The Soviet Naval Infantry and their Battles

Soviet Naval Infantry – PRELUDE

History has always been a big interest for me, since around the age of 10. While the subject of interest has changed over the years, it’s always been there in one form or the other, from the Swedish Carlean soldiers in an early age to my current interest in the World Wars and beyond.

For this article, I chose the period that I have the most knowledge about, World War 2. I’ve always had a certain fascination with the contemporary history of their political and military systems, especially from the revolution and up to the Cold War.

The trickiest part was to find a subject that had an interesting story and stood out compared to the others. Filling those criteria are the Naval Infantry, that served as infantrymen during the war and was part of some of the biggest and most iconic battles on the eastern front.

Assault at Yevpatoria

The Naval Infantry has a long history, they were originally formed in 1705, by orders from Peter The Great. He wanted an infantry regiment, that would be equipped and supplied by Russia’s Imperial Navy, for use in boarding and landing operations and was assigned to the Imperial Fleet stationed in the Baltic Sea.

During the centuries they took part in many battles and many victories, ranging from the Battle of Gangut in 1744 through to the defence of Port Arthur in 1904 and much more.

ORIGIN

For the Motherland

“For the Motherland” Propaganda Poster

On Sunday, 22nd June 1941, Germany and its allies launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. They sent millions of mostly well-supported troops into Soviet territories.

The Soviet Union were at the time weakened by Stalin’s purge between 1936 and 1938. Among many other, there was a significant number of capable, and experienced officers that Stalin had ‘purged’. When the invasion started the Soviet Union were unprepared for the mere scale of the invasion, the lack of experienced officers and the clever use of the Blitzkrieg attacks across the 1800 mile long border. The Soviet Army weren’t able to mount an organised defence capable of stopping or slowing down the advancing forces.

Within the first week, the German-led attackers advanced far into the Soviet territories. The Soviet Army suffered massive losses in the early days of the invasion and the Soviet Command grew more and more desperate and needed new sources of manpower to help stop the invasion. One of the sources they found, that had a lot of potential troops was the Soviet Navy. Because of the invasion, most of the fleets were still in their ports.

They quickly formed two types of units; the Naval Infantry Brigades, which is the focus of this article, and the Naval Rifle Brigades followed later that year. Most of the men were just the ship’s regular crew without any real training for ground combat. They were converted to makeshift infantry units. The first brigade was formed in July 1941 and in total during the whole war, the Soviet Navy contributed around 350, 000 sailors to act as infantry. Their main objective was to defend the Soviet ports and Naval bases and not let them fall into the hands of the invaders.

ORGANISATION

The Naval Infantry Brigades were subordinated to a fleet and consisted of a Brigade HQ, a few HQ troops and usually between three and seven Naval Infantry Battalions.

1941-1943

Up until the end of 1941, there were seven active brigades and by 1943 at least 15 brigades took part in the fighting in one way or the other.

Sitting Sailors

Naval Infantry at Camp in Crimea

  • 3rd, 4th and 6th in the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Defended Leningrad.
  • 7th, 8th, 9th, 79th, 138th and 142nd in the Black Sea Fleet. Defended Sevastopol.
  • 12th & 254th in the Northern Fleet. Defended Murmansk.
  • 83rd Defended Novorossiysk.
  • 66th & 154th Fought at Don Bend with 64th Army.
  • 92nd in the Volga River Flotilla. Defended at Stalingrad.

1944-1945

During the first part of 1944, the Naval Brigades were active on several fronts and took an active role in guarding the Naval bases, ports and the coast to stop potential flanking manoeuvres.

Later during that year after the war had turned and the German-led attackers were driven back, the fleets could take on a more active role and started to reabsorb the infantry brigades to once again act as the sailors they were trained to be. They only left five brigades that took part in the fighting:

  • 3rd & 8th in Karelia.
  • 12th on the Arctic front.
  • 255th at Crimea and the Balkans.
  • 260th in east Prussia.

NICKNAME

Onwards to the west

“Onwards to the west” Propaganda Poster

In the early days of Operation Barbarossa, after the Naval Infantry had been re-formed, they took part in combat quite soon. Without any real training for the ground combat they had to learn ‘on the job’. Even with the lack of training, they fought very hard and they showed very high morale in a time, when that was less than common in the Soviet Army and became quite famous for it.

