Battle of Nikolayevka


Battle of Nikolayevka

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Nikolayevka


caption=
partof=World War II
date=January 13-26, 1943 (including prelude)
place=Nikolayevka, Belgorod Oblast, RSFSR, Soviet Union
result=Successful Axis retreat
combatant1=flagicon|Italy|1861 Italy (Alpini)
flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
flagicon|Hungary|1940 Hungary
combatant2=flag|Soviet Union|1923
commander1=flagicon|Italy|1861 Giulio Martinat
flagicon|Italy|1861 Luigi Reverberi
commander2=Fyodor Isidorovich Kuznetsov,
Dmitri Danilovich Lelyushenko
strength1=40,000 infantry
strength2=
casualties1=30,000 dead, wounded, or captured
casualties2=|

The Battle of Nikolayevka was fought on January 26, 1943 as small part of the larger Battle of Stalingrad. The Battle pitted forces of the Italian 8th Armys Alpini Corps against the four Soviet Armies of the Voronezh Front. Since the war the village has been absorbed by the nearby village of Livenka.

Prelude

On December 16, 1942, Soviet forces launched Operation Little Saturn aimed at the Italian 8th Army. The Soviet plan was to force the River Don, encircle and destroy the Italian 8th Army along the Don, then push towards Rostov on Don and thus cut the line of communication of Army Group A fighting in the Caucasus and the line of communication of 4th Panzer Army, which was in the midst of Operation Wintergewitter—the attempt to relieve 6th Army from encirclement in the city of Stalingrad. on December 16th General Fyodor Isidorovich Kuznetsov's 1st Guards Army and General Dmitri Danilovich Lelyushenko's 3rd Guards Army attacked the units of the Italian 8th Army, which were quickly overcome, encircled and crushed—in three days the Soviets had opened a gap in the Axis front convert|45|km|mi|abbr=on|lk=off deep and convert|150|km|mi|abbr=on|lk=off wide and destroyed two of the Italian Armys Corps's (2nd and 35th). The Soviet armored columns now rapidly advanced south towards the Black Sea. Thus 4th Panzer Army was forced to abandon its relief attempt of the 6th Army and fall back to halt the advancing Soviets.

The battle

The Italian 8th Armys Alpini Corps, consisting of Alpine Divisions 3rd Julia, 2nd Tridentina and 4th Cuneense and the 156th "Vicenza" Infantry Division to their rear, were at this point largely unaffected by the Soviet offensive on their right flank. But on January 13th, 1943, the Soviets launched the second stage of Operation Saturn. In this stage four armies of Soviet General Filipp Golikov's Voronezh Front attacked, encircled, and destroyed the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don to the northwest of the Italians, they attacked and pushed back the remaining units of the German 24th Army Corps on the Alpini left flank and then attacked the Alpini themselves. The Alpini held the front, but within three days the Soviets advanced convert|200|km|mi|-1|abbr=off|lk=off|sp=us to the left and right of the Alpini, who were thus encircled.

Although the Alpini corps was ordered to hold the front at all costs, preparations for a general retreat began on January 15th. On the evening of January 17, the commanding officer of the corps General Gabriele Nasci finally ordered the full retreat. At this point the Julia and Cuneense divisions were already heavily decimated and only the Tridentina division was still capable of conducting effective combat operations.

The 40,000 strong mass of stragglers—Alpini and Italians from other commands, plus various Germans and Hungarians—formed two columns that followed the Tridentina division which, supported by a handful of German armoured vehicles, led the way westwards to the new Axis front. The Soviets had already occupied every village and bitter battles were fought by the soldiers of the Tridentina to clear the way. In fifteen days the soldiers covered 200 km on foot, fought twenty-two battles and spent fourteen nights camped in the middle of the Russian Steppe. Temperatures during the night fell between convert|-30|°C|°F|-1|abbr=on|lk=off and convert|-40|°C|°F|-1|abbr=on|lk=off.

On the morning of January 26, the spearheads of the Tridentina reached the little hamlet of Nikolayevka, now part of the village of Livenka. A Soviet division occupied it and the surrounding area. The Alpini immediately began their attack as they knew that this was the last Soviet position blocking their way to safety. But the Soviet forces held their ground, and after hours of fighting the Italian units became desperate as each hour increased the risk that Soviet reinforcements could arrive. Although the chief-of-staff of the corps, Brigadier General Giulio Martinat, had already been killed earlier that day while leading an assault of the Edolo battalion, General Luigi Reverberi, commander of the Tridentina division, stepped onto one of the last three Panzers as the sun began to set and, yelling "Tridentina Forward", led his men personally on the final assault. As the Alpini advanced, all remaining soldiers of the columns fell in and the Soviets, facing a human wave attack by 40,000 men, relented and abandoned the village. The retreat of the Alpini was no longer contested by Soviet forces and on February 1st the remnants of the Corps reached Axis lines.

Myths

A tenacious urban legend often heard in Italy quotes an alleged Soviet war bulletin as stating that "the only force that can regard itself as undefeated on Russian soil is the Italian Alpini corps". Unfortunately, nothing similar to this report ever happened [http://www.ana.it/uploads/Bollettino630.pdf] . The Alpini paid a high price and only about one third of the 2 Alpine Division Tridentina (4250 survivors of 15000 troops deployed), while one tenth of the 3 Alpine Division Julia (1200/15000) were able to survive this odyssey. The 4 Alpine Division Cuneense was annihilated.

References

* [http://www.esercito.difesa.it/root/unita_sez/unita_div_trid_sto.asp Italian Army homepage: History of the Tridentina Division] it icon
* [http://www.anaconegliano.it/sezione/1997/1997nikolajewka1943.htm Survivors account] it icon
* [http://www.montesuello.it/sito/nikolajewka.htm Alpini association site] it icon
*Mario Rigoni Stern: "The Sergeant in the Snow" (Marlboro Press - 1998)


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