Ivan Ivanovich Korolkov
Soviet tank aces… Ivan Ivanovich Korolkov is one of the most productive Soviet tank crews during the Great Patriotic War. A recognized master of tank combat, he went from a simple driver-mechanic of the KV-1 tank to the commander of a tank regiment. He went through the entire Great Patriotic War. The hero of the USSR. Officially, Korolkov’s account included at least 26 damaged and destroyed enemy tanks, according to other sources – up to 34 tanks.
Pre-war life and the first battles of the Great Patriotic War
The future Hero of the Soviet Union was born on May 22, 1915 in an ordinary peasant family in the village of Melovoy, today it is part of the Solntsevsky district of the Kursk region. It is known that in 1928 Ivan Korolkov graduated from elementary school. After completing his studies, he worked as a mechanic. He was drafted into the ranks of the Red Army in September 1937. Most likely, as the owner of a working profession, he was immediately sent to serve in the tank forces, which, whenever possible, tried to saturate the most competent personnel.
By the time the war began, he managed to become a junior commander, a mechanic-driver of a KV tank. By that time, he was most likely already a senior sergeant. Served as part of the 19th Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division from the 15th Mechanized Corps being formed. This corps was part of the 6th Army on the territory of the Kiev Special Military District. The corps headquarters was located in the city of Brody, which will become the site of the famous tank battle that unfolded in the Dubno-Lutsk-Brody triangle in the first week of the war.
Damaged KV-1 tank from the 10th Panzer Division. Near the road between the villages of Sasov and Koltov, Zolochevsky district, Lviv region. Photo: waralbum.ru
As part of the 19th tank regiment, he participated in battles with Nazi troops from the first days of the Great Patriotic War. By the beginning of the war, the 15th mechanized corps was well manned – 33,935 people (94 percent of the staff). The situation with tanks was worse; there were 733 tanks in the corps. But of these, there were only 69 T-34 tanks, and 64 KV-1 tanks. At the same time, 63 KV tanks were included in the 10th Panzer Division. Parts of the 15th mechanized corps fought heavy battles in the Lvov area, and also participated in counterattacks on Radekhiv and Druzhkopol. At the same time, the problem of the Soviet tankers was that they faced the German infantry divisions, which managed to create a strong anti-tank defense, which was facilitated by the terrain, teeming with small rivers and swampy areas. Additional difficulty for Soviet tank crews was created by German aviation, which actively attacked the crossings and columns advancing to the front.
During seven days of offensive and defensive battles in the Radekhov, Toporov, Lopatin area, the Soviet divisions suffered heavy losses in materiel. It is known that of the 63 KV-1 tanks of the 10th Panzer Division, 56 vehicles were lost in the June battles. Of these, 11 in battle, the same number were missing, and 34 tanks were abandoned or blown up by crews due to malfunctions. Ivan Korolkov took a direct part in these battles, survived and continued to fight the enemy. For the combat episode, which took place on September 5, 1941, he was nominated for the Order of the Red Star, awarded in November. The award list indicated that senior sergeant Ivan Korolkov, being a tank driver of the battalion commander, proved himself to be a courageous fighter who managed to maintain the entrusted material part in constant combat readiness. On September 5, 1941, in a battle for the village of Budenovka, a tank driven by Korolkov caught fire from a shell hitting a gas tank. Despite the fire and the danger that arose, the driver was not taken aback and managed to bring the tank to the location of his troops. Then the fire was successfully extinguished.
Fighting on the outskirts of Stalingrad in the summer of 1942
At the end of September 1941, the 10th tank division was disbanded, the remaining materiel and personnel were sent to form two new tank brigades – the 131st and 133rd (formed on the basis of the 19th tank regiment). Thus, Ivan Ivanovich was included in the formation of the 133rd Tank Brigade. As a valuable soldier who had served in the Red Army since 1937 and had experience in heavy battles in the summer and autumn of 1941, Korolkov was promoted to officer. On June 4, 1942, he was already a lieutenant and commanded a platoon in a heavy tank company of the 1st tank battalion of the 133rd tank brigade. Prior to that, on March 8, 1942, he was seriously wounded in the left leg and back, but by the beginning of June he had time to return to duty.
Attack of KV-1 tanks with the support of infantry in the Stalingrad area. Photo: waralbum.ru
Ivan Korolkov especially distinguished himself in battle on June 10, 1942, in the area of height 159.2 to the west of the village of Tatyanovka. Here, not far from a large village and the Shevchenkovo station, units of the 277th Infantry Division and the 113th Tank Brigade came under attack from the 51st Army Corps of Paulus’ 6th Army and the 16th Panzer Division from the 3rd Motorized Corps. In the area of heights near the village of Tatyanovka, 60 tanks of the 16th German Panzer Division were stuck in battle with the main forces of the 133rd Tank Brigade, which by the beginning of June 10 had 41 tanks, including 8 KV-1s.
