Red Army engineers at Stalingrad.

 Engineers : Missions and plans in preparation of Operation Uranus


 The mission of the main forces of the front was to break through the enemy defense line and,
 jointly with the units of the Southwestern and Don Fronts, to encircle and destroy the German
 6th Army at Stalingrad. In accordance with this, the engineer troops of the Stalingrad Front
 had to solve a number of missions involving a great deal of responsibility.
 (The engineer troops of the Stalingrad Front were commanded by Major General of Engineer
 Troops I. A. Petrov.)

 In the preparatory period (from November 1-19, 1942) their missions were :

 to make possible an uninterrupted crossing of the troops over the Volga river and of all the
 necessary materials and technical equipment to be used in the offensive operations.

 to carry out a careful engineering reconnaissance of the forward edge and depths of the
 defenses of the enemy in the area of breakthrough

 to organize the areas of the concentration of troops before the crossing,

 to restore, reinforce, or construct bridges

 to assist the troops in occupying the areas of concentration after the crossing

 to prepare the jump-off position for the attack of the rifle troops and artillery; to clear of
 mines the area before the main line of defense

 to provide a supply of water for the troops operating in the desert steppes on the right
 bank of the lower Volga.

 In the period of operations (November 20-December 5, 1942) their mission was to make
 an engineering breach: to determine and prepare passageways for the movement of the
 combat formations of rifle troops, tanks, and artillery through the main line of defense of
 the enemy in the period of the attack.

 to accompany the troops into the depths during the attack and to protect reserves crossing
 the Volga and make possible an uninterrupted flow of supplies for the field forces.

 Ten days preceding the beginning of the offensive the engineers worked out a plan for the
 necessary work for each army and presented it to the responsible authorities eight days
 before the beginning of the offensive. The engineer plans for the crossing were worked
 out much earlier and were turned over to the responsible authorities 20 days before
 the beginning of the operation.

 The plan for the engineering works of the Front called for the execution of the following
 basic measures. For crossings the plan fixed the order of movement of the troops
 armament, ammunition, and food and gave the following for the crossing from the east
 bank of the Volga River to the west bank:


Name of the loads 

In preparatory
 In operational
Men 135.000 70.000 205.000
Tanks 430 120 550
Motor vehicles 10.000 2.500 12.500
Guns 500 200 700
Horses 3.000 1.200 4.200
Vehicles 4.500 600 5.100
Ammo in tons 6.000 6.000 12.000
Food in tons 4.000 4.000 8.000

In accordance with the established order for the movement of troops and their operational
assigment, nine crossing sectors were fixed, three of which were basic sectors: for the 64th
Army, Lesobaza, Shchuche, for the 57th Army, Tatianka, Svetly and for the 51st Army,
Kenennyi Iar, Solodniki.

In view of the broad scope of the approaching crossing work and the difficulties due to the
drifting ice and the stoppage of ice floes, the staff of the engineer troops of the Front worked
out beforehand a plan for providing all the crossings with floating equipment, and outlined a
number of measures for assuring normal conditions of operation.

For this purpose and in accordance with the orders of the Military Soviet of the Front,
there were detailed from the system of departmental river organizations of the Volga basin
59 power-driven and nonpower-driven vessels : two icebreakers with a total of 1,600
horsepower; 25 tugboats with a total of 7,130 indicated horsepower; three passenger boats
(560 indicated horsepower), one ferryboat (240 indicated horsepower), and 28 nonself
propelled vessels with a load capacity of 5,100 tons.

The Department of River Steam Navigation was obliged to provide all the vessels with full
crews, supply rigging, tackle, and spare screw propellers and organize repair shops.
The administration of the rear of the Front was to provide these workshops with motor
vehicle transport. From the military flotilla we planned to assign a diver station. The
supplying of the crews of the vessels and repair shops with all kinds of supplies was to be
a function of the military units maintaining the crossings.

In the working out of the plan of organizational measures for the crossings, the most critical
problem was supplying the vessels with fuel. The total requirements in fuel for the vessels
to be used were estimated at 118 tons per day, or 3,550 tons (178  2-axle tanker cars)
per month. The supplying of such a large quantity of fuel with the shortage of motor
vehicles transport was very difficult; hence, the staff of the engineertroops of the Front took
steps to find fuel in the immediate area. Over a period of several days a careful investigation
was made of all sunken tanker vessels and vessels that had run aground. As a result, we
discovered four half-submerged barges with supplies of fuel amounting to 6,000 tons.
The vessels were assigned to these improvised "bases" for supplies.

When the ice began to drift, the supplying of the vessels with fuel became very complicated,
because some of them failed to accomplish the trip against the current in order to get the fuel.
On some occasions the vessels spent two days on such a trip, through stretches with big
ice floes. In view of this, it was necessary to plan to transport the fuel by tank trucks.
We organized several of such columns, but even these could not supply all the fuel needed.

In the way of engineer reconnaissance, the plan called for the following :

To carry out an engineer reconnaissance in the main directions of 62 kilometers of the main
line of resistance to an average of 10 kilometers into the depth of the enemy defenses and to
organize an this stretch 53 observation points and posts

To organize 25 engineer-reconnaissance groups and to plan joinly with the cavalry, tanks,
and motorized units up to 25 deep raids into the rear of the enemy for the purpose of
reconnoitering their rear lines and system of defenses.

For the covering of the areas of concentration of our troops plans were made to provide
maine reinforcements for the nine antitank centers, to lay 15 flank and switch mine fields,
and to reinforce all of the existing mine fields along the main line of resistance on the sectors
where the enemy was most likely to strike.

