Ermak Travel Guide

 

The World at your fingertips 

 

 

 

Feel free to leave your comments below. If you want to share your knowledge, additional information or experience in a particular place your input is more than welcome.

 

World War II Sites

Rzhev

Rzhev

I was killed near Rzhev
In a nameless bog,
In fifth company,
On the Left flank,
In a cruel air raid

I didn’t hear explosions
And did not see the flash
Down to an abyss from a cliff
No start, no end

And in this whole world
To the end of its days -
Neither patches, nor badges
From my tunic you’ll find

Russian soldiers of the Red Army

 

 

 

Location: Tver Oblast   Map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rzhev is a common Russian town in the Central part of Russia just few hundred kilometers from Moscow. Historians don't know the etymology of its name. Its origin is also unknown. All we know that the city already existed in the 13th century. It quietly grew and lived its life. In the 19th century several factories were constructed that produced clothes and textile. Rzhev probably would not be worth mentioning if it wasn't for the events that happened here during World War II.

 

Rzhev  Rzhev

This is the view of Rzhev in the early 20th century. Much of it was destroyed during the course of the Great Patriotic War. Many heard about Battle of Stalingrad or Battle of Berlin, but few have heard about a battle that was fought around Rzhev for over a year. High levels of losses (at least 400,000 dead) and several devastating defeats made this city an uncomfortable page in the history of the war. Even if it was mentioned in the official Soviet records, it was mostly referred as a series of minor fire fights without much strategic value. Only recently historical records began to open up and Rzhev- Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation became known as a Battle of Rzhev. Soldiers who lived through this carnage called it simply "Rzhev meat grinder" (Ржевская Мясорубка).

 

Battle of Rzhev started in January of 1942. After the defeat of German forces near Moscow in December of 1941, Staling hoped to take out Wehrmacht with a single blow. The only major obstacle was the Rzhev salient. The city had a good fortifications system, but it was mostly abandoned when Red Army was re- grouping near Soviet capital. Now Russian army had to retake a well fortified town surrounded by swamps, bogs, virgin forests and numerous rivers and lakes. General Mikhail Grigoryevich Efremov (Yefromov) pictured on the right was chosen to lead 33rd Army into German defenses. General asked for several weeks to prepare for the attack, gather ammunition and fill the ranks of the units that suffered heavy casualties during defense of Moscow just few weeks prior. But Stalin made his decision and no one dared to compete with it.

 

Red Army quickly breached enemy defenses, but as it was moving inside the territory Germans counter attacked. The 33rd Army was surrendered. Efremov repeatedly asked for reinforcements. Most of units were dangerously low on ammunition. Zhukov who commanded the front refused to give any help. Efremov a desperate and a suicidal move. He ignored his superior and asked Stalin directly. Stalin didn't offer any help and sent a small biplane PO-2 (also known as U-2) to get the general out. General refused to leave his men and instead gave all the flags of army divisions to the pilot so they wouldn't be captured by the German troops. Efremov and his men tried a desperate break out of encirclement. Germans made a final attack. Only few groups managed to return back to the Russian forces. General Efremov committed suicide to avoid becoming a prisoner of war. First attempt to break through the German line have failed.

 

The body of General Efremov was found by the Germans and delivered to the headquarters. German officer lined up his men on one side of the body, and several Russian POWs on the other. Then he told his men: "Fight for German as he fought for Russia". Germans buried 45 years old general in a village of Slobodka. After the war the body was excavated and reburied. When the coffin was opened they found that the golden watch of the general remained in place out of respect for the deceased.

 

A new attempt to take Rzhev was undertaken later the same year. This time general Ivan I. Maslenikov (pictured left) led his 39th army against German defenses. It went too fast and too deep before the Wehrmacht simply did not encircle it. Stalin sent another plane to rescue his general and Maslenikov did not want to repeat the fate of Efremov. He passed his command to general Ivan A. Bogdanov (pictured right) and left his men. Bogdanov managed to take remaining 10,000 troops out of the encirclement, but just few miles from the friendly ground he was wounded and subsequently died.

 

Changing strategic situation and defeat of the Wehrmacht in Stalingrad made RzhevRzhev defenses too much of the burden for the German forces. Soldiers were ordered to leave the city and retreat. In a strange last move Hitler asked to carry a phone line to the bridge across Volga river that was intended to be blown up by the retreating forces. Apparantly he wanted to hear in person the destruction of this important crossing point. The old picture of the city on the right is the picture of that bridge. In reality the river was covered in ice so Russian soldiers didn't even intend to cross into city across the bridge. Rzhev was finally retaken on March 3rd of 1943. Only 300 residents that remained in the city were closed in the Old Believers church of Pokrovskaya (Protection). The grounds of the church were mined and booby trapped by the retreating Germans. It took several hours before Russian engineers managed to free the civilians that became prisoners stuck there for hours.

 

 

 

 

World War II remains

There is no doubt that Rzhev and its surroundings has the highest concentration of remains from the World War II. There is virtually not a single hectare of land that doesn't have human bones, rifles, helmets and many other remains. Swamps and bogs around the city swallowed numerous Soviet and German tanks who were foolish enough to get there. You don't even need a metal detector to find mines, remains of cars and other memorabilia from the time period. Lack of any regulations allowed many people to come and search for firearms, bullets, medals and in some case whole tanks. Technically finders are keepers. With this said there has to be a warning. If you ever go to the country side around Rzhev make sure that you start your fire in a safe place. There have several episodes when young people who came for archeological digs were actually killed by old ammunition after they started a fire over some old forgotten storage.

 

Rzhev  Rzhev

Rzhev  Rzhev

Cemetery at the Entrance of Rzhev. Left picture is that of the Russian soldiers. On the right is the recently opened German cemetery.

 

Rzhev  Rzhev

Rzhev  Rzhev  Rzhev  Rzhev  Rzhev  Rzhev

In the past four years along over 18,000 bodies of soldiers were discovered and reburied with all military honours.

 

Rzhev  Rzhev

March 3rd, 1942. Only three private houses remained standing after Red Army liberated the city.

Rzhev  Rzhev

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog comments powered by Disqus