Jan 26, 2021
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How Soviet intelligence defeated German tanks with bare hands

Some of the feats of the Soviet troops in the Great Patriotic War still look like science fiction or a movie in a Hollywood manner. Meanwhile, a number of unique cases related to the capture of German armored vehicles by Soviet infantrymen actually took place. This was the main difference between the elite of the ground forces – military intelligence.

In World War II, tank forces were a powerful striking force capable of destroying infantry on the battlefield. Tank attacks sometimes gave the soldiers a fit of fear, known as “tank fear.”

However, the armored monsters weren’t all that invulnerable. In a favorable environment, showing courage and ingenuity, Soviet intelligence officers could not only destroy them, but even take them in battle as trophies.

Here are four stories that happened during the Great Patriotic War, when meetings with Soviet intelligence did not bring German tankers anything good.


The name of the Soviet children’s writer Sergei Alekseev will resonate with many. Well, who does not remember his wonderful stories about the war. Among them was “Orlovich-Voronovich”, which narrated about the heroic deeds of a soldier who entered the battle with four German tanks and emerged victorious. But was this story a reality or an invention of the author? It turned out that private Fyodor Arkhipovich Voronovich really existed, and the writer did not embellish anything.

In November 1941, Colonel Chernyshev’s 18th Infantry Division was one of the 16th Army formations that held back the Wehrmacht’s onslaught in the Volokolamsk direction. On November 20, Army Commander Rokossovsky ordered Chernyshev’s units, together with the 33rd Tank Brigade, to detain German tanks at the Rumyantsevo station, preventing them from breaking through to the Volokolamskoe highway.

Initially, the Soviet troops were successful: by counterattacking, they drove the enemy out of several settlements. But the situation changed rapidly, and soon the Germans again went on the offensive. As a result of a fierce battle at Rumyantsevo, the 518th Rifle Regiment was surrounded. The command of the 18th division tried to establish contact with him, sending messengers to Rumyantsevo. One of them was the Red Army soldier Fyodor Voronovich.

On November 22, near the village of Kursakovo, Voronovich noticed four German “Panzer” standing at the edge of a grove. But the Red Army soldier turned out to be not timid. Carrying anti-tank grenades and Molotov cocktails, he decided to attack the enemy. Having made two bundles of grenades with a bandage, Voronovich alternately threw them under the tracks of two tanks. And then bottles with “Molotov cocktails” flew into them.

Disabling both “panzer”, the fighter managed to move away unharmed, despite the shelling that had begun. For his feat, Fyodor Voronovich was awarded the Order of the Red Banner in February 1942. Alas, he did not have a chance to be an order bearer for long, as soon the brave Red Army soldier died.

It is curious that Voronovich’s feat was repeated three years later by intelligence officer Sergei Motygin, when the Red Army smashed the Wehrmacht in Belarus.

Meeting on the road

The summer of 1944 was marked by the defeat of the German Army Group Center and the liberation of Belarus from the occupation. Consolidating its success, the 1st Belorussian Front of Rokossovsky carried out in July 1944 the Lublin-Brest operation, during which the southwestern regions of Belarus and the eastern regions of Poland were liberated.

One of its active participants was the 76th Guards Rifle Division of General Kirsanov. Starting its offensive north of Kovel, on July 17, the division crossed the Pripyat River. Having broken through the enemy defenses there, the guardsmen fought in four days to the Soviet-Polish border south of the city of Brest.

The rapid advance of the division was facilitated by the successful actions of its intelligence. Indeed, at that time in the nearest enemy rear there were several reconnaissance groups, thrown out there in advance. One of them was a group of scouts from Sergeant Sergei Motygin. With the help of the radio, she reported to the headquarters the situation at the time of the start of the operation, reporting on the accumulations of enemy troops, their movement and firing positions. Motygin acted cautiously, but could not get past the tempting target, which he met on the road on July 18, 1944.

On that day, the group tried to cross the highway unnoticed. The scouts lay down at the side of the road, waiting for the moment to dash. Suddenly, two German tanks appeared and stopped right next to them. Enemy tankers jumped out of the cars and ran into the forest on the other side of the road. The moment was perfect, and Motygin decided to use the Germans’ stop for “need” to his advantage.

Taking with him the radio operator of the Nikulin group, Sergeant Motygin, together with him, quickly ran up to the tanks, after which they threw an anti-tank grenade into the open hatches of the Panzer towers. The explosions turned them into iron trash. Then the scouts shot the tankers who had run out of the forest and disappeared into the forest. For a successful attack and damage to the enemy, Motygin and Nikulin were later awarded the Order of Glory, 3rd degree.

But during the war, the scouts not only destroyed enemy tanks, but also drove them to their location. The history of the Great Patriotic War knows two cases when German armored vehicles fell prey to Soviet intelligence.

