Tula Defensive Operation

The 'Tula Defensive Operation' was the Soviet fifth of the seven sub-operations together constituting the 'Moscow Strategic Defensive Operation', and as such was the undertaking intended to prevent any German approach to Moscow from the south in 'Taifun' (i) (24 October/5 December 1941).

The operation was allocated to General Polkovnik Andrei I. Eremenko’s Bryansk Front and from 11 November, following the disestablishment of General Georgi K. Zhukov’s West Front, the forces that had constituted this front’s left wing. The operation played an important role in stabilising the area of the Eastern Front on the southern approaches to Moscow, so depriving the Germans of the operational initiative and creating the conditions required for the subsequent 'Tula Offensive Operation'. Of paramount importance in the success of the 'Tula Defensive Operation' was the magnificent defence of Tula, which was almost completely surrounded, and pinned two German armies, one of then a Panzerarmee.

After the failure of the 'Orel-Bryansk Defensive Operation', the forces of the Bryansk Front avoided destruction in the following 'cauldron' encirclement, and were thus able to withdraw to new lines under attack by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzergruppe (from 5 October 2nd Panzerarmee) and Generaloberst Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s 2nd Army. According to a Soviet historian, a primary aspect of Guderian’s operation, which lay at the core of the 'Schlussjagd' undertaking, was 'increased attention to a breakthrough into the depths and completely unacceptable neglect of the task of destroying the encircled armies'. This made it possible for large numbers of Soviet troops, many of them as complete formations, to escape from the encirclement without the Soviet use of relief forces. This allowed the Stavka to restore the front with the expenditure of fewer forces from the high command reserve and other sectors of the front. The original German plan for 'Taifun' (i) was to approach Moscow from the south, but this had now to be revised in a process that delayed the northward approach to the Soviet capital by 17 days, and instead of the rapid defeat of the opposing Soviet troops it had expected, the German group encountered heavily thinned Soviet forces which were nonetheless retreating in comparatively good order and in the process hastily preparing defensive lines in the area of Tula and the 'Mozhaysk Defence Line'. With the help of the local population, three defensive lines were created around the city of Tula.

On 8 October, Polkovnik Gennadi P. Korotkov’s 238th Division arrived in the area of Tula from Kazakhstan to help in the defence of the city, which was a major centre of Soviet industry. At the same time, the evacuation from Tula of workers, engineers and technicians and equipment of defence factories and other industrial enterprises began. On 14 October, however, after German troops had occupied Kaluga, to the north-west of Tula, the 238th Division was transferred to the area of Aleksin, on the Ugra river mid-way between Tula and Kaluga, to defend it and prevent a breakthrough on the road linking Tula and Moscow. After the 238th Division had left, the defence of Tula lay in the hands of the 732th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment and 171st Fighter Air Defence Regiment as well as the 156th Regiment of the 69th NKVD Brigade of internal security troops tasked primarily with the protection of the industrials area.

On 20 October, General Iosif R. Apanasenko’s Far Eastern Front was ordered to send Polkovnik Andrei L. Getman’s 112th Tank Brigade and Polkovnik Haik O. Martirosian’s 239th Division to the west, and Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Timoshenko’s South-West Front was instructed to send General Major Pavel A. Belov’s II Cavalry Corps to the Tula region.

By order of the State Defence Committee, on 22 October the Tula City Defence Committee was created and entrusted with full responsibility for the city’s defence. On the following day, the committee decided to establish a 1,500-man force from the fighter battalions of the Tula workers' regiment. The approaches to the city soon saw the creation of anti-tank ditches, barbed wire barriers and entanglements and measures for urban combat, these lat including barricades, anti-tank hedgehogs and ditches. The most threatened sections of roads were also mined.

By 23 October, the Bryansk Front included the 3rd Army, 13th Army and 50th Army, which held the sector of the front between Belev and Lgov via Mtsensk, Ponyri and Fatezh. General Major Avksenti M. Gorodnyansky’s 13th Army, emerging from the encirclement on 22 October, included General Major Arkadi N. Ermakov’s operational grouping, and occupied the line between Fatezh and Lgov. On the following day, units of General Major Yakov G. Kreizer’s 3rd Army, which occupied the line south of Ponyri, and units of the 50th Army, commanded by Ermakov since the death in combat of General Major Mikhail P. Petrov on 10 October and which occupied the line from the mouth of the Upa river to the mouth of the Snezhed river, emerged from the encirclement. On 25 October the 50th Army took command of the combat-capable forces of General Major Aleksei V. Kurkin’s disestablished 26th Army.

