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13th Guards Rifle Division

13th Guards Rifle Division
39th Guards Mechanised Division
13th Guards Tank Division
13-я гвардейская стрелковая Полтавская ордена Ленина дважды Краснознамённая орденов Суворова и Кутузова дивизия
Soviet Guards Order.png
CountrySoviet Union
BranchRed Army
Part of32nd Guards Rifle Corps, 5th Guards Army, Voronezh Front, later Steppe Front and 2nd Ukrainian Front - the list is not complete, for details ref. Official Division history(in Russian)
EngagementsBattle of Kharkov
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Kursk
Battle of the Dnieper
Operation Bagration
Battle of Berlin
DecorationsOrder of Lenin Order of Lenin
Order of the Red Banner Order of the Red Banner (twice)
Order of Suvorov 2nd Class Order of Suvorov
Order of Kutuzov 2nd Class Order of Kutuzov
Battle honoursPoltava[1]

The 13th Poltava Guards Rifle Division (Russian: 13-я гвардейская стрелковая Полтавская ордена Ленина дважды Краснознамённая орденов Суворова и Кутузова дивизия) was an infantry division of the Red Army that earned honours during the Great Patriotic War.[2]

German-Soviet War

On 6 November 1941, the 87th Rifle Division (Second Formation) was re-formed and placed under the command of former corps commander Alexander Rodimtsev. On 19 January 1942, the 87th Rifle Division was officially awarded Guards status and was re-designated as the 13th Guards Rifle Division.

Battle of Kharkov

In May 1942, the 13th Division was involved in the Soviet counter-offensive at Kharkov, where they fought on its northern axis, thus escaping the encirclement and destruction of a substantial portion of the Soviet forces engaged, followed by the Russian defeat. During this offensive, the division suffered more than fifty-percent casualties, most of which were sustained in the repelling of fierce German counter-attacks. It was during one of these attacks that an Artillery Captain of the 13th earned the first Order of the Great Patriotic War 1st Class to be awarded. Following his unit's success during this offensive, Colonel Rodimtsev was subsequently promoted to Major General.

The Battle of Stalingrad

First blows

On 13 September of that year, German infantry divisions made their first advance into Stalingrad, marking the opening salvos of the Battle of Stalingrad. By the end of the day the German 71st Infantry Division had reached the city centre, north of the Tsaritsa Gorge. A Stavka directive ordered the 13th Guards Division (in the midst of its resupply and reinforcement) to the Volga River and Stalingrad. After being briefed by Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov, the commander of the 62nd Army, Rodimtsev famously and determinedly declared:"I am a Communist! I have no intention of abandoning the city [Stalingrad]!"

Because of the recent influx of new recruits, the division was now largely inexperienced and untrained, and lacked both maps and knowledge of Stalingrad's rubble-strewn streets, which would prove enormously difficult to overcome in the struggle ahead. However, thanks to his experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Major General Rodimtsev was well versed in urban warfare. At 17.00, 14 September, the forward elements of the 13th Guards swiftly crossed the river to reinforce a line that was being held by a mere 15 tanks and few hastily assembled combat groups. It is estimated that more than half of the first wave perished during the river crossing, more than 3,000 being killed in just the first 24 hours. Ultimately, after extremely heavy losses on both sides, the German advance was repelled. Rodimtsev's soldiers recaptured the Mill and secured the central river crossing for other regiments of the 13th Guards.

The Railroad Station

Soviet infantry in Stalingrad

The following morning one of Rodimtsev's junior officers, Lieutenant Anton Kuzmich Dragan was personally ordered by Chuikov to hold a key railroad station in downtown Stalingrad against an impending German assault. Dragan proceeded to gather a platoon of less than fifty men and moved them over to the railroad station. Here, the small but determined force prepared itself for the German attack.

