As promissed to David C. Clarke...
Following the reorganization after the Stalingrad campaign, the 1st Armored Division was made up of the:
-1st Tank Regiment: 1st Tank Battalion (3 companies), 2nd Assault Gun Battalion (3 companies), the command tank platoon
- 3rd Motorized Vanatori
- 4th Motorized Vanatori
- 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment
- Special Motorized Group (Recon Company and Motorized Pioneer Battalion)
- AT Artillery Battalion
The re-equipping wasn't complete at the time of the Soviet offensive. The Division had at its disposal on 19 August only 48 T.4 (Pz IV H) tanks, 12 TAs (StuG III G), 10 TACAM T-60, 12 AB (Sdkfz 222) and 24 TB (SPW 250 or 251). It was 22 tanks and assault guns short of the nominal strength.
The 1st Armored Division of Ritterkreuzträger
brig. gen. Radu Korne was stationed behind the Axis lines, north of Roman. Following the intense fighting in the sectors of the Romanian 1st and 5th Infantry Divisions, the 57th Panzer Corps prepared the 1st Armored Division Romania Mare
and the German 286th Assault Gun Brigade (of maj. Brausch) and the Kessel Group for intervention.
The Romanian division had been organized into several groupings:
1. Grouping A: the 1st Tank Regiment and the Special Motorized Group
2. Grouping B: the 3rd and 4th Motorized Vanatori
(infantry) Regiments, under the command of col. Constantin Nistor
3. Grouping C: the 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment, the divisional AA and AT artillery, commanded by col. Alexandru Constantinescu (CO of the 1st Artillery Regiment)
Early on 20 August 1944, at 0740 hours, the Jassy-Kishinev Operation began. The front was broken on the Bahlui Valley in the sector between Baltati and Letcani. The 1st Armored Division received the order to counterattack the Soviet columns that were pushing on southwards from Podu Iloaiei.
The recon platoons of the Motorized Recon Group of cpt. Mircea Ionescu, which was stationed at Doljesti, were sent on all probable directions on which the Soviets could have advanced. Some of them made contact with the enemy and after short skirmishes they pulled back.
The 1st Tank Regiment of col. Cristache Iliescu had to do the hard work and attack the flank of the advancing enemy forces and try to cut them off. However, it had been weakened by the decision to attach the 1st Assault Gun Company (CO slt. Radu Constantinescu) to the 3rd Motorized Vanatori
Regiment and the 3rd Assault Gun Company (CO cpt. Grabinski) to the 4th Vanatori
Regiment. The 2nd Company of cpt. Gheorghe Alexe had to act as flank guard in the Zmeu Obrejeni area. Thus the Regiment had at its disposal, for the strike, only the tank battalion and the command platoon, all T.4 tanks (Pz IV H). During the advance towards the fighting positions, the division's elements separated. The 1st Tank Regiment, reached the Crucea Hill, overlooking the Bahlui Valley and waited for the other parts of the division. It had lost radio contact with the Motorized Recon Group. After the artillery bombardment stopped, the regiment resumed the advance towards Podu Iloaiei. At 1000 hours, one kilometer south of Scobalteni, on the road from Dobroscani to Podu Iloaiei, they met up head on (and not from the flank as planned) with the Soviet armored spearhead. The Soviet forces were situated near the village and to the southwest, while the 1st Tank Regiment was deployed on both sides of the Doroscani – Podu Iloaiei.
The 1st Tank Company of lt. Alexandru Velican held the right flank of the regiment and was the first to enter the battle, because of the dominant position of the hill it was positioned on. The Soviet AT guns and tanks hidden in the outskirts of Scobalteni damaged and immobilized 3 tanks from this company. Lt. Velican stopped the advance and adopted a defensive formation. Soon several JS heavy tanks appeared in the Soviet lines and four of them advanced toward the Romanian lines in open field, but were knocked out by the concentrated fire of the 1st and 2nd Tank Companies. The battle raged for hours with high casualties on both sides. An estimated 34 tanks and assault guns were lost by the Romanian regiment by nightfall. At around 1400 hours, a company of TBs (SPW 250 armored personnel carriers), stumbled upon the tank battle and helped evacuate the wounded from the field and provided close infantry support. Up until 1900 hours the 1st Tank Regiment had managed to hold off the Soviet advance from Scobalteni southwards. The tanks had already been resupplied with ammunition four times. A Soviet detachment made up of one tank company and one assault gun platoon tried to go around the left flank of the Romanian positions, but ran into the 2nd Assault Gun Company near Obrejeni. Lt. Virgil Petrescu had taken over command, as cpt. Alexe apparently wasn't there, and engaged the small Soviet column and destroyed much of it. However, another detachment went around the right flank of the 1st Tank Regiment. At 1900 hours, three aircraft dropped smoke bombs over the tanks. In the confusion created a Soviet tank formation rushed in on the road, while the Romanians were unable to fire, for fear of hitting their comrades on the other side. Thus, at nightfall, the regiment was encircled.