The defence of Tula and the approaches to the city was the responsibility of Ermakov’s (from 22 November Boldin’s) 50th Army, and for this task the Bryansk Front ordered it to pull back to Tula by 30 October its forces from the line connecting the mouth of the Upa river and Plavsk via Mtsensk.

Partisans provided considerable support for the Soviet forces: 31 partisan detachments and 73 sabotage groups acted in the rear of the German forces in the Tula region during October.

On 2 October, Generalleutnant Hermann Breith had been appointed commander of the 3rd Panzerdivision of General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Corps (mot.), in place of General Walter Model who had been elevated to command of the XLI Corps (mot.). On 23 October Breith on his own initiative created an armoured Kampfgruppe under the command of Oberst G. Eberbach (commander of a tank brigade of the 3rd Panzerdivision), to which the armour of the 3rd Panzerdivision and the remnants of the 35th Panzerregiment of Generalmajor Willibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlencamp’s 4th Panzerdivision, which had taken heavy losses in the area near Mtsensk from the attacks of Polkovnik Mikhail Ye. Katukov’s 4th Tank Brigade. Motorised infantry units of the 4th Panzerdivision and the Infanterieregiment 'Grossdeutschland' (mot.) remained in the Mtsensk area as a holding force.

Forestalling the withdrawal of the 50th Army to new defensive lines, to be completed by 30 October, on 24 October the Germans launched their offensive along the road extending from Orel north-east to Tula, and by 29 October their forward units were nearing Tula. On 24 October, in order to bypass the many Soviet units on this road, Eberbach’s Kampfgruppe crossed the Zusha river to the north of the road and, after its armour and artillery had been ferried across this waterway, began to sweep forward toward Plavsk, bypassing the Soviet forces on the road. Breith’s division compelled the local elements of the 50th Army to fall back north-eastward toward Tula.

On the same day, starting from the line connecting Belov and the mouth of the Snezhed river, other parts of the 2nd Panzerarmee dealt the main blow in the direction of Tula. Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIX Corps (mot.) led the advance ahead of General Joachim Lemelsen’s XLVII Corps (mot.). In parallel, heading toward Belev, Tula and Aleksin, General Gotthard Heinrici’s XLIII Corps and General Karl Weisenberger’s LIII Corps moved forward.

On 26 October, the armour of the Kampfgruppe 'Eberbach' in the area of Plavsk linked with units of the 108th Tank Division (three KV-1 heavy, seven T-34 medium and 23 light tanks on 16 October) that had escaped from the Bryansk 'cauldron'. Forcing the river to the north of the Soviet blocking force on the road, the 3rd Panzerdivision compelled the defenders of Plavsk to retreat to the combat positions which had been created since the start of the month in the Tula area.

On the order of the State Defence Committee on 27 October, the Tula Workers' Regiment (left) and the 156th NKVD Regiment (right) were sent from the Orel road to cover Tula with the support of anti-aircraft guns of the 732th Air Defence Regiment. To the left of the Tula Workers' Regiment, on the road linking Tula with Voronezh, Polkovnik Vasili D. Khokhlov’s 260th Division (a mere 200 men) was preparing to hold, and on the road linking Tula and Odoevsky, a militia battalion was also readying itself to hold fast. On the city’s northern outskirts, the 447th Artillery Regiment of the Stavka reserve was deployed, on the railway tracks of the weapons factory armoured train No. 16 was sited, and on the city’s southern outskirts was the 702nd Anti-Tank Regiment with its seven 37-mm guns.

On 29 October, Polkovnik Nikolai V. Ryakin’s 290th Division was sent to the defences in the Yasnaya Polyana area, but during the night of 30 October, as the German armour pressed forward the division abandoned its positions and fell back to the Nizhny Prisady station, 11.25 miles (18 km) to the north-east of Tula. Simultaneously, Polkovnik Ya. N. Pivnev’s 31st Cavalry Division withdrew from Kosaya Gora to the area of the 50th Army’s headquarters some 7.5 miles (12 km) to the north-east of Tula. Thus, Yasnaya Polyana, a metallurgical factory, the village of Kosaya Gora, Ivanovskiye Dachi and the village of Novo-Basovo fell into German hands without a fight.

On 29 October, the Southern Combat Section of Tula was created with Major I. Ya. Kravchenko as its commander. Under his command, Kravchenko had all the units in Tula, as well as the remnants of the 290th Division, which had left for Tula from the area of Yasnaya Polyana.