Most of the sailors fought using their black Navy uniforms and because of how they fought and the colour of their uniforms, the Germans gave them the nickname, “The Black Death” and “The Black Devils”.

Dismissal

After the war officially ended, the Soviet Command disbanded the Naval Infantry altogether and it wasn’t until the growing threat of war due to the Cold War they were once again formed into a ground fighting force in 1963.

During their active years in WW2, they took part in Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa, Sevastopol, Stalingrad, Novorossiiysk and Kerch. In total they conducted over 122 amphibious operations, 10 on a strategic level, 99 tactical and 13 diversionary.

UNIFORMS

Commissioned Officers

Admiral - Osprey

Admiral Red Banner Baltic Fleet April 1942 Osprey

The headgear consisted of an M24 black peaked service cap with a matching black leather chin strap. For the summer a white cloth crown was worn.
The badge on the cap was a gold anchor upon a gold wreath, below a red star and a crossed hammer and sickle on a white disc.

Their service jacket, the M35, was a black, double-breasted jacket with an open neck, boasting two rows of four large cold coloured buttons and two rear cuff buttons and was worn with a white shirt and black tie.

The M24 service tunic was in a dark blue colour and single-breasted with a high collar. Unlike the M35 it had five gold coloured buttons in one row. For the summer they used a white cotton version, which looked more or less the same except with internal pockets.

The days with bad weather, they had a black woollen greatcoat (M24) with either a closed or open collar that could be turned down and two rows of five, large gold coloured buttons.

They also carried a collection of miscellaneous items, to protect them during rain they had a rubberised raincoat, protective headgear, and belt. The coat had a closed collar and two rows of black buttons. This was worn with black trousers, white cotton in the summer, and black leather shoes. All the other elements like pouches and holsters were also black leather.

A Red Navy man, 1940-1941

A Red Navy man, 1940-1941 from English Russia

Non-Commissioned Officers

All non-commissioned ranks used ‘square rig’ seaman’s uniforms. The conscripts were assigned a black m24 flat-topped Bezkozirka, the seaman’s cap, with the name of the ship they served upon on the front in golden letters. They were also issued a black Pilotka cap, a garrison cap.

Part of the uniform was the dark blue jumper that had a blue collar and two two-buttoned shirt cuffs. Underneath they wore the iconic Telnyashka under-shirt, which is a blue and white horizontally striped shirt that was adopted by the Navy during the 19th century and became very popular and still is today.

During the summer, they wore a white cotton summer jumper which had the same collar and cuffs as the standard one.

They were also issued a black belt that had a rectangular belt buckle made of brass with an anchor motif together with a pair of black, or white in the summer, pants and black leather ankle high boots.

The greatcoat (M24) was black, woolen, double breasted with one row of five large decorative brass buttons and one row of ordinary buttons, concealed on the right side. When in bad weather they had a black, double-breasted M24 pea-coat with two rows of five, large brass buttons. 

When the Naval Infantry were formed they only had the equipment they had been handed to them in the Navy. With time they used more and more equipment from the Soviet Army so the units could have mixed equipment.

A Sample of Other Photos

BATTLES

The siege of Leningrad, 8 September 1941 – 27 January 1944

The city of Leningrad was one of the primary targets during Operation Barbarossa and the German command thought it would fall like a leaf, it was the second biggest city in the Soviet Union and held a strategic importance. The Germans saw it as one of the steps to truly break the Soviet Army’s morale. The siege started on 8 September 1941 and didn’t end until 27 January 1944, lasting 872 days.

Leningrad’s Command

The officers that were handed the task as commanders of defending the city were:

A volunteer unit made up of Kirov Factory workers marching in Leningrad, Russia, 1 Nov 1942 Photographer Boris Kudoyarov

  • Andrei Zhdanov, Commander for the civil defence.
  • Markian Popov, Commander of the Leningrad Military District.
  • Georgy Zhukov, Commander of the Leningrad Front.
  • Leonid Govorov, Commander of the Leningrad Group of Forces of the Leningrad front.

Zhukov put together a large workforce to construct a variety of defences; wooden blockages, barbed wire, anti-tank ditches, and trenches. They manage to build a significant amount of defences and they were prepared for a hard fight when the German forces arrive.

