In early 1942 the Soviet supply situation was dire; especially in the besieged city of Leningrad. After almost a year of hard fighting, many units had almost no tanks remaining. The 107th Separate Tank Battalion was but one example of many. The Battalion, like so many other units, remained at the front fighting desperately to try to lift the siege of Leningrad. The men were available, but the issue was a shortage of tanks at the front. More tanks were desperately needed and one particular Senior Sergeant had an idea on how to get his crew into a tank..
A separate company equipped with captured tank (a PzKpfw III and three StuG IIIs)
Starshina Nikolai I Baryshev could see an abandoned German Panzer III which had been disabled by Soviet infantry armed with grenades. Earlier, his Battalion Commander had given permission for the Battalion to acquire whatever German tanks they could to temporarily address the shortage at the front. This was a stopgap measure only until more tanks could delivered. The Panzer III was only 150 meters from the German lines. That night Starshina Baryshev led his crew as they snuck up to the damaged tank. In total darkness and utter silence, the crew investigated the tank. Its tracks had been damaged and turret traverse had been jammed. The crew set about restoring the tank to as best they could to make it mobile again. Repairing a track is not a quiet job and inevitably the work was detected. The Germans immediately opened fire with whatever they could. With bullets and shrapnel whizzing around their ears, the crew managed to complete the repairs and drive the Panzer III back to the relative safety of their own lines.
The Panzer III was redesignated as a “T-3” which became the designator for all captured PzIIIs later pressed into service. The 107th was resourceful enough to repair and use captured German tanks against their former owners whenever necessary. In July 1942, the 107th had on strength one KV, two T-34's, a BT-7, two Panzer III's (T-3), a Panzer IV (T-4), three StuG.III's (SU-75) and even a Panzer I (T-1)!
I. Sobchenko is briefing the 107th Separate Tank Battalion personnel on the overall situation.
In April, Starshina Baryshev led a Platoon in support of some infantry on the attack and got separated from the rest of the force. Pushing onwards, he found another force of infantry halted by the Germans. The appearance of Baryshev’s PzIII allowed the infantry to force the German line and cross the River Mga. The force severed a main communication road and held their position awaiting reinforcement for two day. Eventually, surrounded and under constant bombardment and assault, the two battalions of Russians were whittled down to 23 men. Even Starshina Baryshev had been wounded by shrapnel in the face.
With no hope to hold any longer, the Soviets were forced to withdraw. Starshina Baryshev loaded the remaining men on his tank and pulled back. They reached the bank of the Mga and Starshina Baryshev remained behind to cover the infantry as they crossed the river. His T-3 was unable to cross at that point due to the depth of the river. When German tanks approached his position, his crew faked that their tank was stuck by reviving the engine and causing it to lurch forwards and backwards. The Germans didn't realise the Panzer III to their front was a captured machine and began to close. Distracted by the T-3s antics they didn't see the Soviet infantry until too late. By the time they opened fire nearly all the infantry had reached safety.
PzKpfw III tank. The 107th Separate Tank Battalion.
Now that the infantry had reached the other bank, Starshina Baryshev set off as fast as he could for the nearest crossing point that the PzIII could use. Maneuvering his PzIII like he owned the place and was supposed to be where he was, he headed for a usable ford over a kilometre away and behind German lines. Germans waved and greeted him, Further strength was leant to his maskirovka (deception) as his PzIII was being followed by the two German Panzers whom had found him at the clearing. They had thought the tank suspicious looking and followed it. Starshina Baryshev didn't discover this until they were almost at the crossing point. Halting quickly, he sent two crew ahead to inform the Soviet defenders of the situation. As the T-3 began to cross, the Germans opened fire. Their first shells bounced off turret armour and Starshina Baryshez began waving a red rag out the top hatch. Soviet guns on the far bank then opened fire on the Germans and surging through the water of the ford, the T-3 made it back to safety without further incident or damage.
The 107th was still operating German tanks in August when Starshina Baryshev was photographed with several other members of his regiment in front of their captured tanks for the Newspaper Leningradskaya Pravda. In 1943, the Tank battalion was converted to a mechanised unit.
David “Listy” Lister and Rick “JoJohnson” Johnson