In mine clearing, the plan provided for the making of 70 passageways in our own mine fields
by taking up 12,500 mines of various systems and making 38 passageways through the main
line of resistance of the enemy over a total of 22 kilometers of front. For passage of tanks,
artillery, aid other heavy loads on the sector of the 57th Army, the plan provided for
the construction of five bridges and 12 grade crossings over railway lines.

On the waterless steppes where the troops of the Stalingrad Front operated, the water
supply was a very important factor in determining the combat ability of the troops. The left
wing and the 28th Army, in particular, were in a serious situation. The minimum water
requiremeits of this Army on November 1, 1942, were estimated at about 2,000 cubic
meters per day. The amount supplied by all the sources on this same date amounted to
about 600 cubic meters. To compensate for this water shortage, the plan provided for
digging 45 new wells in the zone of the 28th and 51st Armies and the restoration of
six old sources of water. In addition to this, plans were made for the restoration of
wells in the towns and villages captured from the enemy.

On the whole, the plan was drawn up and presented to the troops in due time. It took into
account all of the basic problems of providing adequate engineering means both in the
preparatory period of the Front operations and in the period of their execution.
The plan gave most consideration to problems of river crossings, since they were he most
important in the operations and the most difficult to solve. The preparation of the areas
of the crossings and distribution of the crossng equipment at them was carried out in
accordance with the missions of the troops.

The Distribution of Forces and Means

For accomplishing this engineering plan in time, we made the proper disposition of the
engineer forces of the Front. From the available forces, the following were assigned 38
battalions and three independent companies. For operating the crossings over the Volga,
nine battalions (one motorized engineer and eight pontoon), for the work connected with
mining/engineering entanglements, eight battalions, for the work in preparation for ice
crossing, three engineer battalions, and for defensive work, 14 engineer battalions.

In reserve and for preparation of the personnel for participation in the breakthrough of
enemy defenses there were left four battalions and three companies. Of the total number
of engineer units of the Front, 15 battalions were assigned directly to the armies for
preparatory work.
(The total forces of the front included 30 engineer battalions as well as the divisional engineer
battalions. Other sources lists 29 battalions and three brigades.)

At the beginning of the work of the preparatory period, the engineer units, especially the
pontoon units, were far from being at full strength, having only 55 percent of the authorized
personnel and only 26 percent of their motor vehicle strength. The combat engineer battalions
of the divisions were in the same situation, if not worse, as to personnel strength and

The pontoon bridge units of the Front did not have any of such important engineering
equipment as electric welding sets, compressors, wood saws, and diving gear. Without these,
the work of lifting, repairing and setting in place the crossing material for the construction of
bridges was much slower.

Due to the losses in equipment in the preceding period, the pontoon units did not have sufficient
equipment during preparation for the operation. The vessels detailed from the Department of
River Transport  Systems arrived very slowly. Before the beginning of the preparatory work
for the crossings we received four self-propelled vessels out of the 31 called for in the plan
and three nonself-propelled vessels out of the 28 which we were to have in accordance with
the plan. It was only after insistent demands of the staff of the engineer troops that we
suceeded in obtaining ten self-propelled vessels and one nonself-propelled, after a delay of
12 days. The motor cutters (VMK-70) made available by the Main Administration for Military
Engineers did not arrive until after the crossing had been made.

To speed up the work, the staff of the engineer troops mobilized all crossing cutters, lighters,
platforms, rafts, fishing boats, and pleasure boats to be found in the area of the crossing.
Extensive use had to made of all these means for the arrangement of ferry crossings.
In addition to this, we used armored cutlers of the Volga Flotilla for the crossing of people,
ammunition, and food.

The conditions under which the engineer units operated, especially at the crossings of the
Volga, were exceptionally difficult. In view of the great amount of engineer work, it was not
possible to place engineer units in reserve for replacements and training. All the engineer
units of the Front had to be furnished replacements in the course of operations, while fighting
was in progress, and these consisted of unprepared or poorly prepared personnel, the
employment of which sometimes led to serious consequences. Thus, during the period of the
operations, in one of the armies, 21.6 percent of the total losses of the engineer units were
due to being blown up by their own mines in the demining of a jump-off line for ihe attack.

Work of the Engineer Units in the Preparatory Period of the Operation


The crossings of the Volga River of troops, equipment, and ammunition, and food, as well as
the evacuation of wounded and equipment to the rear, was done by ferrying on barges,
pontoons, cutters, and rowboats. (The places of the crossings are given in the map.) The
crossings in the area of Stalingrad for the 62nd Army were under direct enemy bombardment
by artillery, mortars, and small arms.

It was impossible to prepare bases and loading points on the left bank opposite the destination
points of the vessels. The loading of the vessels was done upstream or downstream,
lengthening in this way the trips of the vessels, lessening the turnover, and creating special
difficulties at the beginning of the ice floes. Thus, with the approach of the enemy to the
banks in the area of the "Krasnyi Oktiabr" and "Barrikadi," the use of moorings opposite the
plants became difficult. By day the enemy subjected these moorings to intensive bombardment
and to bombing from the air, and at night he kept them under artillery and mortar fire.
The majority of the boats destroyed were knocked out at the wharves while loading and
unloading and while moored in the daytime. Hence, from November I the main loading and
unloading points and bases for the crossing equipment were moved to Verkhne Akhtuba,
making the trip from 1.3 to 25 kilometers longer. Beginning on November 11, the ice floes
obstructed the movement of vessels from Akhtuba and the base was transferred to Tumak.


