As I promised, here are details about the actions of the 249th Rifle Division.
The following information comes from: Larin, P. Eesti laskurkorpus Suures Isamaasõjas. Nõukogude armee 8. Eesti Laskurkorpuse võitlustee 1941 – 1945. Tallinn, 1962. Pp. 72 – 90. It’s a Soviet-Estonian history about the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps. This is the main source, but I have consulted also: Eesti rahvas Nõukogude Liidu Suures Isamaasõjas 1941 – 1945. I köide. Tallinn, 1971. Pp. 324 – 327. This is a Soviet-Estonian history about Estonians in the the Great Patriotic War.
After the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps arrived to the area of Velikie Luki, the 7th Rifle Division was deployed on 10th December against the surrounded garrison. The elements of the division took positions on the eastern and southern edge of Velikie Luki.
The 249th Rifle Division was deployed on 13th December on the line Zarechye – Kalinkino – Fishkovo – lake Kisloe. The division did not have contact with the enemy since it was deployed in the second eshelon of the 5th Guards Rifle Corps. In front of the 249th Rifle Division was the 381st Rifle Division. This division’s front line was 2 – 3 kilometers in front of the 249th Rifle Division’s front. The 381st Rifle Division repulsed all German deblocking attempts and so the 249th Rifle did not have any direct contact with the enemy.
On 17th December the 917th Rifle Regiment/249th Rifle Division was sent to reinforce the 357th Rifle Division which acted on the western edge of Velikie Luki.
Because the Soviet command feared that the Germans may try to deblock the city with an offensive from South-West of Velikie Luki, on 19th December the 249th Rifle Division was deployed to the line Zhitova – Donesjevo. However on the same day the division was sent to new position and by 20th December it was deployed on the line Burtsevo – Alekseikovo – Markova. On the front Burtsevo – Alekseikovo was the the 921st Rifle regiment and left to it was the 925th Rifle Regiment. Plus on the very right flank of the division there was the Zukker’s Group: one company of the 162nd Independent Machine Gun Battalion, 3rd Company/Independent Ski Battalion and 2 AT guns. The Independent Training Battalion and rest of the 307th Independent Anti-Tank Divizion remained in reserve. Also on this line the 249th Rifle Division at first did not have direct contact with the enemy since in front of the division was the 19th Guards Rifle Division.
In the evening of 20th December the Germans managed to break through from the front of 22nd Guards Rifle Regiment and attacked the 1st Battalion/921st Rifle Regiment, but were repulsed and left two damaged tanks. In the night of 21st December the 3rd Battalion/921st Rifle Regiment was pulled to the reserve of the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps (one can only wonder why the command weakened this area of the front at the same time when strong German attacks were waited – Reigo). In the morning of 21st December German infantry came to attack but was repulsed. At 15 o’clock the Germans attacked again, this time with tanks. The blow was aimed between the 1st and 2nd Battalion/921st Rifle Regiment. The Germans managed to break through the front and captured Alekseikovo. The 921st Rifle Regiment tried to counter attack “with the remaining forces” (as the source puts – Reigo), but failed and had to retreat under the cover of darkness. The divisonal commander now sent to the battle his reserve – the 2nd Battalion/925th Rifle Regiment but battalion’s counter attack failed completely. The battalion was surrounded, part of the men were captured by the enemy, but the main part of the battalion broke through (so the Soviet source claims. The source also admits that “individual men changed side” – Reigo) Now to the front were sent also the Independent Training Battalion (the battalion was for training NCOs and had at this moment around 300 men, 3 HMGs, 7 LMGs, 6 AT rifles), and elements from the 162nd Independent Machine Gun Battalion and 307th Anti-Tank Division. This combat group managed to stop the enemy. In the morning of 22nd December the Soviet 44th and 45th Light Tank Brigades counter attacked in this sector and pushed the Germans back. The 249th Rifle Division lost now direct contact with the enemy and was right there pulled back from the front and was sent against the German surrounded garrison in Velikie Luki (a strange decision considering the dangerous situation on the outer front – Reigo). Only the Independent Training Battalion together with the elements of the 162nd Independent Machine Gun Battalion and Zukker’s Group (3rd Company/ Independent Ski Battalion, one company/162nd Independent Machine Gun Battalion and 2 AT guns) were left to the front. They were subordinated to the 19th Guards Rifle Division. The Independent Training Battalion took over the positions of the 921st Rifle Regiment and right after that in the morning of 22nd December the Germans attacked battalion’s left flank, but this attack was repulsed with the help of the fire of the neighbouring 48th Rifle Brigade. Before noon the Germans attacked the 1st Company of the Battalion which was on the right flank, but were repulsed with the help of mortar and artillery fire. In the night of 23rd December the Germans attacked again the battalion, but retreated after 3 hour fight. On the day of 23rd December the Germans attacked with the support of 5 tanks and managed to break into the positions of the battalion. The 1st Company ceased to exist completely (according to Soviet version there were no survivors, but I think we can doubt in this – Reigo) and the battalion lost majority of its men. The Germans did not however manage to achieve breakthrough (the sources leave this unclear who stopped the Germans if the whole battalion was practically destroied – Reigo). By 24th December the remnants of the battalion were pulled away from the front. On 27th December the battalion was “recreated” (as the source puts it – Reigo) when new men were given to it and after that the battalion was sent against the surrounded garrison.
