Russia – Soviet: An exceptional and rare Posthumous failed crossing of the River Vistula award of the Order of the Patriotic War 1stClass to Private First Class Ivan Il’ich Fedorov, submachine-gunner, motorised submachine-gunners battalion, 12thSelf Propelled Gun Brigade who was killed in action on 28thJuly 1944 during an attack which resulted in almost the entire party being killed or wounded.
Order of the Patriotic War 1stClass, type 2, variation 1, in gold, silver and enamel and numbered 206551 to the reverse
Condition: backplate very slightly loose as sometimes seen on these awards, one small chip to the enamel on the end of the 10 o’clock arm, otherwise Good very fine
Ivan Il’ich Fedorov was born in 1911, and saw service with the Voronezh front in the Belgorod Sector between 5thJune 1943 and 12thJune 1943 just prior to Operation Citadel (The Battle of Kursk), possibly wounded, his next front line service was with the 1stBelarussian Front from 15thApril 1944 and it was whilst serving as a Submachine-gunner, motorised submachine-gunners battalion, 12thSelf-Propelled Gun Brigade that he was to be killed in action and subsequently awarded a Posthumous Patriotic War 1stClass with the following citation:
‘During the forced crossing of the Vistula River on 28thJuly 1944, there was lack of the floating equipment. Due to this, the battalion conducted Vistula crossing utilising two conjoined tree trunks. After having stepped on the left bank together with his comrades, he courageously repelled multiple enemy counter attacks right till he fell on the battlefield. For exhibited courage and steadfastness against the enemy pressure, he deserves a state award – Order ‘ Patriotic War 1stClass.’
The forced crossing is covered in the 12thSelf-Propelled Gun Brigade:
Order received: at 15.30, the Battalion was ordered to march to the Vistula bank in the village Bochotnica, collect locally available floating devices and force cross the river, taking control over a bridgehead in vicinity of the settlements Wojszyn and Nasilow. Defend the bridgehead until the reinforcement arrival.
The course of actions:
Having received the combat orders, the battalion conducted 70km march from Piaski to Bochotnica. No casualties, no loss of equipment during the march. At 22:00, the order was issued to collect locally available floating devices, boats-barrels, and construction of rafts. 2 boats were found, one of which required repairs. 3 truck loads of logs and planks were delivered to the crossing site. The repaired boats and the constructed rafts were placed at the crossing site, 3km south west of Bochotnica.
28 July 1944 at 02:00, mass forced crossing of the Vistula began, utilising the boats, the rafts, logs and planks. By 03:00, 70 men of the 1stand 2ndcompany crossed the river. The rest of the troops crossed by 04:00 together with the battalion command corps.
At 05:00, continuing the advance, the battalion encountered unexpected water barrier: 15-20m wide and 3m deep Vistula Creek. This was a surprising new development for the command, because the topographic map was absent at the time of the crossing and the enemy troops locations was not known. The men of the motorised submachine-gunners battalion and the men from the 2ndrifle battalion of the 240thRifle Regiment attempted to locate a ford, but without success. Only by 10:00 on 28thJuly, the ford was found, though it was unfit for a decisive advance by the whole battalion force. By this time, 7 men were killed and 3 wounded by strong enemy mortar and sniper fire. The battalion reported by radio to the deputy brigade commander, who ordered the battalion to push across the creek and assault, taking control over a bridgehead.
The assault of the enemy controlled bank was performed by the 1stand 3rdcompany. The 2ndcompany provided suppressive fire from the little island. The enemy had well established system of defence and large number of machine-gun positions (some of which were placed in pillboxes). The enemy field artillery barraged the approaches to the left bank. As soon as the assault began, the enemy opened massive fire at the attacking machine-gunners. There was another complication for the assault during the day: the island western side was completely open towards the enemy controlled bank and the approaches to the water line were easily covered by the enemy line of fire. Nonetheless, the enemy was pushed out of the forward positions and the bridgehead was established.
26 submachine-gunners and 2 officers managed to establish their position on the bridgehead and defended it. In this assault, the battalion lost 8 Killed in Action and 18 Wounded in Action. Our artillery and SPGs were not properly active and didn’t provide required support to the bridgehead defenders. The German fire defence system was not disrupted.
The kept delivering heavy artillery, mortar, machine-gun, and sniper fire at the bridgehead and the island. Due to this, only 2 men managed to cross from the island to the bridgehead (despite that 2 companies of 240RR tried to cross). The ammunition in the battalion was being depleted. During the day, it was not possible to transport the ammunition from the eastern bank to the island. Therefore the ammunition was salvaged from the wounded and killed and transported from the island to the bridgehead. Also, the battalion intensified sniper fire from the island at the enemy snipers and other visible targets on the left bank.
All the killed and wounded were transported to the eastern side of the island awaiting evacuation to the eastern Vistula bank after dark. All the remaining troops dug in and braced for the defence of the bridgehead against the enemy counter attacks.
On 28thJuly at 17:00, the enemy airforce conducted 3 massive air raids by 8 and 11 aircrafts at our forward line. At 22:00 after a strong 30 minutes artillery barrage and other fire, the enemy commenced a counter attack by a battalion of infantry. After having defending ferociously against the enemy counter-attack and depleting fully their available bullets and grenades ammunitions, our machine-gunners engaged the enemy in hand to hand battle.
Suffering great losses, the remaining bridgehead defenders retreated 100m into the island under the covering fire and took position on the island left bank. The reasons for abandoning the bridgehead: On the night of crossing 27-28 July, the battalion was unaware that it lands on an island, due to reconnaissance failure and due to lack of topographic maps. Hence, the battalion had to act blinded by the fog of war. The enemy fire positions were not suppressed, which resulted in only 26 men managed to get to the bridgehead instead of 2 rifle companies. The rest could not cross being inhibited by the extremely dense enemy fire. Our artillery didn’t open fire, despite the green target flares being used and the request by radio. There was also missing machine-gun fire support from the 2ndRifle Battalion of the 240thRifle Regiment. And the battalion lacked own machine-guns during the assault. The ammunition on the bridgehead ran out and 21 men were taken out of the line being either killed or wounded.
The supporting artillery did not open fire to protect the assault party. The radio was destroyed and the communication link was lost. Continuing sturdy defence on the island, the battalion steadfastly held on during the whole day of 29 July.
On 29 July, the battalion received the order to retreat from the island and to relocate to the forst 1km west of Zaborze-Kolonia.
During 23:00-03:00 on 30 July, all the personnel as well the killed and wounded were evacuated across the Vistula River and marched to the new location near Zaborze-Kolonia.
As a result of the 2 days of fighting, our battalion eliminated up to 200 enemy troops. Our losses:
Officers - 3 KIA, 2 WIA.
NCOs – 2 KIA, 8 WIA
Enlisted men – 13 KIA, 23 WIA.
On the list of names defending the bridgehead, Fedorov is number 17