On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, invading the Russian-held area of Poland. Nazi tanks streamed across the border between the two occupiers, arriving in the Lithuanian town of Raseiniai the next day.
The resistance there almost threw a wrench in the entire Nazi war plan.
As the Nazis advanced on the town, Soviet mechanized divisions moved to defend it. The local tank garrisons happened to be equipped with Kliment-Voroshilov tanks, an advanced armored vehicle invulnerable to almost anything the German infantry could throw at them.
A Kliment-Voroshilov Tank, taken out by German infantry.
Anti-tank weapons were useless. The Nazis tried everything to disable the KV tanks — other tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, but nothing worked. Even the vaunted sticky bomb couldn’t stop them.
According to the Russian Daily newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, German tanks and infantry advanced on the city but suddenly, well behind enemy lines, one Soviet KV tank drove into the middle of road and stopped — for a full day.
As this day wore on, the KV started tearing up Nazi anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns as “armor piercing” rounds bounced right off the tank’s skin. The Russians even took out 12 trucks. German engineers threw satchel charges at the tank, with little effect.
German guns, destroyed by the lone KV at Raseiniai. Photo from the personal archive of Maxim Kolomiets.
According to MK, Nazi battle group commander Colonel Erhard Raus wrote in his account of the action that an 88-mm anti-aircraft gun couldn’t even put a dent in the KV tank’s armor.
“… It turned out that the crew and the tank commander had nerves of steel. They calmly watched the approach of anti-aircraft guns, without interfering with it, as long as it didn’t not pose any threat to the tank. In addition, the closer the anti-aircraft gun, the easier it is to destroy. A critical time in the duel of nerves, when settlement began to prepare the gun to fire. While gunners, nervous, bridged and loaded the gun, the tank tower turned and fired the first shot! Every shot hit the target. The heavily damaged antiaircraft gun fell into the ditch.”
The KV harassed the attacking Germans throughout the night and by morning, the full force of the German infantry attacked the lone KV tank. The tank struck down as many as possible with its machine guns, but it wasn’t enough. The troops were finally able to throw grenades down the tank’s hatches and kill the crew.
Pitched fighting at Raseiniai lasted three days. The lone Soviet tank delayed them by a full day, taking on two full Nazi mechanized divisions.
June 25, 1941, German soldiers inspect “Raseiniai tank”. Photo from the personal archive of Maxim Kolomiets.
Russians have tried for years to postulate why the lone tank stopped and didn’t even try to maneuver. The most likely reason is that the tank ran out of gas. Red Army supply lines to Lithuania weren’t very good to begin with and a Nazi invasion sure wouldn’t have helped.
For 22 hours, the KV blocked the road, preventing the Germans from advancing into greater Russia, destroying or killing every Nazi man and machine in sight.
The Eastern Front of World War II is remembered by history for its brutality. Prisoners and war dead between the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army were treated with shocking disregard by any standard on both sides. The Nazis considered the Russians subhuman — theirs was a war of extermination.
In this instance, however, the German troops removed the Russian tank crew from their KV and buried them in the nearby woods with full military honors. Colonel Raus recounted in his memoirs:
“I am deeply shocked by this heroism, we buried them with full military honors. They fought to the last breath … “
Jan 16, 2017 5:17:08 pm
Blake Stilwell is a traveler and writer with expertise in television & film, international relations, public relations, and the Middle East. He is a veteran USAF combat cameraman whose civilian work includes ABC News, NBC, HBO, and the White House. Blake is based in LA but often found elsewhere.
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