And now let’s give also the details according to Arnold Meri (http://voina.com.ru/mem/meri.html
): when the elements of the 249th Rifle Division arrived to the position behind the 19th Guards Rifle Division (that must be 20th December – Reigo), they were informed that during one-two days they must prepare fortifications because it is feared that the Germans will achieve breakthrough on this direction. But the men were tired and it was decided that the fortification works will be started on the next morning. The men built temporary cover and went to sleep. But in the morning, when they were still sleeping, the Germans had broken through (I guess the sleepers didn’t hear anything – Reigo) and before sunrise there were already enemy infantry and tanks in the location of the 2nd Battalion/921st Rifle Regiment. So many men were captured by Germans without resistance. But many continued to resist and during the next 5-6 days about 250 men of this battalion returned through the German lines to the Soviet side. And that’s the story of so called desertion to the Germans. Meri himself wasn’t there but heard about everything from other persons.
Now compare this story to the previous text, based completely on Soviet sources. The only conclusion can be that Meri’s version is somekind mixture of fantasy, bad memory and things that happened (for example one battalion was according to Soviet sources indeed surrounded, but this was the 2nd Battalion/925th Rifle Regiment and the men of this battalion weren’t sleeping but counter-attacking. Did they really attack the Germans or just run over, is another question.)
Now let’s conclude: the 249th Rifle Division (two rifle regiments, since one was earlier deployed against the Velikie Luki) had combat contact with the enemy less than two days. And during this time only the 921st Rifle Regiment (about 2 000 men? – Reigo) really had more or less constant combat contact with the enemy, but remember that one battalion of the regiment was pulled away from the front after the first clash with the enemy. For short time also the 2nd Battalion/925th Rifle Regiment (about 600 men? – Reigo) had direct contact with the enemy during which was surrounded. The Independent Training Battalion (about 300 men) had direct contact with the enemy 3 days. There were also some more companies which had combat contact with the enemy for a short time. Considering this 1 800 POWs (taken arguably by the Germans) seems to be quite a lot. It can be said that most of these were taken on the outer front, since surely not many people deserted to the surrounded garrison and even less probably managed to get out from there eventually (it is claimed that some amount of them were transported out on planes). But of course it should be noted that the number 1 800 surely includes also some amount of those men who were captured against their own will.
It is interesting also that the 7th Rifle Division which acted only against the Velikie Luki lost out of the whole number of casualties (KIA/WIA/MIA) 14,6% as MIA whereas the 249th Rifle Division lost 24,7% as MIA.
And now let’s speculate if the whole corps would have been deployed on the outer front. The Corps had alltogether 27 311 men. Over 10% of them were Russians. Part of the Estonians were born in Soviet Union and had not lived in Estonia. But there was a bit more than 20 000 men who were conscripted in Estonia, who had seen the Red year 1940-41 and who had survived the Soviet labour units. Of course also amongst them were communists or their symphatizers. There were also those who did not like Soviets but considered Germans worse than the Soviets. And there were also probably those who did not want to fight on any side. However I am sure a big part (maybe even over a half) of the 20 000 men would have deserted to the Germans when they would have had a chance. Remember also that the Stalingrad battle had not ended yet, so the German defeat wasn’t necessarily seen as inevitable to an ordinary soldier.
It should be noted that on the map 1 the arrow represents German breakthrough in January, when there was no Estonian units on the outer front.
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