Soon after digging in, a substantial force of German infantrymen arrived to seize control of the station. The Russians proceeded to repeatedly frustrate the Germans in an epic room-by-room struggle for control of the depot for nearly three weeks. Breaking through walls, crawling over rafters, and burrowing under the floorboards, the Russians would yield but a portion of the structure to the Germans, only to emerge elsewhere and start the struggle all over again.

Exchanging gunfire down hallways, hurling grenades back and forth between rooms, Dragan's men inflicted significant casualties on the Germans. In spite of this heroic resistance, Dragan's platoon was eventually reduced to a handful of men. After running out of ammunition, and with their rations gone, one of the Soviet Guardsmen took out his bayonet and carved on a wall,

Rodimtsev's Guardsmen fought and died for their country here.

Under cover of darkness, Dragan and the five remaining soldiers under his command eventually slipped out of the building, made their way through the German lines, and were reunited with the remainder of the division.

The Mamaev Kurgan

The battle at the Mamaev Kurgan began approximately three weeks after the brutal fighting between the German and Russian infantrymen had begun in the outskirts of Stalingrad, on 15 September. During this portion of the battle, the division fought several Wehrmacht divisions for control of the park's central hilltop summit, which changed hands multiple times. Meanwhile, other divisional units fought in different sectors of Stalingrad. The division was in the midst of the combat throughout the city in the remains of the bombed-out buildings and factories, on the slopes of the Mamaev Kurgan hills, in the Red October Tractor Plant and in the key strategic building known as "Pavlov's House" (Yakov Pavlov was the commanding NCO of the platoon which defended the building). Most accounts state that of the 10,000 men of the division that crossed the Volga into the Battle of Stalingrad, only between 280 and 320 of them survived the struggle. This profligacy with life seems incredible to Western eyes, but was unremarkable during the conflict on the Eastern front.

Battle of Kursk

Following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad and the destruction of the German 6th Army, the 13th Guards are again pulled from the lines for re-fit and re-supply. Alongside the 5th Guards Army (Voronezh Front), the division was held in reserve south of Kursk, in order to counter the forthcoming German offensive there – Operation Citadel. The original intention was for these two formations to counter-attack the Germans after the German assault had been ground down by the front line Soviet units, but both formations were committed to prevent a possible breakthrough. After several days of continuous fierce fighting (including the tank battle at Prokhorovka, in which the 13th Rifles' small number of armored units participated in), they successfully ground the elite Waffen-SS formations to a standstill. Meanwhile, the rifle battalions on the 13th held the line around Oboyan, repelling attacks from trenches. Relatively few casualties were sustained because the Germans were focussing their attention on Prokhorovka by the time they had moved up from the reserve area in the rear.

Liberation of Ukraine

Shortly thereafter, the 13th Rifles advanced south-westwards, where they participated in the Red Army's assault to liberate Ukraine from German control. The division took part in the Poltava-Kremenchuk Operation [ru] in which they gained control of the town of Poltava after extremely fierce fighting, it was liberated on 23 September 1943. This is indicated by the designation of 13th Guards Rifle Division, Poltava (given in September 1943), which shows that the division was cited for their actions in seizing Polatava. After Poltava the division took part in the battle of the Dnieper. It was assigned to accomplish a false crossing of the Dnieper River to confuse the Germans and allow for crossings further north and south. Elements of the division crossed the river on floats and rafts to reach the island of Peschanny to the north-west of Kremenchuk where German infantry had occupied the west side of the island and had to be dislodged in hand-to-hand combat. The division forces sustained heavy losses in this operation when they were pinned down by enemy fire (even the deputy commander of the division Pavel Gayev was killed in action on the battlefield when commanding the operation[3]).

