28. Januar 1942
The six-kilometre-wide plain between Rai Gorodok and Nikolayevka is an unguarded, open gap in our front. That the enemy is trying to exploit this is clear to all command posts. One day I think I have proof that my courier route is being used by Russian messengers. For as I was once again travelling at a leisurely trot on the sledge to Rai Gorodok, a dog appeared. He came from the direction of Slavyansk and ran swiftly and purposefully towards the edge of the forest - the Russian positions. He wanted to cross the path a few hundred metres in front of us. I had the horses gallop up to cut him off. When the dog noticed this, he turned and tried to go around our sledge from behind in a wide arc, increasing his speed. This was suspicious. I had the sledge turned around and went back. But the mutt was faster and dashed across the road barely a hundred metres in front of us - towards the Russian front! I pulled my MPi from my shoulder and fired a few sheaves after him without hitting him. In Rai Gorodok I then reported my observation. Later, all the dogs in Rai Gorodok were supposedly shot - I only have it from hearsay.
In any case, the plain is to be better monitored from now on. I am given the task of observing and securing this gap with a shuttle patrol during the night, as far as this is possible. I am provided with six men (for lack of men only drivers and older age groups), and with these I set off at nightfall. The road is snow-drifted by the 10-day blizzard, but we can feel our way along the telegraph poles. Later, I leave the road to head straight for the village. Although the chasing storm has swept away large areas on this plain, the snow is still so high that we have to trudge through it with difficulty.
All of a sudden it starts snowing and storming again. Soon we have to work our way forward against heavy snow. I urge to hurry, because if we lose our bearings now, it will be dangerous. The icy wind whips the snow into my face. The first flakes still melt from the body heat, but the cutting wind freezes them again. They gum up my eyes. The snow gradually seeps into my boots and begins to soak my stockings.
We continue to struggle towards the village. By my reckoning, we should already be close enough that something might be heard. I stop and listen. It is hopeless. The howling wind stifles any sound, and the swirling snow obscures any visibility. But it can’t be far.
Suddenly I stumble and stop: A Soviet bayonet and a frozen arm stick out of the snow in front of me. A Russian patrol has probably ventured too close to the edge of the village and come under German defensive fire. We go on. There’s another Russian haversack, a belt and a fur hat. Now I start to feel uneasy. I look around in circles. Have I lost my direction? It’s almost impossible. I have walked this path often enough. So onwards. Through a hole in the swirl of snow I recognise for seconds the shadow of the small bridge and the bunker that had recently been built to secure the bridge and manned by twelve men. Strangely, no guard calls us as we approach. It remains suspiciously quiet. I call out and listen - silence. We approach the bunker cautiously. It is empty! and destroyed! I see at a glance that there has been fighting here. But why don’t I know anything about it? Has the battalion in Nikolayevka not been informed of this? Or did they in turn forget to tell me before I left? In any case, there had been an attack on the village. Was it successful? Is Ivan in the village?In any case, we have to be very careful now. Nevertheless, I must try to clarify the situation. I have the six men take up a position at the bridge with their rifles ready to fire, while I myself walk across the bridge towards the first houses. Fifty metres before the first house I stop again and a shot rings out. I yell through the storm, “Don’t shoot!” But I’m not sure if anyone can hear me in this storm. At the same time I ask myself why the German guard is shooting at us at all. The sentries must have been informed that there is an own patrol in the area and that it will arrive here at the bridge tonight. That’s an old training rule. A German guard should know that. So the shooter is Russian? Or did they neglect to inform the sentries of my arrival here as well? But there can’t be that many omissions at once!
Anyway, we are being shot at and I don’t feel like being a target fifty metres in front of the lines. In the meantime, the gunfire has alerted the front. Already more shots are falling from all sides. I run back across the bridge. The fire increases. The first machine-gun comes in and sends its sheaves flying over us. It is a German machine gun, but perhaps the Russians have captured it. We hurry and stumble back through the deep snow. Two hundred metres away is the fire-breathing edge of the village. In a veritable hail of bullets we wheeze away. Hissing and whistling, singing and whirring, the bullets fly around us or clap into the snow with a dull thump. How good that it is night. Darkness and driving snow put a protective veil between us and the rattling firing line, from which we move further and further away. Then we stop, exhausted and breathing heavily. No one is injured. They shot badly, the comrades from our own battalion! We start the way back.
When I reported to the battalion commander in Nikolayevka, he was very surprised. He knew nothing about the attack on Rai Gorodok. Since the telephone connection across the border is difficult, he hasn’t known anything about the situation in his neighbour’s area for days. And in the snowstorm, of course, I couldn’t get over there either. He had my regiment contacted again and found out that there had been a Soviet attack on Rai Gorodok, but that the town was in German hands.
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- ↑ From the weather, probably on 28.01.1942; however, the blizzard had just begun on the 27th.