Chapter 1.5. Borzilov's report

          Historians are lucky to have a slightly better insight into the operational record of the 6th mechanized corps (4th and 7th tank division, 29th motorized division). A unique document managed to survive in the depths of the "archive GULAG" and got published in the late 80ies in the VIZ ("Military history magazine"), N11/1998. The name of the document is "Report of the 7th tank division commander Major General S.V.Borzilov to the Chief Tank  Directorate of the Red Army of August 4, 1941".<0} 

         One should say at least a couple of words about the author of this document. By the start of the Soviet-German war Semen Vasilievich Borzilov could be justly considered one of the most experienced and honored tank commanders of the Red Army. During the Finnish war Borzilov was in command of the 20th Heavy tank brigade which broke through the "Mannerheim line" near the infamous "hill 65.5". Red Army command highly appreciated the role of the 20th tank brigade and its commander. 21 tankmen were awarded Title of Hero of the Soviet Union, Borzilov among them. While the criminal character of the war unleashed by Stalin is undeniable, one has to admit that it helped Soviet tankmen to obtain unique experience in breaking through the enemy’s permanent fortifications in an absolutely tankproof topography.

        An extremely low casualty rate among the 20th heavy tank brigade manpower is also its commander’s undoubted credit. The brigade only lost 169 men killed and 338 men wounded in three months of fighting in most severe natural and climatic conditions. Its just about nothing – compared to the total casualties of the Red Army in that shameful Stalin’s adventure, which made up over 330 thousand men. (35)

        In spite of the small size of Borzilov's report, it contains so much valuable information that it is worth extreme attention. 

1. By June 22, 1941 the level of staffing of the division was the following: 98% in private corps, 60% in sergeancy and 80% in command personnel. Material staffing: heavy tanks – 51 units, medium tanks – 150 units, BT-5/7 tanks – 125 units, T-26 tanks – 42 units.

2. Ammunition and tactical supply availability in the division by June, 22:

76-mm shells – 1 allowance of ammo, 76-mm armor-piercing shells – none; 45mm shells – 1.5 allowance of ammo;

 B-70 and KB-70 gasoline – 3 loads, diesel fuel – 1 load.

3. By June 22, 1941 division sub-units kept fulfilling the training plan and were deployed in the following locations: (a list of units and names of towns to the southwest of Belostock follows. – M.S.). I was not aware of the upcoming attack by the German forces, although the units were ready for action.

4. On the 20th of June, 1941 the Corps commander held a meeting with the divisions' officership and assigned an objective to increase combat readiness, namely to fit up shells and loading cases and place them into tanks, to tighten security in parks and depots, to check battle alarm confinement areas once again, and to establish radio communications with the corps headquarters. Moreover, the Corps commander instructed to implement all these measures quietly, avoid telling anyone about them and go on with training by the plan. All these instructions were timely fulfilled.

5. At 2:00 on June 22 the communications delegate transmitted the battle alarm password with an instruction to open the "red package” (the Red Army used this name for a package with a unit’s operational plan which could only be opened by its commander on an order from the higher command. - M.S.). In 10 minutes all units of the division received a combat alert, and at 4:30 they concentrated in the combat alert confinement area.

6. Combat actions of the 7th tank division. On June 22, 1941 the division made reconnaissance with a recon battalion along the Warsaw highway to the west (on the Corps commander's order). Reconnaissance went well. Besides, it was assigned an objective to restore communications with the units of the 1st Rifle Corps. The division had no more objectives assigned to it by 22:00 of the first day of war.

7. At 22:00 on the 22nd of June the division received an order to move to the new confinement area –  the Walpa station (east of Belostock), and the follow-up objective –  to destroy an enemy tank division which had penetrated into the Belostock area. While being under its orders, the division encountered traffic jams on all the roads due to the confused retreat of the army’s support units from Belostock (the road service had never been set up).

All the way on the move and in the confinement area from 4:00 to 9:00 and from 11:00 to 14:00 of June 23 the division remained exposed to the enemy’s aviation. During the time period spent on the move and in the confinement area (by 14:00) the division incurred the following losses: tanks shot down – 63, all regiment rears completely defeated (especially the 13th regiment's rear).

