Semyon Krivoshein

Semyon Krivoshein

Semyon Moiseevich Krivoshein (November 28, 1899, Voronezh, Russian Empire - September 16, 1978, Moscow, Soviet Union) was a Soviet tank commander, who played a vital part in the World War II reform of the Red Army tank forces and in momentous defeat of German Panzers in the Battle of Kursk.

Early Life and Russian Civil War

Krivoshein was born into the well-to-do family of a Jewish artisan shop owner and in 1917 graduated from a gymnasium, a Russian secondary school for the educated elite. Like many Jewish Russians of his generation, he was captivated by the Bolshevik promise of the perfect world of social justice, and in 1918 he enlisted in the Red Army to fight against the Whites in the Russian Civil War. He served in the famous 1st Cavalry Army of Semyon Budyonny. The army was Stalin's military power-base. Later, during the Great Purge of 1937-1938, Krivoshein's Jewish background, and service in the 1st Cavalry Army, saved him from troubles in spite of his "bourgeois" background.

Tank commander in Spain and Siberia

After the end of the war in 1921, Krivoshein stayed in the army. With the introduction in the Red Army of tank forces, Krivoshein was chosen among most talented cavalry officers to master the new brand of weapon. He was sent to study in the elite Frunze Military Academy, graduated in 1931 and served in the mechanized troops, rising in 1934 to commander of mechanized regiment. In 1936 he volunteered to fight in Spain on the side of the Republicans against General Francisco Franco who was supported by the Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In November-December 1936, he commanded tank forces of the Republican army in the Battle of Madrid and won praise for his performance. His small tank force of a single brigade could not halt Franco's offence, but his bold actions improved the morale of the Republican forces.

In January 1937 Krivoshein was recalled to the Soviet Union to recuperate. He was promoted to Kombrig and appointed commander of a mechanized brigade. In the summer of 1938, he led his brigade against the Japanese in the Battle of Lake Khasan.

econd World War

eptember of 1939 - War with Poland and attack against Finland

In a short and victorious campaign against Poland in which Soviet Union attacked on September 17, 1939 Poland fighting already since September 1, 1939 against much stronger Nazi Germany, Krivoshein commanded a light tank brigade. As Poland had no tanks at the back of its forces, the war went smoothly. Soviets took within two weeks more than 250 000 Polish prisoners of war. In fact it was one of the most notorious episodes of Stalin-Hitler cooperation, where two major powers - Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union accomplished the partition of much smaller and weaker Poland.

In spite of being Jewish, commanded a joint German-Soviet victory parade with Wehrmacht General Heinz Guderian in then Polish city Brest, which was divided between the two allies and has become an important city on their new border. At the parade, Krivoshein, congratulated the Germans for their war successes and offered to welcome them in Moscow after their forthcoming victory over the United Kingdom. [1] .

Krivoshein's next tour of duty with his tank brigade was against small Finland during the Winter War (1939-1940). The Fins surprised the aggressor with their stance, but Krivoshein fought with distinction and his promotion was quick. In less than two years he rose from commander of the motorized rifle division and then a tank division to a commander of tank forces of a key Baltic Special Military District. With the introduction in the Red Army of the rank of General, he became, in 1940, a Major General.

Reform of Soviet armored forces, 1941-43

After the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, Krivoshein took command of the 25th Mechanized Corps and fought the Germans in the Baltic and in Belarus where he stalled Guderian's panzers near Homyel. Krivoshein's competent command was among the rare exceptions at this stage of the war. Soviet tank forces were far inferior to German panzers in understanding of modern armoured warfare and failed to halt the German onslaught. Learning from the experience of the battles, the Soviet high command embarked on fundamental reform of its armoured forces and decided that it needed Krivoshein to train the Red Army armour for mobile warfare even more than it needed him in combat. In 1941-1943 Krivoshein was a head of Department of Training in the Main Directorate of the Red Army Tank Forces. The training of the Soviet tank crews had to respond to constantly changing demands to the crews such as introduction of the new tanks and search for the most optimal size of tank formation in combat. Krivoshein's effort led to marked increase in the fighting capabilities of the Soviet armour, but he sought to return to combat.

Battle of Kursk

In 1943 when the Red Army was preparing for the decisive battle of Kursk, Krivoshein received command of the 3rd Mechanized Corps in Mikhail Katukov's 1st Tank Army of the Voronezh Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin. He and Katukov were the best defense tacticians in the Red Army armour. The Soviet high command assigned to Krivoshein a crucial task to fight in the first echelon in the south of the Kursk salient against German Army Group South and the most capable of all German Field Marshals----Erich von Manstein. Krivoshein took position in town of Oboyan, and together with 6th Tank Corps in Prokhorovka during the battle he faced the main weight of German assault, led by the top Wehrmacht panzer General Hermann Hoth.

