THE BATTLE FOR JELNJA

JULY 19 - AUGUST 9, 2021



(Report by 46th Pz. Korps)

SS Division "Reich" 5cm PAK in action at JelnjaBy July 18, the 10th Panzer Division with its reinforced Panzer Brigade had fought its way to within 10 km of Jelnja. The rearmost element of the Corps, Infantry Regiment “Grossdeutschland”, was engaged in a renewed battle in the forest near Tschernjewka. Portions of the SS Div. “Reich” were committed to a heavy mopping up operation. The Corps was therefore committed to fighting to clear and secure a route of advance over a depth of 180 km.

 

The Corps ordered the 10th Pz. Div. to occupy Jelnja and capture the Ugra area. The SS Division “Reich” was to push a battle group to Dorogobush and close ranks with the bulk of the division to secure the crossroads between Baltutino and Choslawitschi. Inf. Rgt. “GD” was ordered to conduct a strong point type defense of the road between Rjasna and Kasskowa.

 

Early on July 19 the Aufklarungs Abt. of the SS Div. “Reich” and Regiment “Der Fuhrer” moved out toward Dorogobush. Despite bad road conditions and weak enemy resistance the Aufklarungs Abt. reached Matrenino around 09:00 hours.

 

The Pz. Brig., in combat against strong enemy artillery, reached two enormous anti tank ditches (2 km. west of Jelnja) then detoured to the north and drove through a gap in the rail embankment to reach the Jelnja train station at 11:00 hours.

 

By order of the Panzer Group, the primary mission of the Corps was to capture Dorogobush and the Dnjepr crossing west of Swirklolutschje. The main strength of the SS Div. “Reich” was directed to Swirklolutschje and a rearward battle group of the 10th Pz. Div. was to be sent toward Dorogobush. The enemy was immediately encountered near Iwonino. Meanwhile the forward elements of the 10th Pz. Div. drove further into Jelnja and in bitter combat cleared the burning town by 23:00 hours. Russian artillery (up to 21 cm caliber) made itself felt to a level not seen up to this time.

 

At Jelnja there existed an operational level defensive position consisting of bunkers and deep anti-tank ditches which had been in place for weeks. The positions extended from the area of Dorogobush along the east shore of the Usha and Djesna toward the south.

 

The 10th Pz. Div. was able to break through this important defensive position by using the Pz. Brig., with its last oil and gasoline, to quickly assault this main strongpoint. The Kampfgruppe of the SS Div. “Reich” driving for Swirkolutschje was able to make only small gains due to bad road conditions. Against light resistance, the Kampfgruppe reached Miljejewa by the end of the day.

 

Taking advantage of the low cloud cover, enemy aircraft attacked the march columns with bombs and onboard weapons for the first time. The Corps command post was located northwest of the Prudki crossroad. For July 20, the 10th Pz. Div. was ordered to clear the Jelnja area, secure the line Popowka – east of Pronino, Kljematina and to continue to push a Kampfgruppe to Dorogobush.

 

The SS Div. “Reich” was ordered to capture the Dnjepr bridge at Swirkolutschje with a Kampfgruppe and to secure the north flank of the Corps facing Smolensk. The division was to send elements to occupy the area of the Schatalowka airport in the Stomjatj sector as well as securing the area south of Strigino and Baltutino. A reinforced Regiment was to move to the Dankowo – Prudki – Kisseljewka area and stand by to attack in any direction.

 

Inf. Rgt. “GD” was ordered to secure the right flank of the Corps at Rjasna, Mstislawl and Kasskowa until relieved by 2nd Army and also establish contact with the 3rd Pz. Div.

 

Today the enemy repeatedly attacked Jelnja with infantry and tanks supported by countless artillery, including heavy guns, in an attempt to retake this important town. The 10th Pz. Div. was able to successfully defend against these attacks and inflict bloody losses on the enemy.

 

The Kampfgruppe from the SS Div. “Reich” attacking to Swirkolutschje encountered strong enemy forces in field fortifications on the east bank of the Usha, and detoured north in an attempted to avoid resistance. The road became even worse and was nearly impassable for motorized vehicles. It was also determined that the field fortifications on the eastern bank of the Usha extended further to the north.

 

In order to secure the Schatalowka airfield for the Luftwaffe close support group and push enemy out of the Stomjatj region, the SS Regt. “Deutschland” was deployed on either side of the Roslawl road and the SS Regt. 11 on both sides of the road to Chmara. Nevertheless, it was not enough to capture the Stomjatj area due to the enemy’s tough defense.