8. Enemy tank division was not found in the Belsk area, thus the division’s forces turned out to be of no use. New information came: the enemy’s tank division penetrated between Grodno and Sokulka. At 14:00 on the June 23 the division was assigned a new objective: to move in the Sokulka-Kouznitsa direction, to destroy the penetrating enemy tank division and to enter the confinement area to the south from Grodno. While being on this mission, the division concentrated in the attack area to the south of Sokulka and Staroye Doubno in the second half of June, 24. Reconnaissance found out that there was no enemy tank division, but there rather were small tank groups supported by infantry and cavalry.

        On the 24th and 25th of June the division, under the orders of the Corps commander and Marshal Koulick, stroke with the 14th tank regiment at Staroye Doubno and further at Grodno, with the 13th tank regiment at Kouznitsa and further at Grodno from the west where up to two infantry battalions and two artillery batteries were destroyed. After the objective had been accomplished, division's units concentrated near Kousnitsa and Staroye Doubno, with 18 tanks lost (burnt down and mired). On the 25th and 26th up to 21:00 the division was in the defensive supported by the 29th motorized rifle division and 36th cavalry division (one of the two cavalry divisions of the 6th Cavalry Corps - M.S.), stroke at the front of the 128th motorized rifle regiment, 29th motorized rifle division and the 36th cavalry division.

9. Division’s units almost ran out of fuel, refueling was not possible due to the lack of containers and head depots; nevertheless, one load of fuel was taken from the depots burnt down in Kouznitsa and Krinki (in general, everyone just did one’s best to find fuel somewhere). By the end of the day of June 25 the Corps commander ordered to withdraw across river Svisloch, but the order was only to be fulfilled on a special signal.

Preliminary data says that the 4th tank regiment of the 6th Mechanized Corps withdrew across river Svisloch on the night of June 26, which opened the flank of the 29th cavalry division. By the end of June 26 the enemy counterattacked with its reserve. At 21:00 units of the 36th cavalry division, 128th motorized rifle regiment and the 29th motorized rifle division went on a stampede. I took measures to recover balance but I did not succeed. I ordered to cover the retreating units of the 29th motorized rifle division and the 36th cavalry division near Krinki, made a second attempt to stop the retreating units, where I managed to stop the 128th mechanized rifle regiment (this is not an enemy regiment – this is our regiment, which Borzilov was still trying to stop. – M.S.). and on the night of June 27 crossed river Svisloch to the east of Krinki (this was the start of the general confused retreat).

        At this moment communications with the Corps headquarters broke. It was restored by the end of June, 27 on the river crossing near Volkovysk. Division sub-units were in combat with the chasing enemy ranger units all the way from Kouznitsa, Sokulka and to Slonim. At 11:00 June, 29 I approached the forest east of Slonim with the rest of materiel (3 T-34 tanks) and an infantry and cavalry unit, where I kept fighting on the 29th and 30th of June. At 22:00 on June 20 I moved with my unit deeper into the forests and further to Pinsk swamps en-route Boulka, Velichkovichi, Postoly, Staroushka station, Gomel, Vyazma (800 km to the east from Belostock. – M.S.).

10. All the materiel remained on the territory occupied by the enemy (from Belostock to Slonim). Materiel being left was crippled by us. The materiel was left due to the lack of fuel and repair stock. The crews joined the retreating infantry.”

         So, this is "a brief insight" into the history of defeat of a powerful tank formation. Now let’s try to take a deep breath and tally up the simplest arithmetic totals of this fragment, just for a start.

         By the start of the warfare the 7th tank division had 368 tanks, with 200 units of the most modern T-34 and KV among them (that is, more than in all the divisions of the Leningrad and Baltic military districts put together). The division left its permanent post before the first enemy air strikes, thus incurring no losses from the "German surprise attack". Let us note in parentheses that even on the 19th of March, 1999 (that is, 10 years after Borzilov's report had been published) the "Red Star" newspaper depicted the first day of war for the 6th Mechanized Corps in its usual style: “Tank parks blazed in flame. Having spent some time rushing around in helpless despair, the tankmen, almost unarmed (???), went on the run together with the infantry and the frontier sentry..."

          Actually, "on the move and in the confinement area" the 7th tank division lost 63 tanks (from German air strikes, according to General Borzilov's report). The 4th tank division of the 6th Mechanized Corps also had comparable casualties while marshaling to the final assembly area for attack. So, the Operation summary N 08 (20:00, June 27, 1941) of the Western Front headquarters says that by 18:00, June 24 the division concentrated near Lebezhany, Novaya Mysh, with casualty rate up to 20-26%, mainly in light tanks. According to this report, heavy KV tanks could survive even a direct air bomb hit (186, page 51).

