“Black Wednesday”: The Blue Division at the Battle of Krasny Bor

The Battle of Krasny Bor was the climax of the Blue Division’s time on the Eastern Front during WW2. Four Soviet rifle divisions, supported by tanks and guns, smashed into the equivalent of five Spanish battalions. the Spanish took a mauling but were only pushed a few kilometres back from their starting positions before the line was stabilised.

I also have a Crossfire Scenario for this battle.

Timeline of the Battle of Krasny Bor

Setting: Krasny Bor, Leningrad Oblast, Russia; Wednesday 10 Feb 1943

Early February 1943

For some days the Spanish believed a Soviet offensive was in the offing. There was a variety of evidence for this, including

  • Evidence of a build up of forces and armaments in the Kolpino zone.
  • The fact that Russian deserters were turning up with new underwear; replacement underwear apparently being a sure sign that an attack was being planned.

9 February 1943

Just before midnight on 9 Feb 1943, General Kleffel of Lth Corps warned General Esteban Infantes of an imminent Soviet attack on the exposed Spanish positions at Krasny Bor on the eastern bank of the Ishora river. The Soviets had massed an impressive forced crush the Spanish defenders and clear the main Moscow-to-Leningrad highway upon which the eastern lines of the division were positioned.

Soviet forces of the 55th Army (General V.P.Sviridov) – probably 44,000 men in the Infantry Divisions alone:

Elements of 55th Army (General V.P.Sviridov)

  • 43rd Guards Infantry Division *
  • 45th Infantry Division *
  • 63rd Guards infantry Division *
  • 72nd Infantry Division (may have been a former Ukrainian Penal unit) *
    • 14th Infantry Regiment
    • 133rd Infantry Regiment
    • 141st Infantry Regiment
    • 9th Artillery Regiment
  • 31st Armoured Regiment **
  • 46th Armoured Regiment **
  • 187 x artillery batteries of 124 mm and 203 mm guns
  • 2 x battalions of 80 mm mortars
  • 2 x battalions of 76.2 mm anti-tank guns
  • 35th Motorised Brigade
  • 34th Ski Brigade
  • 250 Ski Brigade

* Presumably each Division had a full 3 rifle regiments (of 3 battalions) each plus supports.

** The Soviets had somewhere between 30 and 100 tanks at the battle – a mix of KV-1s and T-34s. I’m not sure how these were organised as 100 tanks is considerably over the official numbers for two armoured regiments. Given the presence of KV-1s either the 31st or 46st must have been a “Guards Heavy Breakthrough Tank Regiment” as all KV-1s had been combined into such units by that date. These Heavy Regiments contained 21 x KV-1s and an armoured car. In Jan 1943 the TO&E for a medium regiment included 32 x T-34s, 7 x T-70 light tanks, 3 armoured cars, and a sub-machine gun company. This would make 60 tanks in total, which might be about right given some accounts vary in actual number of vehicles deployed.

[Glantz (2001, 2002) differs somewhat from the above and is a little confusing. He says the 43rd and 63rd Divisions (30,000 men), along with the 31st Armoured Regiment (30 tanks) attacked the Spanish, and the 45th attacked to their left (east) – presumably against the 4 SS Police Division, although Glantz is a little fuzzy on this.]

Spanish Forces in the Krasny Bor sector (5,600 men)

Elements of Blue Division

  • 250 Reserve Battalion
  • 262 Regiment (3 battalions)
  • 250 Reconnaissance Group
  • Ski Company
  • 1st Artillery Group (3 Batteries) with 10.5 cm guns
  • 1 x battery of 3rd Artillery Group with 10.5 cm guns
  • 1 x battery of 4th Artillery Group with 15.0 cm guns
  • Anti-tank group with 3.7 cm guns
  • Assault sappers group

Krasny Bor was a substantial town of brick dwellings, lying astride both the Moscow-to-Leningrad highway and the October Railway. The town lay within the alluvial plain of the Ishora River, the river being to the west of the town. The Spanish defences centered on an elaborate series of trenches called “El Trnicheron”. A redoubt (“El Bastion”) strengthened the line where the entrenchments crossed an old Russian anti-tank ditch.

