243rd Rifle Division
|243rd Rifle Division (26 June 1941 – 1945)|
|Engagements||Battle of Smolensk (1941)|
Battle of Moscow
Battles of Rzhev
Operation Little Saturn
Battle of the Dnieper
Nikopol–Krivoi Rog Offensive
First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive
Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive
Siege of Budapest
Soviet invasion of Manchuria
|Decorations||Order of the Red Banner|
|Col. Ya. G. Tsarkov|
Mjr. Gen. V. S. Polenov
Mjr. Gen. A. A. Kutsenko
Col. M. S. Tkachev
Col. N. N. Parfentev
The 243rd Rifle Division was one of a series of 15 divisions formed from cadres of NKVD border troops as standard Red Army rifle divisions, very shortly after the German invasion, in the Moscow Military District. It served in the heavy fighting around Smolensk in July, then later in the defensive operations around Kalinin. It then saw extensive service in the severe fighting around Rzhev, before being moved south in the winter of 1942-43. In the following winter the division was recognized for its role in the liberation of Nikopol, receiving that place name as an honorific. After battling through Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and Austria, the 243rd completed a very complex combat path by ending the war in Manchuria and earning a second honorific.
The 243rd Rifle Division began forming within days of the start of the German invasion on June 26, 1941, at Yaroslavl, in the Moscow Military District, based on a cadre of 1,500 officers and men of the NKVD Internal Troops. The remaining soldiers and officers came from the reserves. Although the initial order for its formation came from the NKVD, when it left for the front in early July it was completely under Red Army administration. Its order of battle was as follows:
- 906th Rifle Regiment
- 910th Rifle Regiment
- 912th Rifle Regiment
- 775th Artillery Regiment
- 303rd Antitank Battalion
- 413th Sapper Battalion
- 665th Signal Battalion
- 324th Reconnaissance Company
The 243rd was almost immediately committed to heavy fighting along the Western Dvina River north of Smolensk. On Aug. 28 the division was defending, backed by one battery of corps artillery. Two days later, with German XXXX Motorized Corps rampaging through 22nd Army's positions near Toropets, the division was ordered north to assist the neighboring army. By Sept. 2 it had reached and was digging in to its new positions, 10 – 18 km north of Zapadnaya Dvina. In a general assault by Western Front on Sept. 4-5, the 243rd was able to make some westward gains, including the village of Shatry and three hills, but by the second day, along with its army, the division was no longer capable of attacking due to high losses.
In the wake of the Soviet defeat in Operation Typhoon, Army Group Center was trying to exploit eastwards, but was being held up by lack of supplies, ongoing resistance by the tattered Red Army, and the autumn rains. XXXXI Motorized Corps was ordered to capture Kalinin, and from Oct. 8 - 14 ground its way forward to take the city. In response, on Oct. 17 Kalinin Front was established under command of Col. Gen. I.S. Konev, with the 243rd, along with its army, reassigned to this front; at this time the division was under the command of Col. Ya.G. Tsarkov. On that same day, his division was ordered, as part of the Right Group of the front, to cross the Volga at Staritsa and attack the supply lines of the German corps about 27 km south of the city. This was unsuccessful, but did serve to distract German attention from more serious threats. The 29th Army commander, Lt. Gen. I.I. Maslennikov, then disregarded his orders and moved his forces north on the west bank of the river, attempting to reach the enemy closer to the city. By Oct. 20 Maslennikov's army was entering the battle north of Kalinin, along the Torzhok road, and the 243rd helped form the southern prong encircling the 900th ''Lehr'' Brigade. By the end of the day, XXXXI Corps conceded that no further advance toward Torzhok was currently possible, and that its forces would have to withdraw to Kalinin; this turned out to be the first Soviet soil to be permanently liberated during the war. On this date the 243rd was reported as being in "quite satisfactory condition" with a total fighting strength of about 60%.
During the winter of 1941-42 the division remained in Kalinin Front, in either the 29th or 30th Army. The 243rd was in 30th Army during the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation. In August it liberated the village of Kopytikh, and in savage fighting repulsed 14 enemy counterattacks, and went on the attack itself eight times. Later that month it was transferred to Western Front along with the rest of 30th Army. The 243rd was reassigned to 20th Army, still in Western Front, in December, in the last gasps of Operation Mars, to help make one last desperate attempt to break the German positions and capture Sychyovka. On December 11 the relatively-fresh 243rd, backed by the 5th Tank Corps, which had been held in reserve, made an attack en masse alongside several other divisions, but together they made scanty gains of 500 - 1,000 metres at significant cost, and failed to capture a single German-held fortified village. Three days later, the offensive was shut down for good. In the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18 the division lost 748 men killed and 1,954 wounded, and 4 missing-in-action, for a total of 2,706 casualties.
