7. Februar 1942
|GEO & MIL INFO|
|OKW situation map Mar 42|
|1 Mar: de Angelis Gen d Art and CG|
Finally the snowstorm has blown out. When I look out of the window on the eleventh day in the morning, I see a clear, deep blue sky. Our village street is unrecognisable. The storm has blown the masses of snow between the houses across the road, so that the almost three-metre-high mounds of snow lie at regular intervals across the road, blocking visibility and traffic. Vehicular traffic is impossible. But if you want to walk along the village street, you have to climb up and down hills like a roller coaster, because in the shelter of the houses the snow is not a metre high. As I am swaying through the street and standing on the crest of a snowdrift, I see a girl squatting next to a house below me. We caught sight of each other at the same time. She quickly gets up, lets down her skirts laughing loudly and disappears into the house. So the high snow creates not only difficult but also spicy situations.
I am back in Nikolayevka. A Russian urchin has been arrested in the village, who was an informer for the Bolsheviks. The next day he was to be taken away. For the last night he was handed over to a guard. In typical German trustfulness, these let the boy sleep with the Russians in the kitchen of their quarters, while they themselves stayed in the living room. Here, one of the soldiers lay down to rest in the evening, while the other remained on guard at the front door. The partisan urchin waited until everyone was asleep, then sneaked into the living room with a kitchen cleaver and killed the sleeping Landser. Then he went to the front door and gave the guard a life-threatening blow on the head. Then he fled.
The Russian partisans very often used children as informers because we trusting Germans at first never thought of suspecting children. The endearing quality of trustfulness can be deadly in war. Trustfulness, loquacity and lack of vigilance have cost the lives of thousands of German soldiers. There are countless examples of this.
A few weeks later, captured Red Army soldiers confirmed that the boy had reached the Russian front and reported what he had done there. He had only exaggerated enormously and told of seven slain Germans.
Tonight I wake up suddenly. The head of my bed is against the wall facing the street. A wailing groan comes from there. I recognise from the noise that there is a sleigh outside, which has pulled up close to the wall of the house to protect it from the wind and cold. It comes from the front and has brought a badly wounded man with it. Although the wounded man only moans half aloud, I hear every word in the silent winter night. He is agonised as he forces out torn words and sentences. “Kameraden, Kameraden!” he groans again and again. He has been shot in the lungs. The soft clanking of the sledge harness sometimes blurs his words, then again the agonised groans reach my ear. All the horror of war is in that trembling voice. Then, relieved, I hear the sleigh leave for the doctor in one of the neighbouring houses.
The Bolsheviks have crossed the Donets in several places so far this winter and are trying to expand their bridgeheads. My own Bear Division has also already withdrawn from the river at many points. At other points, fierce battles are still raging for individual villages along the river. Here with the Horsehead Division, the front in front of Nikolayevka, which also runs along the Donets, is still holding out for the time being. But on our right the Reds have advanced far beyond the river. They are already in front of our neighbouring village to the right Rai-Alexandrovka.
Rai-Alexandrowka, however, holds. Fierce battles have been raging here for weeks. Often at night the dull rumble of artillery fire reaches us, and in the sky there is always the red glow of burning houses. The Russians have made their way to this place in a tough struggle. They come through a ravine that stretches right up to the first houses. Here they have dug their bunkers into the side walls of the ravine and can only be captured with artillery and mortars, and even that with insufficient success. To put an end to this eternal threat, an attack in battalion strength was planned. But since there were not enough reserves for this, the necessary companies had to be withdrawn from other sections of the front. This meant abandoning the Donets front in front of Nikolayevka as well and abandoning the two villages on the river bank that were still in our hands. In the last night the evacuation order was given. The civilian population, completely taken by surprise, was also forced to go back with the Germans. This was never usual, but in this case it was considered necessary because they wanted to set fire to the villages after the evacuation so that they would not fall unharmed into Russian hands. The poor people barely had time to gather up their most basic belongings and take them with them. I was standing on the outskirts of Nikolayevka when they arrived here in the dark of night. Loaded with bundles and some equipment, they trudged through the high snow into the village. The men silent and still, but the women moaning and wailing softly to themselves “Oh Boжe, me Boжe!”, Oh God, my God! I feel sorry for them. This expulsion is completely senseless and the surest way to make enemies of these people. When I saw the men pass me by so silently, my only thought was: they’ll all be partisans! Besides, it soon turned out that the burning of the villages had been done so superficially in the haste that the Russians could still comfortably establish themselves in the ruins.