The German 5th Mountain Division was on the Blue Division’s right flank. The 4 SS Polizei Division was also to the right of the Spanish (beyond the 5th?) but could not assist during the battle as it was expecting a Soviet offensive on its own front. A regiment of the German 212th Division was promised as a reinforcement for Krasny Bor.

During this entire period the temperature was below -25° C.

(Apparently there is a board game called “Black Wednesday” about the Battle of Krasni Bor. Units are platoons; turns are 20 minutes; hexes are 125 yards; designed by David A. Friedrichs. There is also a scenario for TOAW called “Arriba Espana! Krasni Bor crucible” covering this battle)

10 February 1943 “Black Wednesday”

At 06.40 a massive Soviet bombardment hit the Spanish sector. For over two hours 800 Soviet guns and mortars blanketed the area from the Spanish front lines; killing men, and destroying trenches and command posts. At 08.00 the barrage left the front lines and moved the rear zone setting alight buildings including the town of Krasny Bor itself but also the Hospital at Raikelevo to the south-west. “Everything was noise, fire, shouts, mud, snow and blood.” Half the Spanish losses of the day were incurred during this bombardment. The 1st Company of I/262, 6th company of II/262 and 2nd Company of the 250 Mobile Reserve suffered the worst artillery concentrations.

Despite air attacks and chaos on the roads, General Infantes made it to Raikelevo where he found his command post intact. From this position he tried to direct the defence.

At 08.00, as the bombardment left the front lines, massed Soviet armour and infantry assaulted the already shattered Spanish line. Each of the four Soviet Divisions advanced on its own axis of attack.

Eastern Sector / October Railway

In the east the 3rd Company of I/262 under Captain Ruiz de Huidrobo were dug in on the embankment of the October railway. By 08.50 they had repulsed two attacks by Soviet T-34s backed by infantry of the 63rd Division. The fighting had, however, taken its toll, and the company was down to a quarter of its strength – only 40 men still manned the trenches and bunkers on the embankment.. A third assault penetrated the right flank of the company, and the Spaniards found themselves encircled with enemy tanks to their flank. Captain Huidrobo was killed and the Spanish position overrun (14.30).

By 08.45 the HQ of I/262 and the shattered 1st Company of I/262 were destroyed by the Soviet on-slaught. The Ski company of the Division tried to come to the rescue of the front line units but was suppressed by Soviet air attacks.

At 0900 the 3rd Squadron (Captain Andujar) of the 250 Reconnaissance Group was sent to close the gap in I/262’s line. Captain Andujar and 20 men counter-attacked the advancing elements of 63rd Division. The section was overrun and the wounded bayoneted. The wounded Captain Andujar was subsequently found by other men of his Squadron and evacuated to the Hospital in Krasny Bor.

At 10.00 elements of the I/262 – primarily 3rd company – escaped from their encircled positions on the October Railway, and along with the survivors of the Ski Company, began falling back toward Krasny Bor. At some point – presumably during the retreat – the 3rd Company resist two Soviet attacks from within a swamp.

East-Central Sector / Krasny Bor

In the centre the 5th company and shattered 6th company of II/262 faced solid blocks of advancing T-34 tanks and infantry. The Soviets pierced the wooded line between the 5th and 6th companies and rumbled toward Krasny Bor.

Despite a core of the II/262 – 30 men of 5th Company – holding out in the front line positions, the Soviet tanks and infantry attacked Krasny Bor. The HQ of II/262 (Payeras) and 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron (Manjon) vainly tried to stop them. By 10.30 the majority of the town was in Soviet hands and Russian units were attacking the command post of the 262 and the Hospital on the southern edge of the town. Men of the 262 Headquarters (Colonel Sagrado), 1st Artillery Group, the Assault Sappers Group (Bellod) and remnants of other units furiously fought back to save the wounded in the Hospital. By 13.00 Spanish grenades, bottles of petrol, magnetic mines and bayonet charges forced the Soviets out of the town, and allowed the wounded to be evacuated to Sablino. To the north of Krasny Bor, the 30 remaining men of the 5th Company of the II/262 run out of ammunition in the mid afternoon and were overrun. By 17.00 the majority of the surviving Spanish abandoned Krasny Bor after 12 hours of fighting. Men of the 262, Anti-tanks, Sappers, Reconnaissance, and other units retreated southwards through Sablino woods. Men of the 1st Artillery Group were the last to leave, escaping at midnight.

