Oberstleutnant i.G.1 Hubert Menzel, operations officer of the 16. Panzer-Division
The daily logs of the 16. Panzer-Division, which covered the fighting of the formation in the Stalingrad Pocket from December 1942 to January 1943, were destroyed shortly before the end of the fighting to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
With great difficulty but while still fresh in their memory, the officers who had come out of the pocket alive helped to reconstruct it while in captivity. The results, sewn into the sole of a shoe, accompanied me until I was sent to a Ministry of the Interior Prison at the beginning of 1950. It then had to be destroyed, since it was impossible to get it through an examination by the prison specialists.
This represents the third effort to retain something for posterity concerning the final fighting of the 16. Panzer-Division. After thirteen years as a prisoner of war, it has been created primarily from memory. It is therefore possible that small errors, particularly concerning chronology and the operations of individual forces, have crept in. It is impossible to do justice to all the deeds and suffering of everyone, especially for Panzer-Regiment 2, which fought for more than a month outside the framework of the division. What the men of all of the units of the division accomplished in the Stalingrad Pocket is worthy of being recorded in history. The story of their end is recorded here.
General Situation of the 6. Armee in the Middle of November 1942
Toward the beginning of October 1942, when the fighting for the possession of the city abated in the wake of exhaustion on both sides, the 6. Armee was in a difficult position. Jutting to the northeast, the field army was in the operationally most exposed position in the outermost corner of the southern front. It had been bled white of personnel; it was in need of materiel reconstitution; it was not stockpiled for the winter; it had only a single-track railway for its logistical lines of communications, a railway that could not cover the continuing combat needs of the many divisions, let alone a stockpiling of logistics.
As a result of alack of forces, the broad Kirghiz Steppes to the south could only be screened by weak Rumanian forces.
Rumanian, Italian and Hungarian field armies adjoined the German field army to the northwest, extending as far as the area south of Woronesh. Their combat power was weak. Both of the weak positions on both sides of the 6. Armee had to tempt the enemy to carve out the bulwark of the front, Stalingrad, by enveloping to both sides.
That danger had been recognized by all of the higher command levels for some time, with German motorized ready reserves brought up behind the threatened sectors of the front. Despite that, the lack of forces prevented a true deployment in depth and the earmarking of strong operational reserves. In addition, the 6. Armee was forced by the poor terrain of the steppes to leave the majority of its depots at the end of the railhead west of the Don, to send its horses to inhabited areas along the Don for the winter, and to prepare reconstitution areas for the majority of its motorized elements in the Don Valley.
On 17 November 1942, the expected Russian offensive was started. The defensive capabilities of the Rumanians had been seriously overestimated; their antitank capabilities insufficient. In their first true stress test, their front collapsed and drew the German ready reserves into the whirlpool of flight. Thick fog negated the German antitank capabilities.
By 21 November, the pincers of the northwest and southeast Russian breakthroughs closed at the bridge at Kalatsch. The field army was encircled.
In order not to be rolled up from the rear, the field army was forced to pull both of its wings back and formed a southern and western front.
In order to win time to do that, the 16. Panzer-Division was alerted on 21 November in Rynok, where it had executed a difficult operation without decisive success, and sent west. Its mission was to bring the Russian forces that had broken through west of the Don to a halt by means of a counterattack. As a minimum, it was to keep the crossings over the Don open for the divisions of the field army that were west of it.
Although it was not possible to prevent the collapse of the Rumanians in diffi-cult fighting west of the Don, the bridgehead at Pestkowatka could be held until the main bodies of the 44. Infanterie-Division, the 384. Infanterie-Division, and the Rumanian 1st Cavalry Division could cross the Don to the east and then establish a defensive front oriented west. Under heavy enemy pressure, elements of the 16. Panzer-Division disengaged from the bridgehead and were sent back to the northern blocking position to establish defensive positions oriented north.
Since the field army anticipated orders to break out of the pocket to the southwest, it had the majority of its armored forces concentrated there. Despite considerable concern for its own combat power, the division dispatched its Panzer-Regiment 2 and an ad hoc group, Kampfgruppe Strack, to that location.
The main body of the division rolled to the northeast to its new area of operations in the northern blocking position on the morning of 27 November. The men of the maintenance battalion and the replacement parts section underwent their baptism of fire during that period in brave defensive fighting against Russian tanks and infantry that had broken through in and around Kalatsch. From there, they were forced back to the south out of the pocket.
The 16. Panzer-Division, minus its Panzer-Regiment 2, was then attached to the
XI. Armee-Korps for operations in the northern blocking position. It received orders to insert itself into the gap between the 24. Panzer-Division (right) and the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) (left) and establish defensive positions. The 3. Infanterie-Division (mot.) had previously held that sector, but it had been withdrawn and inserted into the southwest corner of the pocket that was forming. The gap had been provisionally closed by elements of the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) and a construction battalion. They had not been able to prevent the Russians from pressing forward, however, and taking possession of the established winter positions in the main line of resistance.
That gap remained the festering sore of the north front during the entire pocket battle. Once they had infiltrated, the Russians pressed on almost continuously. While in their old positions on the flanks, the friendly forces were barely attacked, the 16. Panzer-Division had to bear the entire brunt of the defense there. That there was never a breakthrough is thanks to the unbending toughness of the soldiers of the division.