Before the Battle

Before the battles started Zhdanov tried to rally the people and told the people of Leningrad:
“The moment has come to put your Bolshevik qualities to work, to get ready to defend Leningrad without wasting words. We have seen that nobody is just an onlooker, and carry out in the least possible time the same kind of mobilisation of the workers that was done in 1918 & 19. The enemy is at the gate. It is a question of life and death”
The people in Leningrad expected that the German force would break through their defences and occupy the city. The German force tried to break through but the defenders fought with such determination that the Germans couldn’t push through and got ordered to surround and besiege the city instead.

The Siege

Leningrad building damaged by German artillery, Russia, Dec 1941-Jan 1942 Photographyer Vsevolod Tarasevich

The siege started on 4th September 1941 with the German artillery started bombarding the city. Just two days later on the 6th September, the Luftwaffe started bombing key positions in the city.

On the 7th October Hitler gave the order that Leningrad must be taken without giving the Russians any chance to surrender. In documents found in Hitler’s office, he had decided to “wipe Leningrad off the face of the earth.”

The Luftwaffe intensified their bombing of the city and dropped thousands of incendiary bombs over the Badayey warehouse district which consisted of two hectares of wooden buildings which contained most of the city’s food supplies.

Supplies

With virtually no food left the living conditions became unbearable and at the end of December 1941 between three and four thousand died from starvation per day.

The people remaining in the city sought food wherever they could, whether slaughtering animals and scavenging any sort of ingredient that could be made into bread. Survivors from the siege have told about how for instance factory workers would eat grease from the machines and drank oil so as to feel less hungry. There were some that turned to cannibalism as a means to stay alive and several cannibals were caught by the police. They divided them into two categories; first, if you didn’t kill the person you would go to prison/camp, and if you both killed and ate from a person you were likely to get shot.

Soviet naval infantrymen manning a machine gun position at the edge of the Gulf of Finland near Leningrad, Russia, 10 Dec 1942 Photographer J Brodskiy

Lifelines

The city had two possible lifelines, the first one was that they constructed a road for the trucks to be able to get supplies. The road was 200 miles long and they managed to construct it in only 27 days. The road was very poorly made and the trucks were not capable of driving more than 20 miles per day. The second was to go over the Lake Lagoda, which even with the freezing weather, the ice wasn’t thick enough to support a loaded truck. It wasn’t until late November that they could use that road and a small number of trucks started getting supplies. The trucks managed to get around 33 tons of food but the whole city needed 1000 tons per day to function normally. The trucks were also used to evacuate up to 500, 000 people by the trucks.

Finland

The German allies, the Finns, had approached the city from the north but decided to halt and not take part in the siege and that decision probably saved Leningrad.

On 18th January 1943, The Soviet force launched Operation Spark. Troops from Leningrad and Volkhov counter-attacked the German forces to the south of the city. That attack managed to open a corridor, allowing supplies to be brought to Leningrad. Soon after the railways between Moscow and Leningrad were restored.

The German’s had begun their retreat and managed to withdraw before the Soviet Army could engage them.

Soviet sailors marching in Leningrad, Russia, 1 Oct 1941 Photographer Boris Kudoyarov

The Naval Infantry’s Role

During the siege, the Red Banner Baltic Fleet provided the city with over 125, 000 sailors and personnel to fight as ground units, comprising nine rifle brigades, one ski regiment, 38 separate battalions and 32 artillery batteries. Especially the 1st Naval Brigade played a big role in defending Leningrad but were basically destroyed in the process.

Other Naval Brigades helped to hold the Oranienbaum bridgehead and to defend the road over Lake Ladoga.

After the siege had ended the Soviet Leaders used it as a powerful tool for the propaganda machine and the city received the “Order of Lenin” in 1945 and in 1965 it was also rewarded the “Hero City”.

Siege of Sevastopol, 30 October 1941 – 4 July 1942

The Defense of Sebastopol

The Defense of Sebastopol by Alexander Alexandrovich Deyneka

At Sevastopol, the Soviet Union had constructed a big naval base that, at that time were one of the strongest fortifications in the world. It took advantage of the unfavourable terrain which made all attacks very dangerous.

Before the Siege

The Soviet Navy had also installed heavy defensive weapons consisting of 188mm and 305mm gun with the capability to fire both inland as well as out to sea. The gun was installed in reinforced concrete fortifications and 9.8 inch thick armoured turrets.