The battle in the Tatyanovka area lasted for several hours. Having suffered serious losses in equipment, the 133rd tank brigade withdrew to the rear, behind the positions of the 162nd rifle division, which had been nominated from the army reserve. By 18:00, the brigade had 13 tanks on the move, including only two KV-1 tanks. Among these vehicles was Lieutenant Korolkov’s tank. Only he and the tank of the company commander, senior lieutenant Ivan Danilov, left the battle in the area of height 159.2. As a result of this battle, Korolkov was presented to the Order of the Patriotic War of the 1st degree, but in the end he was awarded the Order of Lenin. The award list indicated that in the battle at height 159.2, Lieutenant Korolkov’s tank destroyed 8 enemy tanks, 7 cannons and up to two hundred Nazis. At the same time, Korolkov’s tank managed to repel the attack of 20 German tanks. In battle, the Germans knocked out the KV with artillery fire, the vehicle was severely damaged, but kept running. Korolkov managed to withdraw the tank from the battlefield. In the same award list, it was noted that during the battles Ivan Korolkov managed to prove himself as a bold, decisive and skillful commander. The tanker is well-trained tactically and is well acquainted with the materiel of the T-34 and KV tanks. In total, according to the results of the battles on June 10, 1942, the 133rd brigade declared 42 destroyed enemy tanks.
Subsequently, Korolkov took part in the Soviet counterstrike in the 74th kilometer junction area. By that time, he was already a senior lieutenant and commanded a company of heavy tanks. At the same time, the entire 133rd tank brigade was transferred to a “heavy” state and was equipped only with KV-1 tanks. On August 9, the company of senior lieutenant Korolkov conducted a successful attack on the 74th kilometer crossing, the Germans were knocked out, and in the 14th German tank division opposing the Soviet tankers by 17:00 on August 9, only 23 vehicles remained on the move. In this battle, Senior Lieutenant Korolkov destroyed two “heavy” enemy tanks (most likely a Pz IV) and one gun, and also evacuated a damaged tank from the battlefield. Moreover, during the battle, Korolkov was once again wounded, now in the shoulder.
German tank Pz IV knocked out in Stalingrad
Subsequently, the 133rd Tank Brigade, which was part of the Stalingrad Front, continued to fight on the outskirts of the city, and then from September 10 to 20 it took part in street battles. It was withdrawn from the front only at the end of September 1942. For the battle that took place on September 18, Senior Lieutenant Ivan Korolkov was promoted to the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which he received in February 1943. The award list indicated that during the period of battles from June 22, 1941 to September 20, 1942, Korolkov destroyed up to 26 enemy tanks, about 34 guns, 22 mortars, one enemy command post, as well as a large number of enemy manpower.
Immediately on September 18, during the German attack, which was preceded by artillery preparation and aerial bombardment, the Soviet infantry began to withdraw. Seeing the retreat of his infantry, Senior Lieutenant Korolkov left the tank, gathered the retreating fighters and inspired them with the Bolshevik word (as in the document, most likely, with a choice Russian swearing), after which he organized a counterattack. In the battle he was seriously wounded, but continued to lead his tank company. Only after the end of the battle, on direct orders from the command, did he leave the front line to receive the necessary medical assistance.
The final period of the war and peaceful life
By the summer of 1943, the 133rd Tank Brigade had become the 11th Guards, and the Guard Senior Lieutenant Korolkov was promoted to commander of a tank battalion. In the spring and summer of 1943, a lot was written about the brave officer in the Soviet press, articles about him were published in the newspapers Krasnaya Zvezda and Pravda. His combat experience was studied in other tank units. At the same time, even before the battles on the Kursk Bulge, Korolkov’s battalion was recognized as the best in the brigade during an inspection of the army headquarters. He took part in the Battle of Kursk, together with his battalion defended positions in the Olkhovatka area. Then he fought with the Nazis, liberating the territory of Ukraine.
In December 1944, after completing his studies at the Leningrad Higher Officer Armored School of the Guard, Major Ivan Ivanovich Korolkov led the 114th separate tank regiment from the 14th Guards Cavalry Division, which operated as part of the 1st Belorussian Front. Thus, he went from a driver-mechanic of a KV tank to a commander of a tank regiment, with whom he almost reached Berlin.
Senior Lieutenant I. I. Korolkov (left) and Junior Lieutenant K. I. Savelyev during the Battle of Stalingrad
For his skillful command of the regiment in battles from April 18 to May 1, 1945, Ivan Korolkov was nominated for the Order of the Red Banner. The award documents indicated that Korolkov’s regiment inflicted heavy losses on the enemy in materiel and manpower. At the same time, Ivan Korolkov himself several times personally led the regiment’s units to attack, inspiring subordinates with personal courage. In the battles for the village of Gros-Benitz, the regiment’s units destroyed one heavy enemy tank, 4 artillery pieces, 3 mortars, 19 heavy machine guns, light machine guns – 36, motorcycles – 21, trucks – 6, as well as one echelon with ammunition and up to two companies enemy infantry. In the battle for the city of Rathenov, the tankers of the 114th separate tank regiment destroyed two heavy enemy tanks, captured one in good condition, destroyed 2 guns, 3 mortars and up to two enemy infantry platoons. In a battle in the city of Rathenov on May 1, 1945, Guards Major Ivan Korolkov was once again seriously wounded.
After the end of the war, he did not remain in the ranks of the armed forces for long, already in 1946 he went into the reserve with the rank of guard major. It is believed that during the war years Korolkov, together with his crew, destroyed from 26 to 34 enemy tanks (according to various sources). After leaving the army, he lived and worked in the urban-type settlement of Solntsevo, Kursk region, in his small homeland. He also died here on January 6, 1973 at the age of 56. Most likely, his health was seriously undermined by at least four wounds received during the war. In 2011, one of the streets in the village of Solntsevo was named after the famous tanker.