The 16th Rifle Division (Russian: 16-я 'Литовская' стрелковая дивизия, Lithuanian: 16-oji 'Lietuviškoji' divizija) was a formation in the Red Army created during World War II. The division was formed twice, and was given the title 'Lithuanian' during its second formation. It was originally established at Tambov in May 1918. It was wiped out at Mga in July 1941. Reformed and given the title 'Lithuanian', the division participated in several battles against Nazi Germany, including Kursk, Belarus, and the Baltic. The division became a brigade postwar but became a division again in 1950. It was disbanded in 1956.
The division was originally formed in 1918.
At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa the 16th Rifle Division (I Formation) was part of North-Western Front's 27th Army, reporting directly to Army headquarters along with the 67th Rifle Division and 3rd Rifle Brigade. It was destroyed at Mga amid the first German drive on Leningrad.
When the 16th Division was reformed after its destruction, it was named 'Lithuanian' for political purposes.
After Lithuania, along with Latvia and Estonia, were occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, the Lithuanian Army was reorganized into the Red Army's 29th Rifle Corps. At the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Lithuanians massively deserted, joined anti-Soviet June Uprising, or surrendered to the Germans. The corps was officially disbanded in August 1941.
Despite this disaster, Lithuanian communists, including Antanas Sniečkus and Mečislovas Gedvilas, sought to establish a new Lithuanian unit. Similar national military units were created by Estonians (8th Estonian Rifle Corps) and Latvians (130th Latvian Rifle Corps).
The decision to re-form the division was made by the State Defense Committee on 18 December 1941. It was decided that it would be formed in the Moscow Military District, in the city of Balakhna, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. The division was officially labelled "Lithuanian" to encourage enlistment of Lithuanians. Personnel were assembled from:
- remnants of the 184th Rifle Division (former 29th Rifle Corps)
- Lithuanians that were living in Russia for a long time
- and any Lithuanian-speaking refugees that had fled Lithuania after the German invasion. However, out of 23,000 refugees from Lithuania, 15,000 of them were Jewish.
Lithuanians born in Russia and Russians born in Lithuania were drafted into the division, because there was insufficient numbers of Lithuanians to form a division.
The officers of the division were mostly graduates from the Vilnius infantry academyNovokuznetsk, Kemerovo Oblast.
, who had been evacuated after the invasion to
Formation and training of the division came to an end by February 1943 and the division entered the war on 21 February 1943 at Alekseyevka, 50 km southeast of Oryol. This brought the division into the path of the Wehrmacht's Operation Citadel or Battle of Kursk, where it served with the 42nd Rifle Corps of the 48th Army, Soviet Central Front. In the first days of the battle, the 16th Rifle Division withstood the attack of the German 383rd Infantry and 18th Panzer Divisions, that were accompanied by 120 planes. After suffering serious losses, the Soviet armies eventually emerged victorious. Between 20 February and 24 March 1943, the division lost 1,169 dead and 3,275 injured men. During this battle a private named Viktoras Jacenevičius, was wounded, taken prisoner and then tortured to death by the Germans. He was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
Following the victory at Kursk, the division was assigned to the 1st Baltic Front.
On 1 June 1944, the division was directly subordinate to the Front, along with 47th Rifle Division. Along with the 3rd Belarussian Front, they invaded Belarus and much of Lithuania. On 2 August 1944, division had arrived at the suburbs of Šiauliai, which was home to their commander, Vladas Karvelis. The division was stationed there for one month, to receive reinforcements from Lithuanian forced-volunteers.
In mid-August the city of Šiauliai was hit by the German Šiauliai Offensive. The Wehrmacht divisions were armed with 900 armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. For three days the 16th Division stood its ground, and in the end as the German attack ran out of steam the Division emerged victorious. On 31 October the division was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for "courage and valor" in breaking through German defenses west of Šiauliai.
On 31 January 1945, the Lithuanian division received orders to join the fight against the Germans in the Courland Pocket. The German resistance was strong and elements of Army Group Courland did not surrender to the Soviets until 8–9 May at the end of World War II in Europe.
The division was part of 22nd Guards Rifle Corps, 6th Guards Army towards the end of the war on 1 May 1945.
After the war, many former soldiers of the division's went to Palestine.
Structure (World War II)
- 156th Rifle Regiment (commander Colonel V. Lunia)
- 167th Rifle Regiment (commander Colonel Vladas Motieka)
- 249th Rifle Regiment (commander Lieutenant Colonel F.Lysenko)
- 224th Artillery Regiment (commander Major Povilas Simonaitis)
- Signal Battalion
- Field Engineer Battalion (commander Major Petras Ciunis)
- Anti-tank Battalion
- Mortar Battalion
According to various sources, 50%, up to 80% and even 85% of the division was Jewish. Due to this, the division was nicknamed "The division with the sixteen Lithuanians". As the Soviet military wanted to preserve the Lithuanian character of the division, there was a policy of sending Jews to fight and keeping Lithuanians behind the front. As a result, 90% of the division's casualties were Jews and the division was only about 20% Jewish when it reached Lithuania. As of 1 January 1943, of the 10,250 soldiers and officers of the division, 7,000 of them were ethnic Lithuanians and/or inhabitants of the Lithuanian SSR. The total ethnic make-up of the division was:
Although other sources cite figures of 2378 Jews (23.2%) in the division, it is still the highest number of ethnic Jews amongst all divisions of the Red Army. Jews made 13% (136 persons) of all officers in the division and 34.2% of all soldiers in the infantry regiments. 12 soldiers of a division have been awarded the title, Hero of the Soviet Union, of them, four were Jews:
Originally, commands and orders were given in the Lithuanian language. However over a third of all soldiers in the division did not speak Lithuanian. More problems arose when officers from other divisions were sent to train and transfer their fighting experience to the soldiers of the 16th. Most of them had never heard a word of Lithuanian in their lives, and were mainly Russophone. For these reasons, the language of commands, orders and even conversation, became Russian and also Yiddish.
In 1947, it became the 44th Rifle Brigade at Vilnius, now with the 2nd Guards Rifle Corps. In December 1950, it became a division again. It was disbanded on 7 July 1956.
- ^ Orbat.com/Niehorster, 27th Army Order of Battle, 22 June 1941
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- ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army Archived 21 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine, 1 July 1943 lists the 16th as part of 42nd Rifle Corps along with 202nd and 399th Rifle Divisions
- ^ Raudonosios armijos 16-oji lietuviškoji šaulių divizija: kelias nuo suformavimo iki katastrofos prie Aleksejevkos (1941-1943 m. vasaris-kovas), page 337
- ^ Combat Composition of the Soviet Army Archived 14 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, 1 June 1944
- ^ Combat composition of the Soviet Army
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- ^ a b Weinstein, Miriam (2001). Yiddish : A Nation of Words. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 182. ISBN 0-345-44730-1.
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- ^ Lipman, Eliezer. "In the Lithuanian Division".
- ^ "Литовцы стояли стеной". Они Освобождали Родную Прибалтику. Archived from the original on 30 December 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
- ^ Feskov et al 2013, p. 441
- ^ Feskov et al 2013, p. 149
- ^ Feskov et al 2013, p. 150