On 16 Sep 1941 von Bock issued his operational directive for the capture of Moscow – codenamed ‘Typhoon’ (Braithwaite, 2006). Third Panzer Group (Hoth) would attack from the north, Fourth Panzer Group would attack in the centre, and Second Panzer Group (Guderian) from the south. The operation kicked off on 30 Sep.
German Army Group Centre
Partial Orbat at Commencement of ‘Typhoon’
- Field Marshall von Bock
- Ninth Army (Strauss)
- 6th Infantry Division
- Infantry Regiment 18
- 56th Infantry Division
- 106th Infantry Division
- 6th Infantry Division
- Third Panzer Group (Braithwaite, 2006, says Hoth; Jones, 2009, says Reinhardt)
- 1st Panzer Division
- 6th Panzer Division
- 7th Panzer Division
- 36th Motorised Infantry Division
- Fourth Panzer Group (Hoepner)
- 5th Panzer Division
- 10th Panzer Division (Fischer)
- SS Das Reich Division
- Fourth Army (Kluge)
- 78th Infantry Division
- 258th Infantry Division
- Second Panzer Group (Guderian)
- 4th Panzer Division
- 18th Panzer Division
- Second Army (Weichs; replaced by Schmidt)
- 43rd Army Corps (Heinrici) — Jones also mentions them fighting with Second Panzer Group
- 31st Infantry Division
- Regiment 17
- 31st Infantry Division
- 43rd Army Corps (Heinrici) — Jones also mentions them fighting with Second Panzer Group
- Luftwaffe Second Air Fleet (Richthofen)
- 8th Corps
Find a home for:
- 11th Panzer Division
- 8th Infantry Division
- 84th Infantry Regiment – regiment retained in Russia after the rest of the Division was sent to France due to high casualty rates
- 23rd Infantry Division – probably in Fourth Army but just a guess
- 9th Infantry Regiment (Raegener)
- 87th Infantry Division
- 134th Infantry Division
- Stationed on the southern flank and probably in Second Army
The Soviet’s had three ‘Fronts’ facing the Germans (Jones, 2009). Yeremenko commanded the Bryansk Front in the south, Koniev commanded the Western Front based at Vyazma in the north, and Budenny commanded the Reserve Front. There were about 900,000 men so considerably less than the attacking Germans.
Partial Russian Orbat at Commencement of ‘Typhoon’
- Bryansk Front (Yeremenko)
- 50th Army (Petrov)
- +2 other armies
- Western Front (Koniev)
- 16th Army (Rokossovsky)
- 19th Army (Lukhin)
- 24th Army
- 32nd Army
- Reserve Front (Budenny)
On 4 Jul 1941 the GKO began to raise 25 volunteer divisions from Moscow and the surrounding region (Braithwaite, 2006). This was one division for each of Moscow’s Raions. Each division had a number and carried the name of the Raion in which it was raised. Each Raion also had to raise a reserve regiment for replacements. Divisional and regimental commanders and chiefs of staff were regular soldiers. Company commanders were mostly officer cadets. The volunteers elected their own platoon commanders which meant these often had no military experience. The Raion Party Committees supplied the political commissars. Twelve divisions had been formed by 5 Jul. They had little or no training, weapons, ammunition, equipment, or uniforms. Four divisions had Polish rifles but no ammunition. Two divisions had French machine guns, artillery and mortars. Some antiquated French rifles and captured equipment was also issued. Although some training was given most of the volunteers were assigned to digging trenches.
On 16 Jul the GKO ordered the construction of the Mozhaisk defensive line – more than 170 km from the Moscow reservoir to the the north of the city – and the formation of the new Reserve Front (Braithwaite, 2006). This front was assigned five NKVD divisions and ten of the new volunteer divisions and formed two new armies each with five of the divisions. From what I can tell the volunteer divisions assigned to the front included: 2nd (Stalin), 5th (Frunze), 6th (Dzerzhinski), 8th (Krasnaya Presnya), 9th (Kirov), 17th (Moskvorechie), 18th (Leningrad). At the end of August the volunteers were given proper uniforms and their divisional flag. They were also reorganised into regular rifle divisions with the full complement of supporting arms. August also saw them moving to the front. By the end of September the volunteers had acquired much, if not all, of the weapons and equipment they needed, and had uniforms and some training. That put them on a par with some of the scratch regular units.
Four Russian armies were trapped in the Vyazma pocket, including 24th and 32nd with most of the Moscow Volunteer Divisions(Braithwaite, 2006). General Lukin of 16th Army took command of the Vyazma pocket and his men fought desperately. Five of the volunteer divisions that survived the October fighting went on to become Guards Divisions – 18th (Leningrad) was the first – but another five were disbanded due to losses. The disbanded divisions were 2nd (Stalin), 7th (Bauman), 8th (Krasnaya Presnya), 9th (Kirov), 13th (Rostokino).