From November 11 the crossings of the 62nd Army operated along the Tumak-Krasnyi Oktiabr
march route for a distance of 22 kilometers and Tumak-Spartakovka fur a distance of
32 kilometers. Throughout the month the vessels operating in the crossing of this Army were
under flank artillery-mortar and machine gun fire of the enemy. Crossing was possible only at
night. The supplying of replacements, ammunition, rations, and forage to one of the rifle divisions
cut off from the 62nd Army was carried out along the Denezhnoi Voizhka, and in order to reach
it, the armored cutters first had to neutralize the enemy fire positions on the banks. Oftentimes
the enemy released floating mines from airplanes. These between Kamennyi lar and Solovniki
the steamer "Altai" was also sunk by a mine. At the end of November, German aviation units
mined the main stream of the Volga at Glukoi Farmstead, and this prevented the powerful ice
breaker tug of the type "Dzerzhinskii" from reaching the Svetlyi lar crossing.

The greatest hindrances to crossing were the hydrometeorological conditions; the most intense
period of work coincided with the most unfavorable season of the year. At the beginning of
November the level of water on the Volga rose sharply; thus, from November 1-6, the water
rose to 50 centimeters and the total rise in the level of the water from the middle of October
to November 13 was 196 to 220 centimeters.

Due to the rise in the level of the water, the trestles of the bridges and the moorings were
flooded with water. Some of the landing places had to be raised as many as six times
(the crossing at Tatianka). Since in the construction of the landing places we had not planned
to raise them, this work required a great deal of time and labor. The heavy winds which we
had in November made the mooring of vessels difficult and made impossible the trips of
the small vessels and boats. The crossing work involved great difficulties and, at places,
had to be interrupted.

On November 6-7 in the area of the Front, we had a rainy spell accompanied by winds.
The waves in the river rose to 1.2 meters. On November 7, a big wave overflowed 60
pontoons of a bridge over the Sarpinskii River. The bridge was torn away from its anchorings
and was carried by the current to a distance of 500 to 700 meters. This forced us to weaken
the crossings of the 64th Army, by taking from them the steamer "Mikhail Vlasov."

The fall ice floes started November 10. The water continued to rise. The strong winds
forced the ice first to the left side of the river and then to the right side. Near the banks
there were formed unbroken belts of ice having a width of 100-600 meters and moving
along slowly with the current. Under these conditions the crossing work was very
complicated, because the small vessels were squeezed by the blocks of ice and had to
select places that were free of ice. Crossings of small vessels were possible only in the
daytime. The steering of the vessels, steamers, and boats required able and well-organized

The solid belts of ice forming near the banks made it difficult for the vessels to approach
the landing places. It took some of the vessels whole hours to make their way to the landing
places, at times with the help of engineers who arranged passageways by blasting the ice.
For these reasons the time required for a trip was greatly increased; for example, the barge
"Zarnitsa," lowed by the icebreaker "Dzerzhinskii" of 800 horsepower, made the trip in one
day with great difficulty. Oftentimes a trip required 30 to 35 hours. There were numerous
cases in which small vessels were squeezedbetween the blocks of ice. Such vessels were
released by stronger ones, or placed by them in a channel, the ice broken around them by
hand and, farther away from the vessels, by means of explosive charges or hand grenades.
The number of damaged vessels increased with the drifting of ice and this required
additional work in repairing them.

Despite the unfavorable conditions (the drifting of ice, an insufficient number of crossing
vessels of the ice-cutting type, a lack of pontoon units, and shelling by artillery, mortars, and
light machine guns on the front of the 62nd Army), the engineer units coped with the task of
preparing crossings during the preparatory period. All the units and freight arriving in
November were crossed in time. During the period from November 1-20, 1942, the following
were crossed :


Load Designation

To the Right Bank

To the Left Bank


Men  114.476 38.109  149.585 
Wounded  none 10.970  10.970
Tanks  427  1  428
Guns  556  42  598
Motor vehicles  9.282  4.760  14.042
Tractors  136  51  187
Wagons  2.993  1.740  4.733
Horses  7.903  2.428  10.331
Ammo in tons  6.562  191  6.753
Class 1 supplies  3.760  190  3.950
Other in tons  1.696  432  2.128
Livestock - large  398  24  422
Livestock - small  5.195  402  5.597

(One authoritative Soviet source lists somewhat different figures as 160,000 men; 430 tanks;
600 guns; 14,000 trucks; and 7,000 tons of ammunition. In any event, the number is
representative of an impressive feat given German air superiority.)

By practical work done during this period, we learned that even when there are difficult freezing
conditions the use of standard and small crossing equipment, both towed and that operated by
oars, is readily possible. The use of pontoons N2P or small metallic barges towed by motor
launches proved to be very effective under these conditions.

Crossing in rowboats played a great part in supplying the 62nd Army and the groups cut off
from it. Under the aimed fire of the enemy we crossed reinforcements, ammunition, and food.
Large numbers of boats were used for the evacuation of the wounded. For example, on the
night of November 28-29, 360 wounded soldiers were crossed to the left side in boats.

After we determined the direction of the main blows of our units, we organized in these areas
observation posts and obeservation points. We arranged a total of 75 points. On an average
on the shock sectors depending upon the importance of the sector and the character of the
locality, we had from one to three observation posts on each kilometer of the defense strip
of the enemy. During the period when we carried on reconnaissance in force, the network
of observation points on these sectors was increased two- or threefold.

