Another colonel, already a paratrooper
In 1944, Colonel Vasily Margelov, a native of Yekaterinoslav, already commanded a division with the rank of colonel and was universally respected as a brave and capable commander.
On February 29, 1944, the 3rd Ukrainian Front of Army General Rodion Malinovsky received from its neighbor, the 4th Ukrainian, the southern sector of defense, stretching along the Dnieper to the sea. For a month of fighting, it was possible to destroy the enemy’s Nikopol bridgehead and liberate Krivoy Rog. The opportunity arose to attack the flank and rear of the German group occupying Kherson, and the Soviet command decided not to miss it.
Preparations for the Bereznegovato-Snigirev offensive operation began.
Commander of the Airborne Forces, Army General Vasily Margelov: “Thank you for your service!” 1969.
In the future offensive of the 28th Army, which was transferred from the 4th to the 3rd Ukrainian Front, an auxiliary task was to force the Dnieper, divert as many enemy forces as possible and liberate Kherson. Two divisions of the 13th Rifle Corps were aiming directly at the city.
One of them, the 49th Guards, was commanded by Margelov.
Intelligence Sergeant Nogovitsin
The commanders with the start of the offensive, which was scheduled for March 6, were ordered “as far as possible” to seize the bridgeheads on the left bank of the Dnieper, from which to move towards Kherson. The command understood that the Germans entrenched themselves on the high right bank many months ago and created a powerful line of defense. Go break!
But Margelov believed that it was possible to seize a bridgehead. Even then, he was guided by the principles that would become the motto of the landing: “No one but us” and “There are no impossible tasks.”
Vasily Margelov. 1944
To solve a combat mission, information is needed, and Colonel Margelov personally assigns the task to the commander of the reconnaissance group, Sergeant Nogovitsin. Throughout the day, the scouts watched the opposite bank, deciphering the system of German posts and patrols. With the onset of darkness, they went down to the river and crawled to the opposite bank along the still, but already loose and porous ice. And then they plunged into one of the ravines that opened into the steep Dnieper.
The fighters managed to reach the path laid out along the river, on which they discovered an enemy post. Nogovitsin decided to use a trick. A party in captured raincoats approached the post in open formation on foot, without worrying the Germans. And when they realized that things were not going well, the scouts killed four soldiers and the non-commissioned officer was taken prisoner.
The information received from the prisoner did not inspire optimism. All German troops on the coast and in Kherson were on high alert. Unit commanders were read the order to defend to the last soldier. The population was evicted from Kherson, throwing tens of thousands of people under the freezing rains and winds of March.
Margelov decided to try to storm the right flank, in the Berislav area, and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Alexei Tyurin to concentrate his 149th regiment there.
And soon he himself came to the place.
Bridgehead captured and surrounded
On March 9, 1944, the weather turned for the worse. Vasily Filippovich recalled:
“…The night was hellish. The rain was lashing like a bucket. The wind was howling furiously. The Dnieper had just broken free of its ice and was splashing at their feet. “Why not try to force the Dnieper right now? An unexpected thought came to my mind. – Night at least gouge out your eyes. The Germans probably hid in dugout canoes. While they come to their senses, let alone a regiment, a division can be transported … And the soldiers, having learned that their division commander is already on the right bank, will cross the Dnieper … “
They immediately called the commander of the artillerymen, Senior Lieutenant Semyon Gumenyuk, who was supposed to take the bridgehead. The colonel told everyone present that he would personally lead the company to the other side. The Tyurin regiment commander protested: the division commander actually left the division and set off to carry out a task that any brave lieutenant could do. But Margelov did not want to listen to anything. He was sure that reinforcements could be sent quickly to the bridgehead and that he would soon return.
But it didn’t work soon.
Reconnaissance behind enemy lines. Photo: RIA Novosti
The company normally reached the middle of the Dnieper. The machine gunners, rowing the first boards that fell into their hands, stubbornly moved to the right bank. But then “chandeliers” of lighting rockets hovered over the water, the shelling began.
Near the raft, on which the squad of junior lieutenant Georgy Noga was transporting, a mine exploded. The machine gunners were thrown into the water, the raft was left in ruins. But the lieutenant climbed back up and opened fire, and the soldiers swam alongside him, holding on to the logs and pushing the raft forward. Having reached the coast, the company attacked the Germans on the move, knocked them out of the coastal trenches in a short-lived battle and saddled the Berislav-Kherson highway.
The first thing that Margelov heard at the headquarters after the daring raid was the curse of the corps commander, Lieutenant General Porfiry Chanchibadze.
