220th Rifle Division (Soviet Union)

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220th Motorized Rifle Division (April - 21 July 1941)
220th Rifle Division (21 July '41 - 1945)
Active 1941 - 1945
Country  Soviet Union
Branch Red Army flag.svg Red Army
Type Division
Role Infantry
Engagements Operation Barbarossa
Battle of Moscow
Battles of Rzhev
Battle of Smolensk (1943)
Operation Bagration
East Prussian Offensive
Prague Offensive
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Mjr. Gen. N.G. Khoruzhenko
Mjr. Gen. S.G. Poplavski
Mjr. Gen. V.A. Polevik

The 220th Rifle Division was briefly a Red Army motorized infantry division that was reorganised shortly after the German invasion as a standard rifle division. The division distinguished itself in at least three battles. It was partly credited with the liberation of the cities of Orsha and Minsk in the first stages of the Destruction of Army Group Center. Shortly after it also shared credit for the liberation of the city of Grodno.

1st Formation[edit]

The division was first organized as the 220th Motorized Rifle Division beginning in April, 1941 in the area of Smolensk. It was commanded by Major General N.G. Khoruzhenko and consisted of:

  • 653rd Motorized Rifle Regiment
  • 673rd Motorized Rifle Regiment
  • 137th Tank Regiment
  • 660th Artillery Regiment
  • 295th Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 381st Sapper Battalion.

It was part of the 23rd Mechanized Corps.

When Operation Barbarossa began the 220th was in the very early stages of forming up and was very poorly equipped. Trucks and other motor vehicles were in short supply, and the tank regiment likely had no tanks at all.[1] For practical purposes the division was motorized in name only, and within a month the decision was made to reform the 220th as a standard rifle division.

The division operated as part of the 23rd Mechanized Corps, itself part of 19th Army in June and July 1941, but by 1 August 1941, was shifted into 32nd Army, part of the Reserve Front.[2]

2nd Formation[edit]

The division was in 32nd Army of Reserve Front, east of Smolensk, on July 21 when the reformation officially began. Its order of battle became:

  • 376th Rifle Regiment
  • 653rd Rifle Regiment
  • 673rd Rifle Regiment
  • 660th Artillery Regiment
  • 381st Sapper Battalion.[3]

In August the 220th was moved to 49th Army, also in Reserve Front. In early October the division, now in 31st Army, was surrounded north of Vyasma by German forces in Operation Typhoon. Remnants of the division were able to escape from encirclement to join 29th Army in Kalinin Front by Oct. 10.[4] The 653rd Rifle Reg't. was least affected by these events, and fought detached from the rest of the division in 22nd Army for most of the winter; the remainder were kept in reserve in 29th and 30th Armies. In May, 1942, the 220th went into Kalinin Front reserves to be rebuilt.[5]

Battles for Rzhev[edit]

The division, now back in 31st Army, took part in the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, fighting in the northeast outskirts of Rzhev itself in the late summer and autumn of 1942.[6] The 220th would remain in this Army for the duration,[7] although it was briefly attached to 68th Army in September, 1943.[8] In a once-more weakened state the division held its positions on the left bank of the Volga through the winter. On Mar. 2 - 3, 1943 it joined in the liberation of Rzhev as the German Ninth Army withdrew from the salient (Operation Büffel). 31st Army pursued the German forces as best it could through the devastated territory and the spring rasputitsa, coming to a halt against a new German fortified line at the base of the former salient on Mar. 31. The new commander of the 220th, Col. V.A. Polevik, summarized the March battles: "The division coped with its assigned task. But the losses were significant."[9]

Advance to Smolensk[edit]

From April to early August the 220th rested, replenished and fortified its positions in anticipation of a German summer offensive.[10] Following the German defeat at Kursk, Kalinin and Western Fronts prepared their own offensive through the Smolensk land bridge to liberate that city; the offensive began on Aug. 7. The operation was a long, grinding affair against thick German defenses, and the division contributed by helping to retake the towns of Spas-Demensk, Dukhovshchina, Iartsevo and Dorogobuzh; during this time the 220th was pulled back into second echelon for replenishment no less than four times. Finally, on Sept. 25, Smolensk was liberated.[11]

The slow advance continued by fits and starts through the autumn and winter along the Dnepr River. At this time the division was part of 45th Rifle Corps. By March, 1944, the division was so worn down that each rifle regiment had only two rifle battalions, and each battalion had only two rifle companies and a sub-machinegun platoon. This was just 40% of approved strength in infantry, but the 660th Artillery Reg't. was at full strength and was fully motorized with a mix of Lend-Lease and Soviet vehicles. During the final years of the war, the Red Army increasingly substituted firepower for manpower, and many rifle divisions fought effectively with these strengths.[12] Nevertheless, the 220th had its infantry component strengthened before the summer offensive.

Operation Bagration[edit]

At the outset of this operation on June 22, 1944, the division was in 36th Rifle Corps of 31st Army in Gen. I.D. Chernyakovsky's 3rd Belorussian Front. (As of June 1, 1944, it had been the sole division in the corps.) The 220th soon distinguished itself by taking a leading role in the liberation of Orsha; it later also assisted in the liberation of the Belorussian capital, Minsk, and received the names of both these cities as honorifics. At the end of July the division participated in the liberation of Grodno, near the border with Poland, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.[13] For his leadership during the fighting near Grodno, political officer Cpt. Kirill Koshman of the 376th Rifle Reg't. was named a Hero of the Soviet Union.[14]

Advance into Germany[edit]

The 220th continued advancing into northern Poland, East Prussia and Pomerania with its Front during late 1944 and early 1945, but in April was shifted with 31st Army south to 1st Ukrainian Front, and then took part in the last Soviet offensive of the war, towards Prague from May 6–11. The division ended the war in the 44th Rifle Corps, rounding up fugitives of the defeated German Army Group Center east of Prague. The division honorifics were – Russian: Оршанская Минская Краснознамённая ордена Суворова дивизия. (English: Orsha, Minsk, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov).[15] The division was disbanded in 1945.

In his memoirs, Marshal I.S. Konev praised the performance of the 220th Rifle Division during the Battles for Rzhev, where the division served as part of his Kalinin Front in 1942.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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 33
  2. ^ http://tashv.nm.ru/BoevojSostavSA/1941/19410801.html#1
  3. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  4. ^ Jack Radey and Charles Sharp, The Defense of Moscow 1941 - The Northern Flank, Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, UK, 2012, p 16
  5. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  6. ^ Boris Gorbachevsky, Through the Maelstrom, A Red Army Soldier's War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2008, p 148
  7. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  8. ^ Gorbachevsky, p 294
  9. ^ Gorbachevsky, pp 255 - 60
  10. ^ Gorbachevsky, p 291
  11. ^ Gorbachevsky, pp 292 - 94
  12. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  13. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  14. ^ Gorbachevsky, p 327
  15. ^ Sharp, "Red Tide", p 33
  16. ^ Gorbachevsky, p 386