Divisions
  4. ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1 June 1944
  5. ^ Feskov et al. 2004
  6. ^ "Литовцы стояли стеной". Они Освобождали Родную Прибалтику. Archived from the original on 30 December 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2008. 

Additional references[edit]