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he early days of the Great Patriotic War were hectic. Without the proper preparations for an attack, the Soviets were put on the back foot against an already more organized and higher-quality German force. Even with this lack of organization, the Soviets were determined not to let their motherland go down to the fascists and, as such, fought fiercely.

One very important component of the Soviets’ early defense was the KV-1 tank. This tank was the most armored vehicle on the Eastern Front, and as such most Panzer tanks of that era could not penetrate its thick armor. The KV’s 76mm cannon was also able to penetrate most Panzers at the time leading it to become one of the best tanks on the Eastern Front. Thus it is not surprising that this tank could fight multiple Panzers at a time, but one tank could only do so much, right? Lieutenant Zinoviy Kolobanov proved this to be wrong.

Protect Leningrad

The early stages of the Great Patriotic War saw the Soviet Army in a rapid retreat. Wehrmacht troops pushed ruthlessly into the heart of the Communist empire, killing anyone who opposed their advance. Due to being heavily outnumbered, the Soviets couldn’t do much against the advancing force.

The one saving grace of the Red Army was the KV-1. This tank could withstand the shells of the Panzer II and Panzer III tanks and thus was key to the initial defensive effort. One such tank would delay the German push towards Leningrad.

Two women sitting in the rouble of a building in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) was a key objective for the German army. Not only was it the biggest Soviet port with access to the Baltic sea, but it also held the name of the highest regarded Soviet figure, Lenin. Capturing the city of Leningrad would mean a two-fold defeat for the Soviets, both morally and militarily; as such, it was crucial to delay its capture for as long as possible.

Лейтенaнт Зиновий Григорьевич Колобанов (Anglicised: Lieutenant Zinoviy Grigorevich Kolobanov) decided to take this task into his own hands and commanded his KV-1 division to set up an ambush in Krasnogvardeysk (now Gatchina, a settlement near Leningrad).

One road through the swamp

The defenders in the KV-1 were in luck. The only real way the Germans could move forward to capture Leningrad was through a thin road that went through a swamp, both conditions favoring the more armored and fewer KV-1s. Although heavier, the KV-1s had much wider tracks compared to the Panzer II and Panzer III, this meant that the much heavier KV-1s wouldn’t sink in the marshy land of northern Russia, whereas the Panzers would. Kolobanov decided to take advantage of this.

A Panzer II. The thin tracks can be seen here. These will be the downfall of the tank column. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Lieutenant ordered the tanks of his division to hide within the thick marsh and await further instructions. All of the KV-1s carried twice their normal load of shells to allow the small unit to knock down the entire advancing column of Panzers. The 6th Panzer Division entered the marsh and fell right into Kolobanov’s trap. With the lieutenant’s tank first in line to fire at the enemy, Kolobanov’s KV-1 gunner, Andrej Usov, let off the first shot. With the first shot, the column was stopped as it struck the leading tank. With no room to maneuver, the column panicked.

Initially, the German column didn’t know they were under fire from a hidden enemy as they presumed that the front tank had hit an anti-tank mine. This left the column vulnerable, which allowed Usov to knock out two more Panzers, the second from the front and the last one of the column, trapping the remaining tanks. The tanks at the center of the column tried to turn and go into the marsh to the left and the right of the main road, but due to their thin tracks, many got bogged down, making them easy targets for Usov.

Before running out of ammo, Kolobanov’s KV-1 managed to take out 22 tanks and 2 two towed artillery pieces. Kolobanov’s KV-1 then fell back and allowed another KV-1 of its unit to fire at the enemy. By the time the battle ended, 43 Panzers were disabled and destroyed by two of the KV-1 tanks of the unit, with the others lying in reserve, allowing the people of Leningrad more time to escape.

Awards

The Novy Uchkhoz memorial. Source: Wikimedia Commons

For the unit’s show of bravery, Usov’s fantastic show of marksmanship, and Kolobanov’s show of leadership, multiple awards were given out.

Out of all of the squad Kolobanov received the most awards, of which the most notable include:

Two Orders of the Red Banner

Order of the Patriotic War 1st class

Order of the Red Star

Medal for Battle Merit

A monument of an IS-2 (a KV-1 wasn’t available) was later created in the settlement under the name of the Novy Uchkhoz memorial to commemorate the bravery of the unit and their sacrifice for the motherland.

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