The 13th Poltava Guards Rifle Division (Russian: 13-я гвардейская стрелковая Полтавская ордена Ленина дважды Краснознамённая орденов Суворова и Кутузова дивизия) was an infantrydivision of the Red Army that earned honours during the Great Patriotic War.
On 6 November 1941, the 87th Rifle Division (Second Formation) was re-formed and placed under the command of former commander of 5th Airborne Brigade Alexander Rodimtsev. On 19 January 1942, the 87th Rifle Division was officially awarded Guards status and was re-designated as the 13th Guards Rifle Division.
In May 1942, the 13th Division was involved in the Soviet counter-offensive at Kharkov, where they fought on its northern axis, thus escaping the encirclement and destruction of a substantial portion of the Soviet forces engaged, followed by the Russian defeat. During this offensive, the division suffered more than fifty-percent casualties, most of which were sustained in the repelling of fierce German counter-attacks. It was during one of these attacks that an ArtilleryCaptain of the 13th earned the first Order of the Great Patriotic War 1st Class to be awarded. Following his unit’s success during this offensive, Colonel Rodimtsev was subsequently promoted to Major General.
On 13 September of that year, German infantry divisions made their first advance into Stalingrad, marking the opening salvos of the Battle of Stalingrad. By the end of the day the German 71st Infantry Division had reached the city centre, north of the Tsaritsa Gorge. A Stavka directive ordered the 13th Guards Division (in the midst of its resupply and reinforcement) to the Volga River and Stalingrad. After being briefed by Lieutenant GeneralVasily Chuikov, the commander of the 62nd Army, Rodimtsev famously and determinedly declared:”I am a Communist! I have no intention of abandoning the city [Stalingrad]!”
Because of the recent influx of new recruits, the division was now largely inexperienced and untrained, and lacked both maps and knowledge of Stalingrad’s rubble-strewn streets, which would prove enormously difficult to overcome in the struggle ahead. However, thanks to his experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Major General Rodimtsev was well versed in urban warfare. At 17.00, 14 September, the forward elements of the 13th Guards swiftly crossed the river to reinforce a line that was being held by a mere 15 tanks and few hastily assembled combat groups. It is estimated that more than half of the first wave perished during the river crossing, more than 3,000 being killed in just the first 24 hours. Ultimately, after extremely heavy losses on both sides, the German advance was repelled. Rodimtsev’s soldiers recaptured the Mill and secured the central river crossing for other regiments of the 13th Guards.