October 17th to October 20th, 1941
The Brigade of Heroes
One of the most discussed counterattacks ever conducted by the Red Army, the 21st Tank Brigade’s assault on the City of Kalinin (the modern day city of Tver, [Russia]), has gone down in Russian history as one of the defining moments of the ‘Great Patriotic War’.However, even Russian sources fail to truly capture the scope of the battle, and the bravery of the men who conducted themselves in battle against a numerically superior German fighting force.
On the 17th of October 1941, the 21st Tank Brigade, unsupported by other units, air power or even artillery, succeeded in quickly advancing to the city of Kalinin and nearly captured the city. However, the unit suffered a tremendous loss of life, including two men who had previously been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union distinction for their actions.
The greater Battle for Moscow
On the 22nd of June 1941, the Wehrmacht, along with their allies, invaded the USSR in Operation Barbarossa. From June to October, the Wehrmacht had advanced almost 1000 kilometers and destroyed nearly 15,000 tanks of the Red Army. Not only this, they had killed or captured nearly 3,000,000 Red Army soldiers and overrun the Soviet heartlands of Belarus, Ukraine and most of eastern Russia.
Operation Barbarossa was the German codename for the invasion of the USSR and, on the 2nd of October 1941, after the destruction of the Smolensk pocket, the order was given by Hitler to begin Operation Typhoon.
Operation Typhoon was the advance to Moscow. Early victories included the encirclement at Vyazma and the capture of Orel and Bryansk. These victories were swift and left open the road to Moscow.
The next major city the Germans had to take was Kalinin. This lay to the north-west of Moscow and was only 170 kilometers away from the capital. The city was taken with little resistance on October 13th/14th 1941.
The capture of the city left the highway to Moscow dangerously exposed. It was therefore decided by the Soviet High Command that the city should be re-taken.
Kalinin has been an important town since the 1300s and is the capital for the Kalinin Oblast. Originally called Novgorodian, it was named Tver in the 1300s. It was then renamed Kalinin in 1931 to honor communist party member Mikhail Kalinin. In 1991, the city was renamed Tver.
An annotated German aerial map of Kalinin. 1 is the eastern airfield, 2 is the western airfield, 3 is Kalinin station, 4 is the entrance to the Volokolamansk Highway, and 5 is the Turginovskoye highway. Source: Warfly.ru
The geography of the city is divided up by three rivers. The Volga river flows from west to east, with the majority of the city on the southern bank of the river. The Tversta river then splits the northern bank into two quarters. On the south bank the Tmaka river splits the southern bank into unequal quarters.
The city centre is made up of historical palaces and other typical Russian brick buildings of the 1700s, with the rest of the city being made up of wooden buildings and small to medium brick buildings, which is very typical of Russian towns and cities.
A typical building in central Kalinin. This photograph was taken after the assault on the city. Source: From the author’s collection
The city had two airfields. One aerodrome (an airfield without a runway allowing planes to take off from any direction) lay on the south eastern corner of the city. The second airfield with a concrete runway was situated to the north west of the city.
A typical outer Kalinin street. This photograph was likely taken to the north west, near the airfield. This photograph was taken in December, after the assault on Kalinin. Source: From the author’s collection
Prelude to Battle
On the 12th of October 1941, the 21 Tank Brigade was ordered to defend the city of Kalinin.
The commander of the brigade was Colonel Nikolai Stepanovich Skvortsov, and the deputy commander was Alexander Sergeevich Sergeyev. The brigade was formed from the Military school at Vladimir, situated to the east of Moscow.
The Brigade received tanks on the 5th of October, and was issued fresh T-34 tanks delivered from Factory 183 (KhPZ: Kharkov Locomotive and Tractor Works) and from Factory 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo). The brigade was listed as fielding 10 x T-34 tanks equipped with 76mm guns (delivered from Kharkov), 7 x T-34s with 76mm guns (delivered from Krasnoye Sormovo), 10 x T-34s equipped with the ZiS-4 57mm gun (also from Kharkov), two additional T-34s with 76mm guns equipped with flame throwers in the hull (also from Kharkov), 2 x HT-26s, 5 x BT-2 Tanks, 15 x BT-5s and BT-7s, 10 x T-60s, and 4 x ZiS-30 tank destroyers.