With the creation of the Vyazma pocket the approach to Moscow was open (Braithwaite, 2006). The military colleges at Podesk produced a scratch force which, together with two or three regiments of artillery and some air defence units held the Germans at a river crossing on the Warsaw Highway.
Zhukov arrived in Moscow on 8 Oct 1941 and on 9 Oct was given command of the new Western Front – combining the remnants of The Reserve and old Western Front (Braithwaite, 2006). The Mozhaisk Defensive Line was still incomplete but Zhukov rushed troops into the line to block the gaps. Six rifle divisions, six armoured brigades, ten artillery regiments and machine-gun battalions. Zhukov ordered Rokossovski to defend 100 odd km at the northern part of the Mozhaisk Defensive Line. There he began to form a new 16th Army from the remnants of Lukin’s old 16th Army, Lev Dovator’s Cossacks, the 316th Rifle Division, a regiment of cadets from the School of the Supreme Soviet, the remnants of the 18th (Leningrad) Volunteer Division, and some artillery and other supporting units.
A howitzer battalion of cadets from the Krasin Artillery School in Moscow supported 16th Army’s Cossacks, 316th Rifle Division, and the cadet infantry (Braithwaite, 2006). Although well trained the artillery cadets had never fired their weapons before they entered combat. They had artillery tractors for their guns but the tractors could go at most 8 km / hour. They handed their guns over to 16th Army on 15 Nov 1941 and returned to training.
5th Army under General Leliushenko was in the centre of the Mozhaisk Defensive Line (Braithwaite, 2006). On 11 Oct the 32nd Division under Colonel Polosukhin, three tanks brigades, and the cadets from a Moscow military college took up positions at Borodino. On 13 Oct the Germans attacked 5th Army at Borodino and took the Shevardino Redoubt in front of the Russian line (Braithwaite, 2006). On 14 Oct they broke into the Russian positions. General Leliushenko was wounded in hand to hand combat. But Colonel Polosukhin’s 32nd Division held on for five days before retreating, unbeaten, along the road to Moscow.
On 12 Oct 1941 the GKO set up the Moscow Defence Zone and ordered the construction of another defensive line around Moscow itself (Braithwaite, 2006). On 13 the Moscow Raion were ordered to raise another volunteer regiment each but the total was only 10,000 men and they had few arms. Another 30,000 men were added from specialist units of the regular army, conscripts, members of the ‘Destroyer Battalions’. These were used to form five full strength Moscow Rifle Divisions. 600 women joined these divisions. Reserve divisions were also arriving from the east.
The 154th Marine Brigade was in the parade in Moscow on 7 Nov 1941 (Jones, 2009).
On 10 Nov the Bryansk Front was dissolved. Kalinin Front (Koniev) protected Moscow from the northern and Western Front (Zhukov) from the west (Braithwaite, 2006). Reserves from the far east joined Zhukov. Rokossovski’s 16th Army was deployed in depth with carefully placed anti-tank defences.
The 78th Siberian Rifle Division (General Beloborodov) joined 16th Army after 17 Nov 1941.
Stalin committed 20th Army, General Vlasov with fresh Siberian divisions, on the right of 16th Army following the Germans successes in 16-20 Nov (Braithwaite, 2006).
And by this time Russian aircraft were challenging the
In mid Dec General Dovator took his Cossacks of the recently redesignated Second Guards Cavalry Corps on a deep raid behind German lines (Braithwaite, 2006). By 19 Dec they were on the Ruza River. Dovator was killed whilst reconnoitring a German position.
On 10 Jan 1942 the Stalin launched a massive offensive. Koniev, backed by 16th and 20th Armies, broke through the German defences on the Volokolamsk Highway (Braithwaite, 2006). The Second Guards Cavalry Corps (now under Pliev), tanks and ski battalions went through the gap they created. Zhukov pushed along the Mozhaisk Highway. Belov’s cavalry and Yefremov reached a point southwest of Vyazma but were then encircled themselves; it took until July for Belov to return to the Soviet lines.
44th Cavalry Division
In the failed spoiling attack of 15 Nov the 44th Cavalry Division, newly arrived from Taskkent, when it tried a massed charge across open ground (Braithwaite, 2006).
316th Rifle Division
The 316th Rifle Division, under General Panfilov, was raised in Kazakhstan during the summer, was up to establishment, was well trained, and fully equipped (Braithwaite, 2006). As soon as it entered the line it earned the respect of the Germans. 316th Rifle Division deployed on the left flank of 16th Army to the west and southwest of the small city of Volokolamsk. On 15 Oct the Germans launched a massive attack towards Volokolamsk. 316th Rifle Division fought furiously but on 28 Oct, against Stalin’s orders, they abandoned Volokolamsk in disorder. Rokossovski and Panfilov were both criticized for their handling of this battle. 316th Rifle Division then rallied to defend Volokolamsk highway.