The dominant high ground was not in our hands. To take back the former main line of resistance would have required intensive preparation, strong forces, and much ammunition.
Since it was anticipated that a breakout attempt to the southwest would be started soon, the division decided not to continue the attack and to establish a new main line of resistance in the line that had been won.
On 28, 29, and 30 November, the Kampfgruppen organized in their sectors, turned back enemy advances, some of which were accompanied by tanks, and started the initial improvements to their positions.
The positions were not heartening. The squads were positioned on barren, flat pieces of high ground in the steppe. There were no prepared positions, just a few bunkers in the defiles. In the entire division sector there were no trees, no wood for the construction of positions and no materials for burning.
The cold weather, which had let up a bit from 25 to 27 November and had transformed the surface to slush, started to return. At night, it was between 15 and 20 degrees below zero [between 5 and -4 Fahrenheit]. During the day, the Russians prevented any type of movement within the positions by means of harassing fires. Digging in and the construction of positions were made exceedingly difficult.
Panzer-Regiment 2, under the command of Oberst Sieckenius, had been taken from the division. All of the armored forces of the field army had been concentrated in the southern portion of the pocket. On the march there, elements of the tank regiment got mixed up in the confusing situation around Kalatsch; new passage lines had to be established.
The 3rd Battalion of Hauptmann Warmbold provided some breathing space, wherever it could. Initially, it reported directly to the XIV. Panzer-Korps as its ready reserve. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were consolidated and placed under the command of Hauptmann Baron Freytag von Loringhoven.
From 29 November until 2 December, the two battalions were constantly employed in Dimitrejewka and Nowo-Axelandrovski as fire brigades. The hard-pressed 44. Infanterie-Division was especially thankful for the help of the tanks, which were on hand again and again to close gaps in the lines, seal off penetrations and retake and hold lost positions by means of immediate counterattacks.
Kampfgruppe Strack established itself in a defile near Dubininski, where it was on call as the ready reserve for the western portion of the pocket. Thanks to ceaseless operations, the division rations section under Oberzahlmeister Rossberg was able to evacuate all of its stocks from endangered Marinowka and relocate them to Dubininski, where it established a new rations point. As a result, sixty-six truckloads of rations and uniform articles were saved for the division. That was able to keep our heads above water for some time. The rations headcount for the division was around 7,000 men; the trench strength was around 1,000. On 25 November, the field army ordered that rations be cut in half and the daily bread ration reduced to 200 grams.
Defensive Fighting from 1 to 7 December
In the meantime—and against the recommendations of all command levels of the army—the Führer made his decision: “Stalingrad will not be given up; the field army remains in the pocket and will be supplied from the air.”
The field army submitted despite new and ever-more-serious reservations, but it also had to assume that the promise concerning aerial resupply would be kept. Sufficiently supplied, it would have been able to hold out for a long time.
It goes without saying that the first recommendation of the field army—to break out as soon as possible—was the proper one. A portion of the forces of the field army would have certainly established contact with the 4. Panzer-Armee in the south.
At the same time, it cannot be denied that a breakout attempt would have been a very difficult and risky operation. The division itself had experienced the fact that it had not been possible on 26 November to bring up enough fuel to get the entire division across the Don and into the pocket.
The 6. Armee would have had to advance to the south across the barren Kalmuck Steppes with limited fuel supplies. Most of the heavy weapons and vehicles would have had to been left behind; moreover, thousands of wounded soldiers would have been left for the Russians. That was very difficult for the soldiers.
The 6. Armee had submitted and obeyed in a military fashion and perished fighting as a result. In the end, everything was lost.
But one thing remains undisputed: With its sacrifice, the field army had tied up some seventy-five large Russian formations for two months, thus preventing the torn-open Eastern front from collapsing in 1943, with millions of comrades suffering our fate. Despite that, the war was still lost. But in 1942, we still believed there would be a good end to things.
Based on Hitler’s decision, the division had to also make new decisions. The positions in the north, which had previously been considered only temporary in nature, then had to held for a longer period of time. The main concern at that point was the improvement of the positions. There was no materiel in the division sector with which to accomplish that. It had to be fetched from the rubble of Stalingrad along with the all-important firewood. Fuel was only allocated in limited quantities, however. All travel had to be analyzed numerous times. It was only for the evacuation of wounded to the airfield that fuel was always made available. The division surgeon, Oberfeldarzt Dr. Gerlach, organized the evacuations.
The winter uniform items that had been saved by the rations section was rapidly handed out. Only the combat forces received a complete issue. But they also grew ever smaller by the day. As a result, the winter clothing had to be removed from the dead and taken from the wounded at the airfield in order to be brought back to the companies.
The unequal balance between ration headcount and combat strength was apparent. By 1 December, it was ordered that all vehicles were to be parked and all non-essential drivers to be incorporated into the fighting forces.
Despite that, the infantry needed to man the wide division sector was insufficient. Since the artillery was only provisionally operational due to the lack of ammunition, artillerymen had to had to be employed on the line with carbines and machine guns.
In Reinisch’s sector, especially in the western portion, there was almost ceaseless combat activity. The Russians advanced against Hill 147.6 again and again with company-size assault detachments and tanks. The main line of resistance was penetrated twice; it was sealed off and cleared twice by means of immediate counterattacks. The heaviest fighting was on 4 and 5 December. The constant barrages by artillery, mortars, and rockets had heavy casualties as a consequence.