It should be noted that tanks from Krasnoye Sormovo (112) are only listed by one source, however, this source (https://tankfront.ru/ussr/tbr/tbr021.html) is by far the most detailed with their breakdown of the 21st Tank Brigade.
The 21st Tank Brigade was organised into three battalions, which primarily consisted of the 21st Tank Regiment, along with some other units. The first battalion comprised all of the T-34s that were issued to the unit. The second battalion was issued the light tanks, including the ZiS-30s. The unit is thought to have been the first to receive the T-60 tank from factory No.37.
A third battalion was a Motorized Rifle Battalion. This unit is thought to have been made up of 700 men, with an Anti-Tank company, an 82mm mortar company (12 mortars), along with a submachine gun platoon, sapper platoon, and the commander’s platoon.
The unit was unique amongst the Red Army by being mostly made up of veterans. Due to the unit being put together from the Tank School in Vladimir, experienced tank men were therefore available. Unfortunately, due to the severe losses earlier in the war, many more veterans had been killed in action. The tank commanders were generally experienced tankers who had fought in conflicts such as the 1939 Khalkhin-Gol battles, the Winter War, and the early stages of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (WWII).
The order to attack was given to the 21st Tank Brigade from Lieutenant General Rokossovsky. His order read: “Immediately move to the offensive in the direction of Pushkino, Ivantsevo, Kalinin with the aim of blowing the flank and rear of the enemy to assist our troops in the destruction of the Kalinin group of troops.”
This was reinforced by orders from General K. Zhukov: “… to take possession of Turginovo, in the future the combined detachment to advance in the direction of Ilinskoe, Tsvetkovo, Negotino with the task of destroying the enemy grouping in the Kalinin region.”
This assault on Kalinin was unsupported by other units or aircraft, and the entire task of liberating the city was put onto the shoulders of the 21st Tank Brigade. This was an impossible task, and the order was given because the Soviet High Command had little actual knowledge of the full strength of the German forces at Kalinin and thought that the bulk of German forces in the area were further north.
The 21st Tank Brigade was made up of three battalions; however, the first two were re-organized into three fighting groups for the assault on Kalinin. The first group was commanded by Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov, the second group by Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin, and the third group by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky.
The first group was commanded by Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. Agibalov was an experienced soldier, and had risen through the ranks of the Red Army after joining in 1932. His combat experience included the war with Japan in 1939, and the Winter War with Finland in 1939. For his service in the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he was awarded the Order of Lenin (the USSR’s highest award), and was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.
Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov in 1940. Source: warheroes.ru
The assault of Kalinin was devised as a two-pronged assault. From the staging area at Turginovo, group one and group two would move west to capture Pushkino, then move north along the Volokolamansk highway to enter Kalinin on the eastern side of the city, and attack the airfield and the main station.
This would also involve the destruction of the forward command post of German forces in the area stationed at Pushkino. Once at Kalinin, the groups would split, with the first attacking the airfield, then moving into the city to help with its liberation. The second group was to move into the city centre and capture the station, them move into central city up to the Tver river.
The tanks of the first group were painted with white numbers on their hulls to help with friendly tank identification. Numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 have been found, with M.P. Agibalov’s tank being number “1”.
The second group was commanded by Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin. Lukin, just like Agibalov, was a veteran soldier. During the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he successfully led a raid that resulted in a large Japanese supply dump being totally destroyed, along with a large number of trucks and vehicles. He was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and the Order of Lenin.
Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin in 1940. Source: warheroes.ru
Lukin was made commander of the 21st Tank Regiment of the 21st Tank Brigade, and therefore was in overall control of the battle. The second group was to also advance for the Volokolamansk highway, but to enter the highway south of Pushkino at Panigino. Here it would advance north at speed, linking with group 1, and attack Kalinin.
Lukin commanded a T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This machine was painted with a white number ‘20’ onto the hull sides of his machine. His second-in-command of the 2nd group was equipped with a T-34/76 with a white number ‘21’ painted onto the right hull side, right turret side, and on the rear of the turret. It is thought that there might have been tanks numbered 20 to 25 in this group.
