The Caucasus and the Oil, by Wilhelm Tieke
THE BATTLE NEAR NALCHIK AND THE ADVANCE TO THE GEORGIAN ARMY ROAD
The following garrisons are located on the Georgian Army Road: Distance from Ordzhonikidze:
12.0 km opposite Balta station
73.5 km 8 km south of Koba, Baidar Garrison
75.8 km mountain pass (2388 meters)
82.5 km near town of Kumlis-Zikhe
131.7 km 14 km south of Passanauri."
Under Nr. 14 the study had the following to say about the Georgian Army Road, which began near Alagir:
"Salugardan - Alagir through Mamisson Pass (2829 meters) - Kutaissi (Ossetian Army Road): The pass is free of snow from June to the end of September. The road is passable by carts. Mountain troops have to tow small combat vehicles. Essentially passable by all-terrain vehicles. The road can be easily blocked at many locations, gorges and bridges."
Add to this military-geographic description another short historical extract:
The Georgian Army Road has had great significance since ancient times. Here ran an important route of the Turkish Empire, which once encompassed all of the Caucasus. Many of the mountain people were followers of the Prophet Mohammed. When the Turkish Empire fell, the Russians penetrated into the Caucasus, threw the mountain people into camps and christianized them. Its incorporation into Russia occurred in 1801. After the area was christianized a great cross was erected on the mountain pass, from which the pass was named.
From this description it can be seen that the Georgian Army Road was the only passable crossing in the eastern portion of the mountains. In retrospect it is understandable why von Kleist wanted to put the majority of the German gebirgsjagers there, to block the unsuitable crossings. Von Kleist had his objective within reach. However, besides his III Panzer Corps, he only had the I/99 Geb.Jg.Rgt. available under his clever and mountain experienced Major Kopp. A German gebirgsjager battalion and General Dumitrache's 2nd Rumanian Mountain Division, which lagged behind the German mountain divisions in equipment and training, had to achieve this important mission.
First they had to push open the door to Ordzhonikidze. In addition, on 3 November 1942 the 13th Panzer Division was also committed. The I/99 Geb.Jg.Rgt. with a battery of the 203rd Assault Gun Battalion and a company of the 627th Engineer Battalion were subordinated to the division. They had the mission of penetrating to the Georgian Army Road after the city fell.
Supply problems delayed the commitment of the 13th Panzer Division. Then it attacked! With the II/66 on the left, the II/93 on the right and the I/66 echeloned to the rear on the left the battalions worked their way over the highlands to within 2 kilometers of the western edge of the city. Rolling air attacks by the 4th Soviet Air Army and heavy artillery blocking fire caused considerable losses. The weather made air support from distant bases impossible. The I and II/4 Pz.Rgt. advanced laterally to within 800 meters southeast of Gisel and supported the advance of the panzer grenadiers. The III 4 Pz.Rgt. covered the ever threatened northern flank with the 43rd Kradschützen Battalion. The II/66 fought its way up to the anti-tank trenches at the airfield. The II/93 closed on the same line at 1445 hours. The I/66 followed slowly in second echelon. A fierce battle began in the Ordzhonikidze defensive zone. At the fall of darkness 15 bunkers were destroyed and two successive anti-tank trenches were overcome.
In the meantime a dramatic battle was being played out behind the forward battalions. Newly deployed enemy elements attacked into the thin flank cover from the north. A company of the 93rd Panzer grenadier Regiment and a company of the 43rd Kradschutzen Battalion had held out near the town of Fiagdon since early morning by committing all of their forces. This location appeared to be a tender spot. Realizing this, von Mackensen diverted the lead elements of the 23rd Panzer Division, Battle Group Burmeister, from Dzuarikau to the north in order to reinforce the flank security of the 13th Panzer Division. A subsequent attack by Battle Group Burmeister on Arkhonskaya stalled in enemy fire. The strong enemy occupied town of Fiagdon dominated the 13th Panzer Division supply route and the ford with heavy fire.
At the same time the long supply route near Ardonski was severed by the enemy. The weakened 128th Panzer grenadier Regiment was deployed there from the Alagir area and committed, but its attack stalled. Meanwhile, the 126th Panzer grenadier Regiment, which was left in the 23rd Panzer Division bridgehead, repulsed a Soviet relief attack near Dzuarikau. The 23rd Panzer Division, therefore, was split apart and had the mission of mopping up the rear of the 13th Panzer Division, as it was fighting near Ordzhonikidze. The losses of the 13th Panzer Division on 3 November totaled: 67 killed, 159 wounded and 6 missing.