West-Central Sector / Moscow-to-Leningrad Highway

Slightly to the west of the Soviet breakthrough toward Krasny Bor, the defense of the 7th Company of II/262 was centred around El Bastion – a fortified strongpoint on an old Soviet anti-tank ditch. None-the-less the elements of both the 6th and 7th company were pushed back to the Moscow-to-Leningrad highway by the Soviet 43rd Division. The men of II/262, along with the 3rd Sapper Company (Captain Aramburu) and the 8th Machine Gun Company, continued to resist along the highway. By 14.00 the Sapper company had been surrounded for more than an hour. None the less, the Sappers, along with the men of the II/262 fought on at the highway until nightfall. After dark the 150 survivors made their escape to the southeast and safety in the Sablino woods. They had been fighting for 23 hours.

Western Sector / Ishora River

By 08.45 the 250 Reserve Battalion in the west had dissolved under the massive onslaught of the Soviet 72nd Division supported by Tanks. The 2nd Company (Ulzurun) of the 250 Mobile Reserve had previously been smashed by the artillery barrage leaving the 3rd company (Captain Oroquieta) alone to face the ensuing onslaught. This company was quickly reduced from 196 effectives to 60. Captain Miranda – the Battalion commander – led his headquarters group in a charge to reach his front line units, but was engulfed by a wave of Soviets. By noon only two of the Battalion’s platoons were still fighting. In the afternoon the remaining 13 men of 3rd company – including Captain Oroquieta – were forced to surrender.

By 13.30 the Blue Division reserves had been brought up to the Ishora River. I/263 Battalion was in position at Samsonovka and Podolovo on the west back of the Ishora to stop any Soviet advance through Staraia Myza. The 3rd Company and the 4th Machine gun Company of the I/263 repulsed Soviet Infantry attacking across the river at Podolovo around noon. Throughout the afternoon these companies from the I/263, and the III/262, continued to defend the river line – at the paper factory in the loop of the Ishora, and south of Samsonovka – against strong attacks by tanks and infantry of the Soviet 72nd Division. 5th company II/263 was positioned at Raikolovo even further south

General

As the battle dissolved into chaos the Soviet attackers took to plundering the Spanish bunkers.

At 14.00 squadrons of German fighter-bombers bombed the Soviets in the Kolpino zone. At 16.30 a German regiment of the 212th Division moved to a line from the Moscow-to-Leningrad highway to the northern edge of the Sablino Wood. Another regiment took the line from the first regiment to Raikelevo in the west. The Latvian and Flemish Legions were merged with these two units to form the new 112th Division.

[I have seen an account (now gone with Geocities) where the Soviets had only 3 Divisions: 72nd attacking in the west, the 63rd Guards in the centre attacking Krasny Bor, and the 43rd attacking the October Railway. There is no mention of the 45th Division. Glantz (2001, 2002) has the 63rd attacking the Spanish with the 45th attacking the Division to the east – presumably 4 SS Police Division – and doesn’t mention the 72nd. I’ve chosen to go with the Spanish sources I’ve found.]

11 February 1943

At dawn Soviet artillery began pounding the Spanish at the loop in the Ishora River, including the paper factory. This area was defended by the III/262 and hundreds of survivors from various units smashed the previous day. The Spanish repulsed, and inflicted heavy losses on, an Soviet infantry attack just before 08.00.

At that point the battle for Krasny Bor was over. The Spanish suffered 3,645 casualties from the 5,608 men deployed during the 26 hours of battle = 75% casualties. They, however, inflicted about 11,000 Soviet casualties, a high price for the relatively small piece of land gained.

Hostilities continued in the Ishora sector, with the Spanish taking about 30 casualties a day.

