Bunker fighters
Bunker fighters

Almost nothing was said about one branch of the army. Assault engineer brigades were the most numerous and strongest among the Soviet special forces during the Second World War.

Soviet military historians tried not to mention the existence of these units, the fighters of these units are not shown in films, the denunciators of "incompetent Stalin" keep silent about them.

Probably, the fighters of these units owed such ignorance to the fact that they did not fit into the popular image of the Soviet "liberator soldier"? Indeed, in the minds of Soviet people, the Red Army men of the Great Patriotic War are emaciated people in dirty greatcoats who run in a crowd to attack after the tanks, or tired elderly men smoking on the breastwork of a hand-rolled trench. After all, it was precisely such shots that were mainly captured by military newsreels.

Probably, in front of the people filming newsreels, the main task was to show a fighter of the workers 'and peasants' army, who was torn from the machine and plow, and preferably unprepossessing. Like, what a soldier we are - one and a half meters tall, and Hitler is winning! This image was the best match for the exhausted, mutilated victim of the Stalinist regime. In the late 1980s, filmmakers and post-Soviet historians put the "victim of repression" on a cart, handed the "three-line" without cartridges, sending them to meet the armored hordes of fascists - under the supervision of barrage detachments.

Of course, the reality was somewhat different from that captured in newsreels. The Germans themselves entered the Soviet Union in 300 thousand carts. The ratio in armament also differed from the official Soviet data. In terms of the number of machine guns fired, fascist Europe was 4 times inferior to the USSR, and 10 times behind the number of self-loading rifles.

Of course, in recent years, views on the Great Patriotic War have changed. The society got tired of the topic of “senseless victims”, and daring crews of armored trains, ninja scouts, border guards-terminators, as well as other exaggerated characters began to appear on the screens. As they say, from one extreme to another. Although it should be noted that real scouts and border guards (as well as marines and paratroopers) were really distinguished by excellent training and physical shape. In a country where sport was massively compulsory, pitching was much more common than it is now.

And only one branch of the army was never noticed by the eyes of the scriptwriters, although it deserves the most attention. It was the assault engineer-sapper brigades of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief's reserve that were the most numerous and strongest among the Soviet special forces during the Second World War.

Bunker fighters
Bunker fighters

During the course of the war, most of the belligerents began to realize that the classical infantry was simply unable to perform many specific tasks. It was this that prompted the creation of commando battalions in Britain, army ranger units in the United States, and part of the motorized infantry was reformed into panzergrenadiers in Germany. Having launched its great offensive in 1943, the Red Army faced the problem of significant losses during operations to capture German fortified areas, as well as in street battles.

The Germans were great docks in terms of building fortifications. Long-term firing points, often made of steel or concrete, covered each other, behind them were self-propelled guns or batteries of anti-tank guns. All approaches to the pillboxes were entangled with barbed wire and densely mined. In cities, every manhole or basement turned into such firing points. Even the ruins turned into impregnable forts.

Of course, penalty boxes could be used to take such fortifications - it is senseless to lay thousands of soldiers and officers, bringing joy to future denunciators of "Stalinism". One could throw oneself at the embrasure with one's chest - of course a heroic act, but absolutely senseless. In this regard, the Headquarters, which began to realize that it was time to stop fighting with the help of "hurray" and a bayonet, and chose a different path.

The very idea of the ShISBr (assault engineer-sapper brigades) was taken from the Germans, or rather, from the Kaiser's army. In 1916, during the battle for Verdun, the German army used special combat engineer-assault groups, which had special weapons (knapsack flamethrowers and light machine guns) and passed a special training course. The Germans themselves, apparently counting on a "blitzkrieg", forgot about their experience - and then for a considerable time they trampled under Sevastopol and in Stalingrad. But the Red Army took it into service.

The first 15 assault brigades began to form in the spring of 1943. The engineering units of the Workers 'and Peasants' Red Army served as the basis for them, since the new special forces required, mainly, technically competent specialists, since the range of tasks assigned to them was rather complex and wide.

The engineering reconnaissance company primarily investigated the enemy fortifications. The fighters determined the firepower and "architectural strength" of the fortifications. After that, a detailed plan was drawn up, indicating the location of bunkers and other firing points, what they are (concrete, earthen or others), what kind of weapons there are. It also indicates the presence of cover, the location of obstacles and minefields. Using this data, they developed an assault plan.

After that, assault battalions entered the battle (there were up to five per brigade). The fighters for the ShISBr were selected especially carefully. Sluggish, physically weak and soldiers over 40 years old could not get into the brigade.

Assault engineer-sapper brigades
Assault engineer-sapper brigades

The high requirements for candidates were simply explained: a fighter-attack aircraft carried a load that was several times greater than that of a simple infantryman. The standard set of a soldier included a steel bib, which provided protection against small fragments, as well as pistol (automatic) bullets, and a bag in which there was a “set of explosives”. The pouches were used to carry the increased ammunition load of grenades, as well as bottles with "Molotov cocktails" thrown into window openings or embrasures. From the end of 1943, assault engineer-sapper brigades began to use knapsack flamethrowers.

