Battle of Nikolayevka
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|Battle of Nikolayevka|
|Part of World War II|
Alpini route toward Nikolaievka, from the Don river
|Commanders and leaders|
| Giulio Martinat †
| Fyodor Isidorovich Kuznetsov
Dmitri Danilovich Lelyushenko
|40,000 infantry (Alpini); but only 4,000 were combat ready||6,000 infantry (plus Soviet partisans)|
|Casualties and losses|
|30,000 dead, wounded, or captured||1,000 dead & wounded|
The Battle of Nikolayevka refers to the breakout of the Italian forces in January 1943, as a small part of the larger Battle of Stalingrad. The breakout involved a corps of the Italian 8th Army's near the village of Nikolayevka (now Livenka, Belgorod Oblast in Russia).
On December 16, 1942, Soviet forces launched Operation Little Saturn aimed at the Italian 8th Army. The Soviet plan was to force the River Don, encircle and destroy the Italian 8th Army along the Don, then push towards Rostov-on-Don and thus cut off Army Group A fighting in the Caucasus. On December 16 General Fyodor Kuznetsov's 1st Guards Army and General Dmitri Lelyushenko's 3rd Guards Army attacked the units of the Italian 8th Army, which were quickly destroyed—in three days the Red Army had opened a gap in the Axis front 45 km (28 mi) deep and 150 km (93 mi) wide and destroyed two of the Italian Army's Corps (2nd and 35th). The Soviet armored columns now rapidly advanced south towards the Black Sea.
The Italian 8th Army's Alpini (Mountain) Corps, consisting of the 3rd Julia, 2nd Tridentina and 4th Cuneense divisions and the 156th Infantry Division to their rear, were at this point largely unaffected by the Soviet offensive on their right flank. On January 13, 1943, the Red Army launched the second stage of Operation Saturn. Four armies of General Filipp Golikov's Voronezh Front attacked, encircled, and destroyed the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don to the northwest of the Italians and pushed back the remaining units of the German 24th Army Corps on the Alpini left flank, thus encircling the Italian Corps.
On the evening of January 17, the commanding officer of the corps General Gabriele Nasci ordered a full retreat. At this point only the Tridentina division was still capable of conducting effective combat operations. The 40,000-strong mass of stragglers—Alpini and Italians from other commands, plus German and Hungarian soldiers—formed two columns that followed the Tridentina division which, supported by a handful of German armoured vehicles, led the way westwards to the Axis lines. Corps commander General Giulio Martinat was killed in action on 25 January.
On the morning of January 26, the spearheads of the Tridentina reached the hamlet of Nikolayevka, occupied by a Soviet division, which repulsed Alpini's attack. General Luigi Reverberi, commander of the Tridentina division, led the final assault. As the 4,000 Alpini advanced, all remaining soldiers of the columns fell in and the Soviet formation, facing a human wave attack by many of the 40,000 Axis troops, abandoned the village.
The retreat of the Alpini was no longer contested by Soviet forces and on February 1 the remnants of the Corps reached Axis lines. The Italians suffered heavy losses in the breakout: the Cuneense division had been destroyed; one tenth of the Division Julia survived (approximately 1,200 of 15,000 troops deployed) and one third of the Division Tridentina survived (approximately 4,250 of 15,000 troops deployed).
- Hamilton, H. Sacrifice on the Steppe. Casemate, 2011 (English)