Shift to the South
After the Rzhev battles, the 243rd went into the reserves of Western Front, then into the Reserve of the Supreme High Command for rebuilding. In a somewhat unusual move, the division was then railed southward in January, 1943, to join 3rd Guards Army in Southwestern Front, taking part in the later stages of Operation Little Saturn in 18th Rifle Corps. It remained in 3rd Guards until June. When the summer offensive began in July it was in 33rd Rifle Corps and moved with its corps successively to 1st Guards Army, 8th Guards Army, and 6th Army, all in Southwestern Front. From October, 1943 to February, 1944 the 243rd was back in 3rd Guards Army, now in 4th Ukrainian Front. On Feb. 8 the men and women of the division played a leading role in the liberation of Nikopol, and received the name of that city as an honorific.
In late February the 243rd was once again reassigned, back to 6th Army, which was now in 3rd Ukrainian Front. It the following months it participated in the liberation of right-bank Ukraine, pushing towards Odessa, but then being halted along the Dniestr River. On Apr. 22, Col. M.S. Tkachev took command of the division; at this time it was assigned to 66th Rifle Corps. On Apr. 25 the 243rd was in second echelon of a corps assault on the German strongpoint at Leontevo, which was helping to confine Soviet forces in their bridgehead over the Dniestr south of Tiraspol. This effort, which continued until the 28th, was unsuccessful.
On May 4, 6th Army was disbanded by the front commander, Gen. R.I. Malinovsky, and the 243rd was reassigned to 34th Guards Rifle Corps (which at this time contained no Guards divisions), in 5th Shock Army. This corps was then shifted to the north of Grigoriopol, being in position by May 10. The front's orders called for an ambitious operation in mid-May to eliminate a German bridgehead on the east bank of the Dniestr, then to cross the river and help encircle the enemy forces facing 8th Guards Army farther south. 34th Guards Corps had 23rd Tank Corps in support, and the 243rd was in first echelon. After a 30-minute artillery preparation on May 14, the assault smashed the defenses of the battle group of 17th Infantry Division holding the line, and within hours had cleared the long salient of German troops. However, the position proved to be a trap. While the attackers could now fire into the rear of the enemy forces facing 8th Guards Army, those forces were still strong enough to continue constricting that army's bridgehead. Meanwhile, the troops in the salient were supposed to continue their attack across the river, so they could not dig in, while they were taking fire from three sides. Within days it was clear that the position was untenable, and German counterattacks across the river had cut off the "bottle", forcing the remaining men to break out to their own lines. The 203rd Rifle Division, fighting alongside the 243rd, reported its highest casualties of any operation of the war; this was likely true for the 243rd as well.
At the start of the Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive in July, the division had been brought back up to strength, still in 5th Shock Army, which was now in 2nd Ukrainian Front. Shortly after the start of the offensive, it was reassigned to 53rd Army, where it served while fighting through Romania into Hungary. In early 1945 it was shifted to 7th Guards Army north of Budapest, and then joined the 50th Rifle Corps in support of the 1st Guards Cavalry-Mechanized Group dashing across Austria in the last weeks of the war in Europe.
As soon as Germany surrendered, the 243rd was sent east by rail, once again in 53rd Army, to the Transbaikal Front in Mongolia, in preparation for war with the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria. When the August campaign ended, the division was given credit for its performance by receiving the name of the Khingan mountain range as its second honorific, making the final full title of its men and women "243rd Rifle, Nikopol-Khingan, Order of the Red Banner Division". (Russian: 243-я стрелковая Никопольско-Хинганская Краснознамённая дивизия).
The division was disbanded in the fall of 1945 along with the 53rd Army.
- Walter S. Dunn, Stalin's Keys to Victory, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007, p 75
- Charles C. Sharp, "Red Tide", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed from June to December 1941, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, vol. IX, Nafziger, 1996, p 41
- Jack Radey & Charles C. Sharp, The Defense of Moscow 1941, Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, UK, 2012, p 17
- David M. Glantz, Barbarosa Derailed, vol. 2, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2012, pp 47, 145-48, 246, 280, 289-90
- Radey & Sharp, pp 17, 32, 52-54, 71-72, 78, 82, 106, 124, 128-29
- Svetlana Gerasimova, The Rzhev Slaughterhouse, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2013, p. 86
- Sharp, p. 41
- Glantz, Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1999, pp 253, 256, 264
- Glantz, After Stalingrad, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2009, p 90
- Glantz, After Stalingrad, p 162
- Sharp, p 41
- Glantz, Red Storm Over the Balkans, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2007, pp 152-55
- Glantz, Red Storm, pp 286-88, 304-14
- Sharp, p 41
- Sharp, pp 41-42
- Feskov et al 2013, p. 565
- Feskov, V.I.; Golikov, V.I.; Kalashnikov, K.A.; Slugin, S.A. (2013). Вооруженные силы СССР после Второй Мировой войны: от Красной Армии к Советской [The Armed Forces of the USSR after World War II: From the Red Army to the Soviet: Part 1 Land Forces] (in Russian). Tomsk: Scientific and Technical Literature Publishing. ISBN 9785895035306.