Erickson – Road to Stalingrad

Erickson (1993) is an exhaustive account of the German invasion of the USSR during World War II. Although exhaustive, it is fairly high level, rarely describing the activities of formations smaller than a Brigade/Regiment. None-the-less it contains a wealth of potential wargaming scenarios.

The book is available from Amazon USA, UK, and Canada:

Erickson, J. (1993). The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s war with Germany: Volume One. London: Weidenfeld.

T-34 and KV tanks during Operation Barbarossa

A couple of the scenarios in the break through battles of Operation Barbarossa involve Russian Tank formations. These formations were dominated by the older types of tanks (T-26, BT) (Erickson, 1993). Few KV and T-34 tanks were available to the Soviet mechanized forces in the frontier battles of 22-27 Jun 1941. For example:

  • 12th Mechanized Corps had many of the older types (T-26, BT), although some at least were the monster KV-1 and KV-2s.
  • Mostovenko’s 11th Mechanized Corps had 290 tanks including only 24 T-34s and 3 KVs.

In contrast:

  • Khatskilevich’s 6th Mechanized Corps had a strong complement of the modern varieties. This unit was also quite large, with over 1,000 tanks on the books.
  • Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps had 133 brand new T-34s and KVs in addition to its light tanks, although it lacked artillery tractors and trucks for its motorized infantry.
  • Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps had 170 T-34s and KVs out of its 600 tanks.

The new tanks weren’t restricted to Tank Divisions as Kreizer’s 1st Motorized Rifle Division had a ‘goodly complement’ of the T-34s and KVs in fighting at Borisov in early July.

Even when a unit had a sizeable complement of the new tanks, they were not concentrated into a tank fist, but divided into penny packets amongst sub-units.

Rasienai Tank battle, 23-26 June 1941

In the frontier battles of 22-27 Jun 1941, Colonel-General F.I. Kuznetsov, North-Western Front Commander relied on counter attacks to stop the Germans, in particular by his armoured units (Erickson, 1993). Panzer Group 4 had broken through to the Dubissa and Kuznetsov’s planned to hit the German southern flank with his two Mechanized Corps (3rd and 12th). Hoping to avoid the attention of German aircraft the Soviet tanks operated in small columns; none-the-less, Major-General N.M. Shestopalov’s 12th Mechanized was pounded by German bombers before reaching its start line on 23 June and the small columns just diluted Soviet strength. After an overnight approach march (22-23 June), 2nd Tank Division (3rd Mechanized) hit the 6th Panzer Division from the south-east near the Tilsit-Shauliya highway. The Germans were caught on the march and the 2nd Tank Division claimed up to 40 tanks and 40 guns of the German 100th Motorized Regiment. The attack of the 2nd Tank Division stalled in the Rasienai area due to lack of fuel and were immobilized for much of 24 June. 12th Mechanized Corps suffered fuel problems earlier, is 690 tanks being immobilized to the south-west for 5 hours on 23 June, before Colonel I. D. Chernyakhovskii’s 28th Tank Division managed to engage 1st Panzer Division. During 23-26 June the 3rd and 12th Soviet Mechanized Corps fought the 1st and 6th Panzer Divisions in battles involving a fantastic exchange of fire. Over 250 Soviet tanks were involved, mostly the older types (T-26, BT) but with some of the giant KVs. The KV-1 and KV-2s of the attacking Russians causing considerable consternation amongst the Germans with anti-tank shells bounced off their hulls. By 26 June, however, 1st and 6th Panzer Divisions had cut through the Soviets and linked up. German guns located on higher ground had destroyed 3rd Mechanized Corp, and 2nd Tank Division (12th Mechanized) was withdrawn, low on both fuel and ammunition.

Libau Naval base, 25-29 June 1941

The retirement of the Soviet armies in the Baltic district exposed the Baltic Fleet’s advanced naval bases. By 25 June the German had blockaded Libau base from the landward side. On 25 June the Soviet defenders (Marines and 67th Rifle Division) foiled a German attempt to rush the base (probably by the 291st East Prussian Division). The next day the ships were withdraw from the base. From 25 to 29 June the defenders fought tenaciously, even forcing the Germans back. However, by 29 June howitzer and mortar fire had blasted the Russians out of their positions and the base fell.

