81st Cavalry Division (Soviet Union)

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81st Cavalry Division (1 September 1941 – 22 May 1943)
Major General Anton Filippovich Skorokhod.jpg
Postwar photo of Col. A.F. Skorokhod
Active1941–1943
Country Soviet Union
BranchRed Army flag.svg Red Army
TypeDivision
RoleCavalry
EngagementsBattle of Stalingrad
Operation Uranus
Operation Winter Storm
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Col. D. I. Gushtichev
Col. V. G. Baumshtein
Col. A. F. Skorokhod

The 81st Cavalry Division was a cavalry division of the Red Army that served in the first years of the Great Patriotic War. It was formed in the autumn of 1941 and served in the region south of Stalingrad while the German Army besieged that city in the autumn of 1942. During the first stages of the Soviet counteroffensive, Operation Uranus, the 81st was given a prominent role in the exploitation to the southwest, but became overextended and vulnerable to the mobile German reinforcements arriving to attempt a breakthrough to their Sixth Army. The division was so badly mauled that it had to be withdrawn to the reserves in December, and was later disbanded.

Formation[edit]

The 81st Cavalry Division began forming on September 1, 1941 in the Central Asia Military District at Dzhambul.[1]

When formed, by the middle of the next month, its basic order of battle was as follows:

  • 216th Cavalry Regiment
  • 227th Cavalry Regiment
  • 232nd Cavalry Regiment[2]
  • 16th Horse Artillery Battalion[1]

The division was commanded by Colonel Dmitry Ivanovich Gustishev. In November 1941, the division was assigned to 4th Cavalry Corps, and it would remain in that corps as long as they both existed. The division was located near Kushka and continued to train. On September 20, 1942, led by the new division commander, Vasily Grigoryevich Baumshtein, the division was sent by train to Krasnovodsk. The division crossed the Caspian Sea by ship to Astrakhan. At Olya the ships were unloaded by barges. The division marched along the Volga and reached the villages of Raygorod and Svetlyy Yar, 15 to 20 kilometers southeast of Beketovki.[1] The corps was assigned to 51st Army in Southwestern Front, south of Stalingrad, in October, 1942. In orders issued by Gen. G.K. Zhukov on October 15 to the front commander, Gen. A.I. Yeryomenko, the latter was to:

"Concentrate 61st Cavalry Division in the Solodnikov region and 81st Cavalry Division in the Chernyi Yar region to protect the crossings over the Volga River."[3]

This attempt to relieve 62nd Army, along with several others in October and early November, had no success.

Operation Uranus[edit]

In Operation Uranus, the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, the division and its corps were to advance through the breakthrough made by infantry units on the second day of the offensive. The division was to advance in the sector between Lake Tsatsa and Lake Barmantsak, and by the morning of the third day reach the station area and the village of Abganerovo, cutting the Stalingrad-Tikhoretsk Railway.[1]

At the start of the decisive Soviet counteroffensive on November 19 the 81st was part of the 51st Army Mobile Group that exploited into the breakthrough of the Romanian Army lines towards the southwest. This mobile group had the 4th Mechanized Corps in the lead, with the 81st and 61st Cavalry Divisions of 4th Cavalry Corps guarding its left flank.[4] On the evening of November 20, the division left its concentration area and by dawn the next day had passed Lake Tsatsa and Semkin. At Height 143.3 to the southwest of Plovdovitye, units of the Romanian 5th Cavalry Division put up resistance. The division captured the height in two hours and was soon near Abganerovskoy. The division captured Abganerovskoy stanitsa in conjunction with the 61st. The 227th Cavalry Regiment attacked to the northwest and captured Abganerovo Station.[5]

On the night of November 22 the division was on the northern outskirts of Abganerovo. On the next night the division advanced towards Aksay. Supported by attached 76mm guns and Guards Mortar units, the division was able to liberate the town of Aksay from the Romanians by noon. In the fighting, 38 soldiers of the division had been killed and 89 wounded. On the evening of November 23, the 51st Army commander, Maj. Gen. N.I. Trufanov, radioed Yeryomenko to report that:

"The main mission is accomplished. The army's units are fighting with the enemy along the Karpovka, Sovetskii, Aksay, Umantsevo, and Sadovoe line."[6]

The next objective was the town of Kotelnikovo, an important rail junction where German mobile troops were beginning to arrive.[7] The division rested and replenished its supplies on November 24. On the night of November 25 the division moved westwards in the right flank of the 51st Army. The division was to cover the main forces of the army from the northwest in the attack on Kotelnikovo.[5] Unknown to the Soviet commanders, on this same day the German high command began reorganizing their forces and bringing in armored units for an eventual relief operation towards Stalingrad that would be based from this town. After an advance of 45km on the morning of November 27, with support of 35 tanks from 85th Tank Brigade but no rifle forces whatsoever, the 81st reached the western and northwestern approaches to Kotelnikovo. The division attacked into the heart of the town, trying to capture it off the march, and succeeded in routing several Romanian units but then ran into lead elements of 6th Panzer Division's 114th Motorized Infantry Regiment, just unloading after a long journey from France. The panzer troops, along with a unit of Cossack volunteers known as Group Pannwitz, defeated the 81st and drove it westward 10 - 12km into marshland along the Semichnaia River valley near Poklebin.[8]

On the following night the division was forced to make a breakout towards Soviet lines. In the course of less than three weeks the 81st lost 1,897 men, 14 76mm guns, 4 45mm antitank guns, 4 107mm mortars, and 8 37mm antiaircraft guns. Col. Baumshtein was killed in action near Kotelnikovo, along with his chief of staff and chief of the political section. By the middle of December the remnants of the division were withdrawn into reserve, under the command of Col. Skorokhod, and on May 22, 1943, the division was officially disbanded.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Belan 1990, p. 213.
  2. ^ Charles C. Sharp, "Red Sabers", Soviet Cavalry Corps, Divisions, and Brigades 1941 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. V, 1995, p. 67
  3. ^ David M. Glantz, Armageddon in Stalingrad, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2009, p. 445
  4. ^ Glantz, Endgame at Stalingrad, Book One, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2014, p. 262
  5. ^ a b Belan 1990, pp. 214–245.
  6. ^ Glantz, Endgame, Book One, p. 366
  7. ^ Sharp, p. 67
  8. ^ Glantz, Endgame, Book One, pp. 457-60
  9. ^ Sharp, p. 67
  • Belan, P.S. (1990). Казахстанцы в битве на Волге [Kazakhs in the Battle on the Volga] (in Russian). Alma-Ata: Gylym. ISBN 5628005975.
  • Main Personnel Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union (1964). Командование корпусного и дивизионного звена советских вооруженных сил периода Великой Отечественной войны 1941 – 1945 гг [Commanders of Corps and Divisions in the Great Patriotic War, 1941–1945] (in Russian). Moscow: Frunze Military Academy. p. 358