Between 30 October and 1 November, two Panzer divisions (about 100 tanks in the first echelon) and one infantry brigade tried to capture the city of Tula, delivering the main German strike along the road from Orel, the village of Rogozhinsky and the road from Voronezh. By this time, only a portion of the 50th Army had been able to withdraw to Tula. The 156th NKVD Regiment of Polkovnik Aleksandr K. Melnikov’s 69th NKVD Brigade for the protection of especially important industrial enterprises and those of the garrison’s units subordinate to the brigade (732th Air Defence Regiment and Tula Workers' Regiment) met the leading German units and checked them pending the arrival of reinforcements. On the evening of 30 October, Polkovnik Ivan I. Yushchuk’s 32nd Tank Brigade (five KV-1 heavy, seven T-34 medium and 22 T-60 light tanks together with one motorised infantry battalion of 960 men) arrived, and on 31 October the 34th Guards Rocket Artillery Battalion made its appearance. On 31 October the remnants of General Major Yakov S. Fokanov’s 154th Division and Polkovnik Vladimir P. Schlegel’s 217th Division, which had emerged from the encirclement, also reached in the city.

The fighting was severe. but this first German attempt to capture the city was unsuccessful. According to Soviet data, on 30 October, the defence beat off four armoured attacks by 20 to 50 tanks each and supported by a motorised infantry battalion. On 31 October and 1 November two further armoured attacks on the main axis, as well as numerous attacks in other sectors by groups of three to five tanks and up to one platoon of infantry platoon, were defeated. In these three days of fighting, the Germans lost 38 tanks and as many as 500 men, while the Soviet losses three tanks, three pieces of artillery, four heavy machine guns, five anti-tank rifles, 84 men killed and 212 men wounded. At 16.00 on 1 November, as reinforcements approached the city, the Soviet disbanded the Southern Combat Area was disbanded and its men and equipment were transferred to the 154th Division.

At the same time, on 31 October, General Major Aleksei D. Tereshkov’s 413rd Division from the Far East reached the 50th Army and assumed responsibility for the defences in the Dedilovo area on the southern approaches to Tula.

On 2 November, formations of von Weichs’s 2nd Army and Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s 4th Army entered the Tula region, but their presence did not materially change the situation as they were met by units of the 194th Division and 238th Division, as well as the remnants of the 258th Division. Frontal attacks became prolonged but nonetheless ineffective, and the German attempts to capture Tula by outflanking the Soviet defences also failed. As a result of the intervention by the remnants of the 50th Army’s formations emerging from the encirclement, the situation in the Tula region was stabilised, and at the same time, the formations of Kreizer’s 3rd Army withdrew to the east toward Efremov.

In November, Polkovnik Ivan I. Yushchuk was appointed to command of the Tula garrison.

After failing in his first attempt to take Tula in a fontal attack, Guderian decided to bypass the city from the south-east and east in the general direction of Dedilovo, Stalinogorsk, Venev and Kashira. However, the German offensive was terminated in the Dedilovo area as, on 7 November, units of the 50th Army from the Tula area and the 3rd Army from the Teploye area launched a counterattack on the flanks of the advancing Panzer army.

On 10 November 10, Heinrici’s XLIII Corps launched an attack to the south of Aleksin in order to strike and sever the lines of communication needed by the 50th Army and thereby force it to leave Tula, but Tula’s defenders defeated this effort.

Intending to break through the right flank of the defences of General Leytenant Ivan G. Zakharkin’s 49th Army in the area to the north-west of Serpukhov, von Kluge concentrated General Walter Schroth’s XII Corps. Since 11 November, however, the Germans had themselves been compelled to defend against a counter-offensive by Belov’s II Cavalry Corps, Polkovnik Andrei L. Getman’s 112th Tank Brigade and the 415th Rifle Division of the 49th Army. Parts of this army had launched the counterattack from the Serpukhov area along the Protva river into the flank of the 4th Army, and in order to prevent a Soviet breakthrough, von Kluge had transferred two infantry divisions and one Panzer division from the reserve to this sector. Although the counterattack led to no significant change along the front, it did prevent the use of the 4th Army's right-flank formations to strike in the Tula and Moscow directions. By 17 November, the German formations attacked by the 49th Army and 50th Army had to go over to the defensive.

Thus, the German attempts in the first half of November to capture Tula with a frontal attack from the south, as well as to bypass it from the north, were checked by the Soviet forces with the active participation of the entire population of the city.