Deployment at Krasny Bor

Eastern Sector / October Railway

Soviet

  • 63rd infantry Division (may have been a Guards unit)
  • 20 T-34 tanks

Spanish

  • I/262 battalion including
    • HQ of I/262 (Rubio)
    • 1/I/262 Rifle Company (Losada)
    • 2/I/262 Rifle Company (Muñoz)
    • 3/I/262 Rifle Company (Captain Ruiz de Huidrobo)
  • 250 Ski Company
  • 1/250 Sapper company (Nadal Simo)
  • 2/250 Anti-tank Battery (Diaz Cuñado) with 4 sections of 3 x 3.7cm guns
  • 3/250 Reconnaissance Squadron (Captain Andujar)
  • HQ of 250 Reconnaissance Group (Garcia Ciudad)
  • 9/III/250 Artillery battery with 4 x 10.5 cm guns
  • 11/IV/250 Artillery Battery with 4 x 15cm guns

East Central Sector / Krasny Bor

Soviet

  • 45th Infantry Division
  • 10 T-34 tanks

Spanish

  • HQ of 262 Regiment (Colonel Sagrado)
  • Elements of II/262 battalion including
    • HQ of II/262 (Payeras)
    • 5/II/262 Rifle Company (Palacios)
    • 6/II/262 Rifle Company (Iglesias)
  • 1/250 Anti-tank Battery (Felipe) with 4 sections of 3 x 3.7cm guns
  • 3/250 Anti-tank Battery (Cantalapiedra) with 4 sections of 3 x 3.7cm guns
  • 2/250 Reconnaissance Squadron (Manjon)
  • 2/I/250 Artillery Battery with 4 x 10.5 cm guns
  • ??/??/250 Artillery Battery
  • German artillery Battery (presumably 10.5 cm guns)
  • HQ of 250 Sapper Group (Bellod)
  • HQ of I/250Artillery Group (Reinlein)

West Central Sector / Moscow-to-Leningrad Highway

Soviets

  • 43rd Infantry Division
  • Some T-34s

Spanish

  • Bastion fortified position and Russian Anti-tank ditch
  • Elements of II/262 battalion including
    • 7/II/262 Rifle Company (Campos)
    • 8/II/262 Machinegun Company (Arozarena)
  • 3/250 Sapper company (Aramburu)
  • Anti-tank Battery (Apestegui)
  • HQ of 250 Anti-tank Group (La Cruz)
  • 1/I/250 Artillery Battery with 4 x 10.5 cm guns

Western Sector / Ishora River

Soviet

  • 72nd Infantry Division
  • 15 tanks

Ruslan from St Petersburg (private communication) tells me this division was formerly the 7th Marine Rifle Brigade – comprised of sailors from the Baltic Fleet – which in December 1941 was converted to the 72nd Infantry Division replacing a unit that had been demolished earlier. The 7th Marine Rifle Brigade just got the number and name of the 72nd Division.

Ruslan also tells me (citing http://www.rkka.ru/handbook/reg/72gsd.htm) that the “old” 72nd Division was Mountain Infantry, acquiring this label in April 24, 1941. It was destroyed in the Uman pocket in August, 1941.

One source refers to the 72nd as a former Ukrainian Penal unit. This is unlikely as although the Red Army had penal companies and penal battalions, it didn’t have penal divisions.

Spanish

  • 250 Mobile Reserve battalion including
    • HQ of 250 Mobile Reserve Battalion (Captain Miranda)
    • 1/250 Rifle Company (Aliva)
    • 2/250 Rifle Company (Ulzurun)
    • 3/250 Rifle Company (Captain Oroquieta)
  • 13/250 Artillery Battery (I assume this is part of the Artillery Group as opposed to the Artillery Regiment, so it is probably 7.5cm guns)
  • 7/III/250 Artillery battery with 4 x 10.5 cm guns
  • 8/III/250 Artillery battery with 4 x 10.5 cm guns
  • HQ of II/250Artillery Group (Regalado)
  • I/262 battalion (Garcia Calvo)
  • 3/250 Reconnaissance Squadron
  • Elements of I/263 Infantry Battalion including
    • 3/I/263 Rifle Company
    • 4/I/263 Machinegun Company

More Soviet Unit backgrounds compliments of Ruslan

Full text of email from Ruslan …

Now, what I know about battle at Krasny Bor and the troops that were there. First of all, the Soviets attacked positions of the Spaniards and 5th Mountain Division. The SS Polizei Division had been taken from that place a little earlier and sent to the Sinyavino heights, though some parts of this division could be left in reserve in the area of Tosno-Sablino.

Then, the Soviet divisions were called this way: 43rd Rifle Division, 72nd Rifle Division, 45th Guard Rifle Division, 63rd Guard Rifle Division.