After the Kremenchuk the division fought in Krivoi Rog, Kiev, Uman-Botowni, and Lvov-Sandomir.[4]

Advance into Germany

During the Red Army's final drive into Germany, starting with Operation Bagration beginning on 22 June 1944, the Division was a part of the 32nd Guards Rifle Corps or was under direct command of the 5th Guards Army (2nd Ukrainian Front). This force drove the Germans back through northern Ukraine and central Poland in to the northern regions of Germany itself. By the end of January 1945, the 1st Ukrainian Front, including the 13th Rifles, had reached the southern outskirts. Here, they participated in the Battle of Berlin where they combating for both objectives: Berlin itself and the Teltov Canal. The capture of the latter objective gave the Red Army a river crossing of the Elbe River, allowing the Russians to assault the heart of the Third Reich.

Later service

The division became part of the Central Group of Forces after the war and by 1 November 1945 had been converted into the 13th Guards Mechanised Division. The division was stationed in Vienna until 1955, when the group was disbanded following the Soviet withdrawal from Austria.[5] The division was disbanded and its personnel and equipment became part of the 39th Mechanised Division of the 38th Army in the Carpathian Military District on 9 September 1955. On 4 December, the 39th Mechanised was redesignated as a Guards unit and inherited the lineage of the 13th Guards.[6] In 1956, during Operation Whirlwind, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the 38th Army covered the Austrian and Yugolavian borders of Hungary on the right bank of the Danube. After the end of the invasion, the division became part of the Southern Group of Forces at Veszprém, where it remained for much of the Cold War. In December 1956, the 39th Guards became the 21st Guards Tank Division. In January 1965, the 21st Guards was renumbered as the 13th Guards Tank Division,[4] restoring its World War II designation. According to American military sources corroborated by Vitaly Feskov and others, in September 1989, the division was transferred to Sovietske, Crimea in the Odessa Military District. It was disbanded there in December. The division's 130th Guards Tank Regiment, 56th Separate Reconnaissance Battalion, and 77th Separate Equipment Maintenance and Recovery Battalion became part of the 19th Guards Tank Division in Belarus.[7][8]

The division's final honorifics in 1988 included 'Poltava', Order of Lenin, Twice Red Banner, Suvorov and Kutuzov.

Subordinate units during World War II

  • 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment
  • 39th Guards Rifle Regiment
  • 34th Guards Rifle Regiment
  • 32nd Guards Artillery Regiment
  • 4th Guards Anti-Tank Battalion
  • 8th Guards Sapper Battalion
  • 14th Reconnaissance Company
  • 139th Signal Battalion
  • 12th Chemical Warfare Company
  • 11th Transportation Company
  • 17th Field Bakery
  • 15th Medical Battalion
  • 2nd Veterinary Hospital


  1. ^ "Stalin's Order of 23 September 1943" (in Russian).
  2. ^ "13 ГВАРДЕЙСКАЯ СТРЕЛКОВАЯ ДИВИЗИЯ". Боевые действия Красной Армии в ВОВ (in Russian). Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  3. ^ Жадов, Алексей (1978). Четыре года войны [Four Years of the War] (in Russian). Москва: Воениздат. p. 129.
  4. ^ a b Graham H. Turbiville, 'Restructuring the Soviet Ground Forces: Reduction, Mobilization, Force Generation,' Military Review, December 1989
  5. ^ Feskov et al 2013, pp. 414–415.
  6. ^ Feskov et al 2013, pp. 205–206.
  7. ^ Holm, Michael. "13th Guards Tank Division". Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  8. ^ Feskov et al 2013, pp. 424–427.
  • Feskov, V.I.; Golikov, V.I.; Kalashnikov, K.A.; Slugin, S.A. (2013). Вооруженные силы СССР после Второй Мировой войны: от Красной Армии к Советской [The Armed Forces of the USSR after World War II: From the Red Army to the Soviet: Part 1 Land Forces] (in Russian). Tomsk: Scientific and Technical Literature Publishing. ISBN 9785895035306.
  • Michael K. Jones. Stalingrad. How the Red Army triumphed.

Further reading

  • Keith E. Bonn (ed), Slaughterhouse: The Handbook of the Eastern Front, Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA, 2005, p. 361