Kampfgruppe Raus was formed from elements of the 6th tank division before the invasion of the USSR. A second group, formed from the same division, received the name "Von Seckendorff". On June 23rd, both groups set up on the eastern shore of the river Dubis.
German air reconnaisance reported that Soviet tanks are moving towards the Von Seckendorff group. These were vehicles from the 2nd tank division of the RKKA, delivering a flanking counterattack. However, due to poor coordination and the general chaos of the first few days of war, the tanks were late. Instead of a flank, the Soviets were met with the front of the German forces.
A battalion of heavy KV tanks was included in the 2nd tank division. Contrary to the myth that KV tanks caused panic among German soldiers, it was possible to deal with them, if the enemy was sufficiently prepared. However, for Von Seckendorff, this was an unpleaseant surprise. Soviet tanks cleaved through German infantry and entered artillery positions. German 37mm AT guns were not strong enough to penetrate their armour. Neither were the Czech Pz35(t) tanks, which were all the Germans had. The only defense against KV tanks were the 88mm anti-aircraft guns. After losing several tanks to them, the Soviets retreated.
While Von Seckendorff fought with Soviet heavies, Raus did not encounter anything interesting. The Germans fortified their positions, scouted out the area, planned out further actions. Sometimes they would encounter individual squads of Red Army soldiers. Some prisoners were captured, and were sent to a nearby city.
A convoy of imprisoned Soviets and wounded Germans left in the first half of June 24th. 1.5km along, they encountered a single KV. It seemed likely that the tank was meant for nearby battles, and was left behind. According to local peasants, the tank arrived the day before, on June 23rd. It drove into the crossroads, stopped, and remained motionless all night.
When the column was spotted by the tank, it opened fire. The Germans turned around and returned to the base. Raus headquarters, knowing that somewhere soon the RKKA would counterattack, decided that this was it. As if on purpose, the KV tore a telephone line, disconnecting Raus from the headquarters of the 6th division.
While the Germans were figuring out what was happening, a convoy with fuel and ammunition stumbled upon the lone tank. The group commander recalled 12 burning trucks. On both sides of the road, outside of the KV's line of fire, traffic jams formed.
For several hours, the KV remained on the road, periodically shooting towards Raseiniai. Why wasn't it moving? Perhaps it ran out of fuel, or suffered an engine failure. Perhaps the crew had orders to cover the road. Perhaps, knowing that sooner or later the tank would be immobilized, the commander decided to pick an advantageous position to fight from. The tank crew must have understood, that this battle would be their last. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to make that choice.
It took some time for the Germans to figure out that they were dealing with one tank, and not an entire division. Meanwhile, the KV sat under the burning sun. Raus gave the order to eliminate the tank as soon as possible. His group needed ammunition badly, the wounded had to get to a hospital. Trucks that tried to go around the KV got stuck in the swamps.
Germans moved a battery of four 50mm AT guns against the KV. German soldiers expected an easy kill, taking up positions where the effect of the battery could be easily seen. Soviet tankers, presumably, did not notice the battery. Their gun was still pointing towards Raseiniai.
The first shot was fired. Observers cheered. Another seven shots hit the Soviet tank. It seemed that it was over. However, several minutes later, the tank started turning its turret. It is necessary to point out that after being hit, the noise inside the tank is deafening. Even machine gun fire sounds like the tank is being hammered with a mallet. After artillery fire, the crew's eardrums burst, blood flows from the ears, nose, eyes, people lose consciousness. Recall, that the tank was boiling inside during the summer. The tankers were not able to open fire straight away.
The tank pointed its gun towards the battery and opened fire. Two guns were knocked out, along with their crews, two more were damaged. Germans attempted to destroy the KV with indirect fire from a 105mm howitzer, but were unable to hit it. Then Raus requested an 88mm AA gun from headquarters. That was the only gun capable of penetrating the armour on a KV.
The arriving AA gunners opened fire from 2000m, then decided to get closer, to be sure. Taking cover behind burning trucks, they approached to a distance of 700 meters. The KV was ready, and destroyed the AA gun on the first shot. The mood of the Germans was ruined. They had no possibility to bring in supplies, no way to deliver the wounded to a hospital. Raus was taking casualties, all for nothing.
At night, the Germans tried to lay explosives underneath the tank. Sappers that crawled up were surprised that someone still remained at the Soviet tank. Cracking branches, creaking hatches, careful steps were heard. The Germans decided that local villagers were bringing food and water to the Soviets. When the mysterious sounds died down, the Germans came closer and laid their charges. Before the echo from the detonation died down, the Soviet tank answered with machine gun fire. Either there was not enough explosive, or the sappers were bad at their jobs, but the only thing the charges did was damage track links.
Next morning, while more AA guns were delivered from Raseiniai, Raus ordered his tanks to attack. He understood that their guns were useless, but the attack was not meant to disable the KV. The light tanks needed to distract the KV while artillery gunners moved into position. Pz35(t)s maneuvered next to the tank, trying not to fall victim to its gun. The KV did not fire. The gunner knew that hitting fast moving tanks would be very difficult.
The AA gun set up, and opened fire. The first shot hit its target. The KV tried to fight back, and started rotating the turret towards the new threat. Another shot, another hit, the turret stopped. The Germans did not believe that they finally stopped the invincible tank. They sent another 4 armour piercing shells into the side of the tank.
After about half an hour, the most curious German soldiers approached the tank. They surrounded it, curiously observing the dents from 50mm AP shells. Only two penetrations were in the hull, from AA shells. Someone knocked on the armour of the tank. As if in response, the turret moved. Frightened screams were heard, and the German soldiers ran from the tank. Someone threw a grenade into the KV through one of the breaches. The explosion threw open the hatch on the top of the turret. The Germans approached again, and found six dead crewmen inside the tank. The bravery of these people struck them so much that they did not abandon their bodies, but buried them.
In 1965, the remains were transferred to a cemetery in Raseiniai. We still do not know who was in this crew. The gravestone reads "Yershov P.E, Smirnov V.A., a warrior with initials Sh. N. A., and three unknown warriors."
Original article available here.