The base was a very valuable target strategically as it would give the Axis both a port and an air base that would give them the ability to conduct operations far into the Soviet territories and the Red Air Force had used it as a base for attacking targets in Romania, especially Romania’s oil refineries.

At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis command hadn’t made the capture of Crimea and Sevastopol an objective. This changed fast when the Red Air Force began to target the Romanian Oil Refineries and destroyed 11, 000 tons of oil. At 23 July 1941 Hitler ordered the conquest of Sevastopol.

Hitler grew impatient with the lack of progress and at 12th August he gave the order again and wanted it to start immediately.

Crimea

The first to start the invasion of Crimea was the 11th Army which was commanded by Generaloberst Erich von Manstein. They met strong resistance but by 16th November the region was cleared and it’s capital, Simferopol was captured.

Late October that year the Major-General Ivan Yefimovich Petrov’s Independent Coastal Army had arrived at Sevastopol which added 32 000 men to the defence force. Petrov gave the orders to fortify the surrounding areas that led to Sevastopol. His aim was to halt the Axis force before they made it to the base.

Schwerer Gustav

Schwerer Gustav a German 80 cm (31.5 in.) railway gun

The majority of the defending force came from two sources, the Independent Coastal Army and the Black Sea Fleet. The fleet provided 49, 372 men to form three Naval Infantry Brigades. Each of those had between 16, 000 and 24, 000 men divided into battalions that were 4000 men strong.

The Brigades were assigned to two different defence-sectors; the 7th Naval Infantry Brigade in sector 1 and the 8th and 79th Naval Infantry Brigades in sector 3.

Most of the force were well equipped, both the soldiers themselves and with support from artillery and mortar battalions. The Coastal army and garrison were lacking in tanks and AA support and the garrison were low on food and mortar shells which had a big impact on the morale.

The task of besieging the base was given to Eric von Manstein who commanded the 11th Army who at the time were mad up by nine Infantry Divisions divided into two Corps and one Corp of Romanian soldiers. The German’s brought with them an impressive array of different siege artillery like the 24” siege mortar Karl-Gerät, the 16.5” siege howitzer and the massive 31.5” railway gun Schwerer Gustav “Dora”.

For the attack, they were given heavy support from the Luftwaffe who dispatched the Luftflotte 4’s 8th Air Corp which consisted of 600 aircraft which included many medium bombers, dive bombers and torpedo bomber wings.

The German force didn’t deploy any naval units but had some naval support from the Italian 101st Squadron which included torpedo boats, explosive motor boats, submarines and MAS boats.

Altogether the defending force had around 118, 000 men and the Axis force around 203, 800 men.

Attack

The first attack was launched on 17th December when the Germans’ attacked the 8th Naval Infantry Brigade with the 22nd Infantry Division and the 50th and 132nd Infantry Divisions attacked the base.

With help from the battleship, Parizhskaya Kommuna the defence held on most parts and the attack stopped when the Soviet Army launched an amphibious landing at the Kerch peninsula between 26th and 30th December. If successful, they were to push their way to Sevastopol and relieve the garrison.

Kerch

The landing was successful and they sustained a bridgehead for five months before a German-led counter-offensive destroyed the bridgehead and the three Soviet Armies supporting the landing. During those five months, the Soviets consolidated their bridgeheads and defended their positions against the Romanian Brigades.

Naval Infantry, Kerch

Naval Infantry during the fighting at Kerch

The German’s sent in the available Luftwaffe to slow down the Soviet build-up but failed and the Soviets managed to have 100, 000 men and several hundreds of artillery pieces transported to Kerch. In February they transported in an additional 3, 630 men and supplies.

Manstein launched counter-attacks but his 11th Army didn’t have the strength to destroy the 44th and 51st Armies that had landed. Dimitri Kozlov, who was in charge of the Soviet landing force, began several offensives but were defeated by one of the German Corps, all with heavy Soviet losses.

By the beginning of May, their supplies were almost gone thanks to the pressure Luftwaffe had put on them. The only way to get supplies were by sea. Luftwaffe had been reinforced with more torpedo-bombers which had inflicted big losses on the Soviet Navy.

Wrecked Soviet destroyer

Wrecked Soviet destroyer at Sevastopol, Russia (now Ukraine), circa Jul 1942, Photographer Horst Grund

Stalin’s Order

The Soviet command had sent a request to Moscow and wanted Stalin to order an evacuation which he refused and instead gave the order, in late April, to prepare an offensive to re-take the Crimea. In the beginning of May, he instead issued order #170357, that all forces should prepare for a defensive battle and that he wouldn’t send any reinforcements to help.

