17. Februar 1944

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Personen-Index Namen,Anschriften Personal I.R.477 1940–44 Übersichtskarte (Orte,Wege) Orts-Index Vormarsch-Weg Codenamen der Operationen im Sommer 1942 Mil.Rangordnung 257.Inf.Div. MG-Komp.eines Inf.Batl. Kgf.-Lagerorganisation Kriegstagebücher Allgemeines Zu einzelnen Zeitabschnitten Linkliste Rotkreuzkarte Originalmanuskript Briefe von Kompanie-Angehörigen

Deutsch

18 Feb 44.[1] I wake up in the middle of the night. I felt as if I had heard a firing. Outside, the storm howls. With my eyes open, I stare into the darkness and listen. I shiver. It must have got very cold. A fine, soft trickling sound drifts against the window. Blizzard![2] It drives around my shelter with howls and hums and furiously rattles the clattering door. I crawl deeper under my blanket. Just now, I shouldn't have to go out! There - sure enough - our artillery is firing! It's the battery near us. The firing penetrates the roar of the wind like a muffled drumbeat. It sounds strangely muffled. Another firing. There's something wrong at the front. That's all that's missing if the Ivan was coming now. It wouldn't be surprising, because he likes to choose weather like this for his actions. He then has an advantage, because wind and storm usually come from the east, and the damn drifting snow always hits us in the face and hinders observation. What's more, the Russian is tougher against the elements. Hopefully they'll make it up there alone, otherwise we might have to get out. After all, we are a reserve.

Weren't there footsteps? I raise my head and listen. It's the muffled crunch of footsteps trudging through the snow. Now they've approached and a fist is already thundering against the door: "Herr Leutnant, alarm! Get the company ready immediately! Report to the commander!" Bloody mess! That's all I need! I hurriedly put on my clothes, buckle up and go out. The gale-force wind almost takes my breath away. I trudge through the snow to the commander's bunker. Colonel[3] Haarhaus is sitting at the table with his adjutant. I greet him and he briefly tells me the situation: "The Russian has broken into the section of the 11th company and has occupied the trench about two hundred metres wide. You have to throw him out again. Hurry up!" I go back to the company. The men had already been alerted by the messenger and are getting ready. Twenty minutes later I set off with the first platoon after reporting to the commander. The second platoon is to receive hand grenades and then follow. After a few hundred metres, the path leads out of the hollow and up the slope. There is a strawstack where it reaches the top of the hollow. I stop here to wait for the second platoon. After a while, they arrive and we continue along the path towards the front.

It's only two kilometres to the battalion, but the path is completely covered in snow. The snowstorm takes away all visibility. The compass is of no use either, because there are no points of reference in this white nothingness. So I painstakingly feel my way forwards, relying on instinct and a bit of combination. I walk at the head of the company. Walking is exhausting because I have to be the first to make my way through the heavy snow. The storm makes it difficult to breathe and see. And what I see is a flat, boundless white field, without a single point of reference, obscured by clouds of swirling snow. By now morning is dawning, and in the pale light visibility is somewhat improving. At last I find myself in front of a hollow which I reckon could harbour the battalion command post. Judging by the shape of the terrain, it could be the right one, but I see no bunker, no smoke, no people. The snow has covered everything and the storm has run over it with a smoothing broom. When I left the hollow a few days ago, it was snow-free and dark. Now there is a thick blanket of snow over the land, which has levelled all the surface shapes and covered them in a uniform white. Finally, I spot a bunker entrance. I don't know whether it's instinct or good fortune that has led me here, but we're in the right place. I find my bearings immediately and report to the Russenmüller, who is now in charge of the battalion. I learn the details of the current situation and accordingly organise my plan of attack.

The approach through the snow and storm after only half a night's rest was already exhausting, but now the real action begins. Only one platoon will attack. I also don't want to attack the occupied trench head-on, but will roll it up from the flank, namely from the section of the 10th Company, which I had occupied myself for a long time and therefore know the terrain well.

I descend to the 10th Company in the chasing swirl of snowflakes and go into the well-known bunker, where I am surprised to find Lieutenant von Arnim, who now leads the company.[4] He told me that the Soviets had already extended the breach at the 11th Company and had penetrated into his section of the company and occupied part of his trench. Lieutenant X, however, had in the meantime defeated them with his combat engineer platoon[5] in a counterattack. I turn round to see the lieutenant. It is the lieutenant with the horn-rimmed glasses with whom I had come from Meseritz. He's sitting in a corner on the floor, taking a silent, casual drag on his cigarette.