The third group was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky. Makovsky was as well decorated as his comrades. He had received the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and an Order of Lenin for his actions during the Winter War.
Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky post war. Source: warheroes.ru
The third group was to move directly north along the Turginovskoye highway and enter the city at a similar location to the first and second groups, as the two main roads almost linked up at Kalinin.
The Turginovskoye highway entered Kalinin to the east of the airfield, and the third group could either go south of the field into the micro-district of Yuzhny, or move further north to enter the city north of the station. Here they would link up with the first and second groups to capture more key objectives in the city itself. The plan was made flexible to allow for different tanks to attack different areas if one group suffered heavy losses.
The third group appears to have not adopted the numbering system on their tanks. However, no definitive pictures have surfaced of their tanks, therefore it is possible that tanks numbering from ‘31’ exist. The third group was also called the ‘Makovsky Shock Group’.
There is also some photographic evidence that some tanks from all three groups were not painted with any numbers at all.
Support from the Motorised Battalion
While the main attack was happening, the third battalion was to advance up the Turginovskoye highway and assist in occupying the villages to the south of Kalinin. It is thought that they were originally going to enter the city after it was recaptured, however, the course of events meant that this never happened.
In total, 27 T-34s and 8 T-60 tanks were available for the battle. These tanks were divided into their respective groups and prepared for the attack. In theory, this could mean there were 9 T-34s per group, two groups equipping 3 T-60s with a third with 2 T-60s. It is unknown at present how many tanks were in each group.
The attack plan for the 21st Tank Brigade. The blue line is the path of the first group. The yellow line is the break off path of group 2 and the red line is the path of group 3. Source: Created by the author
Facing the Soviets were elements of the 1st Panzer Division, which had been ordered to move north to help in the Leningrad sector; and the 36th Motorised Division, plus a mixture of other German units.
In Kalinin itself was the German 660th Assault Gun Battery, which was resting there. Roughly 10,000 troops were stationed in the newly captured city. It is known that a day prior, on the 16th of October, two Panzer Battalions were stationed in the city, however, the exact battalions are unknown.
A Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.C of the 660th Assault Gun Battery, likely on the streets of Kalinin. Source: Author’s collection.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery was formed before the Battle of France, and received their first six Sturmgeschutz III Ausf.As just before the invasion of France. It is thought that the 660th would go on to receive StuG III Ausf B’s and C’s in 1940 and 1941.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery is known to have fielded a number of Sd.Kfz 252’s, which were the ammunition carrier variant of the Sd.Kfz 250 half track. There was a handful of these machines used in Russia.
A StuG III Ausf A used by the 660th Assault Gun Battery.
The 36th Motorised Division is known to have deployed 105mm heavy guns in the village of Troyanovo, to the south of Kalinin, and the trucks carrying personnel engaged by the Soviets were also likely from this division.
This force of Germans was not prepared or expecting a Soviet counterattack so shortly after taking Kalinin. However, fortifications had been made to the train station, and the airfield at Kalinin was already requisitioned by the Luftwaffe, which had Ju-52 transport aircraft parked about the field.
A Ju-52 3M g4e German transport plane flies into the aerodrome at Kalinin. Ominously, the plane flies over a Soviet 57mm Gun, similar to those fielded in 10 T-34s by the 21st Tank Brigade. Source: Author’s private collection.
Unfortunately, the German records of the Soviet counterattack are lacking greatly, with only a small combat report from the 36th Motorised Division mentioning the attack. Therefore, the only documentation to refer is that of Soviet origin. The Soviet documentation seems to be largely accurate, albeit with some typical wartime embellishment.
T-34 Tanks of the 21st Tank Brigade
The 21st Tank Brigade was issued factory-fresh T-34 tanks from Kharkov, Krasnoye Sormovo, and T-60s from Factory Number 37. The T-34s were a diverse mix of machines. Tanks equipped with the 76.2mm guns were examples of the last production Factory 183 (KhPZ) tanks. Some machines were issued hardpoints for mounting external fuel tanks, although most were not.
