Monday, March 16, 2015

Soviet WWII Naval Infantry

Due to the nature of the war with Germany the Soviet Navy took a back seat during the Great Patriotic War (WWII). However, one of the areas they were able to contribute greatly was with personnel. Excess personnel was formed into either Naval Infantry (Morskaya Pekhota) battalions organised by the Red Navy or Naval Rifle (Morskaya Strelkovy) battalions formed by the Red Army. Large formations (regiments and brigades) were assembled from these.

During Naval Infantry’s early battles in 1941 and 1942 they showed high morale by their sheer willingness to accept high casualties during the desperate fighting for their own naval bases. Their stubborn tenacity unnerved the Germans, leading them to be nicknamed the ‘Black Death’ by their German foes because of this and their black uniforms.

The Naval Rifle Brigades were raised in the desperate times of 1941 and 1942. ‘Surplus’ Naval officers and NCOs would be used to create what were essentially small infantry divisions. Usually up to 50% of the troops were also naval personnel with the remaining troops being conscripts. Each brigade had scouts, sappers, a machine-gun company and artillery. As these units had naval experience, they were an obvious choice for amphibious landings. Usually there were no dedicated landing craft available and the Soviet Navy would requisition civilian craft to land their troops.

A number of these units were still fighting in 1944 to 1945.

83rd Naval Infantry Brigade
The 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade was formed in August 1942 at Novorossiysk from the 16th, 144th and 305th Naval Infantry Battalions (Morskaya Pekhota Batalons). It was initially designated the 2nd Brigade, but was re-designated the 83rd during its formation.

During February 1943 the brigade took part in the amphibious operations to seize Novorossiysk and threaten the flank of the German troops in the Taman peninsula. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful, but did carve out a small beachhead across the bay from Novorossiysk and the main Soviet lines. The beachhead became famous as the ‘Malaya Zemlya’ or ‘Little Land’ which Soviet troops held for almost seven months behind the German lines in 1943.

On 9 September 1943 another, this time successful, amphibious landing was made to take Novorossiysk, They took the city on 16 September. The landing was supported by artillery from across the bay and the brigade earned the honorific title ‘Novorossiyskaya’ for their part in the action.

In November the 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade was part of the 18th Landing Army that made an amphibious landing on the Kerch Peninsula of the Crimea. The 18th Landing Army retook the peninsula and pushed the defending Axis troops back into the Crimea.

They took part in the furious fighting for the Crimea that followed in early 1944 as part of the Separate Coastal Army. In August 1944 they were transferred to the 3rd Ukrainian Front and operated on the Danube River in support of the offensives into Romania and Hungary.

The 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade preformed one of the last amphibious landings of the war in the east on the 26 March 1945 when the 144th battalion made an assault across the Danube into Budapest. The Danube Flotilla (formally the Volga Flotilla) landed them in the city with over 500 men, two 45mm guns, seven mortars, six heavy and 20 light machine-guns where they took part in the final clearing of the city of Axis resistance.

By April 1945 they were attached to the 5th Guards Tank Army, riding tanks into the Czechoslovakian capital of Prague. 115th Naval Infantry Brigade Little information is available for this brigade, but it is likely that were formed from surplus Naval personnel from the Baltic Fleet in 1941. The took part in the amphibious landing near Merküla in early 1944 to out flank the German III SS-Panzerkorps on the Narva River.

255th Naval Rifle Brigade
This brigade was form in September 1942 from the 1st Naval Infantry Brigade by the Black Sea Fleet. It was formed with the independent 14th, 142nd and 322nd Naval Infantry Battalions and the 726th (Coast Defence) Artillery Battery. The 255th Brigade was the sister formation to the 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade. Both brigades were formed in Novorossiysk and later fought for the city and took part in the landings that formed the beachhead ‘Malaya Zemlya’ or ‘Little Land’ across the bay from Novorossiysk. For its part in the liberation it was honoured with the title ‘Tamanskoi’.

The 255th Brigade also took part in the landings and fighting for the Crimea and fought alongside the 83rd during the liberation of the Crimean Peninsula.

After Crimea the 255th Brigade took part in operations in the western Black Sea to take Varna and Burgas in Bulgaria in 1944. It ended the war with the 37th Army in Bulgaria.

260th Naval Infantry Brigade
The 260th Naval Infantry was formed in late 1942 from the 4th Naval Infantry Brigade by the Baltic Fleet. It contained the 304th, 306th and 314th Naval Infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, a mortar battalion, a sapper company, signals and medical units. Because the 260th Brigade was still under direct command of the Navy, like the 115th Brigade, the records of their service are patchy. However, in 1944 they spearheaded the amphibious assault to outflank the German III SS-Panzerkorps on the Narva River. They, along with the 115th Brigade, landed near Merküla on 14 February 1944 in the rear flank of the Germans defending the line on the Narva River, while the 2nd Shock Army advanced on the defenders front. There landing was hampered by poor communications and the landing was unable to take full advantage of their flanking manoeuvre.

They were next recorded in action against the Finns taking part in an amphibious landing near Vyborg on 20 June 1944. From 27 September they spearheaded amphibious operations to clear the islands in the Gulf of Riga. There they fought alongside the Red Army’s 8th and 109th Rifle Corps. Fighting on the gulf islands lasted until November 1944.

In April 1945 they took part in the last amphibious landings of Soviet forces on the eastern front. On 25-26 April the 260th Brigade formed a composite regiment with elements of the 13th Guards Rifle Corps and landed on Frishche Nehrung, the low sandy lowlands to the west of Königsberg in East Prussia. The 260th Brigade still had troops clearing the area when the war ended in May 1945.

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