During the early morning of 4 November Battle Group von Hake continued its attack, eliminated several enemy bunkers and assaulted enemy field positions that lay one behind the other. Hauptmann Steinberg and his II/93 Pz.Gren.Rgt. reached the radio station at 1130 hours and, an hour later, a large industrial area. The airfield was covered by infantry weapons. On this day ground gains totaled 600 meters. The division leadership informed the corps that further advance would not be possible until the threatening flanking fire on the supply route on both sides of Nizhnaya Saniba - Gisel was removed and reinforcements were deployed. 13th Panzer Division losses for 4 November 1942: 14 killed, 88 wounded. 70 tanks were operational.
The 23rd Panzer Division (General von Boineburg-Lengsfeld) tried to remove the threat in the Fiagdon flank. Battle Group Burmeister suffered considerable casualties during an attack on the town of Fiagdon. The II/201 Pz.Rgt. had only ten tanks left, which were distributed to other battalions.
The supply services and staffs were combed for replacements to fill the gaps in the combat formations. Von Mackensen's corps had no reserves left. Together the two divisions had a front of 40 kilometers to hold.
On the third day of the battle the Soviets had overcome their initial shock in the foreground of Ordzhonikidze. They tenaciously hung on to their defense, which consisted of numerous field positions, bunker lines, anti-tank trenches and anti-tank gun and mine obstacles. On the third day of the battle for Ordzhonikidze Generallissimo Stalin was to visit the city and exhort them to reorganize the defense. Stalin, the Georgian, would leave no stone unturned to prevent the Germans from penetrating his former homeland. The door to Georgia was made impregnable; tanks were thrown into the battle right from the factory. Allied shipments to Ordzhonikidze were increased. Reserves for a new counterattack were taken from the Malgobek and Grosny areas and thrown into Ordzhonikidze. With each passing hour the enemy resistance increased in Ordzhonikidze.
In spite of all of this the 13th Panzer Division attacked again on 5 November. The brave I/99 Geb.Jg.Rgt. fought at the edge of the mountains through numerous obstacles and advanced through the most difficult terrain and knocked out 15 bunkers from a deeply echeloned bunker line. They went over to the defense near Sayatdshiaa Balka. Contact was established with the 93rd Panzer grenadier Regiment, which was fighting in the left rear. Forces from the I/99 Geb.Jg.Rgt. occupied Hill 1035 during the night.
To the north the 93rd Panzer grenadier Regiment and the II/66, supported by several tanks, captured a tenaciously defended Kolkhoz and advanced to a dominant ridge line on the northwestern edge of the city.
The 4th Armored Engineer Battalion was in heavy combat near Nogir, to the north of the city. The battalion, which had lost its fearless commander, Hauptmann Dankwort, near Fiagdon, was now led by Hauptmann Baranek.
On the left next to the engineers fought the 43rd Kradschutzen Battalion on the Arkhanskaya - Gisel road. It was constantly attacked by the enemy Air Force. Two enemy armored trains from the Tulatov - Ordzhonikidze stretch joined in the battle. This was also detected by Battle Group Burmeister, which could not advance in the Rassvet - Fiagdon area west of the 43rd Kradschutzen Battalion.
On 5 November the 13th Panzer Division could only achieve small ground gains. It was stalled on the western and northwestern edge of the city, while the northern flank security was extended to the Nogir area (8 kilometers north of the city). On this day a radio message intercepted by the I/99 Geb.Jg.Rgt. confirmed the rumor that Stalin was in the city.
It was already clear that the III Panzer Corps had to be supported by a relief attack. Of interest is the notation in the Army Group A combat diary on 5 November 1942: "In the LII Army Corps area of operations, "Wiking" improved the positions near Malgobek by a surprise attack..." and under considerations was noted: "... relieve "Wiking" with the 50th ID and advance it through the Elkhotovo pass or through Voznessenskaya to the south."
In fact, such a relief attack would have helped the 13th Panzer Division, especially since the Soviets would also have to denude their front before the LII Army Corps. However, the Russians were quicker and they dictated events.
