KV at the Crossroads (June 24-25, 1941)
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, a vast three-pronged offensive unfolded Army Group South was tasked with capturing Kiev; Group Center’s objective was the destruction of Soviet armies and occupation of Smolensk; Group North’s strategic goal was the seizure of Leningrad. Caught offguard, the Soviet’s mounted a desperate defense against each of the German Armies, and the single KV tank that slowed Army Group North for two days was a small part of the fighting known as the Battle of Raseiniai.
The 6th Panzer was a light mechanized unit, comprised of two motorized infantry regiments, a Panzer reconnaissance battalion, a Panzer regiment, two companies of PanzerjÃ¤gers (tank-hunters), two motorcycle battalions, two artillery battalions, an anti-aircraft battery, and a company of Panzer engineers. This unit embodied blitzkrieg. Fast, well-armed, and well-trained, the 6th went through Lithuania like a thunderbolt; blazing the way for the larger army behind them. Their advance, however, came to a standstill when reports that the enemy had cut between the 6th and the main body.
Locals later claimed a single tank had arrived on the night of the 23rd, driven to the crossroads outside of Raseiniai, and simply stopped. The tank may have run out of fuel, or broke down. Whatever the reason, this was a tank that had no intention of movingâ¦ or falling to the Germans quietly.
The convoy fled and reported sighting a lone KV tank at the crossroads outside of the Raseiniai. The 6th anticipated a Soviet counter-attack and suspected this was its beginning. A second convoy, unaware of the KV’s presence, approached the crossroads. The KV unleashed an intense barrage and destroyed all twelve trucks. The German commander, Generaloberst Erhard Raus, realized this was not a massive counter-attack, rather it was a single tankâ¦ directly in the middle of his supply lines. Worse, the tank continued to fire on German positions in Raseiniai. Raus needed to remove the tank quickly, and ordered anti-tank crews to attack. PanzerjÃ¤gers positioned a battery of 50mm anti-tank guns and fired. The tank sat immobile, silent. Suddenly, the turret turned and annihilated the anti-tank battery.
The Germans tried attacking with a distant 105mm Howitzer but missed. They tried moving an 88mm anti-aircraft (AA) turret into range. The KV spotted the gun immediately and destroyed it. Soldiers tried to close in and plant explosives under the cover of night; they were driven back by machine-gun fire, but managed to damage one of the tank’s treads. The following day, Raus ordered several Panzer’s to distract the KV, while soldiers moved another (camouflaged this time) 88mm anti-aircraft gun into range. Fire from the AA gun quieted the KV, and German soldiers closed in on the massive tank. The turret turned suddenly, and a German soldier managed to fling a grenade inside the tank before fleeing, killing the tank’s crew. Six dead soldiers had manned the lone KV, and the Germans paused long enough to bury their foe out of respect their stand merited.