51st Army

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51st Army
Monument to Warriors of 51 Army on Sapun Mountain in Sevastopol.jpg
Monument to Warriors of the 51st Army on Sapun Mountain in Sevastopol
Active 1941–1953, 1969–1993
Country USSR
Size three to six divisions
Part of Front or Military District
Engagements Kerch-Feodosiya operation, Courland, others
Commanders
Notable
commanders
General Lieutenant P.I. Batov

The 51st Army was a field army of the Red Army that saw action against the Germans in World War II on both the southern and northern sectors of the front. In particular, it was involved in the Crimean debacle of May 1942, and the final cutting-off of German forces in the Courland area next to the Baltic. Inactivated in the 1950s, the army was activated again in the 1960s to secure the Soviet Union's border with China. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the army continued in existence as a component of the Russian Ground Forces. The army was active during two periods from 1941 until 1993.

Formation history[edit]

The Crimea[edit]

The Army was formed in August 1941 in the Crimea as the 51st Independent Army under Colonel General F.I. Kuznetsov, with the task of guarding the Crimea. Professor John Erickson in The Road to Stalingrad describes Stalin's rationale for the formation of the Army during a 12 August session within the Stavka war room: Stalin and the Stavka had concluded from the German moves underway at the time that a strike on the Crimea (along with an attack on Bryansk) was likely, and thus the formation of an Independent Army in the Crimea had been decided upon. Thus Kuznetsov was summoned, and after a discussion, he was sent south to take up his new command.[1]

The army's initial forces included the 9th Rifle Corps, the 271st and 276th Rifle Divisions, the 40th, 42nd and 48th Cavalry Divisions, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th irregularly formed Crimean divisions[2] and a number of smaller units. However, due to Kuznetsov's 'sticking blindly to the prewar plan', which anticipated a seaborne assault, and leaving the Perekop and Sivash approaches too thinly held, Von Manstein, leading the German assault, was able to push past the defences.[3] Therefore the Stavka ordered that the army command be handed over to General Pavel Batov.[4]

In November the army was evacuated from the Taman peninsula and it joined the Transcaucasian Front (briefly known as the Caucasian Front after 30 December 1941). The army participated in the Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation in December 1941 – January 1942 alongside the 44th Army. 51st Army was originally planned to be the Kerch arm of the assault, but delays caused by bad weather and a schedule change prompted by renewed German attacks on Sevastopol resulted in 51st Army troops being landed at Capes Sjuk and Chroni during the night of 26–27 December 1941.[5] 44th and 51st Armies then formed the Crimean Front under General Dmitri T. Kozlov, formally established on 28 January 1942, which hammered repeatedly at Von Manstein's Eleventh Army. On 1 February 1942, 51st Army comprised the 138th and 302nd Mountain Rifle Divisions, the 224th, 390th, and 396th Rifle Divisions, the 12th Rifle Brigade, 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade, 105th Separate Mountain Rifle Regiment, 55th Tank Brigade, 229th Separate Tank Battalion, artillery units, and other support units.[6] A German offensive was launched against the Front on 8 May 1942, and due to bickering between Kozlov and the Front commissar, Lev Mekhlis, and a trail of incompetent actions, it concluded around 18 May 1942 with the near complete destruction of Soviet defending forces. Three armies (44th, 47th, and 51st), 21 divisions, 176,000 men, 347 tanks, and nearly 3,500 guns were lost.[7] The remains of the force were evacuated.

Stalingrad and after[edit]