It was somewhat quieter in the two other sectors, but there were constant casualties there as well due to frequent barrages and raids.
On 6 and 7 December, the Russians were observed across the entire sector making preparations for an attack. The enemy’s fires increased.
Our hands were tied due to the lack of ammunition. There were no heavy artillery shells at all; lighter artillery ammunition was only flown in in limited supply. The division had to limit the batteries to a consumption rate of sixteen rounds a day. For the heavy infantry guns, there were only two rounds a day available. The cutbacks were analogous in the case of other heavy weapons. Great thriftiness even had to be directed in the case of infantry weapons.
The engineer battalion of Hauptmann Immig was held back as the division reserve. Night after night, it went forward to the positions to lay mines and emplace obstacles.
Kampfgruppe Strack had one of its most difficult days on 6 December. It had been in the vicinity of the Pitomnik airfield ever since 1 December, serving along with a few tanks from the 24. Panzer-Division as the immediate counterattack reserve for the western portion of the pocket. Immediate counterattacks were repeatedly conducted successfully with SPW’s and tanks. The Russians were ejected from their gains and the German riflemen brought back to their old positions.
On 6 December, the fuel ran out. The Kampfgruppe moved on foot to take back the high ground near Baburkin. It was rapidly taken. The Kampfgruppe was then suddenly attacked from a defile by a superior Russian force with heavy tanks. Since neither antitank or artillery covering fire was available, the Kampfgruppe had to pull back. Everyone ran for his life. Oberleutnant von Mutius and Leutnant Wupper were killed. Half of the Kampfgruppe was wiped out. Oberfeldwebel Wallrawe assumed command of the remnants of the company.
Despite being considerably weakened, the Kampfgruppe remained the ready reserve of the western sector, along with a few tanks of the 24. Panzer-Division. It was eventually wiped out in continued hard fighting. On 1 January 1943, it was officially dissolved.
Panzer-Regiment 2 remained employed and divided into two groups along the western and southwestern sectors of the pocket. The 3rd Battalion of the tank regiment continued to report directly to the corps. The fighting seemed to never end. The tanks were the backbone of the western sector, which had no positions or focal points in the hard-frozen steppe. The cold—usually between 20 to 30 degrees below zero [-4 to -22 Fahrenheit]—was a heavy burden for both men and materiel. Each tank battalion had an average of ten tanks operational. The capable tank mechanics made the impossible possible. Without support from the maintenance company, which was outside of the pocket, the battle damaged or mechanically disabled tanks were put back together again. Replacement parts were taken from the tanks that had been completely knocked out.
Despite superhuman performance, the front lines of the infantry divisions became ever more brittle as a result of the heavy losses, the deprivations and the shortfall of everything. Day and night, the tanks had to clear up penetrations, close gaps and serve as the backbone of the defense. Friendly losses increasingly became a cause for concern as well.
8 to 24 December: Heavy Defensive Fighting in the Northern Blocking Position; Preparations for a Breakout; Christmas
On 8 December, the anticipated attack started along the entire division sector after extensive artillery preparation. Shortly after the attack started, two Russians crossed over to our lines and betrayed the attack plans and times.
In Reinisch’s sector, the attack collapsed in front of the main line of resistance. A major crisis developed in the middle sector. The Russian main effort took place there. Russian tanks broke into the positions of the motorcycle infantry and eliminated foxhole after foxhole. The men fought to the last round. Despite heavy losses, Russian infantry followed in several waves. The Russians took most of Hill 145.1 in their possession, but then their attack bogged down in the defensive fires. The 5./Artillerie-Regiment 65 was practically wiped out. The 2./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16took heavy losses. Both had been employed as infantry.
The enemy expanded his penetration to the west. In Dörnemann’s sector, the Russians put down a barrage fire. They then attacked into the flank of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 64 from the point of penetration. They were forced back after heavy fighting.
The infantry strength and the ammunition reserves of the divisions were too small to assure the success of a major attack by day. Therefore, the attack was shifted to the night. In a nighttime immediate counterattack, Kampfgruppe Dörnemann was able to clean up the situation in its sector by itself.
In Dormann’s sector, a deliberate nighttime attack was planned. In Reinisch’s sector, the 1./Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79 advanced across the railway up the southern slope of Hill 145.1. A tank company from the 24. Panzer-Division and a few SPW’s were brought forward. GeneralmajorAngern, the division commander, led the attack personally in his command vehicle. Bataillon Axe and a platoon from Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 16 conducted a nighttime counterattack, eliminating the enemy and restoring the main line of resistance on the hill, albeit suffering heavy casualties.
Operations of the 16. Panzer-Division, 1 December 1941–23 January 1942.
(Tatarenwall = Tartar wall; Bunkerlinie = bunker line. Boundary formations: 60. Mot Div = 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.); 24.PD = 24. Panzer-Division. Sector formations: all 16. Panzer-Division, except I./92, which is the I./Infanterie-Regiment 92 (mot.) of the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.).I./64 = I./Schützen-Regiment 64. Pz.AA16 = Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16. I./Pz.AR16 = I./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16. K16 = Kradschützen-Bataillon 16. Pz.Pi16 = Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 16. S.Reg79. = Schützen-Regiment 79)
The artillerymen passed their baptism of fire as infantry in a magnificent manner. On 9, 10, and 11 December, the heavy fighting in the middle sector continued. Despite a few crises, the high ground remained in our hands.