The tanks regrouped on the right side of the road, where the 1st Company had been initially deployed. The officers and top NCOs gathered to discuss the situation and find a solution. The chief communications officer reported that a BBC communiqué mentioned the fact that the 1st Armored Division was destroyed and that the remains had been captured. The decision was to retreat off-road under the cover of darkness, take advantage on the good knowledge of the terrain in the area. Cpt. Grigore Grigorescu (CO of the 2nd Tank Company) and lt. Ilie Vasilescu (CO of the 3rd Tank Company), whose tank had been destroyed, were missing. In their absence, command was assumed by slt. Ion Dumitru and lt. Stefan Stoenescu respectively.
Two tank columns were organized, with the 7 TBs in the middle. The retreat route was Scobalteni – Harpasesti – Madarjac – Ghidionu – Roman. They left at 2330 hours on 20 August. While trying to go around Harpasesti, the columns came under fire from the Soviet tanks in Doroscani (the formation that had passed through the regiment earlier that day). No tanks were lost, as it was mostly a blind bombardment because of the darkness and of the artificial fog. The columns mixed up initially and then got separated, around Madarjac.
The other element of the 1st Tank Regiment, the 2nd Assault Gun Company, had lost the radio contact with the regiment and in the evening retreated on its own initiative southwards towards Madarjac and Bojila.
The other units of the 1st Armored Division also saw action on 20 August 1944. The 3rd Motorized Vanatori
Regiment of col. Ion Ivan was stationed at Iugani. It crossed the Siret River at Miclauseni, where it met up with the 1st Assault Gun Company sent to strengthen it. It entered the Frumoasa Valley [the Beatiful Valley] and advanced on it up to about 6 km SW of Podu Iloaiei, where it made the first contact with the Soviet mechanized spearheads, at around 1000 hours, similarly with the 1st Tank Regiment more to the east. The regiment dismounted and took up defensive positions. Soon the Soviet forces in front of it attacked, but were repulsed. In the evening, the regiment started to retreat, but the maneuver was noticed on the Soviet side and an artillery barrage started. Because of the poor visibility, it was ineffective, but managed to create enough confusion for one of the vanatori
battalions to separate from the regiment and head towards Madarjac. It also dragged along several artillery pieces of the 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment, a 75mm Resita AT gun battery and several TAs (StuG III G) from the 1st Tank Regiment. This detachment, under the command of Ritterkreuzträger
lt. col. Gheorghe Rascanescu, the regiment's deputy commander, dug in and created an new defense line from Manastirea de Sud – Bojila – Frumusica – Madarjac – Slobozia. The bulk of the regiment retreated back the road it came through Miclauseni. From there it headed to Roman through Traian. It arrived at destination during the night of 20/21 August and established a defensive line near the city, in order to secure the retreat of the troops of the Romanian 1st Corps.
The 4th Motorized Vanatori
Regiment of col. Petrea also crossed the Siret at Miclauseni, but, as it was supposed to act as the right flank of the Motorized Brigade, it continued eastwards over the Crucea Hill and then headed northwards towards the Bahlui Valley. It made contact with the enemy forces probably in the area around Zmeu and fell back, followed closely by Soviet forces. They ran into the artillery support column provided by Grouping C. The battalion of the 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment equipped with 105 mm Schneider model 1936 guns dismounted and immediately opened fire, separating the Soviet tanks from the infantry and allowing the Romanian tank hunters to get close to them and knock out several of them with their Faustpatrone. The attack was repulsed and the situation calmed down in the sector. In the evening the 4th Regiment retreated to the Trei Parale Forest, but again in confusion because of the Soviet fire and the poor visibility in the valley and some units strayed away from the main column.
The 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment and the AT and AA batteries subordinated to the Grouping C were divided to provide support to the two vanatori
regiments and at the end of the day were scattered around the area. Some batteries retreated with the detachment of lt. col. Rasconescu to Madarjac, others went through the Trei Parale Forest to Bara Targ, the light AA and AT batteries headed to the same point, but went through Stornesti.
(to be continued)Note
: The map was made by me, using as basis two images on the excellent http://www.hartionline.ro
site. For reasons related to the fact that it occupied precious space I had to remove the copyright text (c)Soft Agency http://www.hartionline.roBibliography:
Cornel Scafes, Horia Serbanescu, Ioan Scafes, Cornel Andonie, Ioan Danila, Romeo Avram: Armata Romana 1941-1945
, RAI, 1996
Ion S. Dumitru: Tancuri in flacari
, Nemira, 1999
Vasile Ienceanu: Pedepsiti sa invinga
, Fundatia General Stefan Gusa, 1998
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