On 6 November the Soviet counter-strike began in front of Ordzhonikidze. A reinforced brigade each, supported by numerous tanks, broke out of the narrow area from the north and south, behind the 13th Panzer Division, which was standing in front of Ordzhonikidze. The dark November day prefaced the destruction of the 13th Panzer Division. The Russians broke ±rough from the north and the south between them and the elements of the 23rd Panzer Division, which were fighting near Rassvet. At the same time a second attack occurred out of the Mairamadag Valley to the north, which rushed back the forces of the 23rd Panzer Division and the 2nd Rumanian Mountain Division toward the Dzuarikau bridgehead. In this situation the 13th Panzer Division had to withdraw its forward-most elements from Ordzhonikidze and establish them in a new defense near Gisel. The 43rd Kradschützen Battalion and the 4th Armored Engineer Battalion had held out for some time on the northern flank when they were threatened by 15 enemy tanks. The rapidly deployed II/4 Pz.Rgt. destroyed 10 of them. The III/4 Pz.Rgt., which was located further to the left, pushed the enemy breakthrough forces to the west, then attacked into their flank; another 9 tanks ere destroyed. Enemy elements broke through to the 13th Panzer Division supply route and destroyed vehicles and entire convoys. The 13th Panzer Division was cut off.
It was similar in the south. There an enemy attack ran into the Wiedling Alert Battalion, which had taken up positions during the night near 576.3 " north of Mairamadag). The battalion, which was composed of supply troops ind staff members, was surprised and fought its way to Dzuarikau. Much of the 13th Panzer Division supply was destroyed by enemy tanks and infantry.
The 23rd Panzer Division, which had some forces located in the Dzuarikau bridgehead and others near Rassvet and Fiagdon in order to hold open the road to the 13th Panzer Division, was bloodied in this punishing battle. The battalions averaged a combat strength of only 80 men.
On 7 November the crisis worsened even more. Enemy forces penetrated into the weakly occupied Ardon; they were thrown back at great effort. The Darg Kokh - Ardon sector was secured half-way to Fiagdon by a hastily thrown together battle group under Oberst Kampfhenkel (Arko 3). Battle Group Illig (10 tanks from the 201st Panzer Regiment and two Rumanian Battalions) attacked out of the Dzuarikau area to the east and was able to establish contact with the southern flank of the 13th Panzer Division. There was no change on the northern flank of the encirclement front.
The 13th Panzer Division lay in a half-circle around Gisel and repulsed bitter enemy attacks. The division was organized into Sectors "Nord" (43rd Kradschützen Battalion), "Mitte" (4th Armored Engineer Battalion) and “Süd" (Battle Group Scholz with the 93rd Panzer grenadier Regiment). Battle Group von Hake with the 66th Panzer grenadier Regiment was to open the way to the west. It was in combat with enemy tanks 4 kilometers west of Vzhnaya Saniba. By evening it was able to fight its way to the ford near Dzuarikau and make contact with the 23rd Panzer Division elements located ±ere. However, the overall situation was not improved.
How attentively the senior German leadership followed the battle taking place before Ordzhonikidze was indicated in the daily telegrams. On 7 November at 2300 hours the Army Chief of the General Staff pointed out to the Chief of Staff of Army Group A that the 3rd Panzer Division must remain as active as possible in order to pin the enemy and simulate an attack. This was good advice, but no more than that! The 3rd Panzer Division, which was on the Army Group A northern flank, had enough problems watching over and holding its own front.
On the morning of 8 November the new division commander, General von der Chevallerie, arrived at the 13th Panzer Division command post near Nizhnaya Saniba in a tank. The Soviets were reinforcing on all sectors and entrenching in front of the 13th Panzer Division. In front of Sector "Nord'' eight attacking enemy tanks were destroyed. The I/4 Pz.Rgt. (Major Montfort) had to intervene on this sector several times because heavy attacks were repeated. Contact with the 23rd Panzer Division was also sought, but it was not established. During the evening the I/4 Pz.Rgt. broke out to the west in order to guide a freight train near Khataldon with rations, ammunition and medicine into the pocket. In the main first aid point at Nizhnaya Saniba were 400 severely wounded, who could not be evacuated. During the evening the division reported to the corps that the defensive line on the eastern edge of Gisel could not be held much longer.
On 9 November 1942 under "Sector" in the Army Group A combat diary was noted: "... the attack wedge against Ordzhonikidze is withdrawing and a new main effort is being established near Malgobek; including the 13th Panzer Division, 50th and 111th ID and SS Division "Wiking".
This was hurrying things! On this day General von Mackensen had already issued the order to withdraw the 13th Panzer Division. While the 4th panzer Regiment was ready, it withdrew into three sector groups to the eastern edge of Gisel. The I/4 Pz.Rgt. returned with supplies into the pocket. All wheeled vehicles had to be left behind due to the weather and the supplies were loaded in and onto the tanks.