The greater part of the observation points were located on the forward edge of our defenses.
Each of them consisted of a heated blindage-dugout and a rifle pit with a cover for observation.
Twenty-three observation points were equipped with optical devices, field glasses, and
telescopes borrowed from the artillery men and the mortar crews. To each of these
observation points, we assigned a group of three to four engineers under a junior officer or an
educated private, whose duty it was to direct the group and keep a record of the observations.
Observation was conducted on a 24-hour basis. The observation data were plotted on a map
and presented each day to the unit engineer who summarized the data, put it on a general
map, and in his turn gave the information each day to the higher engineer chief.  On the basis
of the reconnaissance of the defense depths of the enemy from October l-November 18, we
organized and carried out in the main directions 27 engineer reconnaissance raids in the rear
of the enemy for the purpose of determining their system, of antilank and antipersonnel
obstacles and for finding the nature of the rear lines.On the sector of the 51st Army, this deep
reconnaissance was carried out jointly with the cavalrymen and tankmen. In the area north of
Stalingrad, we organized seven engineer reconnaissance groups, which went out under cover
of night to a distance of five kilometers into the depths of the enemy defenses; camouflaged
themselves there in haystacks, straw, or deep shell holes; and during the daylime carried on
observation of the engineers and other activities of the enemy. One group consisting of three
men, under the command of Sergeant Nikolenko, was within the defenses of the enemy for
three days, moved over a front of 11 kilometers, and made a detailed field sketching of all
the defense systems on this sector.


After the breakthrough of the enemy defenses by our troops and the capture of enemy
defense lines, it was possible to study in more detail on the spot the system of engineer
obstacles and the placing of the defensive installations and to compare them with the data of
the engineer reconnaissance. For example, in the zone of the 57th Army, on the sector
intended for the breakthrough, the engineer scouts of one Guards Division ascertained
correctly the location of all the minefields of the enemy. With a fair degree of precision, the
engineers on another sector ascertained the outline of the minefields over a stretch of 11
kilometers and the defensive installations consisting of barbed-wire entanglements over a
stretch of 3 kilometers.

In the area of Khalkhuia, engineer reconnaissance of the 28th Army discovered a total of
37 trenches, 32 fire positions, and 10 mortar positions. In this area, we discovered a total of
45 defense positions out of a total of 102, which we found later in the system of enemy
defenses. On this sector, we also discovered the location of three minefields however,
after the capture of the area, we found four additional fields not noticed by the scouts.

In the direction of the main blow of the 57th Army, in the area of Tundulovo and Balka-
Tarnovaia, engineer reconnaissance obtained precise information as to the location of 35 fire
positions for submachine guns, five earth-and-timber pillboxes, 12 mortar positions, and 28
artillery positions (of these five were concealed). We discovered 70 defense installations out
of a total of 95 that we found to exist after thecapture of the line. In these directions, at a
depth of up to 3 kilometers, engineer reconnaissance correctly pointed out the defenses of the
second echelon of the enemy.

Hence, in the main, engineer reconnaissance discovered the system of German-Rumanian
defenses in the directions of the main attack, thus facilitating to a considerable extent the
success of the breakthrough of the enemy defenses.

Among the weaknesses in the planning of engineer reconnaissance, we should mention the
following, the absence of systematic duplication and checking of the reconnaissance data of
the groups concerning the location of the minefields in the defense system of the enemy,
and the failure to make use of such methods of reconnaissance as photography, and in
certain cases, the interrogation of the prisoners.

Covering of the Areas of Concentration

From November 1-15, 1942, the Stalingrad Front carried out a regrouping and concentration
of troops. The following arrived for reinforcement of the front: 15 rifle divisions, 11 tank
brigades, five motorized rifle and mechanized brigades, and six cavalry regiments.

For concentrating these forces, we assigned 18 areas. In these areas, the engineer units of the
front prepared large antitank obstacles. For example, in the zone of the 64th Army, on the sector
of the Krasnoarmeisk-Beketovka railroad, we provided over a stretch of 8 kilometers a special
fortification consisting of railway cars fastened together one after the other to form a powerful
antitank barricade. In combination with minefields and natural obstacles, this barricade provided
a reliable cover for the zone between the railroad and the Volga.

In the area of Kuporosnoe we constructed five antitank mine centers and three antitank switch
minefields. In the zone of the 51st Army, in the area of Khargate and Zurgan, we constructed
five antitank centers and laid eight switch minefields. On the sector of Malye Derbetyi, Zakhar-
ovo, and Khuslin-Ziur, we constructed three antitank centers and nine minefields in combination
with barely perceptible obstacles.

In the zone of the front, we prepared minefield coverings for a total of 19 areas of troop
concentration. We prepared 13 antitank centers and laid 23 minefields. We laid up to 10,000
mines of various kinds and put out more then 100 packages of barely perceptible obstacles,
reinforced by landmines and booby traps. These measures enabled us to carry on concentration
work without being disturbed.

For the passage of the troops from the areas of concentration to the jump-off lines, the engineer
units of the Front carried out a great deal of work in the making of passageways through the
engineers' mine obstacles. On the front, in the main directions, we made a total of 73
passageways having a width of 35 to 400 meters; we removed 12,405 mines of various kinds and
more than 1,500 bottles with "KS" liquid fuel.