In one of these villages, the following had happened recently: During a Russian fire raid, the civilians had crawled into the cellars. A sergeant used this favourable moment to jump into the cattle shed and slaughter a piglet. The squeal of the piglet was lost in the roar of the shell impacts.
The German attack against the ravine in the neighbouring village was supported by tanks and assault guns. Throughout the day, the thunder of the shells and impacts rumbles over to us, and at night the sky reddens from the embers of the burning houses. Nevertheless, the attack stalls after good initial success. We have only taken a little air. Here the Russian has once again shown how unimaginably tenacious he can be when fighting on the defensive.
I think our political leadership was badly mistaken. As early as autumn, Goebbels, the darkened shrunken Teuton, in Berlin had trumpeted to the public that the Russian campaign would be over before the onset of winter. It seemed to have been genuinely believed, for no arrangements were made for a winter war. We are still wearing our summer clothing with the thin green coats, and have been for weeks in sub-zero temperatures to below 40 degrees! After the exhausting advance in the sweltering summer heat, we are now being conditioned to polar temperatures. You poor, brave, patient German Landser. For your admirable achievements you deserved a better fate!
As already mentioned, there has been an urgent suspicion for some time that there is a lively partisan traffic running through the six-kilometre-wide gap between Rai Gorodok and Nikolayevka. My report at the time had strengthened the suspicion, and now it has been corroborated by the statements of some middlemen arrested in Slavyansk. As a result, it was finally decided to reoccupy the abandoned bunkers, at the beginning of February. At the place where the dog wanted to cross the road at the time, they also built another bunker and occupied it with a strong outguard. And on the very first night, this guard intercepted a partisan group of twelve people, including two women.They were interrogated at the battalion in Rai Gorodok, i.e. they wanted to interrogate them, but they remained silent. One of the women wanted to go out once, and they led her out of the house. As soon as she was outside, she ran away like a weasel. But the guard was quicker and shot her. She collapsed with a shot to the pelvis.
I’ve been back in Nikolayevka for a few days. Tomorrow a sledge is going to Slavyansk to run errands for the regiment. I’m taking the opportunity to join it so that I can get to my luggage at my battalion’s train in Slavyansk. That’s fine with the regiment, because the driver doesn’t have to go alone. The roads are no longer too safe. The next morning, the sledge and my riding horse are ready in front of the staff quarters. It is bitterly cold again, 35 to 40 degrees below zero. We leave the village, climb the rather steep valley slope and follow the path that leads up here over the bare, somewhat hilly plateau into the frosty landscape. An icy wind blows the grim cold into our faces and through our clothes, so that I feel the cold draught all the way to my skin. My thin green uniform coat is no match for this biting cold. I feel as if I am barely wearing anything. The wind cuts my face. I hold my little fur collar in front of my face. This little collar is a Christmas present from Trude, my very wealthy holiday friend on Juist, whose husband must have been a higher-up in the political scene or SS. We hardly ever spoke of him.
The state measures to supply the troops with winter clothing had started far too late. So once again they quickly turned to the people and called for winter clothing to be donated to the brave front-line soldiers. Our good wives and mothers did what they could, but in the meantime thousands of front-line soldiers had contracted severe frostbite. Moreover, a large part of the good furs and winter coats had not reached the front at all. They had already got stuck further back. But we were very glad that now our base wallahs didn’t have to freeze when they had to leave their warm quarters and go out into the cold street to visit their girl in the neighbouring house or to get a bottle of cognac from the canteen.