On 18 November, the 2nd Panzerarmee resumed the offensive in the north-easterly direction after a 10-day interval to regroup and undertake essential maintenance. Despite all the efforts of the 50th Army to offset the losses it had suffered up to this time, the Germans still had the advantage of a superiority of 3.2/1 in men, 3.2/1 in artillery and 3/1 in armour. After breaking through the defences of the 50th Army, four Panzer divisions, three motorised divisions, five infantry divisions and Oberst Walter Hornlein’s Infanterieregiment 'Grossdeutschland' (mot.) drove around Tula from the south-east to Kashira and Kolomna. A gap of up to 31 miles (50 km) was thus created between the left flank of the the West Front’s 50th Army and the right flank of the South-West Front’s 3rd Army. In an attempt to close this gap, the Soviets pushed forward a formation of the reserve, Martirosian’s 239th Division, from Stalinogorsk, and this helped to effect an improvement in the general situation despite the fact that it was itself surrounded.

By the end of 18 November, the Germans had taken Dedilovo, where the 413rd Division and the remnants of Polkovnik Ivan F. Seregin’s 299th Division had constituted the defence, at 16.00 on 21 November the Kampfgruppe 'Eberbach' entered and captured Uzlovaya, and on 25 November Stalinogorsk fell. The Soviet departure from Stalinogorsk created the threat of a deep German breakthrough into the areas of Venev, Kashira and Zaraisk.

By a West Front decision, the area of Venev combat sector was created, this comprising the 413th division, Polkovnik A. V. Bogdanov’s 173rd Division and Polkovnik A. V. Gladkov’s 129th Division, Pivnev’s 31st Cavalry Division and armour in the form of Polkovnik Sergei A. Ivanov’s 108th Tank Division, the 11th Tank Brigade and the 125th Tank Battalion. The defence of the town of Venev and its approaches was the responsibility of one regiment of the 173rd Division and two tank brigades. On 24 November, Generalmajor Rudolf-Eduard Licht’s 17th Panzerdivision bypassed the town from the east, forcing its defenders to retreat to the north. The Germans now wished to develop their current success in the direction of Kashira, but could not find the strength required as much of their strength was shackled by the Soviet defence in the area of Tula, Venev and other towns and villages, and were stretched over 217.5 miles (350 km) of front. The assault on Kashira was therefore undertaken by only the 17th Panzerdivision, whose vanguard on 25 November broke through to the town’s southern outskirts but was there brought to a halt by the anti-aircraft artillery battalion of Major A. P. Smirnov and units of the 173rd Division (21st People’s Militia Division of the Kiev region). By a decision of the front’s military council, the II Cavalry Corps and the 112th Tank Division were urgently withdrawn from the battle in the Serpukhov area and moved by forced march to the Kashira area. Taking the 173rd Division and 112th Tank Division under command, on 27 November the corps, together with Podpolkovnik Ivan F. Kirichenko’s 9th Tank Brigade, reached the area of Mordves and launched a counterattack which also involved one guards mortar regiment and the 35th and 127th Separate Tank Battalions.

Tula was thus deeply outflanked from the east.

To the north of Tula, the right wings of von Kluge’s 4th Army and Generaloberst Erich Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe had been assigned the task of striking in the direction of Serpukhov, Lopasnya and Podolsk in order to encircle and destroy the Soviet defenders to the north-west and west of Serpukhov. On 27 November, Heinrici’s XLIII Corps struck from the Aleksin area on the right flank of the 50th Army to the north of Tula. A counterstrike to the west was delivered by the 2nd Panzerarmee with two Panzer divisions of Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Corps (mot.) that were to link in the Kostrov area, some 15.5 miles (25 km) to the north of Tula. By the end of 3 December, in the Revyakino region, elements of the XXIV Corps (mot.) had captured the road and railway linking Serpukhov and Tula, thereby cutting the 50th Army’s lines of communication.

In an effort to re-establishing communications with the forces which had thus been encircled, on 4 December the newly arrived 340th Division, now commanded by Martirosian, and the 112th Tank Division launched a counterblow on the flank of the XXIV Corps (mot.) from the area to the south of Laptevo. The town’s defenders simultaneously struck from the south. As a result, the advancing German units were forced to stop, and the offensive of the XLIII Corps had gained no success.

On 5 December. the 2nd Panzerarmee, which was now scattered along a 217.5-mile (350-km) front, received an order to go over to the defensive. Having exhausted their offensive capabilities, the 2nd Panzerarmee's formations began to withdraw from the dangerous bulge they had formed to the north-east of Tula, falling back to the line of the railway linking Tula and Uzlovaya.

