The troops of Germany’s Army Group Center were more than a week into a fresh offensive to capture Moscow on July 14 when they approached the historic battlefield of Borodino where the Russians delayed Napoleon’s advance on Moscow in 1812. Dug in on the battlefield were the forward elements of a fresh division from the Soviet Union’s Far East Military District that had been rushed to Moscow to thwart the German drive on the Soviet capital.
The burly men, outfitted in fur caps, great coats, and fur boots, belonged to Colonel Viktor Polosukhin’s 32nd Siberian Rifle Division, which had arrived from Vladivostok by rail and reached the old battlefield several days earlier. As soon as they arrived, they entrenched and constructed emplacements for their artillery. Stalin had reinforced the division’s three rifle regiments—the 17th, 113th, and 322nd —with two armored brigades equipped with T-34 and KV-1 tanks.
Approaching their position were elements of General Erich Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4. Hoepner had tasked Lt. Gen. Friedrich Kirchner, commander of the 10th Panzer Division, with the destruction of the troops in and around Borodino. Kirchner assigned some of his best units for the hard fighting that lay ahead.
The tactical plan called for Colonel Bruno Witter von Hauenschild to lead his infantry brigade and the SS Reich Motorized Infantry Division in a frontal assault while the 7th Panzer Regiment moved to outflank the Siberians. The attacking armor and infantry were supported by Stuka dive bombers, 88mm flak guns, and Nebelwerfer rocket launchers.
As the battle unfolded, T-34 medium tanks counterattacked in mass formations. The Germans put their powerful 88mm flak guns to work as tank busters. Soviet artillery units and mortar batteries blasted the German grenadiers as they fought their way forward through minefields and barbed wire.