So the section of the 10th company is enemy-free. It reaches as far as the small hill, which also contains a bunker. At the hill, the trench makes an almost right-angled bend backwards, and from then on the Iwan is still in the trench. It's the same place where the shock troop had entered and caught my sergeant major. Our current battalion section is also particularly suitable for such ambushes, as the two front lines are very close to each other here. In some places, the Russian trench is barely more than thirty metres away.

So let's go! I follow the trench towards the hill. Behind me, the men trudge through the snow. The trench no longer offers any protection as it is completely drifted over. But the thick drifting snow covers us from enemy sight. Again and again we climb over the fresh corpses of Red Army soldiers who fell an hour ago during the counterattack by the combat engineer platoon. There are young lads among them. The combat engineers have really cleaned up!

Platoon leader Knight's Cross bearer First Sergeant Friedrich-Karl Warwel

We have reached the hill. I quickly climb into the bunker to inform the battalion of the start of my counterattack. In the meantime, the second platoon begins its attack. The platoon leader is a Knight's Cross bearer[6], one squad leader bears the EK I. It is the same non-commissioned officer who at that time in Christischtsche Forest destroyed the Reds' machine gun nest with a grenade thrown from a flare gun.

I crank the field telephone. Russenmüller answers. We exchange a few remarks and he advises me to lead the counterattack myself and not to leave it to the platoon leader. That annoys me. If I hadn't wanted to lead it myself, I just wouldn't have gone down with them. Since only one platoon was attacking, I didn't really need to be there as company leader anyway. But I have to admit that the phone call wasn't important. Was it perhaps a touch of fear and hesitation after all, and the phone call just a pretext?

I leave the bunker and walk past the sentry, habitually glancing over at the enemy. Through a hole in the billowing masses of snow I happen to see a Russian walking around. He's about eighty metres away and is fiddling around in his position. The sentry has also seen him, but is standing there motionless, his hands buried in his coat pockets, his rifle resting on the snow-covered edge of the trench. I yell at him, why he's not firing? The Reds have snipers over there who shoot any of us they get in front of their guns. And our sentry is watching Ivan walking around over there! The sentry is a very young chap and the snow blows directly in his face when he looks at the enemy. I leave him standing there.

Sketch by the author (the concentric rings under the "1." are the Kurgan (hill 140.2); the green symbol stands for the Tiger tank wreck)

In single leaps I rush through the groundless snow after my platoon. I reach the knocked-down Tiger tank and jump into the protective pit behind the steel colossus. There lies a wounded man: The non-commissioned officer with the EK I. He has been shot through both thighs. He asks if he should stay here now. I have two men carry him away immediately, but now I miss them too. I work my way forwards through the storm. The first bunker is taken. At the second one, two men come towards me and shout through the storm: "Two men fallen, hit by Pak!" This damn snowstorm. It's the old story again. The Russian attacks with a tailwind, and we have the cutting east wind and the drifting snow in our faces. It blows at us so hard that we can only open our eyes for a few seconds. But the Russian is sitting in cover in our bunkers and simply shoots us down as soon as the wind lifts the swirling masses of snow like a curtain and opens the view for a moment.

We already have two bunkers. But the Pak hit gave the men a shock. There's a bit of a standstill. The radio operator hasn't been able to establish contact with the battalion either. And it's already midday. It's no use, I have to make another call. I work my way back through the deep snow again. Russenmüller is furious because he still has no report. I explain to him the cause of the radio breakdown, which I have now discovered. Radio communication was blocked by the wreck of the Tiger tank, which was lying directly between the radio operator and the battalion command post. The small TF device (tornister radio)[7] could not cope with this obstacle. After Russenmüller has grumbled enough, I hang in and make the arduous journey for the third time. Again I scurry through the knee-deep snow, pause as my breath flies and my heart races until I reach the platoon again. The men have hardly made any progress. I wipe the snow from my eyes and try to recognise something of the enemy. Impossible! Clouds of snow veil my view after twenty metres. Only for a few moments does the wind clear a stretch, but even then nothing is recognisable. The masses of snow have buried everything beneath them. The unevenness of the terrain has been smoothed out. Even the flat humps of the shelters are barely recognisable. We're supposed to storm bunkers that you can't see! But the Iwan has to get out of the trench. If we haven't managed it by the evening, he'll bring in reinforcements during the night and then the whole position will become untenable.