All tanks were issued the newly-implemented driver’s hatch with two forward-facing periscopes protected by armored lids. The tow hooks were also the newly-implemented ‘hook’ type, dispensing with the older ‘pin’ type. The turrets issued to these tanks were a mixture of cast turrets and the ‘simplified 8-bolt type welded’ turrets.
One of the T-34s from the 21st Tank Brigade. ‘4’ was lost on the Volokolamansk highway near the airfield. Notice the V type track, the simplified turret, the updated driver’s hatch, and the new tow hooks. The hull sides do not have hard points for fuel tanks, and there is a single jack block on the rear hull side. Source: Old Ebay listing.
Tanks were issued with a mixture of track types. The standard 550mm wide track was common, although several tanks were issued with the ‘V type’ (alternatively known as ‘A type’) track. The commonly thought of as the ‘waffle’ patterned 500mm wide track had not yet been introduced.
Approximately ten T-34s were issued with ZiS-4 57mm guns. These specially designed anti-tank weapons were installed onto a standard T-34, and the only two known examples are known to not have had hardpoints for external fuel tanks.
A T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This is the machine of Maj. Gen Lukin.
‘6’ of the 21st Tank Brigade.
Two such T-34s with 57mm guns that are known today were issued as tank number ‘20’, commanded by Lukin, and a second machine was commanded by Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev, who was in the first group. This tank is thought to have been painted with the number ‘2’, however, the damage is too severe to properly tell based on the known photographic evidence.
Prelude to Battle
The unit had received its tanks from Kharkov fully replenished with ammunition and fuel, and the brigade arrived at Kursky Station in Moscow on the 14th of October 1941. On the 13th of October 1941 the Brigade was attached to the 16th Army on the western front, and upon arrival to the front on the 17th of October, the brigade was reassigned to the 30th Army.
From Kursky the unit was ordered to move into Klin Station, and from here it was to move to Kalinin. However, the Brigade was forced to unload at Zavidovo and Reshetnikovo due to the capture of Kalinin station.
After unloading, the Tank Brigade moved towards the village of Turginovo, capturing the village with the loss of one tank due to an accident on crossing a pontoon bridge. The commander of this tank was Issac Okrane, and his crew was killed in the accident.
The advance north by group one and two
On the morning of the 17th of October 1941, the attack began. From the village of Turginovo, the first and second group advanced west then north. Group one moved to capture the village of Panigino. Here, the main highway from Volokolamansk to Kalinin lay ahead.
The attack was signaled by three red flares fired into the air, and immediately after beginning the assault, the Soviet tank crews of group two struck upon luck. A large column of German trucks and personnel carriers was advancing north towards Kalinin that had not noticed the Soviet tanks joining the rear of the column. Lukin ordered his unit to not open fire until they were discovered or until the time was right.
The same luck could not be said for the first group. The column of tanks advanced towards Pushkino, and were due to break through to the highway at the village of Emelyantsevo. At this village, they were spotted, and German anti-tank guns opened fire.
The lead tank of the advanced guard was commanded by Lieutenant Kireev (thought to be Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev), but his tank was hit and exploded, killing the crew. It is thought his tank was number ‘2’.
What is likely tank ‘2’ commanded by S.M. Kireev. Source: Author’s collection
The second tank in the forward column was tank ‘3’ commanded by S.Kh. Gorobets. This tank would later become very famous in this battle for ramming a Panzer III and escaping the battle unharmed. At this time though, it engaged and dealt with the Germans, leading the first group to the Volokolamansk highway and linking with group two.
The weather was varied, and it would appear that the snow thawed briefly for one or two days, likely the 18th and 19th of October, allowing for some snow free photographs. Here, what is believed to be ‘2’ of Kireev in the village of Emelyantsevo. Source: As taken from World War 2 Bodong Blog.
The next major village north was Pushkino. This was being temporarily used as a headquarters for local German forces. As the column passed through the village the order to attack was given, and the Soviet tanks swiftly gained the advantage, destroying many German vehicles and it is reported that many German soldiers were routed. The village was taken and the headquarters was destroyed. The groups advanced north, taking Kvakshino before hitting the village of Troyanovo.