The 43rd RD began the war at the Finnish border, defended Vyborg and after two months of operations was encircled on the shore of the Finnish Bay. It was evacuated from Koivisto port by several ships of the Baltic Fleet and took positions on the Neva river. This was in August, 1941. Then it fought at the Tosna river and near Kolpino, in particular it took part in the operation at Krasny Bor in February, 1943. I’m not quite sure if the 43rd RD fought at the Sinyavino heights in July, 1943. But then in the January, 1944 it attacked the German positions from the Oranienbaum bridgehead, took part in encircling and destroying the German forces in Strelna and Peterhof and then moved forward in the direction of Narva.

The 72nd RD was formed as the 7th Marine Brigade in September,1941 from the Batlic sailors; many of them had previously fought against the Germans in Estonia. The 7th MB took positions near Kolpino (on the Leningrad-Moskow railroad) and stayed there till January, 1944. It was given the name of 72nd RD in December, 1941. It took part in nearly all the operations that took place in that region. In January, 1944 it attacked the Germans and liberated Pushkin, Vyritsa, Luga, then moved upon Pskov.

The 45th Guard Division is a former 70th Rifle Division. This division participated in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War 1939-40 and showed itself a brave and skilled unit. In July, 1941 it was taken from the Finnish border and ordered to take positions between Luga and Novgorod. Some days later it attacked the Germans and moved forward for nearly 40 km, having inflicted heavy losses to the German 56th Motorised Corps, SS Division “Totenkopf” and some other units. (Surely, the 70th RD wasn’t alone in this operation but it had gained, maybe, the best results.) Then it moved back to the main positions of the Luga line and defended them till August, 1941, when it was encircled by the Germans who came from its flanks. But the 70th RD managed to break the encirclement, marched north and joined the Soviet troops near Pushkin. Then it was again sent to the front, defended Pushkin, lost it to the Germans but then managed to stop them in the fields one km to the north from the town (the front stayed there till January, 1944). The 70th RD took part in the winter 1941-42 operations of the Red Army between Kolpino and Krasny Bor. In October, 1942 it took a bridgehead on the Neva river and held it despite the fierce German attacks. For all its exploits the 70th RD was given the name of the 45th Guard Division. Then it fought at the Neva bridgehead (January, 1943), in Krasny Bor (February-March, 1943), between Arbuzovo and Sinyavino (July-August, 1943). Then it was included in the newly formed 30th Guard Corps (I’ll describe it a little later).

The 63rd RD began the war in Hanko peninsula under the name of 8th (Marine) Rifle Brigade. It defended this peninsula against the Finns till December, 1941 when it was ordered to move to Leningrad. This defence was very active, e.g. the Russians captured 19 enemy islands. The 8th RB evacuated in order and took with it all its tanks, aircrafts, artillery and supplies. In the first part of the 1942 it was transformed into 136 Rifle Division. It took part in the Tosno operation (August, 1942) where it fought against the SS Polizei Division (the Soviets held the bridgehead on the right bank of the Tosna river, the Germans managed to stop the Soviet offensive – the draw). In January, 1943 the 136th RD played the main role in breaking the siege of Leningrad, took the Poselok #5 and was granted the name of the 63rd Guard Division. Then it fought in Krasny Bor (February-March, 1943), in Arbuzovo (July-August, 1943).

In August, 1943 the 45th, the 63rd and the 64th (which came from the Volkhov Front and also had had enough exploits) formed the 30th Guard Corps. This corps was then used as a “strike” unit to break the strongly fortified enemy lines. It took Sinyavino heights (September, 1943), broke the German positions near Pulkovo and captured Krasnoye Selo (January, 1944), took bridgehead near Narva (February, 1944), broke three Finnish fortified lines on the Karelian isthmus (the so-called “Mannerheim line”; June, 1944) and so on, and so on.

It may be interesting: Three years ago, in 2000, the former 45th Rifle Division (it is now a Guard Brigade) took part in operation in Chechnya and captured Argun.

Regards,

Ruslan.

What is in a Name?

I’ve seen the name of this town spelt “Krasny Bor”, “Krasni Bor” and “Krassny Bor”. All of which is probably due to varying transliterations from Russian into English or Spanish. “Krasny Bor” seems to be the most commonly used spelling. (And if you go searching for Krasny Bor on the web, you’ll find a Spanish Oi band called “Krasny Bor 1943” – scary.)

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