50th Army (Soviet Union)
Lt. Gen. Ivan Boldin in 1941-42
|Active||August 1941 - October 1945|
|Part of||Bryansk Front
1st Belorussian Front
2nd Belorussian Front
3rd Belorussian Front
|Engagements||Battle of Smolensk (1941)
Battle of Moscow
Battle of Smolensk (1943)
East Prussian Offensive
Battle of Königsberg
The 50th Army was a Soviet field army during World War II. It was formed in mid-August, 1941 and deployed on the southwest approaches to Moscow. Partly encircled and destroyed by German Second Panzer Army in the opening stages of Operation Typhoon, enough of the army escaped that it could be reinforced to successfully defend the city of Tula in November. It was at this time that the 50th came under the command of Lt. Gen. I.V. Boldin, who continued in command until February, 1945. During most of its career the army was relatively small and accordingly served in secondary roles. It finished the war in East Prussia, under the command of Lt. Gen. F.P. Ozerov, as part of 3rd Belorussian Front.
The Army became active on Aug. 16, 1941 along the Desna River as part of the newly-forming Bryansk Front. The Army's first commander, Mjr. Gen. M.P. Petrov, issued his Combat Order No. 1 on that date. In it, he recorded the composition of the 50th Army as follows:
- 217th Rifle Division
- 258th Rifle Division
- 260th Rifle Division
- 269th Rifle Division
- 279th Rifle Division
- 280th Rifle Division
- 55th Cavalry Division
- Artillery regiments of 2nd and 20th Rifle Corps
- 753rd and 761st Antitank Regiments
- 86th Separate Antiaircraft Battalion
- 10th Separate Armored Car Battalion
- 5th Separate Sapper Battalion
Note that, except for the 217th which formed in late June, all of these rifle divisions had formed in July, as few as four weeks earlier.
Bryansk Front was under the command of Gen. A.I. Yeryomenko. During the balance of August and most of September he ordered his forces, including the relatively fresh 50th Army, into repeated clashes with the German XLVII Motorized Corps over its possession of a bridgehead over the Desna anchored on the towns of Pochep and Pogar. This was also an attempt to disrupt Second Panzer Army as it prepared to strike southwards towards Kiev. These operations had little effect on the German forces and also severely weakened the Front just as it was to face its greatest test. As of Sept. 30, strength returns for 50th Army showed 61,503 personnel, 780 guns and mortars (of which 149 were antitank guns), but only 7 tanks. It was still one of the stronger armies before Moscow, but not so strong as it had been when formed.
On Sept. 30 Second Panzer Army launched Operation Typhoon on the 50th Army's sector. On the third day it had penetrated the weak 13th Army and a day later reached Oryol. 50th Army was bypassed, as was Yeryomenko's headquarters. On Oct. 2, Mjr. I. Shabalin, the head of the army's political section, wrote:
"A continuous rumble of enemy artillery can be heard, and masses of their aircraft are flying overhead - our antiaircraft guns are shooting at them constantly. It is clear we are facing a major assault along our whole front, and in many sectors our troops have already been pushed back."
On Oct. 7, Mjr. Gen. Petrov was given temporary command of Bryansk Front after Yeryomenko was wounded. Mjr. Gen. A.N. Yermakov, who had been leading an operational group within the Front, took up command of 50th Army until late November.
The pocketed forces were split in two when 17th Panzer Division and 167th Infantry Division linked up on Oct. 10, with 50th Army in the northern pocket, but the eastern perimeter was only very lightly held so the army was never completely encircled. On that date, Gen. Weichs, commander of German 2nd Army, reported that "a strong part of the red Fiftieth Army... could not be prevented from escaping." Gen. Guderian of the Panzer Army further reported that his forces were committed to containing breakouts from the southern pocket and had nothing available to help with the northern one. The 50th was able to fall back beyond Bryansk without catastrophic losses.
Defense of Tula
By late October 50th Army had fallen back towards the city of Tula and partly repaired its strength. Three extremely depleted divisions, the 293rd, 413th and 239th, arrived from the front, each with between 500 to 1,000 men, who were exhausted and with very little equipment. Within two months these divisions had been refitted and reinforced to authorized strength.
With the disruption of Bryansk Front, 50th Army was reassigned to Western Front. Army Group Center's supplies had been barely adequate for the encirclement phases of Typhoon, and as the autumn rains turned the roads to mud, Guderian was forced to postpone his drive on Tula until Oct. 23. The town of Chern fell on the 25th, with another 95km to Tula. A battlegroup, forcing its way up the one available highway, got within 5km of the city on Oct. 29 and tried to take it off the march, but the defenders were prepared and drove the panzers off with strong antitank and antiaircraft fire. 50th Army was in a much better position for supplies, with munitions coming directly from Tula's factories.
