Sassuntsi-Davit Tank Regiment
The 119th Separate Tank Regiment, popularly known as the Sassuntsi-Davit Tank Regiment (Armenian: «Սասունցի Դավիթ» տանկային շարասյուն; Танковая колонна «Давид Сасунский») was a decorated Soviet separate tank regiment during the Second World War, consisting primarily of ethnic Armenians. The unit was named after David of Sasun, the hero of the medieval Armenian national epic Daredevils of Sasun.
|Sassuntsi-Davit Tank Regiment|
|Size||ca. 5-7,000 men|
|Garrison/HQ||Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia|
|Engagements||Belorussian Offensive, Battle of the Baltic (1944)|
|Decorations||Order of the Red Banner (July 23, 1944), Red Army Guard (1945), Order of the Red Star|
The regiment was formed in Echmiatsin, Armenian SSR in January 1943 and was funded entirely by diaspora Armenians living, among other countries, in Cuba, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States. Under the aegis of Archbishop Gevorg VI Chorekjian, $115,000 were raised in the United States; C$37,000 in Canada; £L185,000 in Lebanon; £Syr276,000 in Syria; £E14,000 in Egypt; and 2.5 million rials in Iran. The Armenian Apostolic Church itself donated gifts in the area totaling around 800,000 rubles, 1,000 British sterling, and 50,000 in Soviet rubles. Various fund raising committees were established, the first being on March 7, 1943, in New York City.
The funds were finally distributed under the auspices of the Armenian Apostolic Church residing in Echmiatsin which raised enough money to outfit the regiment with 21 tanks by February 1944. The regiment was initially equipped with the newer generation T-34-85 tanks, armed with the new D-5T 85mm cannons. In February 1944, on the 119th Tank Regiment's turrets were inscribed in Armenian letters "Sasuntsi Davit" (Սասունցի Դավիթ).
On March 20, 1944, the 119th was attached to the Second Ukrainian Front and sent to Dniester. In early 1944, now also equipped with KV tanks, the regiment was assigned to the 27th Soviet Army to take part in the First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive and participated in the assaults to capture Pervomaysk and Iaşi (Romania).
The regiment was then sent north and incorporated into the First Baltic Front under the command of General Ivan Bagramyan. It was reinforced with an additional 22 T-34/85s and attached to the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army. From July to August the unit fought against German forces in Operation Bagration, participating in the liberation of Vitebsk and Polatsk. Along with the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, the regiment broke through and overran fortified German positions.
On July 23, 1944, the unit was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner. Thereafter, it was sent to Panevėžys where it remained until the latter half of August. In 1945, the unit was bestowed the honor of becoming a Guards regiment and was rechristened the 135th Guards Tank Regiment.
Many of the Armenians were also decorated for their efforts during the war, including Sarkis Nahapetyan and Mikhail Stepanyan, who both received the Order of the Red Star for their heroism in the battles. A similar effort to fund another Armenian tank unit, to be named after General Bagramyan, was proposed by the Armenian community in Tehran, Iran, although the war ended before such plans materialized.
Soviet nurse Zoya Grezlova tends to the aid of Lieutenant Stepanov, commander of Tank 40 (seen in the background) of the regiment in July 1944.
- (in Armenian) Sahakyan, Marat G. «Սասունցի Դավիթ» [Sasuntsi Davit]. Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1984, vol. 10, p. 204.
- Walker, Christopher J. Armenia: Survival of a Nation. London: Routledge, 1990, p. 356.
- (in Russian) Sapronoff, S. E. Танковая колонна «Давид Сасунский» Archived 2013-09-25 at the Wayback Machine. Танк против танка: Танковое противостояние в 1939–1945. January 29, 2007. Accessed October 6, 2007.
- Glantz, David M.. Red Storm Over the Balkans: The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007, p. 172.
- Walker. Armenia, p. 356.