The making of passageways in minefields involved great difficulties. The work was carried out
exclusively at night, oftentimes under the mortar and machine gun fire of the enemy. After
rains came freezes. The upper, covering layer of earth was converted into a solid crust which
froze to the mine covers. Due to the moisture the body of the "lam-5" swelled and the cotter of
the fuse froze to the side walls of the body of the mine, as a result of which the modern
simplified fuses oftentimes could not be drawn out. The majority of mines had to be removed
with the help of grappling-hooks or crowbars. The destruction of the mines by explosives
was possible only during the time of artillery and mortar fire.


The passage of the troops to the jump-off lines, through the passageways made, was organized
in the following manner. The commanders of the combat zones and the unit engineers received
beforehand sketches of the minefield with the passageways indicated and got acquainted with
them on the spot. For this purpose, we detailed as guides members of the engineer units who
had a good knowledge of the location of the minefields and the passageways through them.
From the concentration areas of the units to the minefields, we made some cross-country routes
of march with signs every 50-100 meters. On these cross-country marches, we placed traffic
regulation posts. The passageways themselves were marked out accurately and guarded
by sentries.

The extraordinarily difficult conditions of work in the removal of mines required miners with
great knowledge, skill, caution, and determination qualities that many of them lacked because
of their poor training. The unit engineers in particular were poorly trained. Despite these
weak nesses, however, the engineer units of the front were still able, before the beginning of
the offensive, to provide the troops the necessary safety measures.

Water Supply for the Troops

The left-flank armies operating in the Kalmuk Steppes encountered serious difficulties
securing supplies of water.
(It was due to this fact that German forces did not expect an offensive from this area.)
Some of the units were at a distance of 20 to 25 kilometers from sources of water.
The water in the "ponds" and lakes was salty or brackish and was unfit for drinking, preparing
food, or for other purposes. The wells dug by the troops in several places, even to a depth of 8
meters, gave bitter, salt water. Deepbored wells could not be sunk because of the lack of the
necessary engineering equipment. Hence, for the units far from a source of water, it was
necessary to transport water in barrels and drums carried by horses or camels.

In order to provide a supply of water for the troops, we adopted the following measures :

an inventory and investigation of all the sources of water in the armies was made

the army and Front engineer water supply companies began to dig wells in order to increase
their supply of water

the 28th and 51st Armies, which were in the most unfavorable situation, were reinforced
with Front specialists for the equipping of the water supply stations on the routes followed
by the units  in order to supply water for the military hospitals, the evacuation points, and the reserve
regiments in the service area of the Front, we detailed one engineer water supply company,
which, from November 1-20, repaired nine wells and dug 50 new ones. The aforementioned
measures, which were carried out by the engineer units of the Front, made it possible to
supply the troops with water. The difficulty in carrying out this task was due not so much to
the dryness of the region as it was to the fact that the Front was poorly supplied with the
means of water supply. The Front and the army engineer water supply companies did not
have their full strength of personnel and equipment. Experience has shown that in regard
to the field conditions it is extremely important to have special units with equipment for
boring deep wells and pumps and filters. It is also necessary to supply the front with standard


Work of the Engineer Troops in the Period of the Operation

Supplying Engineer Installations for the Breakthrough

In order to improve engineer preparation for breaking through the defenses of the enemy, we
selected ahead of time some small engineering units to participate in the operation and assigned
these to the attacking units. A total of 45 engineer companies were selected.

From the units selected, we organized 85 groups, each consisting of 10 to 25 men, depending
upon the character of the mission assigned. The basic missions of these groups were surmounting
the engineer-mine entanglements of the main line of enemy defenses and accompanying the
attacking units through these entanglements. Each commander heading a group of engineers,
jointly with the commander of the small unit attacking, studied beforehand the engineer
reconnaissance data of all their combat sector, planned the route of movement, and specified
in a concrete manner the missions of the engineer groups as to time and lines.

Early in the morning of November 20, 1942, several hours before our troops started their attack
against the main line of enemy resistance, the engineers, under a reinforcing cover of
submachine guns, light machine guns, and heavy machine guns of the rifle units, started
clearing the minefields and scattered barbed-wire entanglements of the enemy. In three and
one-half hours the engineers had made 64 passageways and drawn out and disarmed more
than 5,000 enemy mines. Where they were not able to construct passageways, they planned
37 of the most convenient routes for bypassing the minefields.

The minefields of the enemy consisted of metallic German and Rumanian mines. The basic
and most effective means for discovering them was the mine detector. However, mine
detectors were used only to a limited extent because of the absence of BAS-60 batteries.
The operation of searching for the mines and rendering them harmless was carried out
by probes or grapplers, a method that slowed up the rate of work considerably. The engineer
-mine entanglements of the enemy were overcome under exceptionally difficult circumstances
and oftentimes under heavy fire.