In Reinisch’s sector, there was a deep enemy penetration on the left wing on 9 December. Once again, the situation was cleaned up by means of a nighttime counterattack. The intense enemy attacks with strong artillery preparation lasted until 12 December, but they were all turned back with heavy losses for the enemy. The friendly forces were exhausted, however. The lack of rations was making itself noticeable. Valuable ammunition and equipment were lost during the enemy penetrations, since the riflemen were no longer in a position to take them with them in the deep snow as a result of their emaciation. Prisoners were taken. A piece of bread captured from them or a daily ration captured in a counterattack was the greatest victory booty of all.
The heavy Russian artillery fires along the entire front of the division lasted until 17 December. On 14 and 17 December, there were additional enemy attacks with tanks in Reinisch’s sector. They collapsed in front of the positions of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79, with heavy losses for the enemy. The attacks abated on 18 December, with the artillery fire becoming weaker.
At that point, the first concern of the division was getting replacements for the bled-white forces. A Rumanian company of about platoon strength was brought in. It was employed in Reinisch’s sector as the contact forces with the 24. Panzer-Division. After a few days, the company was no longer there. The personnel went looking for food. Additional Rumanian units were brought in; they were divided along the front and proved themselves well as ammunition runners and guards. The most important thing, however, was the fact that the Rumanians brought horses with them. They rapidly wound up in the field messes.
The division received considerable reinforcement as a result of the dissolving of the 94. Infanterie-Division, from which our division received the remnants of two regiments. Infanterie-Regiment 276 was reorganized and was attached to Reinisch’s forces, effectively becoming the II./Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79. In a similar manner, Infanterie-Regiment 267 was reorganized and went to Kampfgruppe Dörnemann as the II./Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 64. A hearty comradeship was soon formed with the brave men from the Sudetenland and the Vogtland.2
Despite the heavy casualties, the deprivations and the intense cold, against which there was frequently no protection other than lying behind a wall of snow, the discipline and morale of the forces was firm and determined. All of them were convinced that their liberators had already fought their way close to the pocket. Rumors permeated the air.
That almost was the case. On 13 December, the LVII. Panzer-Korps had moved out from the south to relieve Stalingrad and had fought its way to within sixty kilometers of the 6. Armee by 19 December. All of the preparations had been made in the pocket for the breakout attempt, as soon as the relief force had come closer. The amount of fuel was measured again and again. It was sufficient for fifteen kilometers, perhaps thirty for the armored vehicles.
All of the armored forces of the field army had been concentrated in the south, including our Panzer-Regiment 2. It was intended for the northern sector to form the rearguard during the breakout attempt and follow the main body, pulling back to the south, sector-by-sector. The 16. Panzer-Division was to continue to remain between the 24. Panzer-Division and the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.).
It was clear to the division that this would be a suicide mission. Despite that, all necessary preparations were made. Freedom was calling, even though the chances for us were small and getting smaller. Preparations were made for issuing fuel. The new units were divided among the vehicles that were still operational, and the delay lines as far as the southern edge of the pocket were established and reconnoitered. The orders for Operation Donnerschlag (“Thunderclap”) were named after the days of the week. The remaining elements of the division, which were in the Marijinskaja-Losnoje area along the Don under the command of Major von Burgdorff, radioed that twenty-six trucks with rations, fuel, and replacement parts were standing by to push through to the division as soon as the first hole had been created. Unfortunately, they never reached us.
Starting on 18 December, it started to turn quieter in the north. The combat elements were able to breath a bit. Preparations were made for Christmas. The division rations point was able to distribute ten cigarettes and three cigars to each man from stocks of comfort items; the Kampfgruppenwere allocated some spirits and 200 liters of red wine.
The field army authorized a complete ration for one day for each man of the battle groups and a complete loaf of bread for each wounded. What that meant for those who were there can only be understood by those who experienced it. The weakened men cut the bread, slice-by-slice, in an almost reverential manner.
That was the last time many felt full for many years—in most cases, forever.
The twenty-fourth of December was a sunny but cold day. It was completely quiet in the division sector. Not a round was fired. What did that portend? The units passed Christmas Eve in a happy and introspective mood. The division commander visited the men in the strongpoints. Toward 2200 hours, when the division commander and the operations officer returned from the troops, the Christmas celebration also started in the division headquarters.
25 December 1942 to 5 January 1943: New Offensives
During the night, the weather turned. Christmas morning started with gusting snow. The sound of Russian artillery, the bark of mortars and the penetrating howl of Stalin organs suddenly started booming in the middle of the storm at 0500 hours. The deep-frozen earth trembled under the impacts. We immediately knew that today signaled the start of the anticipated Russian offensive.
It slowly turned to day. In the middle of the snowstorm, you could barely see ten meters. From out of the drizzle, tank after tank suddenly appeared, among them were truckloads of Russian infantry.
