In the summer of 1941, as the Nazis implemented their Blitzkrieg strategy in the early months of World War II, using fast tank and infantry attacks to cut off and surround unwieldy Soviet formations, some extraordinary feats took place.
It was during the Battle of Raseiniai (23–27 June 1941) that German forces encountered a unit equipped with the Soviet KV heavy tanks for the first time. Gen. E.N. Soliankin's 2nd Tank Division from Soviet 3rd Mechanised Corps attacked and overran elements of the German 6th Panzer Division near Skaudvilė on 23 June. The Germans' Panzer 35(t) tanks and antitank weapons were practically ineffective against the Soviet heavy tanks—some of them were out of ammunition, but closed with and destroyed German antitank guns by literally driving over them. Attempts to destroy these armoured giants concentrated on first immobilising them by firing at their tracks and then by tackling them with artillery, AA Guns, or by blowing them up at close range by high explosive charges of the Sticky Bomb type. An account by the Thuringian 1st Panzer Division describes this battle.
Inside the Soviet tank KV-2 [Via RBTH]
"The KV-1 & KV-2, which we first met here, were really something! Our companies opened fire at about 800 yards, but it remained ineffective. We moved closer and closer to the enemy, who for his part continued to approach us unconcerned. Very soon we were facing each other at 50 to 100 yards. A fantastic exchange of fire took place without any visible German success. The Russian (sic - Soviet) tanks continued to advance, and all armour-piercing shells simply bounced off them. Thus we were presently faced with the alarming situation of the Russian (sic) tanks driving through the ranks of 1st Panzer Regiment towards our own infantry and our hinterland. Our Panzer Regiment therefore about turned and rumbled back with the KV-1s and KV-2s, roughly in line with them. In the course of that operation we succeeded in immobilizing some of them with special purpose shells at very close range 30 to 60 yards. A counter attack was launched and the Russians (sic - Soviets) were thrown back. A protective front established & defensive fighting continued".
On the second day of the war, amid the confused Soviet retreat, a single KV-2 heavy tank, at a crossroads in front of Raseiniai, managed to cut off elements of the 6th Panzer Division which had established bridgeheads on the Dubysa. It stalled the Division's advance for a full day while being attacked by a variety of antitank weapons, until it finally ran out of ammunition.
A KV-2 tank; a single tank of this type held for one day the entire 6th Panzer Division [Via Wikipedia]
The Wehrmacht’s 11th Tank Regiment’s diary takes up the story, describing how the bridgehead captured by the Raus battle group was cut off by the lone KV, tying up the regiment for two critical days.
“In the afternoon, the reinforced company and the headquarters of the 65th Tank Battalion moved to the intersection to the north-east of Raseynyaya. Meanwhile, a Soviet heavy tank blocked the road, cutting off battle group Raus from the main forces. Efforts to destroy the tank through the night were unsuccessful. A battery of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns was brought up, but the 88 mm was no more effective than the 105 mm howitzers. An attempt by sappers to blow up the tank with a mine also failed."
The German frustration grew until an entire operation was launched against the KV on June 25. Several light Czech-made PzKpfw 35 (t) tanks were sent forward to distract the Soviet crew with a barrage of fire while the 88 mm AA guns were brought to bear. Three of a dozen 88 mm rounds that were fired penetrated the KV, while infantry mounted the tank and tried to open the hatches. As the turret suddenly began to turn the Germans threw in hand grenades until the steel beast finally fell silent.
Inside the wreck the Germans found the remains of six crewmen who had halted the offensive of an entire Panzer division for 48 hours in their immobilized KV-2.