At dawn on November 20, 1942, the troops on the front on the main sectors assumed the
offensive. There was a thick fog. Before the beginning of the attack, all the passageways
in the minefield and the detours of minefields were designated by markers with inscriptions
on them. In the center of each passageway, in narrow trenches having a depth of 1 to 1,5
meters, there were engineer controllers, provided with signal searchlights, stakes with flags,
or bunches of straw, by means of which they gave signals upon the approach of the small

Despite the excellent manner in which this work was planned, precise coordination between
passage of the combat machines through the minefields and the discipline of movement over
them was still absent on several sectors. As a result of this, we suffered unnecessary losses in

Accompanying the attacking troops

After the breakthrough of the enemy defenses, the accompanying of the tanks was entrusted
to the army and front engineer units, the rifle troops and artillery, however, were accompanied
by regimental and divisional engineers.
(Engineer units were employed to screen the flanks, and later to cover the front of the 51st
Army during the defensive phase of the Kotelnikovo operation. Their tasks included
building emplacement and the laying of antitank minefields.)
The mission of the accompanying forces consisted of providing a passageway through the
minefields of the enemy. For accompanying the tanks, two or three engineers mounted a tank,
by external signs, the engineers detected by visual examination the minefields of the enemy.
When they detected a minefield, they signaled the tank to stop by a blow with the butt of their
guns upon the armor. They would then demine a passageway, after which the movement

In the planning for accompanying the motor-mechanized troops, the failure to provide the
engineer units with transport proved to be a weakness. After passing through the minefields
of the enemy, the engineers, in the course of the advance, became separated from the tanks.

The engineers accompanying the artillery and rifle troops moved with their units all the time,
carrying out their missions of reconnoitering and removing entanglements, conducting
reconnaissance of the rear defense lines, and participating in the blocking of the
earth-and-timber pillboxes of the enemy. It was ascertained that the enemy had no defensive
installations and entanglements in the rear. We discovered only separate minefields or groups
of mines on the approaches to inhabited localities and near bridges.

Securing Crossings

Starting on November 18, crossing operations became more complicated, due to the sudden
worsening of the ice situation and accompanied by a drop in the level of the water. The rate
of drop of the level of the water on December 20 reached 17.5 centimeters per day, and by the
end of December it was 26 centimeters. The ice floes in this ten-day period increased in
diameter up to 40 centimeters and in thickness up to 30 to 40 centimeters. By the end of the
month, the shoals on the Volga began to affect navigation.

The fall ice floes lasted longer than was predicted. In November and up to the middle of
December, the hydrometeorological conditions on the Volga in the area of the front made the
construction of even foot crossings impossible and created great difficulties in the operation
of ferry crossings. The only foot crossing on the ice was at Astrakhan. This crossing, which
had a length of 1,600 meters, started operations beginning on the morning of November 30.

Starting November 18, the drop in the level of the water of the Volga caused shoals at the
landing places, a condition that was felt acutely toward the end of the month. In approaching
the landing places, the vessels and barges were disabled temporarily by running on shoals
and it required a great deal of work to get them off the shoals. The movement on the Volga
of vessels with a large draft was limited. The abrupt drop in the level of the water required
at first a lowering of the landing places, and after this due to the formation of shoals it was
necessary to lengthen them or construct new replacements for those destroyed by the ice
floes. Thus, at the Kamennyi lar crossing, the ice destroyed 12 landing places. At this place,
it was necessary to construct four new landing places for loads of 60 tons to replace those
that had been torn up or rendered unfit for use by shoals. The average length of the trestles
of the landing places was 350 meters.


To prevent losses of navigation material and to keep the crossings in operation, we put into
effect the following measures :

The brigades organized from the workers of the vessel repair plants, which repaired the
damaged boats at the crossings themselves, made repairs up to and including the replacement
of rudders and the welding of boilers.

When it was impossible to bring the vessels up to the landing places, the loading and unloading
was done on the ice itself (the Tatianka crossing had two ice-landing stages for the loading of
men and freight on N2P pontoons).

For a better utilization of the cutters and the tugs, we increased the number of pontoons so that
in addition to the pontoons en route there might be pontoons loading and unloading at the same
time. Such a continuous method of work made it possible for the VMK cutters at the crossing
of Tatianka lo make 12 lo 19 trips during the daytime.

Under serious ice conditions, the crossing was made on the decks of self-propelled vessels
without low barges or ferries, and the loading area was increased by removing a number of
deck superstructures. On November 28, due to the rapid formation of shoals, the crossing of
wheel and caterpillar loads on barges was temporarily suspended on all sectors of the Volga,
except at Kammenyi lar. There, the shallowness was not so serious, and the ice floes were
not as large as a result of theformation of obstructions upstream.

As a result of a number of organizational measures for adapting the vessels for crossing in the
presence of ice, we soon put the other crossings in operation. For example, the crossing at
Svetlyi lar continued its work with the paddle-wheel tug "Krasnoflotets" and other vessels right
up to the freezing of the river. Then the thickness of the ice reached 12 centimeters, and the
temperature of the air went down to minus 16 degrees. Work under such conditions was
carried out in the following manner: a steam icebreaker of the "Samara" type went ahead
breaking a channel, and behind it came the powerful tug, "Krasnoflotets," followed by all the
other small vessels. In this way, we had a caravan of vessels that moved in the ice without
any special difficulty. While providing crossing facilities in the presence of ice floes, we
carried out the preparatory work for the construction of ice roads for
motor vehicle transport and medium loads. For solving this problem, the
engineer units at the Front did the following work:

a reconnaissance was made of the points of crossing over the ice in the areas of Shchuche,
Tatianka, Svetlyi lar, and Krasnyi Oktiabr

in the area of the prospective crossing, more than 10,000 cubic meters of materials were
collected for reinforcement.

in order to provide for pedestrian traffic and the crossing of loads at the beginning period of
the freezing, we started the construction of sledrope paths for loads up to 100 kilograms.
By November 30, we had prepared the sleds, set up and tried out the drive wire on both
banks, prepared cable, and so on

carried out reconnaissance and selected a place for the construction of a low-water bridge
across the Volga in the area ofTalianka for loads of 30 tons and prepared timber for this
purpose in the amount of 6,000 cubic meters.

