Gang of Rokossovsky. It was this informal name that the 8th separate penal battalion soon received. It was formed exclusively from officers who were surrounded, were captured or committed minor crimes.
This information has not been officially confirmed, but it may well be true: the Germans, having learned about the approach of this unit, often left their positions without a fight. What made them do it? Where the battalion passed, no one was left alive. And, by the way, the Germans themselves began to call him the Rokossovsky gang.
After the war, people told everyone about this semi-secret structure. So, the poet, bard and playwright Yevgeny Agranovich united scattered rumors into something coherent:
Rokossovsky fell at the feet of Stalin and asked for permission to take into service those who come to him from the forests. Which are either from captivity, or from the environment, or hiding, or partisans. Or not partisan. Or they just fought. Or they wandered around various foreign countries, where they could be recruited for some terrible work without documents. And when those who were in the devil knows where – “I changed cities, I changed names” – they heard about the victories of the army … Many decided that they had to make their way to their own. … I observed this in my division.
Ponyri railway station after the fighting in 1943
Regardless of the reasons and background, the fighters of the special unit were distinguished by incredible perseverance and resilience. They were baptized by fire during the Battle of Kursk. Some units could not withstand the onslaught of the Fritz, while the penalty box held out to the end, not yielding a single step in the area of the area entrusted to them – the Ponyri station. Under heavy fire and continuous attacks, they lost 143 people killed. More than 350 were injured, but survived.
Further, the battalion was transferred to the offensive direction in the Orel region. He needed to take the given height at any cost. An eyewitness Semyon Basov, a fighter of the same regiment, spoke about the attack, which began after dark:
We ran to the German trenches. The Germans did not accept the bayonet fight, they fled to the rear along the trenches. They ran to the German trenches from a company of 150 people, 25 people, maybe a little more. Our artillery ceased fire so as not to hit our own. I see the Germans rolling out their guns at a height for direct fire and opened heavy fire on the abandoned trenches. … The platoon commander, who was advancing with us, bandaged me and sent me to the rear, and he himself went on the next attack with the reinforcements that came up. Captured the height, and he was killed.
The next time, the penalty boxers noticeably distinguished themselves when they stormed the Sinyavsky Heights. Konstantin Konstantinovich himself treated his wards with respect. Don’t forget about the awards. One of the most notable and striking battles in which these fighters participated was the operation code-named “Bagration”. The 150th division was required to occupy a height that was visible to the Nazis from a distance of 15 kilometers. In a little more than half an hour, the penitentiaries coped with the task, interrupting the guards hand-to-hand. And then for four days they held positions, waiting for the arrival of the main forces. Of the 500 people at this point, only 50 survived.
Fights for Rogachev
The activities of the battalion became known to the masses after the release of Rogachev. Commander Osipov was from these places, was fond of hunting, knew every path and easily led his subordinates to the rear. They gave the enemy a real hell:
The battalion acted both in groups and gathering into one, rather powerful fist. Our small groups destroyed enemy equipment. The captured guns, having previously killed their servants, turned in the direction of noticeable concentrations of enemy troops, warehouses, etc. Among the penalized were artillerymen, tankers, even pilots, so it was not difficult to fire a few shots from the guns. Then these guns and mortars were blown up or rendered unusable in another way. They set fire to captured food depots and ammunition depots, took control of crossroads, destroyed suitable enemy military reserves and cut lines of communication.
After this operation, most of the fighters were reinstated. Many received titles and awards. The “Rokossovsky bandits” distinguished themselves in the battles near Brest, Zhlobin, Koenigsberg and Narva, during the Vistula-Oder operation. The battalion met the victory by storming the Reichstag.
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