Ust-Tosno Offensive Operation

The 'Ust-Tosno Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking by forces of the Leningrad Front and Volkhov Front within the '3rd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' against elements of the 18th Army with the object of breaking the siege of Leningrad (19 August/8 September 1942).

During the summer of 1942, the situation in the Leningrad region remained tense. Moreover, on 23 July Adolf Hitler signed his Führerweisung Nr 45 for the preparation of an operation to take Leningrad by storm, and this soon received the codename 'Nordlicht'. The date for this offensive’s start was set for 14 September or thereabouts, and to provide Generalfeldmarschall Georg von Küchler’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' with the additional strength required for 'Nordlicht', it was reinforced by Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army, which was transferred from Crimea after it had taken Sevastopol, and also by more aircraft heavy artillery.

At the end of the summer the Soviet supreme command, in its turn, outlined a new operation to break the siege of Leningrad. The new operation was to involve General Kyrill A. Meretskov’s Volkhov Front, which was assigned the main role, as well as General Leytenant Leonid A. Govorov’s Leningrad Front. According to the version of events accepted in Soviet history, the development and preparation of 'Nordlicht' were discovered by Soviet intelligence, so in addition to their main task, the Volkhov Front and Leningrad Front were tasked with the disruption of the planned German assault on Leningrad. The Soviet general staff was able to pass to Leningrad Front information about the transfer of the 11th Army to the Leningrad area, and also the proposed 14 October date for the launch of 'Nordlicht'. Thus the Soviet forces were able to pre-empt the Germans and begin their offensive before the German troops had completed the preparations for the storming of Leningrad.

The plan developed by the Leningrad Front included a tactical assault landing at the mouth of the Tosna river, which flows northward to debouch into the Neva river in the area to the east of Leningrad, and this landing was to seize a bridgehead and the bridges across the river before Soviet armour and infantry arrived for an advance to the east. The Soviets believed that the successful implementation of this plan would create conditions favourable for the development of a further offensive against Mga and Sinyavino.

The shock group of the Volkhov Front went over to the offensive on 27 August.

In the area of ​​Kolpino and Krasny Bor was Generalleutnant Martin Wandel’s 121st Division of Generaloberst Georg Lindemann’s 18th Army, and this division was positioned in strong multi-echelon defences incorporating pillboxes, fortified firing points, barbed wire entanglements and minefields. The village of Ust-Tosno itself and the nearby village of Ivanovskaya, separated by the Tosna river, had been turned into a major defensive area covered by a mass of artillery and machine gun fire.

On 19 August, elements of General Major Vladimir P. Sviridov’s 55th Army were the first to launch the Leningrad Front’s offensive. After a powerful preparation by artillery and warplanes, at 12.00 the 947th Regiment and 952nd Regiment of General Major Semyon I. Donskov’s 268th Division, supported by the 86th Separate Tank Battalion (nine KV-1, 12 BT-7, BT-5 and BT-2 machines) attacked and broke into Ust-Tosno. At 13.00, starting from the right bank of the Neva river at Korchmino, the first echelon of the Ust-Tosno landing force crossed under heavy fire and landed from armoured craft: this initial echelon comprised 280 men of the 268th Davison’s 942th Regiment and 50 sailors of Vitse Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet. Once committed, the assault force delivered a determined attack and broke through the first line of the German defences, captured the road bridge that the Germans had not managed to demolish, and also captured part of the village of Ivanovskaya, which was the Germans' strongest position. However, the road bridge remained under massive German fire: the first two Soviet tanks to move onto it were immediately hit, their wrecked hulls then blocking the way for others. The Soviets were unable to pull the wrecked vehicles out of the for some time.

To strengthen the first-echelon landing force, at 14.23 a second echelon comprising parts of the 942nd Division’s 5th Company and 9th Company were landed. With its left flank, the 947th Regiment began a successful advance along the railway line, and while one company took the bend of the Tosna river, the other occupied 330 yards (300 m) of the road in the right-hand side of the railway. The 2/947th Division, operating on the attack’s right flank, met strong resistance from the Lesistaya wood, suffered losses and went onto the defensive.