The defenders fired as long as they had ammunition. The men manning the bunkers defended desperately. The casualties and losses were horrific, however; the onslaught of the enemy seemed to have no end. Whoever remained alive finally attempted to reach the infantry-gun positions somewhat to the rear.
In Dörnemann’s sector, there was an 8.8-centimeter gun right up front. Even though the riflemen that had been given the mission of guarding the gun were either dead or wounded, the gun crew held out and destroyed thirteen enemy tanks in short order. The gun was blown up with its final round.
A little bit farther to the right was a platoon of the 10th Company (Air Defense). It forced the Russians to ground as a result of its rapid and well-aimed fires from its 2-centimeter guns. When one gun after the other was silenced as a result of a lack of ammunition, a bitter struggle ensued between the gun crews and the enemy infantry. The men defended to the end with their small arms. The enemy dead lay piled up in front of the guns. But in the end, the superior numbers prevailed. The last men of the Flak platoon fell in close combat. The time they had bought, however, was enough to enable a blocking position to be established in the infantry-gun positions. Suffering heavy casualties, the enemy forces were finally brought to a standstill there.
The Russians had also penetrated into the left-hand portion of Dörnemann’s positions. The sector reserve, a few motorcycle infantry from Kradschützen-Bataillon 16 and a company from Artillerie-Bataillon Axe jumped into SPW’s and conducted an immediate counterattack. They were received by violent fires, but the attack rolled on and the Russians finally ran. The artillerymen dismounted their vehicles and were in the trenches in a few strides. Hand grenades cracked. Seventy prisoners were taken. The Flak position was regained. But the Russians were on Hill 139.7 in the main line of resistance and forced the riflemen into the snow as a result of their heavy defensive fires. An immediate Russian counterattack ensued; it collapsed while taking heavy fire. Both sides became entangled. Casualties mounted. It was bitterly cold. The men had been lying in the snow for hours. They had not eaten anything since early in the morning. It slowly turned dark.
At daybreak, the division brought forward whatever there was that could be brought forward. Despite that, it was clear that the friendly forces were insufficient to retake the important high ground.
The 60. Infanterie-Division (mot) fired artillery on Hill 139.7; the 24. Panzer-Division sent a company of tanks. The field army placed a battalion of infantry, the III./Infanterie-Regiment 544 of the 384. Infanterie-Division at the division’s disposal. Unfortunately, it was in terrible shape. AnSPW company came from Reinisch’s sector.
Once again, because of the shortage of ammunition, the counterattack had to be postponed until the night. Major Dörnemann, who knew the terrain best, led. The division commander was up front. The commanding general3 was in the division sector.
The attack started at 0200 hours on 26 December. On the right, Leutnant Baukenkrott inspired his men forward for the nighttime attack. It was bitterly cold and the heavens were clear. A hurricane of fire descended on and around Hill 139.7. The Russians were prepared for the attack this time. Our men’s attack bogged down under the disciplined defensive fires. Leutnant Baukenkrott was killed. The attack by elements of the 384. Infanterie-Division did not make any progress, either. The infantrymen were not well practiced in working with armor. Despite all the bravery, Hill 139.7 remained in Russian hands.
Morning dawned. The attack had to be called off. For the first time, the division was unable to reclaim the main line of resistance. After the loss of the bunkers, the men lay in the snow 150 meters in front of the enemy. The casualties were very heavy. Within the 2nd Battery of Artillerie-Regiment 16, only three Unteroffiziere and four Obergefreite were left. There were hardly any more men left in Kradschützen-Bataillon 16 and the I./Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 64. The III./Infanterie-Regiment 544 was then employed in a defensive role in Dörnemann’s sector. Once again, the watchword was building bunkers; given the temperatures, it was a matter of life or death.
Over the next few days, there was little combat activity. On the other hand, the continuous artillery fire caused additional casualties. Every night, construction parties from the signals battalion and the division headquarters went up front to help their comrades. Once again, the remaining engineers were between the lines laying mines and emplacing obstacles. For the division, it was imperative to build a reserve again. The antitank battalion, which had lost all of its guns with the exception of one 5-centimeter antitank gun, consolidated its 1st and 3rd Companies. Fifty men from the division support elements were sent forward and formed a company under the leadership of Oberleutnant Holtkamp. A trains company was formed out of the trains and given quick training.
On the insistence of the division, Panzer-Regiment 2 was returned. It had already had additional heavy fighting behind it on the southern and southwestern sectors of the pocket. The tanks were sent from one operation to the other as final reserves.
The enemy air attacks became increasingly bothersome. Friendly fighter protection was missing. The Flak had hardly any ammunition left. But the casualty-intensive fighting was borne with an eye to the great mission that had been given to the tank regiment: It was intended for it to lead the breakout wedge to the south under Oberst Sieckenius. Intensive preparations had been made. It had become a difficult mission: With insufficient ammunition and fuel, the approximately 100 operational tanks of the field army had to drive a fifty-kilometer-deep wedge into the superior enemy forces.
But a tanker always prefers to take on the most difficult and risky attack whenever the alternative is to crawl into the ground, be slowly chewed up by hunger, shortages and enemy artillery fire and not be able to defend yourself.
By Christmas day, the relief forces had been able to fight their way forward another few kilometers by dint of untold effort and against a powerfully numerically superior force. They were still fifty kilometers away, however.