         During the counteroffensive of June 24-27 the 7th tank division fought against the enemy infantry of up to one regiment (one can assume it was the 481st infantry regiment of the Wehrmacht's 256th infantry division, which was really in battle against Soviet tanks near town Kouznitsa on June 24-25), with only 18 tanks lost. Furthermore, some of those 18 tanks were not hit by the German anti-tank artillery, but just got mired.

          Borzilov does not specify in his report which tanks exactly were lost. However, knowing the actual operational capabilities of German air forces (we'll discuss it in the following chapters) and anti-tank artillery in German infantry divisions (as well as of the "assault cannon" squadrons armed with short-barreled 75-mm guns), one can make a highly confident assumption that the division's main striking force – modern T-34 and KV tanks – remained safe and sound. General Borzilov tells in his other report (that of June 28, 1941): "As our tanks moved in, enemy tanks (actually those were "assault cannon" Stug-III - M.S.) avoided combat and hastily retreated… A T-34 tank survives a 37-mm gun hit, say nothing of a KV" (28, page 118).

          Simple arithmetic tells us that by the morning of June 26 the 7th tank division must have still had 287 tanks left. It’s not just much – it’s very much. Not a single Wehrmacht tank division had so many tanks by June 22, 1941: the average number of tanks per division was 192. And now, after three days of retreat and almost no contact with the enemy (leave alone those absolutely mythical "ranger units" that "chased" the retreating tank division) the whole division only has an infantry unit with three tanks left.

          The division’s course of combat itself is also worth much attention. Two days before the notorious "surprise attack" the division was brought to heightened alert. Actually, the situation in the 6th Mechanized Corps in the Western front was similar to that in the 3rd Mechcorps of the North-Western front, the commander of which ordered on June 18 "to bring all units to operational readiness according to actual alert plans without the alert itself". It is highly probable that both these things had nothing to do with the initiative of corps (or even district) commanders – they were most probably result of a general directive from the highest Red Army command.

          The order to open the "red package" was received 2 hours BEFORE the first volley fire thundered on the border (it's worth mentioning that many other Western front commanders mention this very time – 02:00, June 22 – as the time when the order to open the "red package" arrived). So, it's needless to say about the "sudden start of warfare" for the 6th Mechanized Corps. It is also noteworthy that the 6th Mechcorps command made reconnaissance "along the Warsaw highway to the west" in the morning of June 22 – and without any special instructions from Moscow or Minsk. This fact gives us yet another reason to think that the "red package" contained not a mythical "repulse-of-aggression plan", but rather a plan for the first combat operations to invade the territory of Poland occupied by the Germans. 

           The division spent the whole first day of war in the confinement area – and that was absolutely right. The main striking force of the Western front was to be used without any nervous haste, after a thorough reconnaissance of enemy lines and based on a plan well thought-out. But instead of that at the end of the first day of war (at 22:00, June 22) the 7th td was sent by the 10th Army commander Goloubev to the south, i.e. to the town of Belsk, to fight a non-existing German tank division – and only based on false panic reports. As there were no enemy tank units in the 10th army zone, Borzilov did not manage to find them.

          After that, at 14:00, June 23 the division is assigned an objective to find and destroy yet another mythical enemy tank division – but this time right in the opposite direction. Kilometers-long columns of tanks, traction trucks and other vehicles turned around and moved from Belsk to the north, i.e. to the Sokoulka-Kouznitsa area. Thus, the division spent the first two days of war "fighting" against thoughtless orders of the 10th Army command and chaotic retreat of army rears which jammed all the roads of the "Belostock salient".

           Borzilov's division participated in the planned counteroffensive of Boldin's cavalry and mechanized group for two days (June 24 and 25). By that moment units of the 8th Wehrmacht infantry division crossed river Neman to its eastern side and pressed the advance to Skidel. Foremost units of the 256th infantry division reached the Sokoulka-Kouznitsa line. Therefore, total enemy forces in the counterstrike area of the 7th and 4th tanks divisions of the 6th Mechcorps did not exceed one infantry division, which besides did not have a single day to prepare a fortified anti-tank defensive line.