 

The splintering of the strength of the corps through the different required missions as well as the constantly increasing strength of the enemy has caused the Corps to report that the mission to take Swirkolutschje, Dorogobush and Rattschino cannot be accomplished without seriously jeopardizing the defense of Jelnja.

 

In the meantime, Inf. Rgt. “GD” received the task of pulling rearward security elements on the supply road forward without relief in order to bring urgently needed reinforcements to the Jelnja area. These units were to secure the Schatalowka airfield in the Stomjatj area in order to relieve the elements of the SS Div. “Reich” defending the airfield and free them for other tasks.

 

During the night of July 20 - 21, the Pz. Group decided that the most important mission was to hold Jelnja as well as to block the bridgehead at Swirkolutschje and thus delayed the mission to Dorogobush.

 

July 21: After fighting in the Stomjatj sector SS Rgts. “Deutschland” and 11 were

relieved by the Inf. Rgt. “GD” and assembled in the area of Iwonino.

 

Detailed reconnaissance reports from the Kampfgruppe at Swirkolutschje showed that this mission could not to be fulfilled due to the swampy roads in the area. Marching on foot over the 40 km long route of advance was ruled out as having no chance of success. Such an advance could not be sustained because heavy infantry weapons or ammunition could not be brought along.

 

After describing the Corps situation to the Pz. Group, the reply came that the concentration of strength to secure Jelnja was the most urgent task. However the O.K.H. and Army Group wish to push to Swirkolutschje to cut the Smolensk road and have placed more worth on that mission.

 

Consequentially, the SS Div. “Reich” was ordered to send a Battalion from the Swirkolutschje Kampfgruppe as far north as possible and send strong patrols from this Btl. on foot to disrupt traffic on the Dorogobush – Swirkolutschje road. The patrols were also to destroy bridges, especially the one at Michajlowka. One Btl. had already received the mission to drive forward to secure the Dorogobush – Jelnja road in the area of the hill near Roshestwo. The further advanced Aufklarungs Abt. of SS Div. “Reich” struck an prepared enemy defenses north of Kusino while driving north during the afternoon.

 

Further reconnaissance established that the Dorogobush – Swirkolutschje as well as the outpost line of the well constructed Usha position is occupied by strong enemy elements with artillery. The Dorogobush – Jelnja road was reached after a short battle by a Btl. from SS Rgt. “Der Fuhrer” and a blockade to the north was established in the heights near Uschakowa. The bulk of the SS Div. “Reich” was assembled at Iwonino during the course of the day.

 

During the course of the day, the 10th Pz. Div. managed to push the enemy back as far as 4 km. east of Jelnja and to repel an enemy attack in the evening. On July 22 both Divisions were deployed in a unified attack near Jelnja.

 

Mission:

 

10th Pz. Div.: after reassembly break through the enemy position south of Jelnja and roll up the entire Djesna position with the goal of the attack being the hill north of Maruschkina.

 

SS Div. “Reich”: from the area northeast of Jelnja first attack Pronino and Hill 125.6 then along the road to Kamjenjetz with the goal of the attack being the heights near Shegloshki.  The objective of the attack is to reach a defensive position that can be held with the least possible forces.

 

Inf. Rgt. “GD” shall continue to secure the southern flank of the Corps and the airfields of the Nakafu in the Stomjatj sector.

 

The 10th Pz. Div. was attacked multiple times in the jump off position near Jelnja during the early morning hours by the enemy in thick columns. The enemy attacks were beaten back with bloody losses and small breakthroughs were cleared up by counterattacks. The Div. then attacked the enemy and broke through the depth of the defensive line which was also occupied by bunkers and reached the stream sector southeast of Jelnja. Lipnja was captured at approximately 23:00 hours.

 

SS Div. “Reich” attacked to the left of the 10th Pz. Div. and after breaking tough enemy resistance, especially at the railroad embankment, and being slowed by heavy artillery fire drove into the area of Tschemuty and captured Hill 125.6 around 21:00 hours while suffering heavy casualties.

 

The Aufklarungs Abt. of SS Div. “Reich” with the mission to break the Swirkolutschje – Dorogobush road, was able to reach Saprudja despite enemy resistance and bad road conditions.

 

The villages south of the road were once again determined to be improved and occupied by the enemy. Individual patrols were able to reach the road towards evening. Inf. Rgt. “GD” defended against enemy attacks in the Stomjatj sector and enemy assembly areas to the south were successfully attacked by Stukas.

