64 paratroopers against 300 tanks

Autor: Marek Čech / Panzer 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 2.833

All five Red Army airborne corps were surprised by a German attack in field camps and permanent deployment sites. In the confusion of the first days after 22 June 1941, there was no time to prepare airborne actions in the rear of the enemy troops according to prewar plans, and all the airborne brigades of the airborne corps were used as ordinary infantry units. The "sabotage" potential of the airborne corps was practically not used in the rear of the enemy, as a result of which the corps suffered disproportionately large losses (killed and wounded and, to an even greater extent, prisoners and missing) in the battles with the enemy.

The exception was some units of the 4th Airborne Corps, which were used for "sabotage" purposes. Of particular note in this regard is 214th Airborne Brigade Colonel A. F. Levashov. For nearly two months, units of the 214th Brigade operated in the rear of the more advanced enemy units, attacking garrisons, communications centers, warehouses (former Soviet warehouses), and conducting ambushes along the routes of enemy rear columns. The bold actions of reconnaissance and diversionary detachments commanded by Captains E. I. Lebedev and F. N. Antroshchenko. On the night of July 19, 1941, units of the brigade raided the Marina Gorka railway station, where transports with military equipment and ammunition (again - former Soviet transports with military equipment and ammunition) were destroyed. By 28 August, the brigade had broken through to the 21st Army and on 5 September 1941 was withdrawn from combat and placed at the disposal of the commander of the Airborne Forces.


But let us dwell on the action of Monday, 14 July 1941, when a hastily planned and poorly executed airborne unit of the Airborne Forces took place. The situation was as follows: on 13 July, an aerial reconnaissance of the Western Front discovered a concentration of about three hundred enemy tanks in the area of the village of Gorki (northeast of Mogilev), which had been left without fuel. Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko came up with the idea of promptly dropping a paratroop into the area to destroy the armoured vehicles. It was assumed that the paratroopers would eliminate the German panzers with a quick attack from the sky, after which they would calmly set the tanks on fire and leave for the location where their troops were located.

A squadron of paratroopers on exercise in 1935

The 4th Battalion of the 214th Airborne Brigade was selected for this purpose, in which a combined airborne and parachute detachment of 64 volunteers (for three hundred tanks!) was formed under the command of the company commander Senior Lieutenant N. Romanchenko. The paratroopers received almost no supplies, only a few anti-tank grenades, TNT and two bottles (sic!) of incendiary mixture. It was assumed that the TB-3 planes that were supposed to drop the paratroopers would first bomb the tank column, and only then would the paratroopers enter the fray. Each bomber carried sixteen paratroopers on board in addition to a load of bombs. According to the plan, the operation was to take place at one o'clock in the morning, but because of the slow bomb drop, the planes did not take off until dawn. The effect of surprise was thus lost.On approaching the target, the slow planes, flying at an altitude of only 600 metres, were met by dense fire from enemy air defences. Instead of dropping paratroopers and then supporting their actions with bombs and deck gun fire, the pilots began to bomb the object. An order is an order. The paratroopers thus suffered their first losses already in the air. Some died and were wounded while still in the plane, others during the parachute drop. Thus, TB-3 was bombed out, after which the airborne paratroopers landed.

Paratroopers on the wings of the TB-3 bomber

The paratroopers jumped directly into the fire of the anti-aircraft guns. The entire landing site was covered in dust and smoke from the bomb blasts. One of the groups managed to land right on top of the tanks and immediately began the task. The other group landed and gathered 300 meters from the tanks and attacked the German guards. The paratroopers allowed the Germans to approach and, after assessing the wind direction, set fire to the rye field. They drew the main German force away from the first group and began to withdraw. The first group also began to withdraw, setting fire to several tanks and vehicles with Molotov cocktails. During the retreat, the paratroopers still set fire to the ammunition depot. Towards the end of the day, both groups broke away from the pursuers and marched to the assembly point. By morning, 34 paratroopers had gathered there. Due to the chaos of the early months of the war, none of the surviving paratroopers were decorated for this feat.

Alyokhin, Roman: Vozdushno-desantnye vojska: istorii rossiyskogo desanta, Eksmo 2009, ISBN: 978-5-699-33213-7 (Alyokhin, Roman : Airborne troops: the history of the Russian airborne, Eksmo, 2009)

Join us

We believe that there are people with different interests and experiences who could contribute their knowledge and ideas. If you love military history and have experience in historical research, writing articles, editing text, moderating, creating images, graphics or videos, or simply have a desire to contribute to our unique system, you can join us and help us create content that will be interesting and beneficial to other readers.

Find out more