There are soldiers who excel through countless engagements, others (like Kolobanov) become immortal with a single famous battle. We do not have much information on Kolobanov’s overall carrier, but he certainly made a name for himself in military history with the Battle of Krasnogvardeysk, during the early stages of the Second World War.
On 20. August 1941 the 28 year old Lieutenant Kolobanov had to face a massive column of approaching German armor. As part of the German Invasion, three Panzer Divisions were making their way towards Krasnogvardeysk (located near Leningrad – now called St. Petersburg).
Kolobanov had only five tanks under his command, but he did hold the advantage in three very important aspects – technology, location and information. They were well aware of the coming threat and set up a textbook ambush to maximize their chances. They occupied hull down locations, hidden behind a tree line, overseeing the most important choke-point of the area – the only road in the region going through the local swamp.
He was also commanding KV-1 heavy tanks (himself commanding tank no. 864) of the “ekranami-model”, boasting reinforced armor plating on the turret. These tanks were well ahead the bulk of the German armored forces of the time, both in terms of protection, and also in firepower. While these tanks were slow, they were extremely strong in defensive positions and Kolobanov put them right in their element. In preparation of the oncoming battle he ordered all of his tanks to stock up on twice the regular amount of ammunition, two-thirds of which were armor piercing rounds. To mask his thin numbers, he also ordered that only one tank at a time should engage the enemy.
The German panzer divisions failed to notice the threat, and rolled straight into the very well prepared Soviet Ambush. Kolobanov’s tank fired the first shot from about 450 meters, knocking out the lead tank of the column. The German forces made another grave mistake… Assuming to have hit an anti-tank mine, the whole column stopped. This gave enough time for Kolobanov to quickly destroy the last German tank in the Column – and with this, the trap was now shut tight.
In the ensuing chaos, the German forces did fire on Kolobanov’s expected location, while trying to set up their anti-tank guns on the road. These were quickly destroyed by high-explosive shells, the survivors getting hosed down by the 7.62mm coax machine guns. The armored forces driving off the road did not have better luck either… The typically narrow German tracks got stuck in the swampy terrain quickly, making them easy targets in the open.
Kolobanov kept his gun firing right until he did run out of ammunition completely, by which time he ordered the next KV-1 to engage the enemy. Finally about only half an hour after the first shot was fired, the battle was already over with 43 destroyed German tanks on the battlefield. During this short time Kolobanov scored 22 confirmed kills from the overall 23 of his entire career, making him the second highest scoring tank ace of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, and earning him the Order of the Red Banner.
To fully understand the battle, one also has to consider that the German forces consisted mostly of Panzer II and Panzer III tanks, their guns ranging from 20mm-s to 37mm-s. These low caliber guns had absolutely no chance penetrating a hull down KV-1. Kolobanov’s tank, enjoying the undisturbed attention of the entire German column received well over a 100 direct hits (sources range between 135 to 156) – none of which penetrated. At the same time they had to face the 76mm gun of the Soviet tanks, that they had no chance of deflecting themselves. The German forces were basically dead as soon as they entered the kill zone. While this was more a massacre than a tight battle, war was never meant to be fair, and Kolobanov undisputedly executed a flawless ambush, utilizing his resources to the maximum.
We don’t know much about his later years, but we do know that his overall military career has been rather bumpy. He actually received the Order of the Red Banner twice, but was also convicted and demoted twice. Formerly a Captain, he was first convicted during the Winter War in Finland for allegedly “fraternizing with the enemy”. Unfortunately I could not find any sources for this occurrence. The second conviction came after the war, when he was serving as a Lieutenant in the occupied East Germany, for allowing one of his subordinates to escape to the British occupation zone. After this instance, he was transferred to the reserves from where he eventually retired as a lieutenant-colonel. After this he worked a few years at the Minsk Auto Works, before fully retiring. He died in 1995 aged 82.
Today a monument reminds of his deeds in the spot where he set up his defenses – raised in 1980 by the demands of the local villagers. Perhaps surprisingly they placed on the top of the monument an IS-2 (a heavy tank used much later in the war), purely because they simply could not find a KV-1.
“I’m often asked – weren’t you afraid? But I am a military man, and my orders were to fight to the death. That means that the enemy can only go through my position after I’m dead.” – Zinovy Kolobanov