Operation Tatsinskaya Raid

The 'Tatsinskaya Raid' was a Soviet armoured raid deep into the German rear during the last phases of the Battle of Stalingrad (16/28 December 1942).

Undertaken by General Major Vasili M. Badanov’s XXIV Tank Corps, the raid was designed to force the Germans to divert some of the forces attempting to relieve Generaloberst Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army trapped in Stalingrad.

The Soviets had encircled the 6th Army in Stalingrad in 'Uran', which had been launched on 19 November 1942. By the middle of December, the German 'Wintergewitter' (i) relief effort had approached to a distance of about 30 miles (50 km) of the encirclement ring, and the German airlift trying to supply the encircled army was in full swing. In this situation, the Stavka decided to launch 'Malyi Saturn' as a downsized 'Saturn' to encircle Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s entire Heeresgruppe 'A' by penetrating to the south and the coast of the Sea of Azov. The danger this operation created was so serious that the Germans had to abandon all hope of relieving the 6th Army, and instead concentrate on halting the advancing Soviet formations while simultaneously trying to move as many formations as possible to the west.

As a consequence of the threat, the most potent of the German divisions involved in the relief effort, Generalleutnant Erhard Raus’s 6th Panzerdivision, was turned to the west and ordered first to clear the raiding force from Tatsinskaya, and second to establish a new front toward the north of the airfield. With that decision, all hope of breaking through to the 6th Army disappeared.

The XXIV Tank Corps was a formation of General Leytenant Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 3rd Guards Army within General Polkovnik Nikolai F. Vatutin’s South-West Front. The tank corps was the 3rd Guards Army’s exploitation formation for deep penetration missions, and therefore not used in the initial breakthrough element of the battle. The 3rd Guards Army’s offensive was launched during the morning of 16 December when, in order to speed the task of of his infantry formations in breaching the Axis front, Lelyushenko committed his other two tank formations, General Major Pavel P. Poluboyarov’s XVII Tank Corps and General Major Piotr P. Pavlov’s XXV Tank Corps, during the initial phase of the battle.

The XXIV Tank Corps was to move into action at 11.30 on 17 December at a time when the XVII and XXV Tank Corps had already broken through and were starting to encircle Generale d’Armata Italo Gariboldi’s Italian 8a Armata and were also committed with the formations of General Karl-Adolf Hollidt’s Armeeabteilung 'Hollidt'. The XXV Tank Corps later made a deep raid towards Morozovskaya to the east of Tatsinskaya as the second of the two deep raids intended to cut off the German formations undertaking 'Wintergewitter' (i).

The XXIV Tank Corps' raid was aimed at the airfield at Tatsinskaya, from which a major part of the Stalingrad relief airlift was being conducted, and on 24 December the corps approached the airfield on three sides and captured it: the airfield had probably received no warning of the Soviet approach, for flight operations were still proceeding. The XXIV Tank Corps claimed the destruction of more than 300 aircraft on the airfield, while German estimates were 72 aircraft lost, representing almost 10% of the Luftwaffe’s transport capability. The Soviet forces overran airfield’s defences without any problem, and while more than 100 transport aircraft managed to escape, the German losses were heavy. As the tanks were low on ammunition, almost all of the aircraft destroyed were rammed by the tanks. A number of aircraft were also destroyed while still on the railway wagons on which they had arrived.

Once it had seized the airfield, however, the XXIV Tank Corps found itself cut off and without supplies deep inside the German lines. Even as the battle for the airfield and adjacent town was continuing, Badanov appreciated that his corps had been cut off as columns of his 24th Motorised Brigade had been followed from the north by the Germans. On 26 December, the last elements of 24th Motorised Brigade managed to break through the encirclement to join the main body of the corps.

Meanwhile Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, commander of Heeresgruppe 'Don', had ordered General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XLVIII Panzerkorps to move both Generalleutnant Hermann Balck’s 11th Panzerdivision and Raus’s 6th Panzerdivision toward the deep penetrations the Soviets had achieved. By 26 December the two Panzer divisions had severed the land link between the XXIV Tank Corps and the rest of the Soviet forces in the area. Toward the north, a mixed Kampfgruppe blocked the road against other Soviet formations which might attempt to come to the aid of the XXIV Tank Corps. The Germans also brought up the 579th Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Georg Pfeiffer’s 306th Division and the Panzerzug 10a, Pz 10b and Pz 28 armoured trains, and these forces launched an attack aimed at the destruction of the XXIV Tank Corps.

The Stavka responded by ordering the front command to provide assistance for Badanov’s formation. The forces available for this task were the XXV Tank Corps, which combat had reduced to a strength of only 25 tanks, and General Major Ivan N. Russianov’s I Guards Mechanised Corps, which had also been degraded by combat. The two corps were reinforced with infantry, but were not able to effect any breakthrough to Tatsinskaya.

Thus what was left of the XXV Tank Corps was faced with the need to break out if it was to escape destruction, and received permission to make the attempt on 28 December. Most of the corps' matériel and many of its men were lost during the effort, but the damage to the Germans had already been done. The German forces engaged in the attempt to relieve of Stalingrad had necessarily been withdrawn from 'Wintergewitter' (i) in an effort to deal with the raid, and many of the Luftwaffe’s invaluable transport aircraft had been destroyed, with their crews and ground personnel mostly killed. For the loss of about 190 tanks, the XXIV Tank Corps also claimed the destruction of 84 tanks and 106 pieces of artillery, the killing of 12,000 Axis soldiers, and the capture of almost 5,000 more during this operation.

Despite the loss of most of the tank corps, the raid was a major operational success. The XXIV Tank Corps had operated up to 150 miles (240 km) from its supply base, and had to rely on captured supplies. The follow-on infantry was sufficiently mobile to keep up, which had afforded the Germans the opportunity to cut off the raiding force, and ultimately defeat the operational intent of cutting off a large part of the German forces in the region. Even so, for the first time the Soviets had managed to drive a strong formation deep into the rear of mobile German formations, forcing the German command to adapt its own operational plans. Previous raids had been undertaken by considerably weaker cavalry and airborne forces operating with partisans, and these had not been able to inflict the same level of damage. The Soviets learned much from this raid, whose success probably served as the impetus to the creation of the new tank armies as independent formations capable of conducting sustained operations deep in the German rear. The almost total loss of the equipment and that of many of the personnel of XXIV Tank Corps also confirmed, however, that operations at considerable depth behind the lines carried major risk.