Before the Izium battle

July 5, 1943 the German forces began an attack on the Arc of Kursk with one of the biggest tank battles of the Second World War. The strength used in this operation practically determined the whole destiny of the war. The military operation had two stages: in Kursk-Oryol area from July 5 until August 18, in Belgorod-Oryol area (the so-called Izium base) from July 17 until August 23. The German Army Group Mitte, led by Feldmarschall Hans Günther von Kluge (photo: on the left) and Army Group Süd, led by Feldmarschall Erich von Manstein (photo: on the right) were on one side. The Army Group Süd also included motorized Waffen-SS Division Wiking, under which Battalion Narva operated. On the other side were the Red Army's Brjansk, Southwest, Middle, Voronezh and Steppe front units.

At first the German troops were successful but later the situation on the front became difficult for them. The Germans' attack lasted until June 12. Since July 15 the Red Army started an overall counterattack. This started simultaneously on the whole Eastern Front between the Russian and German units from Leningrad until the Black Sea. There were 8 Russian armies in Donbass but 2 German armies and an operative unit Kempf on the Germans' side – all together they had 27 divisions. The Germans' situation became even worse thanks to the events in Italy where some units were sent from the East. The hostility on the Eastern Front became more intense and because of that the units could not be surrounded. After rough tank battles the German units had to give away Kursk, Oryol and Belgorod and retreat back on the Middle Front to Brjansk area, to the so-called Hagen line.

Already on January 20, 1943 an operation called Skatshok (in translation "a jump") happened in Moscow. The leader of the operation was Marschall K. Rokossovski. The operation's aim was:

  1. To disrupt the German units into two separate fronts on the Arc of Kursk – the northern and southern part.
  2. To crush the front on both sides, reach Kharkov line and surround Donbass into a big pocket.

But this giant operation failed. A lot of this was thanks to the Battalion Narva soldiers. The Izium base played an important role in the Operation Skatshok. The first part of the southern breakthrough began there and continued on the Konstantinovka-Stalino line until the Azov Sea. The Battalion Narva had its first battles near Andrejevka village. Despite the fact that the Severski Donets River west bank was steep and the forcing of the river was difficult, the Red Army decided to break through with its tank forces right near Andrejevka village. The Russians had three reasons for that:

  1. The Red Army had crossed the Severski Donets from several places already and two strong bridgeheads had been established on the west bank. Also they managed to keep the bridges that connected them with Izium in good order.
  2. The flat land in front of the Narva positions was as if made to break through and the shortest way to Lozovaya station was through Andrejevka. Five railways came to Lozovaya and if this crossroad would have been cut, the supplying of the German units would have become questionable.
  3. Probably the Red Army board knew that in this area the German units didn't have the support of the tank unit and the artillery unit was weakened too. The self-propelled guns were completely missing. The Panzer Divisions Das Reich, Totenkopf and Wiking were having defence battles in the Belgorod area at that time.

The front line chosen by the Germans was a relatively good one: Severnõi Donets River-Mius River-Azov Sea. Besides Donbass they also had to keep the Crimea ishtmus open to bring help from Crimea or secure the German units' way when they needed to abandon the peninsula. The Red Army's first task was to cut through the railway between Lozovaya and Kharkov to toughen the supplying of this area. The Red Army's Western and Southern Front units played an important role. The front area where the Battalion Narva was, had been completely peaceful during the previous three months. The Germans were separated from the Russians by the Severnõi Donets River, which was 125 meters wide and 9 meters deep. The Regiments Germania and Westland from the Division Wiking with 3 infantry divisions protected the front area, which was 32 to 40 kilometers wide. Just like the regiments from the Wiking, the Estonians battalion didn't have its full staff, many soldiers were on vacation. But the ones who were resting were exactly the older, more experienced men who already had battle experience from the Eastern Front.

Who Did the Germans Had To Face On the Other Side?

In the two Soviet echelons of the Eastern Front there were six guard armies and one air force army. Right in front of the Narva battalion, in the Izium area, the 1st and 8th armies were in the first echelon, the 12th army was on the second echelon. 7 or 8 days before the attack battles the Red Army's big units were reorganized. The artillery units and the tank groups were increased. The Battalion Narva grenadiers had constant encounters with these units during three days. The attack battles from Izium area to the Azov Sea began on July 17, 1943. The Red Army units who had crossed the Mius River intended to crush the units of the German Army Group Süd, conquer the town of Kharkov and reach Dnepr River.

In the area where Narva was they had to protect the following urbanized areas: Tshervonnõi Sahtjor, Semjonovka, Barvenkovo, Grushevanna and Andrejevka. Depthwise the area they needed to protect was 120 kilometers wide. The length of the front line was 15 to 20 kilometers, sometimes even 30, for one division. The second defence line was completely missing. The divisions had up to 2 battalions in reserve. On the early morning of July 17 the Red Army's 1st and 8th armies simultaneously began to attack. The 12th army attacked in between the other two units. These units had received an order to pass the 120 kilometers within one week and reach the gathering place of the 1st and 8th armies in Krasnoarmeiskoje area. Eventually all units had to merge with the Red Army parts that broke out from Mius' side and close the Donbass pocket.

The attack in the Battalion Narva area began in the early hours of July 19. The young men immediately got to experience the enemy's outnumbered heavy weapons. The enemy had directed almost 100 (according to some data even more) different pipes on one kilometer, this meant that for less than 10 meters there was one pipe. The area protected by the Narva was 800 to 900 meters straight. The battles between the Narva boys and the 12th army units lasted for three days. All attacks were beaten back during this time, although they didn't get much support from the division or front artillery units. Some Wehrmacht anti-tank cannons were sent to support them but these were soon destroyed during the battles.

The constant battles had to take the Red Army close to its aim. But when the attacking calmed down by the evening of July 21, the whole war technology on the spot had been used. The field in front of Andrejevka village was covered with tank remains and the Russians' dead bodies. The Russians' army board couldn't believe that the Upland 186,9 was not conquered. And this was protected by some unknown battalion without any front experience, which had to suffer the heaviness of a huge attacking fist but didn't retreat in any battle, not to mention decided to retreat.

Works Cited

  • The first part of the Battalion Narva history book Minu au on truudus. Tartu: Publishing House Greif, 1995
  • Bendt, Mihhail. Edukas algus, väärikas lõpp. Tartu/Põltsamaa: Publishing House Vali Press OÜ, 2007