After the evacuation 51st Army joined the North Caucasian Front at Kuban. In July, Marshal Budenny received orders to combine the Southern Front and North Caucasian Front into a single formation retaining the title of North Caucasian Front, and 51st Army joined the 'Don group' of that front under General Lieutenant Rodion Malinovsky, along with the 12th Army and the 37th Army.[8] As part of the Stalingrad Front (from 1–5 August), then briefly with the Southeast Front (from 6 August until 27 September), and then back with the Stalingrad Front it took part in the Battle of Stalingrad. On 31 July when it came under Stalingrad Front control it was so worn down by its previous rough handling that it was only 3,000 men strong.[9] During Operation Uranus, the counterattack from Stalingrad, the 4th Mechanized Corps began its attack from the 51st Army's sector. On 24–25 December 1942, the commander of 51st Army, Major-General N.I. Trufanov, organized a local offensive operation on the right flank with the forces of three rifle divisions, and moved to the north bank of the Aksav River, on the eve of the Koitelnikovo offensive operation,[10] which eventually defeated the German efforts made as part of Operation Winter Storm to relieve the Sixth Army in Stalingrad. On 30 January 1943, the Luftwaffe's Kampfgeschwader 51 destroyed the 51st Army's Headquarters, near Salsk. Dropping 100 – 250 kg bombs, a wave of Junkers Ju 88s and Heinkel He 111s destroyed the communications centre, working offices of the chief-of-staff, the operational headquarters and the offices of the operational duty officer. Up to 20 buildings and personnel billets were also destroyed. Casualties among personnel were also very high.[11]

After January 1943 as part of the Southern Front, which became the 4th Ukrainian Front on 20 October 1943, the 51st Army took part in the Rostov, Donbass (August–September 1943), Melitopol (September–November 1943) and the 1944 Crimean offensive operation. On 1 April 1944, 51st Army included the 1st Guards Rifle Corps (33rd Guards, 91st and 346th Rifle Divisions) 10th Rifle Corps (216th, 257th, and 279th Rifle Divisions) 63rd Rifle Corps (263rd, 267th, and 417th Rifle Divisions), the 77th Rifle Division, the 78th Fortified Region, artillery, armour, and other support units.[12] During these operations, the 51st Army's attacks trapped the German XXIX. Armeekorps against the Sea of Azov.[13]

In May – June, 1944 51st Army was moved to the western direction. As part of the 1st Baltic Front it participated in operations clearing Latvia and Lithuania – the Baltic Offensive. Leading the penetration of 1st Baltic Front into German lines, 51st Army reached the Bay of Riga on 31 July 1944, cutting off German Army Group North to the northeast of Riga.[14] Under tremendous pressure, the Germans organized an armored counter-attack (Doppelkopf) from 16 to 27 August 1944 that succeeded in re-opening a 40-kilometer wide corridor through which Army Group North retreated westward into the Courland region of Latvia.

After regrouping in September 1944, the 51st Army attacked westward in October, reaching the Baltic coast north of Memel, and with other 1st Baltic Front armies, definitively cut off Army Group North in Courland, where the German force would remain for the rest of the war. Thereafter, 51st Army took up position on the far western flank of the Soviet forces arrayed against Army Group North (later renamed Army Group Courland). Of the six major battles for Courland, 51st Army's only real progress was during the first Courland battle, from 15–22 October 1944, in which the army pushed some ten kilometers north against bitter resistance of the German III. SS-Panzerkorps. Thereafter, the front lines in this area of the Courland front changed little.[15]

After 9 May 1945 it accepted the capitulation of the German Army Group Courland.

World War II Commanders[edit]

Commander Assumption of Command Handed over Command
Colonel-General F. I. Kuznetsov Aug 1941 Nov 1941
Lieutenant-General P. I. Batov Nov 1941 Dec 1941
Lieutenant-General V. N. L'vov Dec 1941 May 1942
Major-General N. Ia. Kirpichenko May 1942 June 1942
Colonel A. M. Kuznetsov Jun 1942 July 1942
Major-General T. K. Kolomiets July 1942 Sept 1942
Major-General N. I. Trufanov Oct 1942 Feb 1943
Lieutenant-General G. F. Zakharov Feb 1943 Jul 1943
Lieutenant-General Ia. G. Kreizer Aug 1943 May 1945[16]

Postwar[edit]

The army moved during June 1945 from the Baltic States to the Urals with almost all its forces.[17] Feskov et al. list 10th Rifle Corps (91st, 279th, and 347th Rifle Divisions) and 63rd Rifle Corps (77th, 87th, and 417th Rifle Divisions) in the District at the time, and probably under 51st Army headquarters. The army's headquarters moved without its troops to Sakhalin in the Far East Military District in 1953, but it was later disbanded.