The defending force consisted of three armies; 51st to the north, the 44th to the south and the 47th was kept in reserve. The size of the armies was twice the size of the German-led force. They had also used the unfavourable terrain to the south that had large swamp areas. Because of that, Kozlov didn’t expect the German’s to launch a full attack.

The only option for the German-led force was a full, straight on attack. Being outnumbered to the extent they were, meant that they would have to rely on the Luftwaffe for heavy support.

The attack began in the early morning of 8th May with the Luftwaffe targeting the defender’s lines of communications and their airfields. Soon after the 44th Army’s communication and Headquarters was taken down.

Manstein seized the moment and launched a ground attack. Without means of communication and leadership, it only took three hours for the 44th Army to collapse and retreat. His army consisted of five infantry divisions, a Panzer division and Romanian support of two and a half divisions. The defending force at the time had 19 infantry divisions and four armour brigades.

Ground Attack

When he began the ground attack, he had the 123rd German Infantry Division, with the help of the 902nd Assault Boat Command land behind the Soviet defence-lines and engage the second line of defenders and within the first day, the forces had broken through in the south front.

The German Army only lost 104 men, 284 wounded and captured 4514 Soviet soldiers. On the second day of the offence, Manstein sent his Panzer Division to engage the 51st Army which got trapped against the Sea of Azov. Kozlov hadn’t realized the importance of the German breakthrough until it was too late. The morale of the Soviet armies crashed and started a panic filled retreat and the 51st Army surrendered.

In the end, the Germans had taken 170, 000 prisoners, including many civilians, and 162, 282 Soviet soldiers were killed or captured. The German’s casualties were only 600 dead and 2797 wounded.

This was a very important operation and the German-led forces managed to win against an enemy twice their size.

The City of Sevastopol

Wrecked Soviet destroyer

Wrecked Soviet destroyer at Sevastopol, Russia (now Ukraine), circa Jul 1942, Photographer Horst Grund

Petrov had a big number of artillery under his command but only had ammunition for a two-week long battle and hardly any tank or Anti-Air support. The fighting at Kerch had used up between 35% and 75% of the initial strength of the 11th Army. All the German Armies lacked both manpower and artillery supplies.

To be able to take on the base they needed an all-out assault by the Luftwaffe to compensate for the lack of artillery supplies. They flew 723 missions just on the first day and the only loss was one Ju87.

While the Luftwaffe attacked the base, Manstein called for an attack on the Soviet Navy. They managed to sink one tanker but the rest of the fleet managed to escape.

Assault

On 7th June Manstein ordered the assault to begin. Despite the very heavy bombing from the Luftwaffe, the Soviet defenders held on. One of the German Corps attacked the southern position partially held by the 7th Naval Infantry Brigade. The Germans advanced slowly and the defenders didn’t open fire until the Germans were well within range and held back the attack. The second day was more or less the same which angered the German Command.

The North front was also assaulted with the support of ‘Schwere Gustav’ but the defence held here as well. The 132nd Infantry Division got locked in combat with the 79th Naval Brigade. Everywhere told the same story, the offensive supplies were running low and losses were high. Manstein once again turned to the Luftwaffe for support and they targeted the Soviet supply line and the Soviet Navy.

Slowly the attackers started to get the upper hand. Several counter-attacks were repulsed and the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade got overrun.

On 10th of June the Soviet forces mounted a counter-attack but with the Luftwaffe dropping anti-personnel bombs on them when they were in the open, they were soon basically destroyed. At this time there was just one Battalion left that could block the Germans from surrounding the fort.

The south front was at a standstill for days and while they had broken through the defence-line in some parts, they were still in Soviet hands.

The harsh conditions started to take its toll and the Northern defence-line collapsed and sections of defenders surrendered. The 138th Naval Infantry Brigade launched a counter-attack but without artillery or air support they were destroyed in the process.

Destroyed coastal guns

Destroyed coastal guns at Fort Maxim Gorky I, Sevastopol, Russia (now Ukraine), circa Jun 1942, Photographer Horst Grund

The Fall

Petrov and the commander of the Navy, Filipp Oktyabrskiy were evacuated at the last minute and Major General Pyotr Georgyevich Novikov took over as the commander of the defence. On 30th June a heavy assault was launched with one Corp and support from Luftwaffe and artillery.