Bridgeheads on the Western Dvina, 26-29 June 1941

As the German spearheads approached the Western Dvina Colonel-General F.I. Kuznetsov, North-Western Front Commander, attempted to organise a ‘stubborn defence’ of the river (Erickson, 1993). 8th Army was to cover Riga to Livani and 16th Rifle Corps (11th Army) to hold the sector from Livani to Kraslava, but the troops would not be in their final positions until 28 June. On 26 June Manstein thrust his way between the Soviet 8th and 11th armies and seized the road bridge at Daugvapils (Dvinsk) in the sector of the 16th Rifle Corps. 8th Panzer Division was the first into the bridgehead on the eastern bank and brushed aside the weak Soviet resistance. The 3rd Motorized Infantry Division followed on 27June, but crossing a little to the north of Daugvapils. The Soviet 5th Airborne Corps under Lieutenant-General S.D. Akimov (deputy commander of North-Western Front) were supporting 16th Rifle Corps and put in attacks to reduce the German bridgeheads but with only 6 guns and no tanks in support the paratroopers had little chance. As reinforcements arrived from Pskov, Moscow and Minsk, the Soviet attacks on the bridgehead bit deeper. The bridges were also a target and Soviet bombers took heavy losses attacking them, but had no effect. At 0500 hours on 28 June, Major-General D.D. Lelyushenko’s 21st Mechanized Corps attempted to crush the bridgehead. Redeployed from Moscow this unit had 98 tanks and 129 guns and Manstein found his position ‘quite critical’, but the Germans held. Both Kuznetsov and Manstein had attacks planned for 29 June, but Mansteins jumped the gun at 0500 hours and the Germans broke out. As an example of the mauling the Russian forces took, at the end of final German breakout the 21st Mechanized Corps only had seven tanks and 74 guns remaining.

The same day – 29 June – German tanks and infantry crossed the intact rail bridge over the Dvina, in Riga to the north. Russian forces – elements of 10th and 125th Rifle Divisions, Worker’s Guards (local militia) and an armoured train – destroyed the tiny German bridgehead, but then retreated themselves on 30 June.

Vitebsk, 7-10 July 1941

On 7 July 1941 20th Panzer Division was on the northern bank of the Dvina at Ulla, and 7th and 12th Panzer Divisions were thrusting between the Soviet 22nd and 27th Armies of the North-Western Front (Erickson, 1993); the whole Front was threatened. The following day Lieutenant-General Koniev’s 19th Army began moving into Vitebsk to fill the gap. In a counter move, 20th Panzer Division dashed from Ulla and slammed into the Russians forming up in Vitebsk. Despite being half formed, and lacking artillery support, the Soviet regiments put up a fierce resistance, yet by the evening of the 9 July the situation was dire. Koniev put in his last counter attack, a desperate thrust by the 220th Motorized Division, on 10 July, however, German offensives on the same day – Panzer Group 3 on the Dvina line and Panzer Group 2 on the Dnieper – meant the entire Front, and 19th Army with it, was forced back.

Tank battles on South-Western Front, 22- ?? June 1941

Source: Erickson (1993)

Soviet OrBat

South-Western Front (Lieutenant-General M.P. Kirponos)

‘Front Mobile Group’ (under Front Command)

8th Mechanized Corps (Ryabyshev)

[Attached from 6th Army. Initially scattered over 320 km, and ordered to Brody. Approach march about 500 km. At the start of the campaign Ryabyshev had 600 tanks including 170 T-34s and KVs, although not all 600 were available during the battle and these figures probably exclude 8th Tank Division attached from 4th Mechanized.]

12th Tank Division 60 tanks available

34th Tank Division 150 tanks available

Subsequently formed a ‘Mobile Group’ (Brigade Commissar N.K. Popiel)

1 x Tank Regiment

1 x Motor-cycle Regiment

7th Motorized Rifle Division

8th Tank Division [Attached from 4th Mechanized Corps.]

15th Mechanized Corps (Karpezo)

[Attached from Front Reserve. Initially deployed at Toporuv, west of Brody, in 6th Army’s area. Karpezo had 133 brand new T-34s and KVs in addition to light tanks, although he lacked artillery tractors and trucks for his motorized infantry.]

10th Tank Division

37th Tank Division (?? Not sure if in the 15th Mech)

5th Army (General Potapov)

15th Rifle Corps (Fedyuninskii)

27th Rifle Corps

87th Rifle Corps

9th Mechanized Corps (Rokossovskii)

[Attached from Front Reserve. Initially deployed north-east of Rovno.]

35th Tank Division

19th Mechanized Corps (Major-General N.V. Feklenko)

[Attached from Front Reserve. Initially deployed in woods north-east of Rovno.]

43rd Tank Division

[Had complement of new T-34 and KV tanks.]

22nd Mechanized Corps (Major-General S.M. Kondrusev)

[They lost 119 tanks in the fighting so presumably started with more.

41st Tank Division

6th Army (General Muzychenko)

4th Mechanized Corps (Major-General A.A.Vlasov)

[Initially deployed in Lwow.]

Front Reserve (Under Front Command)

31st Rifle Corps

36th Rifle Corps

37th Rifle Corps

German OrBat

Sixth Army (von Reichenau)

Seventeenth Army (von Stulpnagel)

Panzer Group 1 (von Kleist)

3rd Panzer Corps

13th Panzer Division

14th Panzer Division

48th Panzer Corps

11th Panzer Division

16th Panzer Division


22 June 1941

At the commencement of Operation Babarossa, Germany’s the Army Group South aimed for the junction between the Vladimir-Volynsk and Strumilov ‘fortified districts’. On the Lutsk-Kiev axis, despite staunch resistance by the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies German troops had pushed 15-17 miles into the defences by the end of the first day of the campaign. Lieutenant-General M.P. Kirponos, commander of the South-Western Front, recognized the danger of a deep penetration and ordered all available armoured formations – 8th, 9th, 15th 19th and 22nd Mechanized Corps – to attack the flanks of von Kleist’s Panzer Group 1. For the 8th this meant concentrating its units which were scattered over 320 km.