           Borzilov's report tells us almost nothing about the course of combat near Staroye Doubno - Kouznitsa (actually it was the only battle in the short history of the 7th division). It's hard (or impossible would be a better word) to understand what the following phrase means: "after the objective had been accomplished, division's sub-units concentrated near Kousnitsa and Staroye Doubno". The closest objective was to capture Grodno, the next one – to break through to the crossings on Neman near Merkinne. The same objective was to be accomplished by the 4th tank division which stroke at Grodno from the Indura area. If the 7th td ended the combat up in the departure area (Kouznitsa - Staroye Doubno) instead of Grodno, then the accomplishment of the objective is out of question.

          Common sense tells us that head-on battle between the German infantry and two tank divisions operating more than 300 units of T-34 and KV tanks was to end with complete extermination of the defending forces (or with their panic retreat to Grodno and further across Neman). An assumption that the "Center" Army Group somehow managed to draw several hundred 88-mm anti-aircraft guns and 105mm long-range guns to the counterstrike area of the 6th Mechcorps in a lightning-like manner (which is obviously absurd) gives the Germans a mere theoretical opportunity to destroy most of the tanks in Borzilov's tank division. Neither of these two options was true: in two days of combat the 7th tank division lost 18 tanks shot down by enemy and mired (that is, not more than 6% of the total number of tanks), after which it stopped its attacks and withdrew to the jump-off line.

          The order to withdraw across river Svisloch which arrived late in the evening of June 25 made the beginning of the end of the 7th tank division. This order (probably the last one in his life) was issued by the 6th MC commander Major General Khatskilevich instructed to do so by the Western Front commander Pavlov, who sent the troops a general order to withdraw to the line of river Shara (80-90 km to the east from river Svisloch) at 16:45, June 25. This general order was based upon instructions from the General Staff and its representative in the Western Front headquarters, Marshall Shaposhnikov. It was right after this withdrawal order that the following phrases appeared in Borzilov's report: "Units went on a stampede...  made a second attempt to stop the retreating units... this was the start of the general confused retreat...". This "confused retreat" ended with the Red Army superior tank division turning into an infantry unit with three tanks.

 

          It must be said that Borzilov's report exposes objective (at a first glance) reasons for the tank division's complete defeat and loss of almost 300 tanks: "lack of fuel". There seems to be nothing to discuss, does it? No fuel means no combat-effective tank division. Alas, with all the respect to the memory of the deceased General, let's not be hasty in our conclusions, but rather use a calculator instead.

         The division had one load of diesel fuel before the start of warfare. Then they got another one already in the course of action. This makes two loads in total. The division had three and more loads of gasoline. Now let's convert these "loads" into plain kilometers. The most outdate tank in the 7th division – a T-26 – had fuel distance of 170 km on one load. Three loads make half a thousand kilometers. Another 180 km for the most powerful and modern KV tank (it's hard to carry 50 tons of steel). Two loads for a diesel KV is 360 km. High-speed BT and medium T-34 tanks had fuel distance of 300 and more kilometers on one load. Actually, the 7th division with its chaotic route between Belostock, Belsk, Sokoulka, Volkovysk and Slonim made not more than 250 km over the whole period from June 22 to June 29. Abandoning all these materiel "due to the lack of fuel" was absolutely senseless.

           Moreover, the territory of the "Belostock flange" was simply jam-packed with fuel and ammunition depots. By the start of warfare the Western Special military district had huge supplies of fuel concentrated in it: 264 thousand tons (68, p.351). There were 12 (twelve) permanent fuel depots right in the "wandering" area of the 6th Mechcorps. Namely: 920 and 1040 (Belostock), 925 and 1038 (Belsk), 923 and 1019 (Monki), 919 and 1020 (Grodno), 929 and 1033 (Mosty), 922 and 1044 (Volkovysk).  The distance between any two of these depots did not exceed 60-80 km (up to two hours on a bumpy dirt road). The 6th Mechcorps had 220 tank-cars (based on a triaxial all-wheel drive ZIS-6 truck gear) capable of fuel transportation (capacity of one such tank-car is 3200 litres).