By the end of 19 August, units of the 268th Division had occupied the villages of Ust-Tosno and Ivanovskaya, and its forward units had reached Pella station at the eastern end of Ivanovskaya. On the following day, the Germans had been reinforced with the 151st Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Werner Hühner’s 61st Division, the 636th Sicherungsbataillon and one tank company of Generalleutnant Walter Wessel’s 12th Panzerdivision, and now launched a counterattack which threw units of the 268th Division back to their original positions. The 268th Division’s loss were very considerable: on the first day, one of the battalions of its 952nd Regiment lost 60% of its men, and the 947th Regiment lost 70% of its men. Even so, the Soviets managed to hold their bridgehead.

The task of maintaining the flow of supplies to the Soviet bridgehead had been allocated to the Leningrad naval base, and in the curse of this effort the base’s craft evacuated more than 2,000 wounded men, and delivered about 5,000 reinforcements, 14 guns, 13 mortars, one tank, and more than 20 tons of ammunition and food. The transport effort was undertaken in the face of strong artillery fire and air attack, and lost 11 of its craft. In support of the landing, moreover, naval artillery fired more than 4,000 rounds, and naval aviation carried out about 300 sorties.

On the night of 20 August, the 1 and 2/947th Regiment passed responsibility for the positions they had occupied to the battalions of the 342th Regiment, and together with the units of the 942th Regiment and 952th Regiment received the task of developing the offensive along the western and eastern banks of the Tosna river. The regiments were unable to achieve their assigned tasks, however, as a result of strong German resistance, which did not allow the crossing of reinforcements to the river’s eastern bank. At the same time the Germans were able to strengthen their own positions with fresh reinforcements. The landing forces on the river’s eastern bank, which the Germans isolated from the Tosna and Neva rivers were particularly hard hit, and the Germans also pushed the Soviet forces away from the area of the church in Ivanovskaya.

The two Tosna river bridges now in Soviet hands could not be used as they were both swept by German fire.

On 21 and 22 August, elements of the 268th Division were assigned the task of clearing previously captured German positions on the Tosna river’s western bank, but could not achieve this as a result of its losses.

On 23 August, Soviet troops tried to turn the tide of the battle: the 342nd Regiment and 329th Regiment of the 136th Division were tasked to work together in clearing the western bank of the Tosna river, and then the 329th Regiment and 86th Separate Tank Battalion were to cross the bridges to the eastern bank and continue offensive operations along expansion of the Soviet-held part of Ivanovskaya. Although units of the 136th Division managed once more to drive the Germans out of Ust-Tosno, they could not cross the river and re-establish contact with the bridgehead. The 342nd Regiment and 329th Regiment and the 86th Separate Tank Battalion also failed in their task of enlarging the bridgehead. The remnants of the 342nd Regiment were now withdrawn from the battle, and the 329th Regiment was replaced in the bridgehead by units of the 947th Regiment of the 268th Division.

Between 24 and 26 August, units of the 268th Division continued their offensive operations, but their increasing losses and the the fact that they could achieve no measure of tactical surprise combined with the arrival of German reinforcements to extinguish the Soviet forces' offensive drive.

On 27 August, units of the 268th Division consolidated the successes which the Soviets still possessed, organising obstacles and a system of defensive fire in the sector. The movement of more troops to the Ivanovskaya bridgehead on the Tosna river’s eastern bank was enhanced by the institution of a boat ferry, which also carried ammunition, food and weapons. While one tank and some pieces of artillery had already reached the bridgehead, a second tank was lost as German artillery destroyed the pontoon bridge over which it was advancing. Delivering constant counterattacks, the Germans tried to drive the Soviet forces in the Ivanovskaya bridgehead back into the Neva river, but the activities of individual groups of Soviet soldiers combined with Soviet artillery fire from the northern bank of the Neva river in the area of Bol’shiye Porogi and Maslovo to prevent this.