In the German offensive on 16 Nov the 1075th Infantry Regiment, 316th Division, held the division’s left flank at a small railway crossing called Dubosekovo. Their job was to stop the Germans reaching the Volokolamsk Highway. The regiment destroyed some tanks and suffered significant casualties themselves before withdrawing, without orders, towards evening. Amongst the defenders was a anti-tank platoon equipped with one machine gun, two anti-tank rifles, and some Molotov cocktails. This incident subsequently got talked up as ‘The Testimony of the 28 Fallen Heroes’.
Panfilov was killed by a random mortar round around 20 Nov.
8th (Krasnaya Presnya) Volunteer Division
The 8th (rasnaya Presnya) Volunteer Division contained an unusually high number of writers, musicians, and historians (Braithwaite, 2006). Initially under Brigadier Skripnikov by the end of September Colonel Zveriev was in command. The “Writers’ Company” was 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment. Many of the more experienced writers were subsequently reassigned as journalists which probably saved their lives. The 2nd and 3rd companies of 1st battalion contained 250 musicians from the Conservatoire. 1,000 men came from the University of Moscow. Recent graduates of the History Faculty of Moscow University were assigned to the Division’s artillery regiment. The division trained outside Moscow and were issued uniforms in late Jul 1941. The divisional artillery were given horses to pull the guns when the rains started in September. The division had 7,500 men when trapped in the Vyazma pocket by Fourth and Third Panzer Groups in Operation Typhoon. 8th division entered combat for the first and only time on 4 Oct 1941 when German tanks, guns and aircraft closed in. The division effectively ceased to exist. During the first day 1,200 men were wounded, the staffs were decimated, and the ammunition supplies practically exhausted. 1,400 volunteers died in a failed break out at the village of Korobets. The divisional survivors were split into two detachments and ordered to make their way through the forests if they could. German tanks crushed the first detachment on 6 Oct. The other traveled through the forests to the southeast for about 100 km until they reached the Soviet lines near Tula. The division was disbanded however Colonel Zveriev was one of the survivors and he was sent to the rear to form a new 8th Rifle Division. This new division was surrounded in 1942 and Zveriev was captured. He subsequently joined Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army and was executed by the Soviets after the war.
5th (Frunze) Volunteer Division
The 5th (Frunze) Volunteer Division under General Presnyakov were also in the Vyazma pocket (Braithwaite, 2006). They suffered heavy artillery and aerial bombardment but repulsed the first German attack. As the German tanks and motorised infantry pushed up the Warsaw highway 2,000 of the division assembled in a wood. They were split into groups and ordered to make their escape to the east. A German column surprised them but, after a brief panic, the Russian fought back and destroyed some tanks. By now the division was down to 300 men without ammunition and equipment. They killed the few German prisoners they had and pushed east again. The Germans rounded them up near Yukhnov.
6th (Dzerzhinski) Volunteer Division
Some officers and men from 6th (Dzerzhinski) Volunteer Division managed to escape the Vyazma pocket with the divisional flag (Braithwaite, 2006). The division was reconstituted, participated in the Dec 1941 counteroffensive, and fought its way to Berlin.
17th (Moskvorechie) Volunteer Division
17th (Moskvorechie) Volunteer Division under Colonel Kozlov tried to fight its way out of the Vyazma pocket (Braithwaite, 2006). Heavy bombing destroyed most of their vehicles. When the fuel ran out they abandoned the rest. They were ordered to escape in small groups. The survivors made it out with the divisional flag, 123 rifles, two sub-machine guns, and a machine gun. They were refitted and reinforced by still had less than 3,000 men by mid-October. They fought through the defence of Moscow and ended the war in East Prussia.
18th (Leningrad) Volunteer Division
18th (Leningrad) Volunteer Division escaped encirclement at Vyazma with its equipment (Braithwaite, 2006). It joined 16th Army under Rokossovski, took part in the December counteroffensive, was the first of the former volunteer divisions to become a Guards division (11th Guards Division), and ended the war in Germany.
One of the new formations raised in Moscow was the NKVD’s Independent Special Purpose Motorised Rifle Brigade (Otdelnaya Moto-strelkovaya Brigada Osobogo Naznachenia or OMSBON) (Braithwaite, 2006). The brigade was intended for special operations and contained regular NKVD troops and also athletic volunteers selected by the Komsomol. The OMSBON also contained Spanish Republicans, a company of Finns and some Georgian girls knicknamed “Beria’s eyes”. There were four battalions:
- NKVD troops and militiamen
- Veterans from the Spanish Civil War including exiled Spanish Republicans
- Students and teachers from the Central Institute of Physical Culture
In Oct 1941 OMSBON stopped training to help restore order in Moscow (Braithwaite, 2006). During the Soviet counteroffensive of Dec 1941 OMSBON personnel were sent through the lines to harass the German rear.
Braithwaite, R. (2006). Moscow 1941: A city and its people at war. Profile Books.