“Kliment Vorosilov”: the story of one of the most famous Soviet “heavies”
The history of the KV-2 tank and its combat path was not very long, but unusual from the very beginning. For example, this type of tank was not officially adopted by the Red Army separately, after the adoption of the Klim Voroshilov tank on December 19, 1939. It was also his first time participating in combat, being represented by only a few prototypes.
As is known, heavy KV tanks were standardly armed with 76 mm guns and DT machine guns. However, in the conditions of the Soviet-Finnish War, the military council of the North-Western Front (which included People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR K.E. Voroshilov, who gave these heavy vehicles their name) put forward a proposal: to equip KV tanks with 152-mm howitzers. The fire of large-caliber guns was supposed to ensure a breakthrough of powerful fortifications on the Finnish border; The M-10 howitzer mod. was chosen as a weapon. 1938. The new gun required the installation of a new turret, which is why these tanks were later called “KV with a large turret” in documents even more often than the KV-2.
On February 10, 1940, a new artillery system based on the KV U-0 tank (U stands for “installation series”, and the number zero meant an experimental (zero) sample) was tested, and a few days later the first two tanks of the new type went to Karelia, where the front lay at that moment. On February 15, upon arrival at the Perkjärvi station, the vehicles set off under their own power to the location of the 20th heavy tank brigade, but this march was interrupted by extraneous sounds in the operation of their diesel engines – suspicious, since they could indicate sabotage. As a result, the tanks had to be towed for the next 10 kilometers. Checking and repairing the engines took several more days. The experimental KVs went into battle only on February 25, but the result of their combat debut showed that their expectations were not in vain.
“The enemy successfully used forty-ton tanks and broke through our defenses. The enemy’s artillery destroyed the Marianna,” admitted the officers of the 14th Infantry Regiment of the Finnish Army. Heavy Soviet tanks went on the attack after the sappers, supporting the advance of the 245th Infantry Regiment, whose task was to occupy the village of Honkaniemi. A Finnish anti-tank gun was knocked out by KV fire, and the T-26 and T-28 crews and the riflemen themselves joined the attack. By evening, the regiment reached the northern outskirts of the station and secured a foothold there. At the end of February, another tank with a 152-mm howitzer left for the front, but the next one was prepared for combat tests on March 13, 1940, but did not have time to be sent to the war – it ended the day before.
The documents preserve the listed hits on experienced KVs during their baptism of fire – scars on the armor of tanks: “Tank KV No. 0 (U-0). Upper frontal plate – 3 hits, lower frontal plate – 2 hits… Starboard side – 3 hits, left side – 1 hit… Tank KV No. 1U (U-1). There are no direct shell hits, there are scratches from an exploding large-caliber shell.”
It was assumed that the Kirov Plant would produce fifty KVs (with both types of turrets) during 1940, but in June, by decree of the party and government, the task for the production of these tanks was increased to 230 vehicles. By the end of the summer, KV-2s accounted for approximately half of the assembled heavy vehicles (24 out of 52), and at the same time the need to refine the design of large turrets became completely obvious: they were too heavy, the large mass made rotation difficult, etc. A new version of the turret for the 152- mm M-10 howitzer was named “large low”, and in the fall it successfully passed field tests. The task for the production of these towers was issued to the Izhora plant, and the Kirov plant already produced 25 KV-2 tanks in November 1940. 62 vehicles of this type were accepted for acceptance in December of the same year. However, a number of technical shortcomings identified in tanks from November-December 1940 led to the suspension of their production until May 1941 – the eve of the Great Patriotic War.
By June 22, 1941, KV-2s were available in the Baltic, Western and Kiev special military districts, as well as literally several more vehicles in the Leningrad, Moscow and Volga military districts. A chronicle of the combat path of each of the vehicles after the start of the war would go far beyond the scope of the article, but the documents of many units and formations of the Red Army, in which the crews of the KV-2 tanks fought in the first days and weeks of the Great Patriotic War, were irretrievably lost. In surviving documentary sources, KVs were often not divided into tanks with a small or large turret. The most famous example of this is the question of which KV crew blocked the road to Raseiniai on June 24, 1941 and cut off part of the German troops from the main forces of the 6th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht. There, tankers fought bravely on both the KV-1 and KV-2, in difficult conditions of lack of ammunition and fuel, under fire and air raids… At the same time, in the public consciousness, a single heavy Soviet tank became the symbol of those battles. And, as researcher M.V. Kolomiets established, the famous “Raseiniai KV” was a “Klim Voroshilov” tank with a small turret, that is, the KV-1. However, historians also have something to tell about the battles of the Great Patriotic War with the participation of the KV-2.