The number of loads crossed in the initial period of the operation (November 20-December 5,
1942) is shown by the following table :


Load Designation To the Right Bank To the Left Bank Total
Men  64.193 11.364 75.557
Wounded  none 14.196 14.196
Tanks  177  none 177
Guns 251 1  252
Motor vehicles  2.363  345 2.708
Tractors  39  none 39
Wagons 766  53 819
Horses 1.589  139 1.728
Ammo in tons  5.332 51 5.383
Class 1 supplies  4.309  19 4.328 
Other in tons  2.404  88 2.492 

On the basis of the crossing experience in the period of the offensive,
we may draw the following conclusions :

1. Despite the extremely difficult conditions of work in the course of the operation, the Volga
crossings supplied the front with everything necessary without interruptions, and in the main,
they did the work within the time set by the command. However, there were gaps in their
operation, as a result of which, in particular at the crossing Svetlyi lar, the 300th Rifle Division
was held up for several days.

2. Contrary to assumptions, experience showed that it was entirely possible to use paddle-wheel
tug steamers in the ice floes (because broken blades could be quickly repaired on the spot) and
during the loading-unloading operations. When there were rather thick ice floes traffic was
possible even when the majority of the blades were broken. These paddle-wheel tugs were
shown to be superior to the screw tugs in the case of which the repair, and all the more so the
replacement, of the screw caused long interruptions in the work.

3. For urgent crossings, it was necessary to have at each place one vessel to serve as a leader,
from 150 to 800 horsepower, depending upon the conditions, preferably shallow draft, and some
large barges. At places where the crossings were made with large barges and tugs, the urgent
crossings could be carried out satisfactorily, and where these means were not available, such
crossings were hampered.

4. In crossings over wide streams in the fall and winter, it was necessary to use icebreakers
(preferably with small draft).

5. The moorings and trestles of the bridges should be constructed so that they can be quickly
raised and lowered, depending upon the level of the water (like the supports of the
bridge RMM-2).

6. In the employment of large vessels for the crossings of loads in bulk, it was necessary to
organize permanent loading-unloading crews.

7. In crossing broad streams, it is necessary to have a group of captain-instructors, familiar
with the channel of the river and the area of the crossings. Jointly with them we should select
the place of the crossing, the distribution of the vessels at the crossings, and the selection of
routes of march to the crossing.

Command of the Engineer Troops

The staff of the engineer troops of the Front organized close and permanent signal
communications with the operations and reconnaissance sections and commands of the staff
of the Front and with all of the Volga crossings. For this purpose, the staff of the engineer
troops created an operational group of three men. For these we provided (at the post of
the operations section of the staff of the front) a shelter equipped with telephone and radio
connections with all the crossings. Among the duties of the aforementioned commanders
were regular information briefings to the chief of the engineer troops and the chief of staff
of the engineer troops concerning all of the changes in the operational situation and the
daily work of all the crossings. In certain cases, they were given the right to make
independent decisions in questions pertaining to crossings.

For carrying out operational direction of a large number of crossings over the Volga, we
assigned to the staff of the engineer troops a cable-pole company of signal communications
with four radio stations, by means of which the staff had constant wire and radio connections
with the crossings. In the decisive directions, for rendering assistance and checking the
adequacy of engineer work on the spot, we detailed responsible staff commanders. At the
most important crossings, there was at all times a chief of the operations section. The chief
of the engineer troops and the chief of staff of the Front also went to these places repeatedly.
The command of the engineer troops was carried out chiefly through liaison officers, radio,
and telephone.


Owing to close coordination of the work with the main section of the staff of the Front and
commands in the presence of the operations group having technical signal communications,
we assured the planning and direction of the most important sector of the work, namely, the
crossings. The absence of signal communications and coordination, with the
Hydrometeorological Service, was a great handicap in getting timely predictions as to the
variations in the water level. It was necessary to lose a great deal of time and labor for
reequipping the moorings and even in changing, at times, the line of the crossings.

The Staffs of the Engineer Troops of the Armies

The plans for providing adequate engineer works for the operation were worked out in detail
and, in the main, correctly by all the staffs of the engineer troops of the army, with the
exception of the 64th Army. However, in some ofthe armies, the putting ofthe plans into the
hands of the executors look place with great delay. Thus, the battalion engineers of two
divisions of the 28th Army did not receive the plans from the staff of the engineer troops
until November 16, and the battalion engineers of the 57th Army did not receive them until
November 13-14. Before this time, the work carried out by the engineer troops in
preparation for the operation was on the basis of partial instructions from the staffs.

By the beginning of the operation, the staff of the engineer troops of the 64th Army had
neither an engineer plan nor a plan for material-technical supplies and limited itself to general
instructions and orders. As a result of this, in the preparatory period, out of eight army and
assigned front battalions, only four carried out the missions connected directly with the
operations, and the rest of the battalions occupied themselves with subordinate works.
The most important forms of engineer materials, such as mines, barbed wire, mine detectors,
and so on, were at the beginning of the operations at the army base on the other side of the
Volga. All these deficiencies had to be corrected quickly in the course of the operations.

In the control of the staffs of the engineer troops of the army, the weakest link was signal
communications with the army engineer units. In view of the absence of means for technical
communications and movement, signal communications with the battalions, some of which
were far away, were maintained exclusively by foot messenger communications.

In view of the absence of signal communications, the staff of the engineers of the 51st Army
did not know for several days the location of the two front battalions assigned to it for the time
of the operation.