The important ford across the marshy and steep Mairamadag and Solanaya Valleys, which had become increasingly bottomless from the bad weather, still lay under the effective fire of heavy enemy weapons. There, at this ford, the last phase of the drama before Ordzhonikidze would be played out.
As the dramatic developments unfolded before Ordzhonikidze, the 50th ID. which was severely battered in the Crimea and then sent to protect the coast and be refitted, was prepared for commitment in the Caucasus. The security of the Crimea was taken over by the 5th Luftwaffe Field Division. On 27 October the commander of the 50th ID, Generalmajor Schmidt, was oriented on the situation by the XXXXII Army Corps. On 31 October the units of the 50th ID reached Kerch and immediately crossed. Their subsequent march objective was: Krasnodar. In the meantime the 50th ID was subordinated to the LII Army Corps. The first regiment, the 122nd Grenadier Regiment, was flown from Krasnodar to Armavir and then further transported by rail. It arrived in Pavlodolskiy on 11 November 1942 and relieved the SS Division "Wiking" platoon by platoon in the Malgobek sector. "Wiking" had already freed-up battalions on its front and replaced them with alert units. II/"Nordland" was the first formation of "Wiking" to arrive in the 23rd Panzer Division area of operations through Kotlyarevskiy - Stariy Urukh -Ardon - Alagir on 10 November and was immediately committed to relieve the 13th Panzer Division. On 11 November the I and II/"Germania" arrived and were also committed to relieve the 13th Panzer Division at 2000 hours.
Also on 10 November the 23rd Panzer Division made a fruitless attempt to expand its narrow foothold. Moreover, elements of the 4th Panzer Regiment were assembled. Strong enemy attacks, supported by tanks, flared up along the entire 13th Panzer Division defensive front. With great sacrifice, the three sector groups prevented matters from turning into chaos. During the evening the defensive front of the 13th Panzer Division was in a half-circle around Nizhnaya Saniba. In the meantime all wheeled vehicles were prepared for the breakout. The division order read:
"... all transportable vehicles, weapons and equipment are to be taken. Everything else is to be destroyed..."
On the afternoon of 10 November General von Mackensen conducted a briefing with the commander of the II/"Nordland", Stubaf. Stoffers, and other staff officers. Also attending were the liaison officer from the II/"Nordland", Ustuf. Kallmann, as well as the assault group commander, Oscha. Karl Orf from the 7/"Nordland". They decided to attack with an assault troop opposite the breakout attack of the 13th Panzer Division to remove the wounded.
At 1500 hours the mostly empty vehicles of the 13th Panzer Division set out to break out to the west. Leading were the vehicles with the severely wounded under the command of Oberst Dr. Kuhn. The lightly wounded were moved on foot and in vehicles. The columns approached the ford in good order. In the meantime Battle Group von Hake cleared the area east of the ford and pushed the Soviets back to the north. The columns marched further; tanks were in the lead, followed by Oberst Dr. Kuhn with the wounded and then the other vehicles. They crossed the ford. On the opposite side, the I/4 Pz.Rgt. passed through the security to the old 13th Panzer Division march route. Anxious minutes passed in no-mans land, then Oberst Dr. Kuhn at the head of the wounded ran into Assault Troop Orf from the 7/"Nordland". They made it! Under the protection of the II/"Nordland", the 13th Panzer Division columns fled to the west. At 2300 hours, after the majority of the vehicles with the wounded had passed the ford, the division headquarters also withdrew from Nizhnaya Saniba.
The vehicles rolled across the ford to freedom during the entire night. However, with the dawn of the new day (11 November 1942), enemy fire engaged the ford. Anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles and mortars fired from dominant positions. Vehicles were hit and blocked the ford. Twenty tanks from the 4th Panzer Regiment and infantry weapons were committed against :he Russian fire front without success. The Soviets dominated the activities on the ford from good positions. Tracked vehicles tried to re-open the ford without success. Vehicle losses increased rapidly. Under these circumstances the division commander stopped the operation in order to await the fall of darkness and search for a new ford.
