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Battlefield Kraslava : July 1941 and March 2020

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

New research from a private archives and a few searches conducted in early 2020 by Legenda and Venta made this unique article possible.

The wintery search on the hilltops south of Kraslava close to the Belarusian border in early 2020 proved to be the start of a series of unexpected finds for the search teams as they uncovered the debris of war and five Red Army Soldiers of which all were identified. Recent research has uncovered the stories of two Waffen SS soldiers who fought in the same sector of the battlefield in Kraslava in June and July 1941.

The Venta and Legenda teams walk the countryside close to Kraslava in March 2020. Photo: Legenda Archaeology

Kraslava July 1941

The German Army Group North was faced with one obstacle when pushing through the Latvian territory in late June and early July 1941, as usual it was a geographical obstacle namely the river Daugava. The bridgehead at Kraslava was heavily defended and had to be taken in order to continue a line of advance in the direction of the Stalin Line. Tasked with taking the strong points and meeting the Red Army at the strong points were members of the most feared unit of the German armed forces, the SS Totenkopf Infanterie Regiment 1, 2 and 3 as well as a standard unit of the Wehrmacht, namely Infanterie Regiment 407, (121st Infanterie Division).

SS Totenkopf Division Commander - SS-Standartenführer Max Simon. Tasked with taking Kraslava and pushing to the Stalin Line, he too was wounded in the heavy fighting.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Cantzler-042-16

Guarding the small hilltops and area of Kraslava on the roads and forests were members of the Soviet 416 Rifle Regiment, (112th Infantry Division) with three battalions under the command of Major Alexander Antonovich Budanov. The Rifle Regiment was mainly made up of conscripts from the Kunger region, Perm in the Ural mountains of the former Soviet Union. The 112th Infantry Division was tasked with defending the line from 'Kraslav - Bigosovo' the right flank of the division was spanning from the north at Lake Drizda to the western approaches of Kraslava, to the south ending with the right bank of the river Daugava. The division had the support of artillery in hidden positions east of Kraslava in the forest.

Commander of the 112th Infantry Division, Colonel Ivan Kopyak.

Source: Public Domain

The German offensive on Kraslava begun on the 2nd of July 1941 at 0300. By 0500 the artillery of both sides was finding their targets. By 0700, the Totenkopf Infanterie Regiment 1 was one kilometre outside Kraslava with the Soviet forces fighting hard to hold them back. The 416 Rifle Regiment's second battalion mounted a counter attack on the right flank north east in the direction of Udrishi but was not successful and took heavy losses. At around 1600 German forces were engaged in street fighting for Kraslava, the Soviet Colonel Kopyak commander of the 112th Infantry Division was forced to put his reserves into battle, the 385 Rifle Regiment. By 1800 Kraslava was in the hands of German forces, the Soviets were on the back foot and had to retreat. The reason given was that in the town of Dagda (not far from Kraslava), the Soviet 21st Mechanized Corps was forced to pull back. Putting the 112th Infantry Division at risk from encirclement. As darkness set, the Soviet soldiers had settled into makeshift positions around half a kilometre from Kraslava on the hillstops, and from 2200 their artillery was still firing towards the German line of advance.

By 0300 on the 3rd of July, a Soviet offensive was launched but it was not effective, the attacks were smashed by the first and second battalions of the Totenkopf Infanterie Regiment 1. At 1600 the following day, the Wehrmacht's 407 Infanterie Regiment (121 Infanterie Division) arrives in Kraslava. Not without losses, the divisional commander of the 121st, the then Generalmajor Otto Lancelle is the first German General to be killed on the Eastern Front, shot by a sniper. The Soviet forces must retreat to a new line of defence - the Saryanka River (Verkhniadzvinsk District, Belarus).

Generalmajor (Promoted on his death to Generalleutnant) Otto Lancelle, shot by a sniper at Kraslava was the first German General to fall on the Eastern Front. Interestingly, Lancelle had made an official complaint about the behaviour of SS Totenkopf Infanterie Regiment 1 in Kraslava, stating they had looted the town during the assault itself leading to unnecessarily high losses among the German troops.