By this time, the news had spread that the Soviets were advancing up the highway, and Ju-87 dive bombers were dispatched to engage the tanks. The column was attacked from the air, however reports conflict on whether any tanks were lost due to bombing.
A bomb left unexploded on the Volokolamansk Highway. Source: Author’s collection
Troyanovo was more heavily defended by the German forces, and the two groups faced a heavy wall of German anti-tank fire. It is known that 105mm guns of the 611 Heavy Artillery Platoon engaged the Soviet force here. In this village, the tank of Maj. M. Lukin became disabled. The reports are unclear on whether his vehicle simply broke down or was shot at. Whatever the case, the left track broke and the vehicle ended up in a ditch to the left of the road, stuck in the river Kamenka.
Lukin’s T-34 on the 18th of October 1941. Notice the broken left track links. Source: An old EBay listing
It was later claimed by his crew that Lukin single handily covered the escape of his crew, operating the 57mm gun of his tank to cover the withdrawal of his crew. He was killed in his tank and no damage is observable on the tank from photographic evidence other than the broken track.
Lukin’s T-34 a week or so after the assault. Snow has fallen again. Source: https://panzerserra.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/t-3457-tank-destroyer-case-report.html
The groups moved on towards Kalinin, now under the command of the leader of the first group, Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. The column broke through to the village of Naprudnoe, 16 kilometres from Kalinin. It was here that Agibalov was also killed.
The combat report tells a similar story to Lukin’s. Agibalov’s tank drove off the highway to the right. Here, he disabled a German fuel truck that blew up. His tank, now off the road and isolated, took heavy fire. The main gun of his tank was seen to have stopped firing, although the machine guns were still active. It is claimed that his crew bailed out and, to cover them, Agibalov stayed in the tank. The accounts of M.Ya. Maistrovsky claim that, after the machine gun fell silent, he was found in his tank with his pistol drawn, apparently having taken his own life.
Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov’s T-34 on the 17th of October 1941. The combat report clearly states the gun was hit, and it can be clearly seen that the gun mantlet has been dislodged. Notice the number 1 on the hull side and also that the Germans have already painted a captured tank number on the rear left side. Source: Author’s collection
Group one and two in Kalinin
Upon reaching Kalinin, the first and second groups attacked the Kalinin airfield and the train station, which was also being engaged by group three. The group that attacked the Kalinin Station was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky (deputy commander of the 21st Tank Brigade), who was in command of the third group, and received help from the remnants the other two groups.
An annotated map of the eastern approaches to Kalinin. Source: warfly.ru
The airfield is thought to have been attacked mainly by the first group. This group had a bit more success than the ones attacking the station. One tank commanded by Senior Political Instructor G. M. Gnyry drove up theVolokolamansk highway with the main group of tanks, he destroyed some vehicles on the highway. He then broke into the Kalinin airfield on the right of the Volokolamansk highway inside the city limits. Here, supported externally by other tanks, he successfully engaged enemy aircraft in the field, approximately 50 aircraft were parked there.
It is said that his tank was number ‘31’, however, this would have put him in group three (if the numbering system theory is correct). If this is correct, indeed, it was therefore likely his machine came from the south of the airfield and then entered to Volokolamansk highway.
One of the tanks supporting him was commanded by Sergeant S. E. Rybakov. His tank drove into the micro-district of Yuzhny (the modern name for this location) and supported Gnyry. This is the southern road that connects the two highways south of the airfield. He was surrounded and captured by enemy forces. He later escaped.
Gnyry was not as lucky. Some reports claim that his tank was lost when aircraft that had managed to escape from the field attacked his vehicle, although he could also have been attacked by German AA guns positioned about the airfield. His tank was disabled and he was forced to abandon it.
This airfield at Kalinin was attacked by tanks of the first group and the third group. The airfield was situated to the east of the city. A second airfield was situated to the west of the city. This airfield was not attacked.
At the eastern airfield, at least 16 aircraft are known to have been shot at or ran over by Gnyry.