Krivoshein's forces were in dire technical disadvantage to German panzers. Against his corps, the Germans deployed their powerful Tiger I tanks, armed with 88mm guns that ranged approximately two kilometers. The Soviet tank T-34 had a smaller 76.2 mm gun with a shorter range of fire. On the first day of battle, on 1943 July 6, the Germans used Tigers together with enormous Ferdinand assault guns in an attack on Krivoshein. After fierce, tenacious fighting, by the end of the day German panzers penetrated Soviet defenses in the junction between 3rd Mechanized Corps and 6th Tank Corps, but Soviet tanks held the ground. The next morning, on July 7, Hoth sent the bulk of German panzers against Krivoshein. In their turn, Katukov and Vatutin fed Krivoshein with reinforcements. In a pitched battle Krivoshein withstood the German assault. By the end of the day a German aerial reconnaissance reported to Hoth: "The Russians are not falling back. They stand there on line. Our tanks are stopped. They are burning."

On the next day, July 8, Manstein and Hoth in desperation decided to stake everything on a renewed attack. Under massive German assault, Krivoshein withdrew his corps to a new defense position but the Germans once again failed to break through his front line. The failure spelled doom for the German panzers. Unable to defeat Krivoshein, on 1943 July 9 Hoth redirected his attack against the 6th Tank Corps in Prokhorovka, leaving his right flank open. On July 12, the powerful 5th Guards Tank Army of Pavel Rotmistrov slammed into Hoth's flank and delivered a mortal blow to the German panzers. The 1st Tank Army also went on counterattack. By the end of the day, Hoth, suffering from terrible losses, retreated. The Wehrmacht lost the greatest tank battle in history, and the Red Army in effect had won the war.

Stalin bestowed on the 1st Tank Army and two of its most distinguished corps the highest Soviet honorific titles for military formation, the "guards." Krivoshein's 3rd Mechanized Corps became the 8th Guards Mechanized Corps. Krivoshein was promoted to Lieutenant General and was awarded the highest Soviet decoration for his outstanding generalship, the Order of Suvorov.

During the battle, the 1st Tank Army was severely weakened and had only 141 tanks left. Krivoshein's corps alone lost nearly 90% of its command cadre. In spite of these losses, Vatutin ordered the exhausted 1st Tank Army to go on the offensive in the Belgorod-Kharkov operation but, after a spectacular initial advance, it was stalled and Stavka withdrew it in order to restore it for future combat. After receiving replacement goods and equipment, in December 1943 Krivoshein's corps was sent together with the rest of the 1st Guards Tank Army to the 1st Ukrainian Front of Ivan Konev. Krivoshein spearheaded Konev's offensive in expelling the Germans from the right bank Ukraine.

Belarus to Berlin

Krivoshein was severely wounded in the battle and was recovering for several months. Later in 1944 he received command of the 1st Mechanized Krasnograd Corps and fought in Operation Bagration, which smashed the German Army Group Centre in Belarus. Among many other Belorussian cities Krivoshein recaptured from the Germans was Brest.

Krivoshein's generalship was superior to most of the Red Army generals who commanded tank armies. The fact that he never rose above command of the corps might be attributed to his Jewish origin. Stalin during the war promoted Jews to high positions in the Red Army when the demands of the war pressured him to resort to their expertise, but he always did it with a great reluctance. The Red Army's triumph in the battle of Kursk to which Krivoshein contributed so heavily made Stalin sure of his victory in the war.

In the last days of the war, in spring 1945, Krivoshein led his corps in vanguard of 1st Belorussian Front of the leading Soviet commander of the WWII Georgy Zhukov in the Battle of Berlin. Stalin awarded to Zhukov the honour to take Berlin; it was a recognition of the exclusive standing of Krivoshein among Soviet armour generals that Zhukov entrusted him to lead the Soviet armies in the final Russian triumph over Germany. Krivoshein slashed through the heavily fortified and echeloned German defenses in the critical the Battle of Seelow Heights and fought his way to the Reichstag. For his outstanding combat leadership and personal courage in the capture of Berlin, Krivoshein received the highest Soviet war honour, the order of a Hero of the Soviet Union.

Post war life

His post-war fortune reflected Soviet instability of the decade. Krivoshein continued to command his corps until 1946 when he was appointed the head of Department at the Frunze Military Academy. In 1950 when Stalin dismissed large numbers of Jewish generals from the army, Krivoshein was removed from Moscow to command mechanized and tank forces of the small Odessa Military district. In 1951 the Ministry of Defense selected him as a candidate for the Soviet Army higher command and sent him to study in the Higher Military Academy of the General Staff. Krivoshein graduated in 1952. Ironically, the death of Stalin in March 1953 brought an end to Krivoshein's military career. The new leadership began to reduce the huge Soviet army and, on 1953 May 4, The Soviet Ministry of Defense retired Krivoshein after 35 years of the service. He spent the last quarter century of his life writing four books of his war memoirs.


*Hero of the Soviet Union
*Three Orders of Lenin
*Three Orders of the Red Banner
*Second Class Orders of Suvorov (First Class were awarded to commanding officers of armies and fronts)
*First Class Order of Kutuzov
*Order of the Red Star


*F. D. Sverdlov, "Evrei-generally Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR" (Moscow, 1993), pp. 118-119.
*Richard N. Armstrong, "Red Army Tank Commanders: The Armored Guards" (Atglen, PA, 1994).
*"Rossiiskaia evreiskaia entsiklopedia", vol. 2 (Moscow, 1995), p. 92.
*David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, "The Battle of Kursk" (Lawrence, KS, 1999).
*Mark Shteinberg, "Evrei v voinakh tysiachiletii" (Moscow, Jerusalem, 2005), p. 38.

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