Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 67th Guards Rifle Division

By Phil Gardocki

The 67th Guards Rifle was certainly a unit that deserved its "Guards" status.  It also was either the unluckiest division to have been involved in so many historic battles, or the luckiest to have survived them all.

Organizational History 1941

In July 1941, the 304th Rifle Division was formed from the remains of the 109th Mechanized Division, and a newly called up 807th Rifle regiment. The organization was organized under the July 1941 "Shtat", or Table of Organization. This was the standard organization of 3 rifle regiments with supporting mortars and light anti-tank guns. Attached to this organization was an artillery regiment with 8 12.2 cm howitzers and 24 7.62cm howitzers.  With 16 more 7.62cm guns assigned to the antitank battalion and rifle regiments.   These guns had a smaller caliber, lower throw weight and shorter range than their German counterparts. Supporting battalions included a medium anti-tank battalion with its 4.5cm anti-tank guns, and 1.27cm anti-tank rifles, and an engineer battalion. But as the 109th Mechanized was also a recent expansion division. It did not have any of the tanks, trucks, or tractors of a mechanized division, and what little equipment the 109th and the subsequent 304th did have was lost in the hasty retreats of the summer of 1941. It was doubtful the 304th had much in artillery and any support assets when it deployed.

10,652 Men
6 3.7cm Antiaircraft Guns
8 12.2cm M1910/30 Howitzers
24 4.5cm Antitank Guns
40 7.62cm Cannons
54 5 cm Mortars
439 Machineguns
2 Cars
3 Trucks
311 Wagons

As the winter battles of 1941/1942 wound down, the 304th Rifle received large numbers of equipment and personnel replacements, and was reorganized according to the December, 1941 Shtat, as follows:

12,017 Men
6 3.7cm Antiaircraft Guns
8 12.2cm M1910/30 Howitzers
12 12cm Mortars
24 4.5cm Antitank Guns
24 7.62cm Cannons
40 5cm Mortars
402 Machineguns
1 Car
5 Trucks
351 Wagons

In equipment, with the exception of trucks and tractors, the division was probably fairly close to 90%, and in manpower, around 80%.   The interesting change in this model division was an attempt to streamline the communications between the artillery and the infantry.  One the ways this was done by assigning 4 12.2 cm mortars as regiment assets.

But from early Summer, 1942 to Winter 1942, the 304th Rifle was constantly engaged and was reduced to a small percentage of its original size. With heavy reinforcements, the division was rebuilt in place and rewarded for its efforts by being redesignated as the 67th Guards Rifle Division, and brought mostly up to strength. The division then was structured to the December 1942 Guards Rifle Shtat.

11,326 Men
6 3.7cm Antiaircraft Guns
12 12.2cm/37 M1938 Howitzers
24 16cm Mortars
50 5 cm Mortars
52 7.62cm Cannons
81 8.2cm Mortars
619 Machineguns
1 Car
4 Trucks
471 Wagons

Changes in the division after 1943 were mostly equipment in nature.  The antitank battalion was upgraded to 5.7cm guns and SU-76's, while the rifle regiments had their 12.2 cm mortars upgraded to 16cm mortars.

10,426 Men
8 SU-76's
6 3.7cm Antiaircraft Guns
12 12.2cm/37 M1938 Howitzers
24 5.7cm ZIS-2's
32 7.62cm Cannons
36 16cm Mortars
81 8.2cm Mortars
494 Machineguns
1 Car
4 Trucks
479 Wagons

Operational History
Born in the desperate days of July, 1941, the 304th Rifle Division was manned by remnants of 109th Mechanized Division, recently called up reservists, and whatever men and equipment it could scavenge on the long retreat from the advancing forces of Army Group South. The 304th had a talent for getting out of trouble, and evaded destruction on the retreat, and the encirclement at Kiev.

Assigned to the Southwest Front's 38th Army, the 304th fought on the southern flank during the German Operation Typhoon, a.k.a the Battle of Moscow, and participated in the Soviet winter offensives until the 1942 "Rasputitsa", or mud season.

In May, 1942, the 304th Rifle participated in the 2nd Battle for Kharkov. Unfortunately, that offensive met the German 6th Army and surrounded by the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies. Once again the 304th showed its talent for fighting withdrawal and escaped being pocketed by the German forces and began the long hard march towards the river Don.

In November, 1942, and under the Don Front's 65th Army, and with snow falling heavily, the 304th fought off the last attempt to drive it into the river, and with the start of Operation Uranus, began the offensive that would eventually lead to the encirclement of Field Marshal von Paulus' 6th German Army at Stalingrad.
On January 21st, 1943, the 304th was redesignated as the 67th Guards Rifle Division. After 5 months of heavy rebuild and training, the 67th Guards was assigned to the Vorozneth Front, 6th Guards Army, itself recently redesignated from the 21st Army, 22nd Guards Rifle Corps. The 67th Guards Rifle, along with the  two regiments of the 28th Antitank Brigade, was assigned to defend the town of Cherkasskoyle.

On July 5th, the 67th Guards Rifle was attacked by the German Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland, along with the part of the 10th Panzer Brigade, whose Panther Tanks were largly inoperational after suffering mechanical failures and mine damage, and elements of the 11th Panzer Division. After a day of heavy fighting, the 67th Guards Rifle retreated from its positions. Taking advantage of a river crossing and some hills, the 67th Guards Rifle took up new positions near Sertsevo. But the 67th Guards Rifle was flanked and penetrated and forced back again. At this time, Grossdeutschland, along with the 3rd Panzer Division and the 11th Panzer Division, was engaged by Soviet armored forces, including the  3rd Mechanized Corps and the 31st Tank Corps, and the 67th Guards was not pursued.

For rest of 1943, the 67th participated in the many of the battles to liberate the Ukraine.  During the winter, the 6th Guards Army, the 67th  Guards Rifle included, was railed north and transferred to the 1st Baltic Front.

On 23 June, 1944, the 67th Guards Rifle, now assigned to the 23rd Corps, 6th Guards Army participated in Operation Bagration.  The 67th was one of the hammers that was used against Germany's 205th and 252nd Infantry Divisions of the 3rd Panzer Army.  It was an operation that would crush Army Group Center, narrowly cut off Army Group North, and throw the Germans back to Poland.

By October, the winter campaigns were starting, and the 67th, participated in operations in the Baltic States that succeeded in cutting off Army Group North's 16th Army and 18th Army, now trapped in Latvia.  The reduction of this pocket was not deemed a high priority, and the 67th spent the rest of its career isolating the 18th Army in well deserved, albeit relative peace.


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