One of the aircraft attacked by Gnyry. Source: https://warspot.ru/5942-kalininskiy-reyd-geroev-halhin-gola
The same Ju-52 as from above. The engines have been removed, likely as the machine was to be cannibalized after the damage it sustained from the T-34 of Gynry. Source: Author’s private collection.
While the T-34 tanks of the first group were attacking the airfield at Kalinin, the unit was unexpectedly engaged by German assault guns of the 660th Assault Gun Battery. During this engagement, Tank number ‘4’ engaged a Sturmgeschütz III Ausf A. The StuG III was commanded by Lieutenant Tachinsky, and the T-34 was thought to be commanded by Lieutenant D. G. Lutsenko. Lutsenko, after sustaining damage to the gun barrel, rammed at speed the StuG of Tachinsky. This caused the StuG to ride up, and sit on top of the T-34.
An aerial map showing the assumed direction of the 660th Assault Gun Battery’s counter-attack on the T-34s of the 21st Tank Brigade. Source: warfly.ru
The ramming took place on the Volokolamansk highway itself, and this allowed for the withdrawal of the remaining T-34s. After the T-34 rammed the StuG, the Soviet tanks apparently made their escape, although number ‘4’ stayed in its position with the crew refusing to escape the tank. The crew was forcibly removed from the tank by Germans using crowbars. Some sources claim the commander was shot, although there are no contemporary sources for this.
Tank number ‘4’ shortly after ramming the StuG III Ausf A. Source: https://www.militarymodelling.com/forums/postings.asp?th=97705
Lutsenko being dragged out of the turret of the tank. Source: https://www.militarymodelling.com/forums/postings.asp?th=97705
Tank number ‘4’ and the StuG about three days to a week after the incident. This particular incident was very popular to photograph. Source: Author’s Collection.
The location where tank number ‘4’ rammed the StuG. Identification was made to this location by the surrounding buildings after the tank was moved to the roadside. Source: Warfly.ru
Elements of the first group are known to have assisted in the attack the central position of Kalinin. This was commanded by Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets who commanded the third tank in the first group. His tank was painted with a white number ‘3’, but because his tank was not knocked out and later photographed by the Germans, it is unknown if his tank was a ‘57mm’ or a ‘76mm’ gunned tank (alternate sources claim it either way).
Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets was very much idolised after the Kalinin battles. He was killed in combat in early 1942. Source: warheroes.ru
It is known that 8 tanks entered the city past the airfield into the suburbs. As some of the tanks headed towards the station, tank number ‘3’ of the first group, commanded by Staff Sergeant S. Kh. Gorobets drove with haste westwards past the station. He then took the tank north, crossing the railway lines far to the west of the action, then he turned north, almost making it to the Tver river. His tank then turned east, and with speed he drove the entire length of Kalinin. Along the way, he disabled guns and tanks, and successfully rammed a Panzer III. Here he exited the city on the eastern side unscathed.
The path of tank number ‘3’ though Kalinin. Source: Warfly.ru
Other tanks were less successful, with 7 machines being lost with their crews fighting in Kalinin itself. Most of the crews that made it into the city were lost fighting at the station. One of the confirmed tanks to be lost next to the station is tank number ‘21’. It is known to have fallen into a ditch somewhere around the station, but its exact location has not yet been ascertained.
Tank number ‘21’ likely around the Station. Source: Old Ebay listing
Tank number ‘21’ was an interesting machine, with the numbers “21” painted on the turret rear, and then on the hull and turret right side, no identification numbers appear to have been painted on the left side of the vehicle. Source: Marcel Polak.
Tank number ‘21’ again. Notice the jack block on the rear right side. Source: Author’s private collection.
Shpak’s tank is known to have driven to the station, and it is thought that his machine was destroyed. Other crews killed in Kalinin were those of Vorobyov and Maleev.
The attack was eventually broken off and the tanks of the first and second groups were forced to make their escape back down the Volokolamansk highway, and even back down the Turginovskoye highway, the road that the third group advanced up. It is unknown in what time frame the escape was made.