In mid-November Gen. Yermakov came under investigation by the Special Department of the NKVD led by V.S. Abakumov, and was accused of dereliction of duty during the Bryansk encirclement. He was tried in secret and executed.
In late November Lt. Gen. I.V. Boldin was summoned to Moscow and offered command of the army to direct the continued defense of this crucial city. Boldin was a popular hero for having led a group of 1,650 men back from the frontier to Soviet lines near Smolensk during July and early August. He had been acting as deputy commander of Western Front until being wounded in another breakout in October. Boldin later admitted that defending the city against Gen. Guderian was a challenging task to undertake. But although Tula was very deeply outflanked by the beginning of December, it never fell. In conjunction with 10th Army, 50th went on the offensive and drove Guderian's forces back from the southern approaches to Moscow. In the initial phase, elements of the 50th overran one battalion of the elite Großdeutschland Regiment.
Winter Offensive and 1942
In December, more divisions were added to the army: four rifle divisions, three cavalry divisions, a depleted tank division, and independent tank regiments. The rapid reconstruction of this army was probably typical of many others in this period.
On Jan. 8, 1942 50th Army launched the second phase of the Moscow counteroffensive with a surprise attack on German positions southeast of Tula. On the 18th, Boldin introduced an army mobile group to the battle, which tore through the sagging German defenses and liberated the city of Kaluga. Boldin received much credit for this, which he shared with other commanders and the 1st Guards Cavalry Corps which led the group. Following this, the 50th pressed westward as part of the Rzhev-Vyasma Offensive, making repeated and increasingly futile efforts to cut the Smolensk - Moscow highway and encircle Army Group Center. As the army weakened through attrition and the German forces regained their balance, Boldin showed his frustration in numerous after-action reports. On Apr. 22 he reported angrily to his superiors that he was being slowed down by lack of ammunition, due to poor road conditions for wheeled transport: "As an extreme measure, in some units the troops are carrying supplies by hand." He was also driven to distraction by the total lack of air support. In these conditions the offensive ground to a halt.
During the balance of 1942 and into early 1943 the 50th, reduced to just four rifle divisions and a few supporting units, manned the defenses southwest of Moscow. It played a very limited role in the Third Rzhev–Sychevka Offensive Operation, liberating a small sector at the base of the Rzhev Salient as the Germans withdrew. Attacking on the left wing of the Front's shock force, it pivoted towards Miliatino and confronted the German 4th Army's XII Corps, which held strong defenses north of Spas-Demensk:
"The 50th Army's formations reached the enemy's main defensive belt on 17 March, where they encountered stiff resistance. Attempts to penetrate failed in spite of the commitment of the second echelon 139th Rifle Division into combat and the subsequent reinforcement of the army with the 277th Rifle Division and artillery units. The army's forces went over to the defense along a line northeast and east of Spas-Demensk on 1 April."
In reality, directives from STAVKA on Mar. 18 ordered Western Front to make a concerted effort to smash the new German line, in spite of its obvious strength. The effort failed at the cost of heavy Soviet casualties.
On July 1, 1943, the 50th Army was still in Western Front, at the northern base of the Oryol Salient. Its order of battle was as follows.
In 38th Rifle Corps:
- 196th Tank Brigade
- 1536th Heavy SU Regiment
- 21st and 43rd Armored Train Battalions
- 447th, 523rd, 1091st Cannon Regiments
- 600th Antitank Regiment
- 541st, 542nd Mortar Regiments
- 54th Guards Mortar Regiment
- 1275th, 1482nd, 1483rd Antiaircraft Regiments
- 307th, 309th Separate Sapper Battalions
Following the Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk, STAVKA began developing its first summer offensive, beginning with Operation Kutuzov against the vulnerable salient centered at Oryol. 50th Army was given a supporting role, both due to its relatively small size and STAVKA's limited faith in Boldin's military capabilities. In this operation the army formed a right flank guard for 11th Guards Army as it attacked to cut off the salient. German 9th Army escaped encirclement, but Boldin's army managed a 50km advance before the advance stalled.
Following this, the army was reassigned back to Bryansk Front. Renewing the offensive, Boldin's forces made two secret re-groupings before striking the weak left flank of the German position south of Kirov on Sept. 8, unhinging their line and forcing them to abandon Bryansk on the 17th. In Soviet accounts it is Gen. M.M. Popov, the Front commander, who gets most of the credit for this success. By Sept. 27, 50th Army had seized a bridgehead across the Sozh River, and it was on this date that Popov met at the Kremlin with Stalin, Deputy Chief of the General Staff A.I. Antonov, and Gen. K.K. Rokossovsky, commander of Belorussian Front (later renamed 1st Belorussian Front). As a result of this meeting 50th Army was handed over to the latter Front in the first week of October.