Formations of the 6th Mechanized Corps on the evening of June 22 were ordered to launch a counterattack on the enemy group in the Suwalki area with the aim of occupying the area. The desperate situation led to the actions of the Soviet tank divisions on the verge of self-denial: they attacked German troops after marching to a deployment line of up to 150 kilometers, with almost no infantry or artillery support. Enemy formations, reinforced by two artillery divisions and “covered” by actively operating aviation, largely repelled the counterattack, inflicting heavy losses on the troops of the 6th Mechanized Corps. And, although there are no documentary sources directly on the use of the KV-2 in this battle, according to the commander of the Soviet 4th Tank Division, General Potaturchev, who was captured by the Germans: “Light German anti-tank guns were ineffective against heavy Russian tanks.”
On June 25, the 6th Mechanized Corps left the battle and advanced to Slonim according to the order of the front commander, General Pavlov, who belatedly hoped to repel the advance of Guderian’s troops with the help of tankers. Over the course of 24 hours, Soviet divisions crossed the Svisloch River one after another, and the crews of KV-2 tanks also fought as part of the units covering their retreat to Slonim.
Then, on June 27, 1941, a single heavy tank of the Red Army held back units of the German 263rd Infantry Division near the village of Lesnyaki near Volkovysk, Grodno region, for at least several hours. The enemy troops could neither get around the car due to the very muddy terrain along the road, nor move it out of the way. “A 52-ton tank with a 12.2 cm cannon blocked the road along which the march took place. Our 3.7 and 5 cm guns were powerless. And then the commander of the assault gun of the 226th division entered the battle, but his 7.5 cm caliber gun did not cause noticeable damage to the tank. It was only possible to jam the turret and damage the chassis of the KV-2, says a work on the history of the 263rd Infantry Division by Heinz Krieger. — As a result, angry that he could not do anything with the Russian tank, the commander of the assault gun went to ram the KV-2. The brave Russian crew did not give up and resisted to the end.”
Historian M.V. Kolomiets, who cited this expressive quote in his book, delicately suggested leaving on Krieger’s conscience the mention of the ramming of the KV-2 by a German self-propelled gun: the latter most likely received more serious damage as a result of the impact. On the evening of the next day, enemy troops were in Volkovysk, but still the KV-2 crew fought at Lesnyaki to the last. True, this combat episode today is not as well known as the feat of the Red Army tank crews near Raseiniai.
By the end of June there were still KVs on the Western Front, but it is impossible to say for sure how many vehicles were equipped with a large turret and a 152 mm howitzer. According to enemy information, they led Soviet forces in an attempt to break out of encirclement to Slonim. The main roads were cut off by the Germans, and the swampy terrain was not conducive to the passage of heavy tanks, which sometimes became hopelessly bogged down in the swamps. Several more KV-2s were transferred directly from the railway tracks to the 24th Rifle Division of the 21st Rifle Corps. On June 26, 1941, troops of the corps counterattacked the 57th Tank Corps of the Wehrmacht near Lida. The blow delivered by the Red Army with the support of the KV-2 was strong, after which the German 19th Panzer Division rolled back approximately 8 kilometers. As the enemy staff noted, their anti-tank guns and light field howitzer guns were unable to inflict effective damage on the heavy Soviet tanks. One of the KV-2s that was repeatedly fired upon was stopped, and the Germans could not tow it with the available means.
KV-2 tanks from the 7th Mechanized Corps were used during a desperate counterattack near Senno in order to stop the advance of enemy tank formations. The KV levers in this battle were operated by driver mechanics with experience driving only light T-26s; the swampy terrain complicated the operations of heavy tanks, and in addition, one after another they failed due to breakdowns of the chassis. The KV-2 crews that reached the line of the Chernogostnitsa River fought until the tanks were shot by superior enemy forces, and the tank crews themselves were sometimes burned out in their vehicles.