Tank number ‘6’ was lost on the Volokolamansk Highway. It is thought that this machine was lost on a farm about 1km south of Kalinin. Source: Author’s private collection
Tank number ‘6’ again on the 17th of October. Notice the snow that is very light. Source: Author’s private collection
Attack by Group 3
While the first and second groups advanced up the Volokolamansk highway, the third group advanced with haste up the Turginovskoye highway. Commanded by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky, the group seems to have met little resistance until the village of Pokrovskoe. Here there was heavy resistance. Nonetheless, the group defeated the Germans and continued north to enter Kalinin.
Once in Kalinin the third group attempted to attack the main train station. It is known that some tanks assisted in the destruction of the airfield between the Volokolamansk and Turginovskoe highways. It is unknown from what direction the third group attacked the station, but it was likely from the north east as the Turginovskoe highway crosses the east-west railway lines.
The paths of group 1,2 and 3. From this aerial view it can be seen that the 21st Tank Brigade was attempting to envelop the station. Source: Warfly.ru
The train station was never successfully recaptured, as the location had been heavily fortified by the Germans. The third group is assumed to have received help from the remnants of the first and second groups, as some of their vehicles are known to have been lost near the station. Here the third group advanced no further.
Many tanks were lost, and the remnants of the third group were forced to withdraw back down the Turginovskoye highway.
When it became clear that the battle was swinging in favor of the German units, Regimental Commander G. I. Zakalyukin organized and conducted the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the Kalinin area down the Turginovskoye highway. They set up positions at the village of Grishkino. Here the 21st Tank Brigade’s Motorised Rifle Battalion with light tank support was available to assist.
A T-34 with no obvious numbers that was lost near to tank number ‘6’ on the Volokolamansk Highway. This machine is slightly different to other tanks in the 21st Tank Brigade by having exterior fuel tanks. Other than this it is identical to other 21st Tank Brigade tanks. Source: Author’s private collection
Here, over the next two days, major fighting broke out between advancing German units and the Soviets who had survived the assault on Kalinin. Makovsky himself was seriously injured on the 19th of October. At that time, he had taken command of the motorized unit.
A T-34 lost on the Turginovskoye highway. Again, this machine has no numbers, but evidence suggests that not every machine was equipped with painted numbers. Source: Author’s private collection
The recently discovered ’24’, likely from the 21st Tank Brigade. This machine shared technical features with that of ’21’, lost in Kalinin itself. As the turret graffiti suggests, the tank was lost on October 25th 1941, which means that this tank survived the assault, and was lost on the defensive. Source: Francis Pulham Collection.
The entire area was recaptured by the Germans, and fighting involving the 21st Tank Brigade in this sector ended on the 19th of October 1941. Troyanovo, where Maj. Gen Lukin’s body was, was likely recaptured on the 17th of October; but fighting continued around to the east. Lukin’s body remained in the tank, and German soldiers looted the Order of Lenin that he had received during the Khalkin Gol battles in 1939.
Tank number ‘20’ after heavy snow. Source: T-34 The Complete Encyclopedia, M. Kolomiets.
His body was recovered by four boys from the village of Troyanovo, and buried in a small wooded area. His body was later reburied in Kalinin in 1942.
In total, the brigade lost 21 x T-34 tanks, 3 x BT tanks, and a single T-60 tank. The combat records of the 21st Tank Brigade list enemy casualties as 38 tanks, 200 motor vehicles, 82 motorcycles, 70 guns and mortars, 12 fuel trucks, and a large number of soldiers.
The 21st Tank Brigade continued to fight over the winter months, but it was later brought into reserve on the 5th January 1942.
The Traveling Palace in Kalinin was used by the Germans as the grave site for their fallen comrades. All of these graves belong to the men the 21st Tank Brigade killed. Source: Author’s private collection
Kalinin was recaptured during the massive Soviet counterattack in December 1941. During the German occupation, war graves were erected outside of the main church in Kalinin. The two airfields had been requisitioned from the Soviets. Much of the city was destroyed, and Kalinin was the first major city liberated from the Germans.
Kalinin gave the name to the Soviet Kalinin front, which was active from the 17th of October 1941 until the middle of 1943 when the German forces were pushed far away from Moscow.
From the outset, the cards were stacked against the men of the 21st Tank Brigade. Many people have made the case that the Soviet Union needlessly lost two experienced tank commanders and ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’.