23 June 1941

German Sixth Army and Panzer Group 1 took Berestechko, on Kirponos’ right, and drove for Dubno. This move split 5th and 6th Armies apart. The Russian 10th Tank Division engaged Panzers near Radekhov, but the rest of Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps was spread over a 70 km front and foundered in bogs and poor roads.

24 June 1941

48th Panzer Corps attacked it’s attackers – Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps. The Breach between 5th and 6th Armies widened to 30 miles.

Further south, the German Seventeenth Army took Nemirov, north-west of Lwow, and hence opened a 20 mile breach between Soviet 6th and 26th Armies. Vlasov’s 4th Mechanized Corps was ordered to counter-attack but German pressure on Lwow prevents this.

Kirponos planed his armoured counter-attack for 0900 hours on 26 June.

25 June 1941

9th and 19th Mechanized Corps reassigned from Front Reserve to Potapov’s 5th Army in the north, although the transfer was never really implemented and the Corps effectively operated independently. A ‘Front Mobile Reserve’ was formed from 8th and 15th Mechanized Corps. Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanised Corps, by 25 June in the area of Berestechko, were ordered to Brody, and the 15th Corps from Toropuv to Radekhov.

26 June 1941

The ‘Front Mobile Reserve’ was to be the main blow, aimed at the southern flank of Panzer Group 1. Although the intrinsic Corps were not yet fully concentrated the Soviet armoured counter-attack kicked off at 0900 hours.

Despite only having one Division operational, Karpezo’s 15th Mechanized Corps struck at the flank of 48th Panzer Corps and reached Radekhov. Battered by the Luftwaffe, one of the 15th casualties was its commander, Karpezo; his deputy, Colonel Yermolayev, took command.

By the morning of 26 June, the scattered elements of Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps were also only starting to arrive at Brody. Some units had had to cover 500 km of Luftwaffe infested skies to reach the concentration point. Now under strength, the 8th had only 60 tanks available in 12th Tank Division and 150 in 34th Tank Division. To bolster the Corps’ strength, 8th Tank Division was attached from Vlasov’s 4th Mechanized Corps. Ordered to fight his way to Verba and Dubno, Ryabyshev formed a ‘mobile group’ from 34th Tank Division, including a Tank regiment and a motor-cycle regiment under the command of Brigade Commissar N.K. Popiel. Popiel’s strike force struck into the rear of 11th and 16th Panzer Divisions and headed for Dubno.

In the sector of 5th Army, Rokossovskii’s 9th Mechanized Corps struck south of Kiervany into the 13th and 14th Panzer Divisions

27-29 June 1941

From north-east and south-west the Russian tanks pushed toward Dubno … but they did not meet. Feklenko’s 19th Mechanized Corps, in conjunction with elements of 36th Rifle Corps, approached Dubno from the north-east but was pushed back by German forces. Two groups from Ryabyshev’s 8th Mechanized Corps, Popiel’s ‘mobile group’ a two division group (12th Tank and 7th Motorized Rifle) approached from the south-west. But German aircraft hammered the ‘mobile group’ and then 16th Panzer blocked further advance. Three days of savage fighting ensued, during which Popiel’s ‘mobile group’ was encircled.

29 June 1941

Three Corps of 5th Army (27th Rifle, 9th and 22nd Mechanized) attack Panzer Group 1 southwards from the woods of Klevany.

In the evening of 29 June, 16th Panzer Division, now reinforced by infantry, saw off the last furious attack by the Soviet 19th Mechanized Corps and 36th Rifle Corps.

30 June 1941

Due to continued German pressure, Kirponos ordered the Southern-Western front to withdraw to the old Soviet-Polish border. A move that would reduce his frontage by 320 km.

2 July 1941

Popiel’s ‘mobile group’ broke out of its encirclement. (They eventually rejoined the Soviet main line in August).


In the words the German Colonel-General Halder, Kirponos had done a ‘good job’. The Germans had tried grinding through Kirponos’ line, but he had held – in fact his was the only Soviet Front to hold during the early phases of Barbarossa. But both sides had taken serious losses in the process, and for the Soviets this was not all due to combat damage. For example, in the 8 days from 22 June to 1 July Kondrusev’s 22nd Mechanized Corps had lost 119 tanks, including 58 destroyed by their crews due to the inability to undertake minor repairs.

Zhitomer corridor, Early July 1941

Source: Erickson (1993), p. 168-171


Erickson, J. (1993). The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s war with Germany: Volume One. London: Weidenfeld.

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