On 2 September, the 55th Army committed 43rd Division and 85th Division to the battle, but these failed to turn the tide against the Germans who, in their turn, continued their attempts to drive the Soviet troops of the Ivanovskaya bridgehead into the Neva river. At great cost in men and equipment, however, the Soviets maintained their hold of the bridgehead. By the end of the operation, the Germans were using the 1st Polizei-Schützenregiment of Generalleutnant der Polizei Alfred Wünnenberg’s SS Polizeidivision, the 151st Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Werner Hühner’s 61st Division, the 100th Gebirgsjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Julius Ringel’s 5th Gebirgsdivision, and one company of the 407th Infanterieregiment were operating against units of the 55th Army, the 1st Division and the battle group of the 12th Tank Division.

On the night of 3 September, the units of the Soviet division were withdrawn to the Novaya, Sergiyevka and Pavlovo area, where in the period up to 10 September they were replenished, reinforced and retrained.

On 4 September, Govorov asked Iosef Stalin to allow the termination of the 55th Army’s offensive on the grounds that he now considered that in the current situation it would be more profitable to aid the Volkhov Front 'to organise a counterstrike on Sinyavino with the crossing of the Neva river toward Moskovskaya Dubrovka'. After receiving the approval of the Soviet supreme command, the Leningrad Front began hastily to prepare for the crossing of the Neva river by the forces of the Neva Operational Group, and by 8 September, therefore, each side in the Ust-Tosno area went over to the defensive. The end of the 55th Army’s active hostilities allowed the Germans to effect the immediate transfer of parts of the 61st Division and 12th Panzerdivision toward the area threatened by the Volkhov Front’s offensive.

In the 'Ust-Tosno Offensive Operation', Soviet troops had managed to recapture the village of Ust-Tosno, to hold the road bridge and the bridgehead at Ivanovskaya, but the 55th Army had nonetheless failed to fulfil its main task. The Leningrad Front was extremely unhappy with this result, and on 22 September issued an order 'On the reasons for the failure of the 55th Army to fulfil its combat mission in the Ust-Tosno operation'. The order stated that 'For this operation, five divisions, one tank brigade, one separate tank battalion, a significant artillery and mortar reinforcement and the air force of the front were assigned. Despite the superiority over the [Germans], the assigned task was not fulfilled by the army.

'The main reasons for the failure to fulfil the tasks are:
'1. The complete carelessness and ignorance of the Military Council and the headquarters of the army, commanders and divisional headquarters in organising and conducting tactical reconnaissance…
'2. The army commander and divisional commanders do not know how to command artillery and reinforcement mortars and tanks in modern offensive combat…Artillery and mortar fire was not massed in decisive directions…
'3. The headquarters of armies and divisions were unprepared for command and control of troops. The chiefs-of-staffs of armies and divisions did not supervise the activities of subordinate departments and chiefs of combat arms, nor did they set specific tasks for them either in organising a battle or in the course of it.
'5. In the operation carried out, the army suffered heavy losses in personnel killed and wounded. The number of losses indicates that the commanding staff of the army has forgotten the need to maximise the preservation of army personnel. Disregard for unjustified losses of soldiers and commanders is a characteristic feature of the command of the 55th Army. Even when there are no active hostilities, the 55th Army suffers the highest losses among the armies and front groups. Suffice it to point out that in the period from 6 to 9 September the army lost 3,800 men killed and wounded…'

At the same time, the 'Ust-Tosno Offensive Operation' did make a certain contribution inasmuch as it caused the Germans to expend considerable resources in men and equipment, and thereby degrade their reserves. This was the primary reason for the German forces' unwillingness to undertake 'Nordlicht' for the taking of Leningrad by storm in the later months of 1942.

According to modern Russian research, the losses of the 55th Army in the 'Ust-Tosno Offensive Operation' were 7,000 men killed and wounded, and the losses of equipment were also great. Between 19 and 25 August, for example, the 86th Separate Tank Battalion lost all of its armour: 11 tanks were burned out, and the other 11 were knocked out. The German losses are not known, but most probably were significantly lower.