The attack, however, did tie down units that otherwise could have been used further afield. It is also true that the units attacked were severely shaken by the incident. It is quite possible that by sheer numbers, this was one of the most successful Soviet counterattacks conducted to date at that point of the war.
For the first time in the ‘Great Patriotic War’, a coherent brigade assault had been conducted where experienced tank crews assaulted German positions. Not only did they destroy more vehicles than were lost, but they also effectively exploited weak areas, and used teamwork to take out the enemy.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the primary objective was never completed. Soviet High Command had not correctly briefed the crews on the size of the force at Kalinin, and underestimated the numbers of troops here. Not only this, but the attack was conducted with minimal infantry support.
Some sources claim that tank riders were present on a hand full of vehicles at Pushkino, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.
It can also be stated that the T-34s with 57mm guns were not used in an effective role. The 57mm gun was specially designed for tank hunting, and during this battle, the Soviet crews mostly fought guns and trucks, far more suited to a low caliber heavy round such as the 76.2mm round of the F-34 guns of regular T-34s.
The assault was ultimately a failure with regards to its original objective, although schools have been named after members of the 21st Tank Brigade, and statues erected in their honor. It was not so much a physical victory, but it was certainly a victory for morale and of legends.
Private conversations with Pavel Olegovich Varfolomeyev (Russian Army from 1999-2001 and past resident of Tver)
Red Army Auxiliary Armoured Vehicles, 1930–1945 (Images of War), by Alex Tarasov
If you ever wanted to learn about probably the most obscure parts of the Soviet tank forces during the Interwar and WW2 – this book is for you.
The book tells the story of the Soviet auxiliary armor, from the conceptual and doctrinal developments of the 1930s to the fierce battles of the Great Patriotic War.
The author not only pays attention to the technical side, but also examines organizational and doctrinal questions, as well as the role and place of the auxiliary armor, as it was seen by the Soviet pioneers of armored warfare Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Vladimir Triandafillov and Konstantin Kalinovsky.
A significant part of the book is dedicated to real battlefield experiences taken from Soviet combat reports. The author analyses the question of how the lack of auxiliary armor affected the combat efficacy of the Soviet tank troops during the most significant operations of the Great Patriotic War, including:
– the South-Western Front, January 1942
– the 3rd Guards Tank Army in the battles for Kharkov in December 1942–March 1943
– the 2nd Tank Army in January–February 1944, during the battles of the Zhitomir–Berdichev offensive
– the 6th Guards Tank Army in the Manchurian operation in August–September 1945
The book also explores the question of engineering support from 1930 to the Battle of Berlin. The research is based mainly on archival documents never published before and it will be very useful for scholars and researchers.
7 replies on “The Soviet 21st Tank Brigade’s Assault On Kalinin”
“…This was reinforced by orders from General K. Zhukov:…”
Should that read G.K.Zhukov?
Im surprised that no KV’s took part in this. Seeing how everything about the KV-1 is inferior to the T-34 except in having a 3-man turret, its reasonable at that. Or the KV-1 wasn’t put into those divisions or whatever they were.
For sure, they could have had a lot more armor with them.
It is nice that you added this tank brigade i always love to find out more about the armored warfare of ww2
There looks to be a few incorrect uses of unit sizes:
“The 21st Tank Brigade was organised into three battalions, which primarily consisted of the 21st Tank Division” should be “…consisted of the 21st Tank Regiment”
“In Kalinin itself was the German 660th Assault Gun Division…” should be “660th Assault Gun Battery”. Every other mention of the 660th says its a battalion but the 660th was a Battery (company size). It was part of the 600th Assault Gun Battalion along with the 665th Assault Gun Battery.
“The unit had received its tanks from Kharkov fully replenished with ammunition and fuel, and the division arrived at Kursky Station in Moscow on the 14th of October 1941. ” should be “…and the brigade arrived at Kursky Station…”
But otherwise overall it was a good account of the 21st Tank Brigade’s action at Kalinin that supplement’s the book The Defense of Moscow 1941: The Northern Flank
Thank you for the corrections!