A weak place in the work of certain army staffs of the engineer troops was their lack of
contact with the other sections of the staff of the army, in particular the operations and
reconnaissance sections and rear command. As a result, they were poorly informed about
the strategic situation and could not react quickly in carrying out a redistribution or regrouping
of the engineer personnel or equipment.

On the whole, despite a number of weaknesses, the staffs of the engineer troops of the army,
as organs of control of the chiefs of the engineers, coped in a successful manner with the
work of providing adequate engineer installations for the operation. The experience gained
in the operation emphasized once again the important role of the staffs of the engineer troops
and, at the same time, showed the absolute necessity of improving their training and cohesion.

It is extremely necessary to provide the staffs of the engineer troops with organic means of
transport, to have with the staff of the engineer troops of the army a motor vehicle platoon for
the creation of mobile reserves and for the maneuverability of engineer-entanglement works,
and to make adequate provision for the machines of the commanders of the armies and front
engineer battalions. In order to provide for the operational direction of the army and front
engineer units, it is absolutely necessary that each battalion and the staffs of the engineer
troops have their own radio signal communications.


With rare exceptions, battalion and brigade engineers directed in a concrete manner the work
of the small engineer units on the battlefield itself and were always informed of the situation.
However, there were cases of incorrect employment of the brigade engineers by the com-
manders of units of combined arms. For example, a brigade engineer of the 38th Motorized
Rifle Brigade, in the period of the preparation for the offensive, was sent to the rear by the
commander of the brigade for some white cloaks and, in reality, carried out the function of a
quartermaster sergeant; whereas the demining work in the zone of advance of the Brigade
had to be assigned to the assistant of the chief of staff of the engineer troops of the army.

A serious weakness in the work of many troop engineers was the absence of skill in planning
work and the correct employment of the assigned army engineer units. In practice it turned
out that the army engineer battalions assigned to the division carried out work in demining
and in the main line of resistance, whereas the battalion engineers wereoccupied in the
construction of command posts and in the repair of roads in the division and regiment service

The experience of the Stalingrad operation points to the following, the necessity of teaching
unit engineers the planning and organization of engineer work, the proper echeloning of
engineer units, the ability to organize engineer reconnaissance, and of instilling in them the
ability to work out and analyze the engineer needs pertaining to the enemy, to make engineer
decisions to meet the given situation, and to utilize correctly and as effectively as possible
both their own engineer equipment and that assigned to them.


General Conclusions

The combat engineer units carried out a great deal of intensive work in the offensive operations
of the Stalingrad Front, especially in providing crossings over the Volga under serious natural
and tactical conditions. We may judge the scope of the crossing work by the amount of freight
crossed. During November, 489 echelons of military supplies were crossed, making 16 echelons
a day, or 40 carloads an hour. Despite the enormous task that this represented and the
difficulties of carrying it out, due to the fact that units and equipment were not up to strength
and the engineer troops were not properly prepared, the missions of the command both in the
crossings operations and in all other forms of necessary engineer preparations were carried
out fully and on time.

The experience in the work of the engineer troops in the offensive operations of the Stalingrad
Front enables us to draw a number of practical conclusions.

1. Crossings require centralized direction and the presence in the reserves of the chief of the
engineer troops of the front of a powerful group of crossing equipment, which must be
employed in a concentrated manner and not piecemeal.

2. Under the conditions prevailing in the crossings of a rather large river, it is absolutely
necessary to have the following: repair parties supplied with the necessary tools, materials
and spare parts located at the crossings; diving parties for the repair and raising work; and
a detachment of mine sweepers for demining the areas of the crossing and the channel of the

3. In crossing wide rivers in the fall and winter, special attention should be given to the
proper organization and placing of fire guards.

4. In the areas of the crossings, it is necessary to have a supply of building materials, barges,
flat boats, and rafts for the preparation of landing stages.

5. The pontoon units should be provided with transportable pile drivers, compressors,
woodsaws, and so on.

6. A basic and general weakness of all of our bridge parks is the small span between the
supports and the thickness of the pontoons in the line of the bridge made necessary by this.
The presence of a large number of pontoons makes it easier for the enemy to knock them
out with artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire.

In the presence of the thick fall ice floes, placing of the pontoon holes near the ice moving along
the river is important since ice causes blocking and the consequent breaking of the bridge.
It is necessary to provide long-span standard bridges on floating supports, at least for
motor-and animal-drawn transport (less than 8 to 10 tons). The span structure of such a
bridge could be executed in the form of a series of light metallic girders or Spengel girders.
It is also possible to provide standard suspension bridges for light loads using floating supports.

7. Under all circumstances, the chief of the engineer troops should have some mobile and
general reserves, capable of extensive maneuverability in carrying out demining operations
on the flanks and able to render timely and effective assistance to troops in fortifying
themselves on the lines reached. The mistake of such reserves again emphasizes the
necessity of maximum motorization of engineer units. The Front engineer units, especially the
pontoon brigades, were in a serious situation with regard to motor vehicle transport.

8. As experience in the operation has shown, the rear establishments of the army, division and
brigade, whose duty it is to provide for the bringing up of all kinds of supplies as a rule, plan
last of all for the transport of engineer equipment and most often fail to transport it. In the
interests of the work, it is necessary to organize independent army engineer dumps and
have manual of transport at the entire disposal of the chief of the engineer troops of the army.


The Battle for Stalingrad : The 1943 Soviet General Staff Study : Edited by Louis Rotundo.