Source: Public Domain/Fair Use.

Kraslava March 2020

Legenda and Venta walk the hills close to Kraslava where Major Budanov's soldiers of the 416th Rifle Regiment fought bitterly with Totenkopf Infanterie Regiment 1 (1st and 2nd Batl).

The following men of the 416th Rifle Regiment were found and identified:

1. Pulyaev Nikolai Fedorovich (Arkhangelsk Region)

2. Mookoz Vasily Timofeevich (Frunze)

3. Patrushev Mikhail Alekseevich (Kirov region)

4. Pomazkin Pavel  Yakovlevich (Arkhangelsk)

5. Laptev Stepan Maximovich (Kungur district)

Seen here is Legenda's Team Leader Talis Esmits pacing along the fields to find those still missing. Source: Legenda Archaeology

SS marked rifle bullets were found scatted around the area, the infamous runes stamped on the rifle shells. Source: Legenda Archaeology

A Soviet Soldier is found, next to the tripod of a heavy machine gun, he lay twisted among the debris of war with his helmet still on in the trench. Source: Legenda Archaeology

The lid of a mess tin, positively identified Pulyaev Nikolai Fedorovich (Arkhangelsk Region, Russia). Pulyaev was laying among his personal items, face down in the sand facing the road. Source: Legenda Archaeology

Laptev Stepan Maximovich from the Kungur district was a Machine Gunner Crew member, in the 416th Rifle Regiment. Found that day on his body was his bakelite identification holder still held his paper details. His picture was found by one of our researchers, Laptev was only 30 years old when he went missing. He was found, crouched over facing the road on the hill in the trench. Left behind, he is no longer forgotten and will be reburied soon.

SS-Unterscharführer Walter Kurz from Saarbrücken, Germany, was born in 1920. Kurz joined the SS in 1937 and was killed in action at the age of 24 in January 1944, he is likely buried as an unknown soldier in Kirowograd, Russia. Kurz fought with the SS Totenkopf Regiment 1 in Kraslava, marked in his Wehrpass (SS paperwork) was that he had fought in Kraslava in July 1941. Source: Private Collection - SS Soldbuch and Wehrpass

Another soldier of the 416th Rifle Regiment is found, a signal from his helmet revealed where he fell with his full gear still on. He too had his identification paper roll and was positively identified.

Source: Legenda Archaeology.

Pomazkin Pavel  Yakovlevich (From Arkhangelsk, Russia) was 36 years old when he was killed in Kraslava he was found by the team in March of 2020, this photograph was found shortly after. He was reported missing and never seen again. He will be reburied with respect and dignity, no longer left on the silent battlefield.

In a letter obtained by Legenda from his family:
'My Mother, his sister, often stood in the evenings by his portrait which hung on the wall, hoping he would one day enter the room'. Before her death in 1977, she said to her daughter, 'Rita, look for my brother Pashka, find him!'

SS-Unterscharführer Alois Kerbl from Linz, Austria was born in 1922. Kerbl joined the SS in 1938. He fought with Totenkopf Regiment 3 in Kraslava and Dagda and on the 3rd of July 1941 he was killed outside Dagda. His personal documents recovered from his body after his death state he was in Kraslava and killed three kilometers outside Dagda. Kerbel is buried in Daugapils in a marked grave. Kerbl's SS Soldbuch and Wehrpass were supplied for this article from a private archive.

Likely more men of the 416th Rifle Regiment are laying on the hills outside Kraslava, needless to say Legenda are willing to go back there and do what they can to recover any missing soldiers. Our mission goes on!

Thanks for reading this article, if you want to see a short video of the Expeditions carried out in Kraslava please see below.

This article was created from the research of Jonny Bay and Olegs Utorovs, with thanks to the private collectors who shared their archive with us.

Video: Viktors Duks @ Legenda - December 2020

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