On 11 November 1942 the difficult decision was made to break out with all of the forces of the 13th Panzer Division remaining in the east, even if the numerous vehicles had to be destroyed, especially since a new tank attack was anticipated from the Mairamadag Gorge. The southern portion of the foothold had become extremely shaky. That a catastrophe did not occur here was thanks to the commander of the "Wiking" Panzer Battalion, Stubaf. Mühlenkamp. It was his battalion that marched through Ardon - Alagir. The assembly of enemy tank forces was discovered in the Dzuarikau bridgehead. Muhlenkamp, the old, experienced panzer leader, was able to figure out what was happening there. By chance he noticed the unloading of a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion while he was passing through Alagir. After a short discussion with the commander of the 23rd Panzer Division, General von Boineburg-Lengsfeld, Muhlenkamp received permission to deploy the Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion. The eighty-eights moved into position. Not a minute too soon, 20 enemy tanks were already rolling out of the Mairamadag Valley in the direction of Nizhnaya Saniba. The eighty-eights destroyed the enemy tank attack.
By the fall of darkness the three defensive sectors of the 13th Panzer Division withdrew. In spite of the dramatic circumstances everything went like clockwork. At 1630 hours Sector "Mitte" evacuated its positions under the cover of a weak rear guard. Sector "Süd" followed. "Slid" and "Mitte" joined to breakthrough into Nizhnaya Saniba. The wounded were in the center. The enemy resistance was broken, but the new ford presented another obstacle. It was next to an extremely marshy area that could not be crossed by wheeled vehicles. Many vehicles had to be abandoned there; they were disabled. These included almost all of the vehicles and rocket launchers of the II/52 Werfer Rgt.
The 43rd Kradschützen Battalion (Sector "Nord"), which was the last to withdraw with the rear guard, broke contact unnoticed by the enemy at 1800 hours, found a new ford, across which most of the vehicles passed, and made contact with friendly troops.
The majority of the 13th Panzer Division, including all of the wounded, was able to withdraw into the temporary positions established by the initial elements of "Wiking" (I and II/"Germania", II/"Nordland", the panzer battalion and elements of the "Wiking" Panzerjüger Battalion) because of concise leadership.
On the early morning of 12 November the Soviets realized that the Gisel -Nizhnaya Saniba pocket was empty. The 13th Panzer Division, which was to open the door to the Georgian Army Road, was not destroyed. Indeed, many of its vehicles were left behind, but its combat morale was not shaken. No one gave up, no one lost their head. It must also be noted that not a single wounded soldier was left behind. The sacrifice was high, but they performed their soldierly duty well.
The loss balance sheet for the III Panzer Corps and the Soviets for the time period 19 October to 12 November 1941, the period of the entire operation from Baksan to Ordzhonikidze, was given by von Mackensen in his book, "From the Bug to the Caucasus", as follows:
Enemy losses: 16,100 killed; 188 tanks and 4 armored trains destroyed. 249 guns and 881 heavy infantry weapons captured. Friendly losses: 1,275 killed, 273 missing, 5008 wounded.
The combat diary of Army Group A offered: 507 killed, 1918 wounded, 82 missing.
According to the Army Group A Diary, 13th Panzer Division vehicle losses for the same time period were:
26/10 - 11/11/1942: 45 tanks, 592 trucks.
On the night of 11-12/11 (breakthrough: 18 tanks and 496 trucks.
A German panzer division had a full strength of about 150 tanks (three battalions). In the reports from the 13th Panzer Division we read under 1 November 1942: 119 operational tanks. 4 November 1942: 70 operational tanks. 17 November 1942: 32 operational tanks.
On the other hand, we have Russian sources. "The Battle for the Caucasus" resulted in: "...140 damaged tanks, 70 guns, 91 mortars, 4 rocket launchers, 84 machine-guns and 2350 trucks were captured. In the Gisel area, the Germans left more than 5000 dead."
The 23rd Panzer Division is often reproached for not energetically pursuing the removal of the crisis on the northern flank of the 13th Panzer Division. Calculations show that they were in no position to do so. At the end of October the 23rd Panzer Division was located on the right, on the mountain flank, and had a bridgehead near Dzuarikau over the Fiagdon. Its security groups were delayed in being relieved by the Rumanians. On 1 November the 13th Panzer Division made it to Gisel and, at the same time, crises developed near the villages of Rassvet and Fiagdon, which necessitated the diversion of considerable forces from the 23rd Panzer Division. Thus, the combat strength of the 23rd Panzer Division was dispersed.
Nevertheless, the fortunate retreat from Gisel would have been questionable without the commitment of the hastily deployed SS Division "Wiking". Once again the true Waffenbrüderschaft between the "Wiking" and the 13th Panzer Division, which had already been cemented during the first year of the war in Russia in the III Panzer Corps, bore fruit.
That's it, hope you enjoyed it.
My best regards to you Raúl, and to Matthew Wharmby wherever he is.
When you're in command..... command!