The next three days saw heavy fighting and on 3rd July the Soviet defences got breached. The day after the last of the organised defences were overrun and collapsed.

There were some smaller pockets of resistance left but by 9th July it was over.

Battle of Stalingrad, 23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943

The battle for Stalingrad is one of the most infamous battles during the whole war and in some ways (to some part yes but far from the only reason), it was the turning point for Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion, and the Soviet resistance.

On 23rd August, the Axis 6th Army were the first to reach the city while pursuing the 62nd and 64th Soviet Armies from earlier confrontations as part of the offensive.

Wrecked Russian T-34 tanks

Wrecked Russian T-34 tanks on the side of a railroad at Stalingrad

First Contact

Generaloberst Wolfram von Richthofen’s Luftflotte 4 began the attack and during the first two days, they dropped some 1, 000 tons of bombs over the city. In the first week, 80% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed. He also ordered them to target the ships and boats in the Volga to make it harder to send in new supplies and reinforcements.

The first lines of defence were handed to the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment which consisted mostly of female volunteers. The regiment didn’t have any training for ground combat and didn’t have any supporting units. Even in those conditions, they stayed in their positions and didn’t retreat.

The NKVD had formed ad-hoc civilian militias from the civilians that didn’t work with military supplies and it’s said that they were at times, sent into battle fully armed. Teachers and their student’s from the technical university set up an improvised tank factory in the Stalingrad tractor factory where they built tanks from parts they could salvage from the tractor factory. They were very basic and they could only aim at point-blank range by looking through the gun barrel.

A Russian soldier, sailor, and a political officer in Stalingrad, Russia, 23 Sep 1943 from WW2Dbase

No Retreat

On 27th July Stalin decreed that no one would be allowed to issue a retreat and if they did, they would be subject to a military tribunal. Some historians have estimated that around 14, 000 Soviet soldiers were killed when trying to flee so as to make an example to others, to deter anyone wanting to do the same.

To make sure his order was followed, political commissars were dispatched to Stalingrad. Stalin’s order didn’t only apply to the military but also the civilian population.

The battle turned into street fighting, street by street, building by building and both sides suffered heavy casualties but the Axis made progress through the city.

As the German Gruppe Edelsheim was closing in on the Southern railway station, They passed close to the Grain Elevator, which would become one of the most iconic buildings of the battle.

Stalingrad Grain Elevator

Stalingrad Grain Elevator

Grain Elevator

The Germans quickly realised the tactical importance of the building and sent a small force to take control of it, which at this time was unoccupied. A group of 27 Soviet soldiers, from the 10th Rifle Brigade, was sent to attack the building and take control of it. They attacked in the late afternoon and by the early hours of the 16th they had eliminated all the German defenders.

The Germans immediately launched an attack to take back control but the defenders pushed back the German force, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. The defenders made an urgent call for help and were reinforced by a platoon of Naval Infantry.

The German command sent forward a tank and interpreter to try to make the defenders surrender with no effect. The Germans responded with the decision to break the defenders with artillery and dive-bombers. They moved howitzer’s, 88mm flak guns and heavy mortars into the area and started a constant bombard of the Grain Elevator.

Defensive

The following day the Germans launched ten attacks with infantry supported by tanks and flame-throwers, but every attack was pushed back by the defenders with both sides suffering high casualties.

Overview of Stalingrad during the fighting

Overview of Stalingrad during the fighting

During the bombarding and constant attacks, the grain had caught fire and the smoke was choking the soldiers and their water supplies had run out, water needed both for the soldiers and for cooling their machine guns. The only radio was out of action and the supplies of anti-tank rifle ammunition and grenades were almost gone.

Conditions inside the building got worse and worse. The smoke was so thick that the defenders couldn’t see the attackers and opened fire in any direction they heard someone approaching.

The Germans continued the bombarding for two more days until they mounted the final attack. 200 soldiers supported by 12 tanks attacked the building and their first target was to take out the two Maxim machine-guns the defenders had to cover the front. After they were taken out of action, the defence started to crumble and as the Germans entered the building the defence collapsed. The fighting inside, in the smoke-filled building, was hard but the defenders started trying to escape but few managed to.

Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev, the most famous Naval soldier

  • Nickname: Vasya
  • Born: 23 March 1915
  • Died: 15 December 1991
  • Years of Service: 1937-1945
Vasily Zaytsev

Vasily Zaytsev

History

Vasily, who started his career in the Navy, which he joined in 1936, became one of the most famous soldiers in the Soviet Union and his reputation spread in the years after the war ended.

When Operation Barbarossa was launched, he was serving as Clerk in the Soviet Naval Base at Vladivostok. As many of his friends and fellow comrades in the Navy, he volunteered to be sent to the front lines. In the Navy, he held the rank of Chief Petty Officer which, when he got transferred to the Soviet Army he got assigned the rank of Senior Warrant Officer.

He was assigned to the 1047th Rifle Regiment that was part of the 284th Rifle Division and took part in the battle of Stalingrad and his combat début was in September 1942 at Stalingrad.

Stalingrad

It was during his time fighting in Stalingrad that he became known for his marksman skills. For the first part, he served as a normal infantry and killed over 30 German soldiers. Shortly after he was given a sniper rifle and took on the new role as a sniper.

Over the next three months, he killed a large number of enemy soldiers and the Soviet Media/Propaganda Machine were quick to use his accomplishments to boost the flagging morale. He used a different technique than most other snipers. At that time the common practice for snipers was to not change position very often, which was something Vasily didn’t agree with.

His method was the opposite, changing position after a couple of kills, repeating regularly. He also used the terrain better by hiding under debris to conceal himself better.

Covering Strategy

He also had a strategy for covering large areas by placing three sniper teams, all covering the same large area. This strategy became known as “Sixes” and it’s still in use today.

He was active until January 1943 when he suffered injuries to his shooting eye by a mortar shell. His doctor, Vladimir Filatov was able to fix the damaged parts but not to the extent that he could return as a sniper. Instead, the command wanted him to put his skills to use and used him to train new snipers. In total, he trained 28 snipers and wrote two books about the subject.

End of the War

At the end of the war, he was at the Battle of the Seelow Heights in Germany and had risen to the rank of Captain and he had been rewarded the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’. Between October 10th to December 17, 1942, he had killed 225 enemy soldiers which included 11 German snipers.

Vasily Zaytsev Old

Vasily Zaytsev in his older days

The propaganda campaigns that used him was filled with false information. For example, they didn’t mention that he came from the Navy and the number of kills fluctuated quite a lot.

It was common, in all nations, to modify the truth to suit their needs to boost morale, the sales of war-bonds and to keep the citizens not fighting, calm.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope this has given you some background that can be used when modelling and painting miniatures, busts or dioramas that include the Naval Infantry. At the very least I hope it has whetted your appetite to maybe look deeper into this rich military history.

There are some miniatures of them available, ranging from 28mm gaming miniatures to scale models and busts.

The key battles they were part of our popular settings for scale models and dioramas, especially Stalingrad. One of the best ones has to be Dan Capuano’s Stalingrad diorama from 2013.

The photos are by David Powell. For more photos, go to Dan Capuano’s thread at Planet Figure.

 

Nils Holmbergh

Nils have been painting since 1994 when he discovered miniature games and the last three years have been focused on bigger miniatures. Likes painting to heavy Industrial music or really bad horror movies.

 

Comments

  1. Chris Brosnahan

    Thanx for this history of the “Black Devils”…I’ve been looking for some kind of information on these guys, but until now hadn’t found anything of use to me…I have the Young Miniatures 1/10 scale bust of Black Devil and was hoping Osprey would have a book on that subject by now, but so far, nothing…the illustrations here will be useful if I ever get off my dead ass and start painting once more…again, thank you, my friend!!! Painting that figure with a chromatic black will be a great challenge!!!

    1. Author
      Nils Holmbergh

      Thank you, I’m happy that it will be of use for you. I’ve been thinking of ordering that bust as well. Osprey doesn’t have any books just about them but they are included in the three Men at Arms books that covers the Soviet Union, it’s number 464, 468 and 469. I think the first book is the best and has the most information about them but the second has some good as well. The third, I wouldn’t bother with if you’re just looking for info about the Naval Infantry.

    1. Author
      Nils Holmbergh

      Thank you very much, it’s been very interesting researching this subject.

Leave a Comment