In addition to traditional assault rifles (PPS and PPSh), the soldiers of the assault units were armed with light machine guns and anti-tank rifles. Anti-tank rifles were used as large-caliber rifles to suppress emplacements.

To teach the personnel to run with this load on their shoulders and to minimize its possible losses, the fighters were given tough training. In addition to the fact that the ShISBr fighters ran on the obstacle course in full gear, combat bullets whistled over their heads. Thus, the soldiers were taught to "not stick out" even before the first battle and to consolidate this skill at the level of instinct. In addition, the personnel were engaged in practice shooting and demining and explosions. In addition, the training program included hand-to-hand combat, throwing axes, knives and sapper blades.

ShISBr training was much more difficult than the training of the same scouts. After all, the scouts went on a mission lightly, and the main thing for them was not to find themselves. At the same time, the fighter-attack aircraft did not have the opportunity to hide in the bushes, and he did not have the opportunity to quietly "slip away". The main goal of the ShISBr fighters were not drunk single "tongues", but the most powerful fortifications on the Eastern Front.

The battle began suddenly, quite often even without artillery preparation and even less shouts of "hurray!"Detachments of machine gunners and machine gunners, whose main goal was to cut off German bunkers from infantry support, quietly passed through pre-prepared passages in minefields. Flamethrowers or explosives dealt with the enemy bunker itself.

The charge placed in the ventilation hole made it possible to disable even the most powerful fortification. Where the grate barred the path, they acted witty and mercilessly: several cans of kerosene were poured inside, after which they threw a match.

The ShISBr fighters in urban conditions were distinguished by their ability to appear suddenly from a side unexpected for German soldiers. Everything was very simple: the assault engineer brigades literally passed through the walls, using TNT to pave the way. For example, the Germans turned the basement of a house into a bunker. Our soldiers entered from the side or from behind, blew up the basement wall (and in some cases the floor of the first floor) and then fired several jets from flamethrowers there.

Assault engineer-sapper brigades
Assault engineer-sapper brigades

The Germans themselves played an important role in replenishing the arsenal of the assault engineer-sapper brigades. In the summer of 1943, the Nazi army began to receive "Panzerfaust" (faust cartridges), which the retreating Germans left in huge quantities. The soldiers of the ShISBr immediately found a use for them, because the faustpatron could be used to break through not only armor, but also walls. Interestingly, the Soviet soldiers came up with a special portable rack that allowed them to fire a salvo of 6-10 faust cartridges at the same time.

Also, ingenious portable frames were used to launch Soviet M-31 heavy 300mm rockets. They were brought into position, laid down and fired with direct fire. For example, during the battle on Lindenstrasse (Berlin), three such shells were fired at a fortified house. The smoking ruins remaining from the building buried everyone inside.

All kinds of amphibious transporters and companies of flamethrower tanks came to support the assault battalions in 1944. The efficiency and power of the ShISBr, the number of which had increased to 20 by that time, increased dramatically.

However, the successes of the assault engineer-sapper brigades, shown at the very beginning, caused a real dizziness among the army command. The leadership had the wrong opinion that the brigades could do anything and they began to be sent into battle on all sectors of the front, and often without support from other branches of the armed forces. This was a fatal mistake.

If the German positions were covered by artillery fire, which had not previously been suppressed, the assault engineer-sapper brigades were practically powerless. After all, no matter what training the fighters went through, they were just as vulnerable to German shells as the recruits. The situation was even worse when the Germans repulsed their positions with a tank counterattack - in this case, the special forces suffered huge losses. Only in December 1943, the Headquarters established strict regulations for the use of assault brigades: now the ShISBr were necessarily supported by artillery, auxiliary infantry and tanks.

Assault engineer-sapper brigades
Assault engineer-sapper brigades

The rearguard of the assault engineer-sapper brigades were mine-clearing companies, including one company of mine-detecting dogs. They followed the ShISBr and cleared the main passages for the advancing army (the final clearance of the terrain fell on the shoulders of the rear sapper units). Steel bibs were also often used by miners - it is known that sappers sometimes make mistakes, and two-millimeter steel could protect them from the explosion of small anti-personnel mines. It was at least some kind of cover for the stomach and chest.

The battles in Konigsberg and Berlin, as well as the seizure of the fortifications of the Kwantung Army, became golden pages in the history of the assault engineer-sapper brigades. According to military analysts, without the engineering assault special forces, these battles would have dragged on, and the Red Army would have lost many more soldiers.

But, unfortunately, in 1946, the main body of the assault engineer-sapper brigades was demobilized, and then they were disbanded one by one. At first, this was facilitated by the confidence of the military leadership that the Third World War would be won thanks to the lightning strike of the Soviet tank armies. And after the appearance of nuclear weapons, the USSR General Staff began to believe that the enemy would be destroyed by an atomic bomb. Apparently, it did not occur to the old marshals that if anything would survive during a nuclear cataclysm, it would be underground forts and bunkers. Perhaps only the assault engineer-sapper brigades could "open" them.

The unique Soviet special forces unit was simply forgotten - so that the next generations did not even know about its existence. So one of the most glorious and interesting pages of the Great Patriotic War was simply erased.

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