In keeping with its secondary role, during the balance of October and November, during the Gomel-Rechitsa Offensive Operation, the army was twice ordered to make diversionary attacks. Rokossovsky wrote in his memoirs:
"Now the success of the entire Front depended on the operations of the 65th Army. Therefore we turned over all the Front's assets to it. In order to distract the enemy's attention from the axis of our main attack, the 50th and 3rd Armies received an order on 12 October to go on the offensive in their sectors. With a pained heart I gave them these assignments, knowing the limited means that Boldin and Gorbatov possessed, but this was necessary in the common interests, and it was necessary deliberately to accept certain sacrifices."
Following these operations the army required a period of rest and reinforcement. By April it had been reassigned once again, to 2nd Belorussian Front.
When the Soviet summer offensive began on June 22, 1944, the composition of 50th Army was as follows.
19th Rifle Corps, with:
38th Rifle Corps, with:
121st Rifle Corps, with:
- 4th Antitank Brigade and 1321st Antitank Regiment
- 1819th and 1830th SU Regiments
- 1484 Antiaircraft Regiment
- 1099 Corps Artillery Regiment
- 481 Heavy Mortar Regiment
2nd Belorussian Front played a secondary role in Bagration, mainly holding German 4th Army in place on both sides of the River Dnieper. 50th Army was spread over a 75km sector. On the first day a company-sized attack on the German 31st Infantry Division was made at Golovenchitsky, but this had little impact. On the third morning, the 121st Rifle Corps joined 49th Army in a massive attack on 337th Infantry and Feldherrnhalle Panzergrenadier Divisions which opened a gap in the XXXIX Panzer Corps line by noon as the 337th disintegrated. On the same day, 19th Rifle Corps made a partial penetration at Ludchitsa, while a 10km advance was made at Podsely. On June 25 the army hit the north flank of 31st Infantry and took Chausy. By evening the Germans were ordered to retreat to the Resta River.
On the following day the objective was to reach the Dniepr north of Mogilev, but 50th Army stalled at Chausy. South of the city, 121st and 38th Corps threw the 12th and 31st Infantry Divisions out of prepared positions and reached the east bank of the river by 2200 hours. On the 27th, as the river was being crossed both north and south of Mogilev, 121st Corps, plus two divisions of 49th Army with armored support, struck the northwest suburbs, street fighting with 12th Infantry during the night. The German stronghold fell the next day, but at considerable cost to both armies, which Boldin would be criticized for. Other elements of these armies broke through the west bank defenses, advancing rapidly to the Drut River.
With 4th Army effectively smashed, 50th Army was left to take part in the destruction of its remnants east of Minsk, and then the slow, grueling advance through Belorussia, across the Neman River through Grodno, to the approaches into East Prussia, arriving there in late August. On July 15, Boldin was promoted to the rank of Colonel General. In November, Rokossovsky was moved to the command of 2nd Belorussian Front, and Boldin once again came under his orders.
East Prussian Offensive
At the beginning of 1945, just prior to the start of the winter offensive, the order of battle of 50th Army was as follows.
69th Rifle Corps, with:
81st Rifle Corps, with:
The East Prussian operation began on Jan. 14, 1945. 2nd Belorussian Front made relatively slow progress at first, but gained speed with the introduction of tank forces and improving weather. 50th Army was set to keep an eye on the German forces defending along the Augustów Canal. All but a small rearguard of those slipped away to battle the Front's main forces and it was 48 hours before Boldin noticed, all the while reporting that the full force was still in place. Rokossovsky had seen enough, and in February, just as the army was being transferred to 3rd Belorussian Front, Boldin was given a kick upstairs, and his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. F.P. Ozerov, took command for the duration.
At the beginning of April, the army was holding a sector to the northeast of Königsberg as the final battle for the city took place, and elements of it would later join the Zemland Group, clearing the remaining German forces from the Baltic coast. 50th Army disbanded in late 1945 when it was reorganised as the headquarters of the Eastern Siberian Military District in Irkutsk.
- Major General M.P. Petrov (August 1941 – October 1941)
- Major General A.N. Yermakov (October 1941 - November 1941)
- Colonel General I.V. Boldin (November 1941 – February 1945)
- Lieutenant General F.P. Ozerov (February 1945 to the end of the war)
- David M. Glantz, Barbarossa Derailed, Vol. 2, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2012, p 71
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