 

Our own Luftwaffe repeatedly attacked ground targets east of Jelnja with definite effect and disrupted enemy assembly areas and battery positions. Pi. Btl. 41 was deployed to Uschakowa and there established a defense to the north.  During the morning hours enemy aircraft attacked 10th Pz. Div. multiple times with bombs. During the afternoon, enemy aircraft performed low level attacks against the road east of Jelnja.

 

The Corps command post is at Strigino and the forward command post is located at Jegorje.  During the course of 23 July in continued attack the Divisions reached a suitable defensible line which was Lipnja – Staraja – Hill 125.6 – Koloschino – Pronino – Kljematina – Matina – Szemjeschina – Uschakowa.

 

After reaching the defensive line the enemy attacked in thick columns against Tschemuty and Pronino and the attacks were driven back with heavy losses to the enemy. The Aufklarungs Abt. of SS Div. “Reich” was pulled back to the area north of the Glinka railroad station due to the superior enemy pressure from differing directions. Since July 22, but especially today, the ammunition shortage of the artillery has been especially noticeable. Since greater amounts cannot be counted on in the coming days considerable efforts must be made to economize the ammunition. This ammunition shortage is especially alarming with a strongpoint type of defense as the gaps cannot be adequately closed by fire.

 

In front of Inf. Rgt. “GD” the enemy is constantly strengthening himself and has launched constant attacks since the early morning. Here also the enemy is driving his infantry forward in thick columns into our MG’s. The enemy is attempting to encircle the Inf. Rgt. “GD” by lengthening the east and west flanks.

 

From July 24 to 26 the enemy repeatedly attacked the entire thinly held position occupied by the Corps with freshly brought up troops despite suffering bloody losses. The Corps position extended for 50 km. and was occupied by only 14 battalions. The

enemy artillery was stronger from one day to the next, and the heavy and heaviest calibers with abundant ammunition were being brought forward. The attacks were supported by tanks. When a small breakthrough is cleared up in the south the report comes that another breakthrough has occurred in a different position. Enemy tanks appeared near Jelnja and brought disorder to the rearward services. Despite this not a foot of ground was lost and the weak battalions of both Divisions fought admirably. Daily many tanks were destroyed, for example, on July 25 alone 78 tanks were destroyed. The SS troops particularly distinguished themselves with their fearlessness and bravery. They jumped onto the heavy Russian tanks, which could not be destroyed by even the 5 cm. Pak, and fired into the vision slits with pistols and poured gasoline over the tanks and set them afire.

 

On the afternoon of July 24 a serious breakthrough of the Pi. Btl. 41 at Uschakowa placed the entire northern position in danger. The breakthrough was cleared up late in the evening under the active and decisive personal command of the 1a of SS Div. “Reich” using the last reserve of the Div., the SS Pioniere. At any rate, the Corps could not fail to recognize that the situation was becoming daily more critical due to the lack reserves by the Divisions and the Corps. The most effective counterattack reserve – the Panzer Brig. of the 10th Pz. Div. - was at this time immobilized due to the oil shortage. Only on the night of July 25 - 26 did the Corps receive as its only reserve the Geb. Pi. Btl. 85.

 

The relief of Inf. Rgt. “GD” – which has been constantly attacked, subjected to heavy artillery fire and suffered great losses of men and material – was put off from day to day because first the 18th Pz. Div. and later the 263rd Inf. Div. could not be brought forward due to other employments.

 

An attack against Dorogobush by 17th Pz. Div. and supported by Inf. Rgt. “GD” ordered for July 26 was cancelled by order of the Panzer Group. But at least the 17th Pz. Div. was able to take over the security of the left flank west of Uschakowa. From July 27 to 31 the enemy continued to attack. The very strong artillery fire continued to make things especially uncomfortable, and was likened to the “drum fire” of the years 1917-18 by those who participated in the world war.

 

On the front of a single company up to 200 impacts, including those of the heaviest calibers, were counted in a 5 minute period. The friendly artillery cannot fight the enemy artillery due to the ammunition shortage, and it must be allowed to occur that the enemy often brings his guns forward and fires into the lines of the forward infantry causing many casualties by direct hits in the foxholes. As before, the Russian infantry and tank attacks are repulsed without any special difficulties.

 

Finally, on July 27, the first elements of Inf. Rgt. “GD” were relieved south of the airfield. The Rgt. was deployed on both sides of Uschakowa, the hot point of the north front, during the night of July 29 – 30. Geb. Pi. Btl. 85 was relieved and placed in Corps reserve after 2 days of employment at Uschakowa. During this and the following 2 nights the Schutzen Brig. of the 10th Pz. Div. and 2 Battalions of the SS Div. “Reich” were relieved on the south and southeast front by the 268th Inf. Div.