Captain Zakrevsky Trophy

During the battle on the Kursk Bulge, the tension of the fighting and the density of forces on the front line at the Ponyri railway station, one of the most powerful centers of resistance of the Soviet troops, was so high that which allows us to call it mini-Stalingrad. During the first half of July 1943, the station changed hands more than once; units of the 9th German and 13th Soviet armies fought for it. At the same time, the Soviet side fought in the first days almost blindly, since from the beginning of the battles it was not clear about the composition of the forces of the advancing enemy. And such information could only be given by prisoners who were not there.

On July 6, the command of the 3rd Panzer Corps set the reconnaissance task to take the tongue in the defense sector of the 307th Infantry Division, which defended Ponyri. And the order was to be fulfilled by the deputy commander of the 24th reconnaissance battalion, Captain Dmitry Zakrevsky.

Having formed a group of 11 volunteers, he began to act. For more than a day, the scouts monitored the sector of the 307th division, clarifying the front line and studying the enemy’s behavior day and night. Based on the data received, Zakrevsky decided to take the tongue north of the Ponyri, where there were many damaged tanks in the neutral zone. With the onset of darkness, emergency teams went out to them to repair and evacuate vehicles. However, an attempt to capture a prisoner there led to a curiosity, when the scouts “swaddled” our tanker, mistaking him for a German. Then Zakrevsky decided to try his luck in the rear.

On the night of July 9, his group went out on a mission again. Having passed the German forward edge, the scouts in the dark noticed a hillock, similar to a pillbox. But when they approached him, the mound turned out to be a tank, covered with a tarpaulin. Its engine was running, lights were on inside, but there was no crew.

Seeing this, Zakrevsky decided to dare – to steal a tank! The place of the driver was taken by Junior Lieutenant Kosik. When the entire group of capture was located on the tank, he drove towards the Soviet positions. The rest of the scouts followed him, covering the retreat.

The alarmed Germans rushed in pursuit. While crossing the German forward edge, the tank and the cover group were fired upon by German mortars. Nevertheless, the scouts managed to retreat without loss. Only now the armored trophy balked and stood up as soon as it crossed the front line. Therefore, the T-34 pulled him to the rear.

It turned out that the scouts had stolen the headquarters tank of the 18th Panzerdivision of the Wehrmacht along with important German documents. For this success, Zakrevsky and his fighters were awarded orders and medals. Curiously, their record lasted no more than a week and was soon broken by their colleagues from the 31st Guards Rifle Division.

Five instead of one

As you know, the Red Army withstood the blow of the Wehrmacht on the Kursk Bulge, and a few days later it itself went on the offensive. With the forces of three fronts, she broke through the defensive line, fortified by the Germans for two years. As a result, under the blows of Soviet troops, the Oryol group of the Wehrmacht rolled back to the west. On August 5, 1943 – a month after the beginning of the Battle of Kursk – the Red Army took Orel, depriving the enemy of a foothold for an offensive on Moscow.

An important role in this victory was played by the 11th Guards Army of General Baghramyan, who carried out an exemplary offensive that deprived the enemy of a chance to preserve the Oryol ledge. Its swift and powerful blow destroyed the German defense, and the attempt to contain it cost the enemy a considerable price. For example, the 5th German Panzer Division, thrown into battle in the early days of the Soviet offensive, not only failed to stop Baghramyan, but also lost over 50 tanks irrevocably. Curiously, one tenth of these losses were due to the actions of Soviet intelligence.

On July 15, 1943, Lieutenant Shishkin’s reconnaissance group went out to reconnoitre enemy positions near the Kaluga village of Moylovo. By that time, the German defense had already collapsed, but the retreating Germans tried to turn settlements into strongholds. Moylovo became one of them, where the enemy concentrated the infantry and part of the forces of the 5th Panzer Division.

Through the gaps in the enemy defense, Shishkin and his five scouts managed to pass to the rear of the German group defending Moylovo. Making their way through the forest, the reconnaissance group noticed four German tanks and a self-propelled gun at the edge of the forest. Their crews were nearby – they fueled military vehicles guarded by several machine gunners.

Having received such a chance, Shishkin decided to use it. The scouts imperceptibly crept up to the Germans and began to shoot those of the machine guns, throwing grenades. The battle was fleeting. When the tankers and their guards were finished, the Red Army men took the documents from the dead to transfer them to the headquarters. Then they camouflaged the tanks and, getting into the self-propelled gun, headed straight for it to the location of their unit. And the car was driven by a fighter, who was a tractor driver in civilian life.

The command of the 31st Guards Division was pleasantly surprised when Shishkin’s scouts returned not only with the necessary information about the enemy, but also astride an unusual trophy. The rest of the tanks repulsed from the Germans did not disappear either. When the division launched an offensive on Moylovo, its forward detachments found four “Panzer”, hidden by the scouts in the same place.

Lieutenant Shishkin and his fighters managed not only to repeat, but also to surpass the feat of Captain Zakrevsky. For their actions, they were presented for awards. Only Dmitry Shishkin did not wait for the well-deserved Order of the Red Banner. This brave scout died before the order for his reward was issued. Alas, in war, not all stories have a happy ending, even if they started well.

Vladimir Nagirnyak

Photo: Public domain

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