Given those circumstances, the High Command of the Armed Forces had forbidden the breakout attempt. The field army submitted. Operation Donnerschlag was called off. The tanks were no longer so essential in the south. The great hope, almost realized, had to be buried. Despite all that, the forces in the field did not lose their confidence. They bore the deprivations and suffering with an admirable attitude in hopes that things would turn out all right.
Although the divisions in the southern and western sectors had been pushed back in long and difficult fighting, they had held up the enemy again and again in every position, despite the sharp cold and the lack of fuel and ammunition. They had held out heroically against the foe. But the pocket was becoming increasingly smaller. Strength was waning; cases of death through exhaustion and freezing increased.
But as long as the airfield at Pitomnik was in our hands, the heart of the field army continued to beat and there was still a glimmer of hope of surviving.
Ever since 15 December, the Luftwaffe could only fly at night due to the extremely heavy antiaircraft fire. The amount of logistics that came in, which had previously not even been one half of the requirement, sunk to less than a quarter. Hard words were said against the Luftwaffe, but its personnel did as much as they could. The close-by airfields had long since been lost after the collapse of the Don Front.
In the wake of the heavy losses suffered on 6 December, Kampfgruppe Strack, together with tanks of the 24. Panzer-Division, had participated in additional difficult operations in the southwestern corner of the pocket. There was only a small group left, and it was disbanded on 1 January. From that point forward, Hauptmann Strack assumed responsibility for the infantry training of all personnel in the rear-area services. His men remained with the battle group of the 24. Panzer-Division in the southwest.
The final days of the year had transpired in the division sector without large-scale combat operations. By means of loudspeaker propaganda, the Russians continuously tried to rob the defenders of their courage and convince them to defect. No one responded.
On New Year’s Eve, we heard a lot of engine noise coming from the enemy lines. Everyone was put on high alert. On the morning of 1 January, the dance started up again. This time, it was on the right in Reinisch’s sector. Hill 147.6 disappeared in the haze of artillery impacts. The division was worried whether the exhausted men of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79 would be able to withstand the storm. In the end, the attack was beaten back. Major Wota, the brave commander of the 1st Battalion of the regiment, was the soul of the resistance.
The Russians attacked again, but again without success. In the process, they suffered very high casualties. The attacks and artillery barrages continued on 2 January. They were turned back on that day as well.
During the night of 2–3 January, a large Russian raiding party moving along the railway line penetrated into the bunkers along the boundary between Reinisch’s and Dörnemann’s forces. An immediate counterattack conducted by the 3./Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79 bogged down in the defensive fires. At that point, a bitter struggle for the bunkers began, which lasted three days. During the night of 3–4 January, the bunkers were retaken, only to be lost again the following night. The forces and the ammunition were no longer sufficient. The bunkers had to be abandoned to the enemy. It was the second penetration that caused a major concern. There was a threat that the division could be split in two.
On 6 January, there was another dangerous penetration on Hill 147.6. Oberleutnant Günther Korte rallied his men forward and was killed at the head of his unit in the penetration area. Nonetheless, the penetration was sealed off and cleaned up.
At that point, the combat activates died down somewhat. The 1st Company of trains and supply personnel under Holtkamp was sent forward to the bled-white Kampfgruppe Reinisch. Once again, the divisional reserves that had just been created had to be committed.
The II./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16 received orders to park its remaining equipment and start reorganizing and training as an infantry formation. A 2nd Company of trains personnel was formed, this time primarily from the trains of the tank regiment. That was probably the last personnel that could be combed out of those formations. The men approached their coming assignment with understanding and insight.
Panzer-Regiment 2 had only four operational tanks left. Since the allocated fuel was only sufficient for one to two kilometers, the tanks were employed as mobile armored pillboxes behind the high ground in the center of the sector, which was especially threatened. The fuel basically lasted only long enough to warm up the engines.
The rest of the tank regiment was consolidated under Major Warmbold. It was reorganized and trained as infantry. For the division, it was a source of reassurance that it could form a small reserve for the time being out of those combat-experienced and brave men.
Ammunition became scarcer and scarcer. Ever since 8 January, the Volga had frozen over. A never-ending stream of men and materiel crossed openly from the Russian side from east to west and into our sector. We observed it but were unable to prevent it.
Ever since the start of the year, the bread ration of 200 grams daily could only be maintained for the front-line fighters. Everyone else received only 100 grams.
Every dead horse was dug out of the snow and consumed. But there was no flour left in order to thicken the horseflesh broth. In Dörnemann’s sector a few strands of wheat and sorghum that had not been harvested jutted out of the snow. They were collected and cooked. Despite that, the decline of the men’s strength could no longer be stopped. The continuing casualties were a cause for concern. The division surgeon, Oberarzt Dr. Gerlach, tirelessly attempted to evacuate the wounded to the airfield and, through personal effort, to get them loaded on a machine. We were happy for everyone who got a “life ticket.”
The division was aware of the danger that it faced. While both of the neighboring divisions were in well-established winter positions and were hardly ever attacked, the Russians had concentrated from four to five assault divisions in front of the sector of the 16. Panzer-Division. They were attempting to force a breakthrough through from the north and press on with all means available. There was no continuous series of positions there, and the defenders were exhausted. If the casualties remained as high as they had been, then it was only a matter of time before the infantry defensive capabilities of the division would be exhausted, the lines along the high ground lost and the Russians broke through and achieved the desired splitting of the pocket from north to south.