I urge the men forwards. I realise that there are so few of them. Then I recognise an almost snow-covered bunker entrance. As if driven by a sudden inspiration, I squeeze through the narrow entrance and let myself slide down. Look there! Four Landsers are sitting here, calmly awaiting the course of events up there. I roar angrily at them and chase them out. Forward, attack! Now we move slowly forwards, towards the third bunker. But where is it? The trench has long since blown over. You can no longer recognise where it once ran. I try to remember the position plan and the course of the trench. This must be the place where the trench bends towards the enemy. But I can't see anything. When I try to open my eyes, the snow hits me. It's more of a fight against the snow than against the Ivan. We trudge on, fall, lie down for a while to regain our strength and breath. The men hesitate. The fallen comrades are no longer to be seen. The snow has already buried them.

The machine guns are no longer firing. The bolt assemblies are frozen. The ammo gunners, who put their boxes down for a moment, have difficulty finding them again. They have sunk into the loose snow and blown over in no time. My sub-machine gun is completely iced over. These buggers are no good at all. My camouflage suit is soaked through. The snow has penetrated my boots and sleeves and dissolved into water. The gloves are soaking wet, the fingers stiff. The men suffer the same fate. They can hardly be persuaded to move forward.

No more shots have been fired for a long time. Can the Ivan no longer see us either? Or has he already retreated? Or are we advancing in the wrong direction? And the Pak? Where is the damned Pak? The Russian trench is no more than a hundred metres away.

After a while we finally find the third bunker. It is empty. So apparently Ivan has withdrawn after all. Only one bunker is missing now, if I have the map correctly in my head.

By now it's afternoon. I have to inform the battalion of the state of affairs. There's no point in sending a man, so I walk this miserable road for the fourth time. I'm almost at the end of my tether and stagger panting into the bunker. Russenmüller is raging. Where I am? What's actually the matter? Why I'm not calling? This apprehensive angel! He's sitting up there shirtsleeved in his overheated bunker and hasn't the faintest idea what it's like down here. He's never been in a trench. You should only make infantrymen battalion commanders, not people from the rear. But I can understand his anger. It offends this pompous braggart terribly that he couldn't report a quick success to the regiment. He would have loved to shout in his loud, confident voice: "Look, everything's going like clockwork with me!"

So I report to him first that the trench is back in our hands, with the exception of a bunker that I can't find in the snowstorm. I explain to him again that radio communication with the TF device was initially disrupted by the tank wreck in between. I also tell him that the counterattack has cost two dead and four wounded. Müller doesn't seem to have any real idea of all this. Finally, he announces reinforcements. A platoon from the 14th company led by a lieutenant is on its way. That's no longer necessary, of course, but the platoon had already been mobilised before I called, because they didn't know up there that my counterattack was over, almost over.

I replace the receiver and once again make this dreadful walk back to the point of my attack. What an effort I could have saved myself today if this stupid radio had worked! By now it's late afternoon and suddenly the driving snow subsides: A short time later, only a few flakes are still falling. Diagonally behind us, we see the platoon of the 14th company coming down the slope. By the time they reach us, the air is completely clear and visibility is excellent. Now we also find the last bunker. It is also empty. After initial resistance, the Russians must have abandoned the occupied bunkers and retreated without us noticing. They had retreated under cover of the driving snow. The lieutenant of the 14th company smiles like a hero. He came, saw and won![8]

It's 6 pm. I have received orders to occupy the reclaimed trench. So I make preparations to put it back in a usable state of defence. I distribute the men to the individual bunkers, have the entrances shovelled clear and the trench next to the bunker cleared of snow to the extent that at least the posts can stand in it. Towards evening, an artillery lieutenant appears, who is assigned to us as a forward observer and immediately starts adjustment firing of his battery into a barrage area in front of our trench.