In 1969, the 51st Combined Arms Army was re-formed on the basis of the staff of the 2nd Army Corps in the Far East Military District.[18] On 11 October 1993 the 51st (Combined Arms) Army became the 68th Army Corps.

Order of Battle in the 1980s[edit]

At the end of the 1980s the composition of the 51st Combined Arms Army of the Far East Military District included:[18]

Formation Location Remarks
2nd Army Corps
33rd Motor-Rifle Red Banner Division Khomutovo 192 тп (Анива), 465 мсп (Леонидово), 377 мсп (Анива), мсп, ап, зенап
79th Motor Rifle Division Poronaysk 'Sakhalin Red Banner';214 тп, 157 мсп (Гастелло), 398 мсп (Победино), мсп, 284 ап, зенап (Победино)
25th Army Corps Formed around 1974
22nd Motor Rifle Division Dolinsk, Sakhalin Oblast 'Krasnodar-Harbin Twice Red Banner'; 59 тп, 211 мсп, 246 мсп, 304 мсп, 157ап, 1006th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Regiment
87th Motor Rifle Division Petropavlovsk Disbanded 1987[19]
99th Motor-Rifle Division Anadyr, Chukotka Consisted of 1324th and 1327th MRRs. Division converted on 1 June 1999 to the 3840th Military Technology Storage Base until it was disbanded on 1 December 2002.
18th Machine-gun Artillery Division Settlement Gor’achiy Kluch (Iturup), Sakhalin Former 184th Rifle Division;тп, 49 мсп (о. Кунашир), 484 мсп, мсп

Other Army-level troops reported by Feskov et al. 2004, as of 1988, included the 280 отдельный Уссурийский Engineer-Sapper Bаttalion of the 25th Army Corps (Anadyr), the Staff of the 25th Army Corps, 8th Separate Communications Battalion; 921st Artillery Regiment at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the 75th Rocket Brigade, 166th Separate Communications Regiment, a Separate Engineer-Sapper Regiment; and the 553rd Separate Communications Battalion at Yuzho-Sakhalinsk (Южно-Сахалинск).

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Erickson (historian), The Road to Stalingrad, Cassel Military Paperbacks, 2003, p.198-9
  2. ^ Alex aka AMVAS, Irregular Units of RKKA, updated 5 January 2004. 4th Crimean Division eventually became 184th Rifle Division.
  3. ^ Erickson, 2003, p.256
  4. ^ Erickson, 2003, p.287.
  5. ^ Gretschko, Geschichte des Zweiten Welt Krieges (Soviet official history of World War II), Volume 4, 1977, p. 360.
  6. ^ "Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1 February 1942". Tashv.nm.ru. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  7. ^ Erickson, p.349, and I.Malashenko, Military Thought, Vol. 12, No.4, 2003 (Eastview Press translation)
  8. ^ Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad, 2003, p. 377.
  9. ^ http://stalingrad.ic.ru/s51arm.html
  10. ^ Certain Aspects of Army Counteroffensive Operations, Military Thought, reproduced in Red Thrust Star, 1992
  11. ^ Bergström, Christer (2007). Stalingrad – The Air Battle: 1942 through January 1943. Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Chevron Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-85780-276-4. p. 114.
  12. ^ "Combat Composition of the Soviet Army, 1 April 1944". Tashv.nm.ru. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  13. ^ Poirier and Conner, The Red Army Order of Battle in the Great Patriotic War, 1985, p. 63.
  14. ^ John Erickson (historian), The Road to Berlin, 1982, and Gretschko, Geschichte des Zweiten Welt Krieges (Soviet official history of World War II)
  15. ^ Karl-Heinz Frieser, Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Volume 8, 2007, pp. 650–654.
  16. ^ Glantz, Companion to Colussus Reborn, 2005, p. 57.
  17. ^ Feskov et al., 'The Soviet Army during the Period of the Cold War,' Tomsk University Press, Tomsk, 2004.
  18. ^ a b Soldat.ru History of the 33rd Motor Rifle Division (Russian)
  19. ^ Soldat.ru, History of the 40th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade

Further reading[edit]