The last blow to Tula in this area was delivered by Generalleutnant Wilhelm Stemmermann’s 296th Division on the night of 7/8 December. This attack on the western outskirts of Tula from the village of Maslovo was repulsed, and one battalion of Oberstleutnant Carl André's 521st Infanterieregiment suffered heavy losses.

To the east and south-east of Tula, in order to cover the attack from the east, the 2nd Panzerarmee committed Lemelsen’s XLVII Corps to an offensive against Skopin, Mikhailov, Ryazan and Kolomna, threatening a breakthrough to the main lines of communication linking Moscow with the USSR’s central and eastern regions. On 25 November, units of Generalleutnant Walther Nehring’s 18th Panzerdivision captured Skopin and advanced to Ryazhsk. Located at the junction of the West Front and the South-West Front, this area turned out to be empty of Soviet forces. The divisions of General Filipp I. Golikov’s 10th Army of the Stavka reserve were on their way to the area, so the road to Ryazan was open. Thus elements of Polkovnik V. A. Molev’s 84th Naval Brigade from the Moscow area of the Volga Military District were unloaded in Ryazhsk and sent to recapture the city of Skopin. On 22 November, in the area 12.5 miles (20 km) to the north-west of Ryazhsk, the 84th Naval Brigade defeated Oberst Walter Wessel’s 15th Infanterieregiment (mot.) and parts of Generalmajor Max Fremerey’s 29th Division (mot.), and thus restored the situation, and then on 28 November 28 retook Skopin. Other parts of the 10th Army then arrived here. In other areas, the XLVII Corps (mot.) also failed to achieve significant results. The German offensive on Ryazan was stopped in the area of ​​the village of Zakharovo, and at Kolomna a short distance from Zaraisk. lying some 25 miles (40 km) to the south-west of Ryazan, Zakharovo was the most easterly point reach by Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' on 'Schlussjagd'. According to some reports, however, detachments of German saboteurs, whose task was to destroy the railway linking Moscow and Ryazan, managed to reach Ribny and Lukhovitsy before being intercepted and destroyed by local forces.

On 5 December, the left-flank units of the 2nd Army occupied Yelets.

As a result of 'Schlussjagd' and the the opposing 'Tula Defensive Operation', the Germans inflicted huge socio-economic damage to the Tula region: 19,164 collective farms were burned in 25 of the region’s districts, 316 villages were completely destroyed by fire, the towns of Epifan, Venev, Bogoroditsk and Chern were almost completely destroyed, and 299 schools were destroyed in 27 of the region’s districts. There were also mass executions.

During the two months it took the Germans to seize the districts of the Tula region, partisans killed some 1,500 Germans, destroyed 15 tanks, one aeroplane, 150 vehicles, 100 trailers carrying ammunition, 45 motorcycles, six pieces of artillery, one mortar battery, and 11.2 miles (18 km) of telephone wires. The partisans also derailed two military trains, captured three steam locomotives and 350 carriages, the last containing 130 vehicles, 70 motorcycles, a large number of machine guns, mines, ammunition and food.

For 43 days between October and December, the key strategic point of defence, Tula was semi-encircled and subjected to German artillery and mortar fire, bombing and armoured attack. Nevertheless, the Soviet defenders managed to stabilise the front on the southern approaches to Moscow. The retention of the city of Tula ensured the stability of the left flank of the West Front, drawing off the entire 4th Army and thwarting the German plan to bypass Moscow from the south and east by the 2nd Panzerarmee. During the German forces' second general offensive between 18 November and 5 December, the Germans gained some successes but also failed to make a breakthrough to the south of Moscow and thus achieve the task with which they had been tasked.

Thus the Germans failed to achieve the primary goal of 'Taifun' (i) in October. Moscow was not taken, and the resistance of the Soviet troops was not broken. The main reasons for the slowing of the German offensive on Moscow after the completion of the encirclement of most of three Soviet fronts near Vyaz’ma and Bryansk would seem to have been the effective countermeasures supervised by the Soviet high command and based on a major regrouping of the forces available to it and the effective control of the defensive fighting making good use of the engineering structures which had been built since June 1941. Moreover, the defence system in the Moscow region had been promptly restored with forces and means from the reserves of the Stavka and and other sectors of the front, as well as from the rear areas and the Siberian regions of the USSR.

After the German active operations in the Tula region subsided on 6 December, the reinforced Soviet troops launched the 'Tula Offensive Operation', as a result of which the threat of a German outflanking of Moscow from the south was finally eliminated, and the German forces in the Tula area were defeated.