I myself have moved into the last taken shelter with my messenger and the medic. My messenger is just about to shovel the snow out of the bunker that the storm had blown in. That's when he encounters elastic resistance. After a few more spadefuls, the snow turns bloody and then the spade scrapes across a brown uniform. A dead ivan. So our fire had had some effect despite the driving snow. Soon the body is shovelled free. The top of his skull is completely shattered, the torn brain is exposed. The messenger acts astonished: "Well, ivan," he says to the dead man, "what are you still doing here? You've got a kaputt bonce!" I tell him off for his frivolous speech and say something about piety. But I have to admit that the droll and funny tone of this monologue also made me laugh and I had trouble suppressing it. Meanwhile, the messenger, unmoved by my admonition and the terrible sight, drags the body out of the bunker with a final jerk so that part of the dead man's brain falls out of the shattered skull. "Hey, dude, you're losing your bonce!" the messenger sneers again. I reprimand him again and now he says nothing more.

Cynicism? Unfeelingness? Irreverence? I don't believe it. Death is an everyday comrade to the front-line fighter, and he sees corpses so often that the sight of them no longer shocks him. The warrior becomes numb to it, and perhaps this is a process designed by nature for its own protection. Anyone who does not arm himself against such sights and feelings gets a nervous disorder. Perhaps he also hides his shock behind such flippant speeches so as not to show that he is moved. And after all, the dead man was his enemy who, if he could, would have shot us down just as cold-bloodedly. Every dead Russian is one less rifle over there. Perhaps the messenger was also in a certain euphoric state of mind after the rigours of this terrible day and expressed this in the rather rude manner towards the dead man.

The bunker has been cleared of traces of the last battle. The snow has been shovelled out and the door can be closed again. We make ourselves as comfortable as possible on the bare bunks. (Ivan took everything with him when he fled. We lie on the bare boards). Finally we can rest after the exhausting exertions of the day.


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Editorial 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 Epilog Anhang

January February March April May June July August September October November December Eine Art Bilanz Gedankensplitter und Betrachtungen Personen Orte Abkürzungen Stichwort-Index Organigramme Literatur Galerie:Fotos,Karten,Dokumente

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31.

Erfahrungen i.d.Gefangenschaft Bemerkungen z.russ.Mentalität Träume i.d.Gefangenschaft

Personen-Index Namen,Anschriften Personal I.R.477 1940–44 Übersichtskarte (Orte,Wege) Orts-Index Vormarsch-Weg Codenamen der Operationen im Sommer 1942 Mil.Rangordnung 257.Inf.Div. MG-Komp.eines Inf.Batl. Kgf.-Lagerorganisation Kriegstagebücher Allgemeines Zu einzelnen Zeitabschnitten Linkliste Rotkreuzkarte Originalmanuskript Briefe von Kompanie-Angehörigen

  1. KTB LVII. Pz.K. notes enemy attacks since 4 am, but already on 17 Feb 44 (NARA T-314 Roll 1495 Frame 000043)
  2. KTB 6th A. reports -2°C and snow drifting for 17 Feb 1944 (NARA T-312 Roll 1485 Frame 000811), -1°C and snow banks for the 18th (000818) and only for the 19th blizzard at -5/-6°C (NARA T-312 Roll 1493 Frame 000259/99)
  3. in the original erroneously "Lieutenant Colonel"
  4. The author met von Arnim as company commander of the section where the alarm unit had previously been located and then the 10th company, which later came under the author's command and was eventually pulled out as a reserve. It can be assumed that von Arnim and his 9th Company now had to occupy their own section as well as the former section of the 10th Company, which had already been particularly wide at 1700 metres.
  5. The regimental engineer platoon was apparently deployed to reinforce the 9th Company.
  6. First Sergeant Friedrich-Karl Warwel belonged to the 14th (antitank) company on 17 September 1943, when he received the Knight's Cross. He will not have been platoon leader of the II Platoon of the 10th Company, but leader of the II Platoon of the 14th (antitank) company, which apparently reinforced the 10th in its role as regimental reserve.
  7. probably the usual Tornisterempfänger Berta (Torn.E.b.)
  8. KTB AOK 6, NARA T-312 Roll 1485 Frame 000806: “East of the Ssakssagan river, 257th I.D. rejected 3 batl.sized attacks southeast Krassnyi and in a counterattack under heavy enemy losses cleared some local penetrations.”