           A full-strength mechcorps required 1.2 thousand tons of fuel per every 500 km. In other words, the 6th Mechcorps could cover all the way from Belostock to Vladivostok (Far East) with one tenth of the fuel supply near the abandoned tanks. The fuel which the 6th Mechcorps supposedly lacked for an organized retreat to the East was more than enough for the... enemy on its slashing drive. F. Galder, chief of the Wehrmacht General Headquartes, reported on July 1 that "about one third of the total fuel consumption was covered with captured supplies". In absolute terms it means that the Germans got 2900 tons of fuel on an average day from Soviet depots which theoretically were not known to them and theoretically had been "destroyed on retreat". Such a daily supply was enough for all the tank divisions on the Western front to flee from the "Belostock trap". That is, to leave it with tanks instead of wandering through the forest in isolated groups...

           Besides, even a tank without a single drop of fuel does not stop being a powerful weapons. This is most true for a heavy KV tank. And especially with battle action in Western Byelorussia.

           The few auto-roads in the "Belostock salient" were some kind of a "mountain pass". An age-old impassable forest or a dead swamp are just two steps to the roadside. It's impossible to come round a road block on such "mountain pass roads" even on a motorbike, leave alone a truck or a horse vehicle. This means that 50 KV tanks from Borzilov's division, being buried into the ground on road-crosses, could paralyze all the movements of German troops for a long time: impossible to pass around, the powerful armor is impenetrable for any weapons in arsenal of a German infantry division, the weapons of the tank itself (a long-range 76-mm gun) can securely destroy just about any target (a truck, an artillery tractor, an armored car, a tank) which could appear on the roads of war in June, 1941…

          As to the 4th tank division of the 6th Mechcorps, its history remains shrouded in mystery to this day. The documents are lost. Division commander Major General Potatourchev was captured by the enemy and died in an NKVD prison after the war in July, 1947. Investigation records have never been published. None of the commanders of the 4th td left any memoirs. The only description of the "battle action" of this division found by the author is the following piece of memories of S.A.Afanasiev, a private tankman of the 8th tank regiment in the 4th td:

"... In the morning of June 23 we were attacked by German aircrafts. We had the newest tanks, all of them T-34s and KVs. We were hiding in the forest. At that moment our battalion was under command of Captain Rassadnev, but I had not seen him since afternoon of June 23, as we used to scatter in all directions for several times that day...

We retreated through roadless forests and swamps, as all the good roads were taken by the Germans. We left Volkovysk, Slonim, Baranovichi… We did not even get in contact with the enemy. I think the panic was generated by the officers themselves. They used to tear off their officer bars in soldiers' sight…

We reached Smolensk this way, and the equipment we left there was just numberless! Everybody just fled, with materiel and weaponry (tanks, guns) being abandoned. I can't even tell where the combat took place as there was almost no combat. There was only one night when we had to break through the German landing force on our way; it was under Slonim or Stolbtsy… (165, page 260)

          This was the vain and unexplainable end of a counteroffensive of the most powerful Red Army mechcorps, which had actually never started. A thousand of tanks, with four hundred of the most modern and world-beating KVs and T-34s, failed to break through the defense of the foremost units of two (the 8th and the 256th) Wehrmacht infantry divisions and found their ignominious end in the wilds of the Western Byelorussia dense forests.

 

Mark Solonin became the first who dared to say: But the emperor has no clothes! The very first step, the simplest comparison of the number of airplanes, announced as being destroyed on land (800 units), with the total number of Soviet AF, deployed on the Western USSR borders (more than 8.500 units), as well as a comparison of the number of airfields being attacked (66) with the total number of airfields in the Western military districts (613), knocks over like skittles. However, the content of a 600-page long research "At the Airfields That Seemed to Be Asleep is much deeper; questions which the author is asking, are much more complex than unmasking of obvious nonsense.
Every step, every try as well as a documented, fair and unprejudiced answer to these three issues lead the researcher to a deadlock of unsolvable, at first sight, contradictions. Why Stalins empire, after years of preparation for the Big War, having concentrated all resources of the richest country in the world, and, finally, having amassed the biggest army size in the world, suffered a crushing defeat in the summer of 1941? Why Stalin, who didnt believe his closest comrades, did believe to Ribbentrops signature in the non-aggression pact? Why the Soviet Union utterly militarized totalitarian empire found itself to be the only participant of the WWII, which started mobilizing its Armed Forces not before the start of combat actions (as did everybody else) and not even on the date of Hitlers invasion, but only on the second day of the war, on June 23, 1941? Why hours before the German invasion fighter regiments of Soviet AF received a day-off, while surface-to-air divisions were withdrawn to the far home front airfields? These are among the questions that will be addressed in my book.
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