The few days of lessened combat activity were used to improve all heavy weapons positions, bunkers and other facilities to all-round defensive positions, in order to achieve a certain depth to the defensive system.
Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 meters behind the main line of resistance throughout the division sector was a prepared bunker line. In its effectiveness, it could not be compared with the high ground to its front, but it was a backstop. Ever since Christmas, two Rumanian companies had been employed there with the mission of improving the position under the direction of the engineers and hold the line as a security force in order to prevent surprises.
Major Dormann reconnoitered in the area in between to find a blocking position along the railway in the event that that main line of resistance was lost and a pull back to the bunker position was forced. A platoon of medium antitank guns was attached to the division from the corps and formed the backbone of the antitank defense.
10 to 23 January 1943: Ultimatum and Crisis
On 9 January, the Russians had sent emissaries to the 6. Armee with an ultimatum: “Capitulate by 1000 hours on 10 January!”
The field army turned down the offer by order of the High Command of the Armed Forces. The division discovered this chain of events after the fact. It did not bother us too much. The prospects of surviving Russian captivity were slim to the point of none at all. The division had made that discovery all too frequently. Who was going to believe the Russians? As long as there was a small chance of surviving through fighting, that was all that mattered.
Two minutes after the ultimatum expired on 10 January, all sectors of the pocket were lit up with a hurricane of fire from the Russians. In the northern sector of the pocket, the fires once again were concentrated on the sector of the 16. Panzer-Division.
The Russians moved out to attack with five divisions; the attack was turned back. Renewed artillery preparatory fires. Once again, the attack bogged down just outside out positions thanks to the defensive fires of the infantry and the good support offered by Major Zinkel’s III./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16. But the friendly losses were very heavy. The main effort of the fires was once again on the sector of Kampfgruppe Reinisch. The II./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16 prepared to be employed as infantry, sending elements forward to fill the holes. Hauptmann Jahnke was badly wounded. Hauptmann Strack assumed command of the antitank forces.
The heavy artillery fires and attacks continued throughout 11 January. The enemy continued to work his way forward towards the main line of resistance and started to infiltrate into dugouts that had been emptied through fires. He continued those tactics on 12 January. There were hardly any men left up front who could prevent the breakthrough. They were tired, exhausted and half frozen; they only had submachine guns and rifles. Machine-gun ammunition was getting extremely low. The high ground could no longer be held. The division ordered a pull back to the blocking position along the rail line during the night.
The disengagement succeeded. On 13 January, a few men from Kampfgruppe Dormann and Kampfgruppe Dörnemann held out along the railway line and at the old command post for Kampfgruppe Dörnemann. The bunker position was occupied by elements form the II./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16, Panzer-Regiment 2, and the 2nd Trains Company. The Russians only followed hesitantly; the high ground in the left-hand portion of the division sector was in enemy hands.
Oberst Reinisch and his men continued to hold out on Hill 147.6. The hesitancy of the Russians was our salvation. A single German regiment with equivalent tank and artillery support such as the Russian divisions had would have long since wiped out the exhausted men of the 16. Panzer-Division.
The field army placed a company composed of field army rear-area services personnel at its disposal. It was brought forward during the night of 9–10 January behind the railway embankment to screen the disengagement from the enemy up front. The men held out for a night up front, then a day and the start of another night. The men had run around in circles behind walls of snow in order to stay warm. They lost their nerves when hit by artillery. A panic broke out. The acting company commander appeared at a dead run near the field kitchen at the division headquarters. What kind of example was to be set here? What was being demanded here went well beyond what was humanly bearable. That which was accomplished by the men of the division can only be characterized by one word, a word that soldiers do not like to use: Heroism! The trains personnel of the 6. Armee were in no position to do that. It was the only case of a human breakdown in the area of the 16. Panzer-Division.
On 15 January, the new positions in the bunker line were occupied and ready for defense. Kampfgruppe Reinisch had also pulled back to there by then.
The cannoneers of the II./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16 had emplaced their guns behind walls of snow in the forward lines, right next to the dugouts. There were three to four rounds available for each one. Whenever the Russians came or a tank presented itself, two gunners ran to the gun and engaged over open sights.
After the loss of Hill 147.6, the crossroads southwest of Orlowka, over which the supply route of the division ran, was under direct fire. A new, more difficult route through the defile to Gorodischte was reconnoitered by the engineers and improved.
During the night of 15–16 January, the division commander, Generalmajor Angern, and the operations officer, Oberstleutnant i.G. Menzel, sat together to discuss the situation. The western and southern portions of the pocket had collapsed; the western wing of the neighboring division had already been practically bypassed. The powerful superiority of the Russians irresistibly pressed the small group of defenders to the east and into the ruins of Stalingrad.
On that day, the airfield at Pitomnik finally fell into Russian hands. Although the small airfield at Gumrak was still available, it was already being threatened.
The division was also at the end of its strength. Our fate was sealed. There were no more reasonable chances for survival. Should the division capitulate?
