Now and Then - Motorcycles in Soltsy

soltsy counterstrike 1941 motorcycles zundapp

Soltsy, Sovetsky prospekt. July 1941/April 2023

Soviet soldiers walk past an abandoned Zundapp KS 750 motorcycle with tactical markings of the 8th Panzer Division.

In the days when Leningrad militiamen assaulted well-organised defenses of the 6th Panzer Division in Ivanovskoye with invariably deplorable results, the Kameraden of these tankers from the 8th Panzer Division suffered a humiliating defeat, if only measured by the scale of the climax of Operation Barbarossa when German troops barely paused during their inexorable drive deep into the Soviet territory. Ordered by Marshal Voroshilov, executed by the commander of the North-Western Front General Sobennikov and planned by the future star of Soviet military strategic thought General Vatutin, the counterstrike at Soltsy, however well-planned it was, suffered from all common ills of the Red Army at the start of the war: poor communications and intelligence, mechanical breakdowns, lack of coordination between branches of the military and poor air cover. Yet it managed to send an entire Panzer division with other attached units reeling about 40 kilometers back - a feat no other Soviet counterstrike achieved until September 1941 in Yelnya.

From the memoirs of a soldier of Extemination Battalion (rear area guard unit) Mikhail Andreyevich Pavlov:

"There's a town called Soltsy, about 30 kilometers to the north of Dno. The is where our 11th Corps, I reckon, organised a counterstrike. They enveloped a German mechanised corps in a semi-ring and the Germans seemingly tried to escape from this ring by crossing the river Shelon'. That's how their recon units got to the town of Dno. After an alarm was sounded we were urgently dispatched there on 3 GAZ-AA trucks.

Our objective was to walk around the village of Sosnimitsy to cut off the escape route to the West for the Germans. A group of Red Army soldiers and an armoured car attacked the village from the front, and the armoured car made several shots. Our detour route passed across the dried up floodplain of a little river, and this slowed us down. We weren't able to block their route completely. After 2-3 45mm gun shots from the armoured car, which set 2 houses on fire, the Germans retreated. We shot at their backs, but missed. When we entered the village, we found 5 damaged motorcycles there. And, if I remember correctly, 7 Germans, 2 of which were severely wounded. One of them, who was wounded in the chest and forearm, was finished off by one of grown up men from our group, who said "He's a goner anyway, and we're no doctors". The fate of the second one remained unknown to me. Local villages picked up and tossed the dead bodies of Germans into the burning houses, for which they were punished by the Germans after the occupation of the village.

All motorcycles were damaged, with their tanks mostly shot through. Maybe they did it themselves lest the cycles would fall into enemy hands intact. There were no weapons on them. One of the cycles had its headlight case open, and being an electrical enthusiast myself, I pulled the lamp from it. All our lamps had screw bases and this one was pin based, and as an 18 year old boy, I was very curious about it."

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