 

Even with the relief from the 268th Inf. Div. the Corps situation did not become appreciably easier. The freed elements of the SS had to be deployed to fill out the remainder of the front which was constantly becoming thinner. 10th Pz. Div. remained the all around reserve behind the right flank of the Corps. Based on prisoner statements and captured orders it is clear that the continued goal of the enemy is the absolute recapture of Jelnja. The important Brjansk – Jelnja – Smolensk railroad line, which our aircraft are only able to disrupt for hours – remains especially important for the enemy to bring forward reserves and ammunition for Smolensk. With this new Divisions are attacking daily from morning until evening and during the night small probes occur. The flanks of the enemy attack are being pushed further to the west in the south

and especially in the north. The fighting quality of the enemy infantry is by itself low. The employment of tanks now affected the infantry only to a small extent. They had become accustomed to them and destroyed the tanks by the superior and exemplary use of artillery. However, fear of the well directed enemy artillery fire remained and on one day 5000 impacts were counted in the sector of a single Rgt.

 

From August 1 – 6 the Corps was required to hold the Jelnja bend with the 268th Inf. Div., SS Div. “Reich”, and Inf. Rgt. “GD” without once even the prospect of relief for the deployed elements. The “drum fire” continued with undiminished strength. Not only the casualties of officers, NCOs and men but also the losses of weapons and equipment became daily more serious. Overall, the company strengths were only 50 – 80 men at the most.

 

The availability of artillery ammunition became somewhat better, but was still not enough to have a noticeable effect on fighting the enemy artillery. Only by the exemplary and comradely manner in which the Nakafu employed his Stukas day after day to attack the most dangerous locations, was it possible to compensate for the lack of artillery support and clear up many critical situations.

 

On August 4, the combat strength of the Inf. Rgt. “GD” had been so weakened that a breakthrough of 4 km. west of Uschakowa could not be corrected with the Rgt.’s own forces. The Rgt, as well as the weak Corps reserve, was subordinated to the SS Div. “Reich”, and it was possible, on August 5, to reestablish the positions at Uschakowa. The enemy attacks daily with undiminished strength using fighters and bombers in ground attack. His fighter defense hindered the aerial reconnaissance and artillery aircraft on many days.

 

During the nights of August 6 – 7 and 7 – 8 the 15th Inf. Div. was brought forward by the vehicles of the SS Div to relieve Inf. Rgt. “GD” and SS Div. “Reich”. The relief proceeded smoothly as a result of the exemplary preparation of the SS Div. “Reich”.

 

The bulk of the SS Div. “Reich” had therefore been on the defensive for 18 days without relief against constant attacks and heavy artillery fire. During the same time Inf. Rgt. “GD”, after first suffering many casualties in heavy defensive combat south of Schatalowka, had since July 30 has been employed in the hard fought north front at Uschakowa.

 

The difficulty of the combat can be measured by the fact that during the period from July 20 – August 9, elements of 20 enemy divisions have attacked the Jelnja bend. From these 7 were definitely identified including 2 tank divisions. During this time the enemy has supported his attacks with approximately 50 identified batteries supplied with large amounts of ammunition.

 

The bloody losses of the enemy during this time period amounted to 35,000 men

dead and the following prisoner and equipment losses;

 

 

Prisoners

Tanks and Armored Cars

Guns

Pak

Aircraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Pz. Div.

3305

72

14

21

 

SS Div. “Reich”

3070

77

 

5

19

Inf. Rgt. “GD”

1280

27

15

22

3

268 Inf. Div.

840

23

1

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(7/30-8/8)

 

 

 

 

 

Korps Troops

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

8495

212

30

52

22

 

The losses of the Korps for the period from July 22 to August 8 were:

4,252 officers, NCOs, and men.

Numerical Casualty Report

 

 

Officers

 

 

NCO’s and Men

 

 

Dead

Wounded

Missing

Dead

Wounded

Missing

10. Pz. Div

6

31

1

123

499

35

SS Div. “Reich”

14

47

1

362

1213

26

Inf. Rgt. “GD”

6

22

 

193

722

17

268 Inf. Div.

8

14

1

145

476

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(7/30 – 8/8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Korps Troops

3

12

 

64

192

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

37

126

3

887

3102

97

 

Information courtesy of Robert Westby and may not be reproduced without permission of the author

This page was updated on September 6, 2021


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