Osprey's Red Christmas:
The Tatsinskyaya Airfield Raid - 1942
80 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
The Soviet winter of 1942/43 was not a good one for the German Army. They had reached as far as Stalingrad and were stalled out. What was worse, the Soviet Army had managed to surround 6 Armee and remnants of other forces totaling some 275,000 troops. Attempts to break out had not worked and there were insufficient external forces to break in. The only real way to supply these troops was by air, but that only brought in a small percentage of what was needed. Yet the Luftwaffe, never really fat with cargo planes, had sent most of its transports and converted bombers to two airfields within reach of the trapped troops at Stalingrad. Despite the horrendous cold that took its toll on aircraft as well as well placed Soviet anti-aircraft guns, enough was provided to keep them fighting.
Meanwhile, the Soviets had to figure a way to stop this. Soviet air power was not strong enough to prevent most planes from getting through and so a raid was planned.
Stepping into the 'little bit way-back' machine, we learn that there was doctrine in place in the Soviet army prior to Stalin's paranoid purge for what was known as Deep Battle. This is where a large force was sent tens or even hundreds of kilometers behind the front lines to engulf the enemy and deprive it of its line of supply. It was even practiced during the late 1930s, using tank and infantry forces with a follow on of an army and supplied. Unfortunately, the purges either killed or set to gulags most of the men who were proficient in this type of battle.
However, it is this type of raid that was needed and one was planned to attack and destroy the two German airfields at Tatsinskaya and Morozovskaya, a distance of some 230 km behind the lines. This became Operation Saturn and began on 16 December 1942. Part of the requirement for success was to break through the German lines at a point that was thinly defended and hope on surprise.
This part went well and the Soviet troops were well on their way. However, no one had ever done a raid like this and the leadership was somewhat less than experienced. I will not ruin the book for you as it is truly one of a combination of good luck and bad planning. In the end, the Soviets did manage to make their way to the airfield at Tatsinskaya while the group split off to attack Morozovskaya never made it all the way.
At Tatsinskaya, the few remaining Soviet tanks got on the airfield during a snow storm and while half the German aircraft managed to get off the ground, many did not and many were destroyed. As the Germans fled, the Soviets either destroyed or looted all of the supplied stored there with many of the soldiers, numb from the cold and poorly fed, feasting on supplies of food, forgetting about killing Germans until they were well sated. The base was thoroughly trashed by the Soviets so that once they left, there was nothing left for the Germans to use.
Having succeeded in destroying one base, the remnants were down to only a few tanks and little other transportation, having grossly underestimated the supplied needed. None were sent as replacements, despite the Soviets having a reasonably good transport air arm. Typically, Stalin decided to do nothing about helping the units sent in, now that they had done their job. They were left to get back the best way they could.
So in the end, though the attack units were pretty well decimated, they had partially accomplished their mission. The theory of Deep Battle was put on hold again until later in the war when there was greater logistic support and then it worked very well. The Germans never returned to those air fields, were unable to break through to Stalingrad and the defeat of 6 Armee was assured a few months later.
This is one of those events few military enthusiasts have ever heard of. It makes for a gripping tale and is superbly told by author Robert Forczyk. A book most well worth reading and one that I can highly recommend to you.
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