The bridgehead is captured, you can start transporting reinforcements.
But the enemy quickly came to his senses, and significant forces went on the offensive against Margelov’s small army. A powerful barrage of fire was immediately placed along the river, and in the air at first light, planes with crosses patrolled, bombarding the shore and shelling everything that moved.
“I call myself fire! ..”
For the whole day of March 10, Margelov and the machine gunners had to fight surrounded.
Scheme of the operation to liberate Kherson.
Communication helped, the colonel personally corrected the artillery fire supporting the bridgehead from behind the Dnieper. At the most critical moment, Vasily Filippovich had to set himself on fire. As a result, by the morning of March 11, of the 67 soldiers and officers who crossed, only 14 remained alive.
But their sacrifices were not in vain. Using diversionary actions, the division chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Valery Shubin, managed to transport one battalion to the bridgehead to Margelov, and then the entire 149th regiment.
The defense of the Germans “fell.”
Forcing the Dnieper. Diorama. Photo: RIA Novosti
The first thing Colonel Margelov heard when he arrived at his headquarters was the curse of the corps commander, Lieutenant General Porfiry Chanchibadze. The commander threatened to remove the obstinate commander, who had abandoned the division and risked his life, and hand him over to court. But when Margelov reported that, thanks to his actions, one regiment had already crossed to the right bank, and the second was crossing, the general immediately calmed down. And he changed the plan of attack.
The main blow to the enemy grouping in the Kherson area was now going to be dealt by the 49th Guards Division of Margelov.
Nikolai Cherkashin, a resident of Kherson, enrolled in the neighboring 295 division on the eve of the assault on the night of March 11-12, recalled:
Residents of liberated Kherson meet Soviet soldiers. March 1944.
“… We boarded a boat, we took a raft in tow, in which there were 30 people… I waited every minute for a burst of fire to fall on us from the island… But “Hans” fell asleep. “We landed on the southern tip and went further into the island. Our fighter, named Sergeev, knew German well. And when we ran into the battery sentry, Sergeev spoke to him in German and let us in. It was a matter of seconds tie him up. After that, we went through the caves and began to wake up the sleeping Germans. Well, they had eyes when they woke up. They took 35 people prisoner. Then they took Fritz with and moved along the wooden bridges with island hinges to the other side … Thanks to the German who was walking in front, they managed to get past the Comintern plant without firing. From there, we went over the bridge to the brickyard, and then we reached the cemetery in Zabalka. Then we ran into a group of Germans. From that moment on, the fighting began.”
All day on March 12, the fighters in the bridgehead fought off the attacks, and in the evening all available vessels gathered near the left bank in the area of Lake Domakha: boats, ferries, barges, boats fishing boats and a river steamer. It was stolen from under the noses of the Germans by local residents in order to help the soldiers of the division to liberate their hometown.
Residents of Kherson, who were driven from their homes by the Germans.
Uncle Vasya’s star
The journey began at 11:30 p.m. At four o’clock in the morning, the main forces of the 295th Infantry Division and the 147th Regiment of Margelov’s division moved to the right bank. At this time, two more regiments of Vasily Filippovich approached Kherson from the north and west, saddling the Kherson – Nikolaev and Kherson – Berislav roads.
Dmitry Peretyapko, who served as a private in the 149th regiment of the 1st Guards Division, Lieutenant Colonel Tyurin, said:
“Our regiment entered the Berislav highway leading to the railway station. The road was clogged with cars and trucks abandoned by the Germans. When we reached the outskirts of Kherson, we began to meet rare local residents. Women and children were they approached us with tears and hugged us”.
On the morning of March 13, the assault on the city began.
At noon, having overcome fierce resistance in the area of the military post, the 3rd battalion of the 1040th regiment, led by Major Georgy Akopyants, broke into the southeastern outskirts of Kherson. Clearing street after street, block after block, the Soviet troops by the end of the day had largely completed the liberation of Kherson.
Kherson liberated from the Germans.
At 10 p.m., while the battle was still going on on the western outskirts of the city, 20 salvoes from 224 guns thundered into Moscow in honor of the soldiers and officers of the 3rd Ukrainian Front.
And already on March 18, Colonel Margelov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and the Golden Star of the Hero.
In those battles, the ideal of war was born, formulated by Vasily Filippovich Margelov, Uncle Vasya, as many generations of paratroopers gratefully and affectionately call him:
“To fulfill their role in modern operations, our formations and units must be highly manoeuvrable, covered with armor, have sufficient fire efficiency, be well controlled, be able to land at any time of the day, and quickly switch to active combat operations.” . after landing.”