With such warming thoughts, I rode through the landscape bristling with ice. Soon, however, my feet become so freezing that I dismount and continue on foot. The driver does the same. Otherwise our feet will freeze to death. Once we make a short stop because I have to do a necessary little business. I take off my gloves. It’s dangerous, but essential. And within half a minute - that’s all it takes - my fingers were frozen so stiff that I could hardly move them. I couldn’t close the buttons either, and it was only with difficulty that I slipped the gloves back over my frozen fingers. As we continued on our way, the cold crept through the open crevices of my clothes and I was glad when, after another hour, we saw the outskirts of the city in front of us.
In the city, I look for the quarters of our train. I will stay here for three days and sleep at Fritz Schulz’s place. Fritz’s landlady is a woman in her mid-fifties and still comes from the old Russian bourgeoisie. Her home furnishings are appropriate, with lace doilies and trinkets. The house is one of the usual wooden buildings. When she hears that I will be staying with her for three days, she first orders a body wash for me. While I have to uncover my upper body, she puts a bowl of warm water on a chair and then washes my back with a sponge. After this procedure, which is more symbolic than effective, I am accepted into the house community. Fritz has followed everything with a laugh, but I soon realise that our Prussian Spieß has nothing to say with this resolute lady either. He is the obedient and at the same time spoiled child of this good Russian mother.
Fritz has two beds in his room and so we sleep together. I lie in a real bed with a spring mattress, pillow and duvet. We have put out the light, lie in the dark room and tell each other our recent experiences, our personal worries and everyday troubles. We talk about our wishes and plans for the future. The darkness creates a relaxed atmosphere, and Fritz is quite pleased to find that we agree on many issues, and that this conversation has been delightfully enriching and gratifying.
This evening I went with Fritz to the neighbour’s house, where we visited a mother and daughter. The daughter is as pretty as a doll. We danced with both of them to gramophone music until it was time to go home.
Today it’s back to Nikolayevka. I had arranged a meeting point with the driver on the periphery of the city, from where we would drive back together. It was a house next to a small bridge. The house accommodated a bridge guard. They are eight Landesschützen, older people, with whom I sit chatting because my driver is not there yet. While talking to these honest men, I notice that they have no idea at all about the war situation and the course of the front. They don’t know that Slavyansk is closed in from two sides. I don’t want to worry them and don’t say much about it.
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- The author calls the place Makarovka, further below also Makeyvka, and puts a question mark there as a precaution. However, there are no places with these names in the immediate vicinity. It is probably a reading error in his small-written manuscript. According to the location of the place in comparison with the situation map and the topography in comparison of the description further below with the Heereskarte “Russland 1:100,000”, Rai-Alexandrovka comes most likely into consideration. - Notable attacks took place in this area especially on 21 Jan and 16 Feb 1942 (KTB 257. I.D., NARA T-315 Roll 1805 Frame 000033/274 ff).
- Lagekarte 1:1.000.000
- О боже, боже мій! The author actually handwrote the Cyrillic letter ж for "sio as in vision" into his typewriter text.
- A directive from Hitler, ostensibly to force the Heer to successfully complete the campaign by the onset of winter. For the Luftwaffe, Erhard Milch bypassed this directive and wisely procured winter clothing, including fur coats. (David Irving: Die Tragödie der deutschen Luftwaffe. Neuer Kaiser-Verlag, Klagenfurt 1970, p. 179 f.)
- in the original “beginning of January”, but the episode “shuttle patrol” must be dated to the end of January.
- Acc. to KTB 257. I.D., NARA T-315 Roll 1805 Frame 000494 f., there was only one bridge across the Torez, the “General Sachs bridge”, built by the 2nd and 3rd company, bridge building battalion 699 from 4 Dec 41 to 5 Jan 42; here, photos of the construction.