The 198th was originally formed as part of the 23rd Army, 10th Mechanized Rifle Corps on March 1941 in the Leningrad Military district. The unit's original name was the 198th Motorized Division. Tasked with defending the Finnish border south of Lake Ladoga, the unit was among the very first Red Army units to see heavy combat as the Finnish combined-arms assault smashed into the Russian line, split the division off and drove the survivors back to the shore of Lake Ladoga, where the tattered remnants were evacuated by ships of the Ladozhsky flotilla.

After sustaining heavy casualties at the hands of the Finnish forces, the remains of the 198th Mechanized Division were withdrawn from the 23rd Army, reformed as the 198th Rifle Division, and transferred to the 54th Army fighting the German encirclement of Leningrad on the Volkhov Front to the south of the city. From the summer of 1941 to the spring of 1943, the 198th frequently clashed with the Germans in the area of Lipovik, the Wedge, and Gorohovtse, eventually pushing to Smerdynya, where the unit was put on defense until January 1944. In the early months of 1944, the 198th joined the RKKA's general offensive in the North and drove forward through Demino Grustynyu, then by rail to take part in the assault on the Novgorod region. The unit reached Porkov in March 1944 before being stopped by the German defensive line. The division was refitted and retrained before being recommitted to the assault in the summer of 1944, where the 198th faced a determined German counterassault in June by a unit reinforced with German Tiger tanks. In July 1944, the 198th was withdrawn from the 54th Army and assigned to the reserves of the 3rd Baltic Front, where it was made part of the 1st Guards Army in preparation for the drive into Germany itself.