On the Southwestern Front, the first KV-2s were vehicles of the 41st Tank Division of the 22nd Mechanized Corps. Moreover, during the first days of the war, it was actually fragmented between other units and formations, to which tank units were transferred, including those containing KV tanks. Heavy vehicles sometimes played an important role in supporting and covering the troops of the Red Army – as, for example, at the crossing of the Styr River at Rozhishche: there the KV-2 crew “met enemy motorized infantry, fired at it with a machine gun and crushed the car, met cyclists, fired at it and crushed it.” five bicycles, the infantry fled. He was attacked by two enemy tanks armed with 20 mm cannons, the enemy tanks fled from the battlefield…” Thanks to the tankers, the crossing of the 1st Anti-Tank Brigade and the 27th Rifle Corps, which were retreating in battle, was ensured. A few days later, the 22nd Mechanized Corps took part in a massive counterattack in the direction of Dubno, which delayed the advance of enemy troops, but resulted in heavy losses for the Red Army. The chief of staff of the 41st Tank Division in June 1941, K. A. Malygin, recalled: “I approached the only heavy tank out of eighteen that remained on the move, commanded by twenty-three-year-old Lieutenant Pyotr Sinegub. The car resembled a wounded beast. The turret’s armor was scratched, stuck armor-piercing shells were stuck in the howitzer’s mantlet, and the engine could barely pull. Having examined the car, Sinegub, with tears in his eyes, lovingly patted its armor – it was saved, they say, by my dear!”
The crews of ten KV tanks, including three KV-2s, as part of the 3rd Tank Division of the 1st Mechanized Corps, took part in the attack of German troops in Ostrov, an important transport hub, a city on the Velikaya River fifty kilometers south of Pskov. On the morning of July 5, 1941, the tankers fought into the city, on the streets of which they fought for the next ten hours – under fire from artillery guns and rocket-propelled mortars, air raids, and without infantry support. All three KVs with a large turret were hit by the Germans, after which the crews disabled the guns and optics of the vehicles and abandoned them (the Soviet troops had no way to evacuate the tanks anyway).
Two more KV-2 tanks as part of the 1st Tank Division were lost in Karelia in the summer of 1941. Crews of the Leningrad Armored Command Improvement Courses fought near Leningrad on the KV-2. During the week from 14 to 21 July, the regiment lost nine of its ten heavy tanks. At the end of the summer of 1941, several KV-2s, which had previously arrived at the Kirov plant for repairs, were included in the 1st Tank Division, which fought near the northern capital. Later, one of these tanks was used during the battles on the Nevsky Piglet. The last KV-2 on the Leningrad Front on December 6, 1941, “having broken through the enemy’s dugout… got stuck and its track was broken. On the night of December 6-7, 1941, the KV-2 supported the infantry attack with fire from the spot (12 shells were fired).” The tank was subsequently evacuated.
Only one copy of the KV-2 has survived to this day, now located on the site of the Central Museum of the Armed Forces in Moscow. Perhaps this particular tank was listed in the training regiment of the Leningrad Front until 1944 – if so, then the KV-2 can be considered a long-lived tank of the Great Patriotic War. And without a doubt, these tanks, very original, intended to break through the enemy’s fortified defenses, but used mainly in field battles, not without technical shortcomings, as well as the selflessly fighting crews of these tanks, played an important role in the most difficult moment of the war for the Red Army.
Andrey Maralsky, Yuri Bakhurin
Sources and literature
- Documents of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.
- Antonov V. A. Battle for the Island: the unknown drama of the first days of the war // Warspot.ru. 07/04/2015. [ https://warspot.ru/3429-boy-za-ostrov-neizvestnaya-drama-pervyh-dney-voyny ].
- Irincheev B. Tanks in the Winter War. M., 2013.
- Kolomiets M.V. Heavy tank KV-2. Stalin’s “invulnerable” colossus. M., 2011.
- Malygin K. A. In the center of the battle formation. M., 1986.
- Scheibert H. Stalin’s Giants KV-I & KV-II. West Chester, PA, 1992.