The thought was rejected. Nothing would be bettered by that. We would only pull our neighbors into the whirlpool of destruction. A capitulation could only be ordered from above as long as the division could maintain a cohesive front. Suicide? That could not be expected on moral grounds and also not ordered. Suicide presumed feelings of guilt or fear of what was to come. There could be no talk of that in the first case, and we could bear whatever was to come.
Captivity? It stood there as a slow death in front of us. Continue to pull back? That would expose the northern sector to being split up and destroyed. That could only be ordered for the entire northern blocking position. Where would we go anyway? It was only a matter of hours before the enemy was in our rear. Additional help from the corps or the field army was not to be expected.
There was little chance that individuals could make their way back to the main front. We were unaware of the big picture, but we did know that that the Caucasus Front was at least 100 kilometers away and it was continuing to pull back.
Nothing was left but to do our duty and hope for a quick end to it all. The division decided to remain where it was and not pull back any further. All of the leaders were to remain with their units. Everyone would fight from his position until the end.
The sixteenth of January brought new worries. The Russians pressed forward and put pressure against the dominant left wing of the bunker position with strong forces and tanks. The trains company was employed in Bunker 15 there. It turned back the attacks. During the night, the Russians attacked once again with strong forces. In man-to-man combat, Bunkers 13, 14, and 15 were lost.
At first light, the trains company and portions of Kampfgruppe Dörnemann launched an immediate counterattack. Paymasters led. The Russians were ejected. All of the bunkers were occupied again.
On 17 January, the Russians attacked again. The three bunkers were lost again. Once again, the men moved out in an immediate counterattack. Bunkers 13 and 14 could be retaken. The Russians could not be forced out of Bunker 15, the most important bunker, however. The strength of the trains company was also at an end at that point. It had performed admirably.
On 18 January, Major Dörnemann was badly wounded. He was almost shot blind and was driven to the airfield. We had little hope that he would be able to get out. With him we lost one of the main bulwarks of the defense.
On 19 January, the smaller bunkers, Bunkers 13 and 14, were also lost. The remnants of the trains company hunkered down along the edge of the defile to the south of Bunker 15.
On 20 and 21 January, the crisis reached a boiling point. If the Russians moved out, there would be no way to stop a breakthrough. But they did not exploit their advantage. The division continued to hold for another two days in a position that had grown desperately untenable.
The 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) to our left was also withdrawn even with us. At least that meant contact to the left was reestablished.
The Russians attempted to soften up the defenders by frequent and heavy artillery barrages. No large-scale attacks were initiated. Apparently, the Russians were also exhausted. Their losses must have been very heavy. Numerous attempts to penetrate the bunker line with raiding parties collapsed in the face of the defensive fires.
In the southwestern portion of the pocket, men of the division—remnants of the former Kampfgruppe Strack—continued to fight with personnel of the 24. Panzer-Division, Luftwaffe companies, and platoons of Cossacks. They had been employed west of Karpowka ever since 2 January. They were forced back to the village in daily heavy fighting that resulted in heavy casualties. There had not been any positions available for some time. During a large attack on 10 January, Karpowka was taken from the rear. All of the vehicles, including the attached SPW’s, were lost.
Starting on 11 January, the men no longer had any warming bunkers, any warm food and any rest. They continued to defend but they were forced back from one blocking position to the next in the direction of Stalingrad. On 14 January, they were still able to turn back a large-scale Russian attack.
Oberfeldwebel Wallrawe of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 64, the leader of those elements [detached from the division], was badly wounded, shot through the stomach. Two of his men drug him back, placed him in a truck and then went back to the front. The truck ran out of gas. Wallrewe crawled three kilometers to the airfield. He was flown out.
He had not eaten anything for several days, and that was what saved him. Life’s games were strange sometimes!
The remaining men of the Kampfgruppe were wiped out and lost in the ruins of Stalingrad. We heard nothing more from them.
On 23 January, a surprise order came from the corps directing all divisions along the northern sector to pull back immediately through Gorodischtsche to the western outskirts of Stalingrad. Only movement corridors were specified.
Delay lines could no longer be assigned, since the entire western and southwestern sectors had collapsed in the wake of extremely intensive enemy attacks and were fleeing back to Stalingrad. That meant a new situation. Actions needed to be taken immediately; resignation and a wrangling over our fate did not help anything. Warning orders were dispatched as soon as possible. It was only a short while until the onset of darkness. Preparations needed to be made for the destruction of all inoperable vehicles and weapons, as well as the quarters.
We were happy that we had previously reconnoitered and marked the route along the defile to Gorodischtsche. Engineers were sent forward to difficult spots. A rearguard under Major Dormann had to remain in contact with the enemy. It was important to deceive the enemy. If he slammed into the withdrawal before we had infiltrated into the defile, it would result in a catastrophe.
Would the troops, who had lost practically all of their experienced leaders, be able to do it? After the onset of darkness, the Kampfgruppen disengaged from the enemy. There was the occasional rattling of a machine gun and the occasional sound of an engine but otherwise there were no sounds and no light. We were walking on hot coals. Didn’t the Russians notice anything?
Our greatest concern was the badly wounded men, who could not be transported. Ever since the airfield was lost, the field army no longer accepted them from us. They had to remain behind. Good night, comrades! May God ensure that everything happens quickly! We’ll be following you shortly!
The first elements started entering the defile. The improbable happened. Maintaining magnificent discipline, the troops disengaged from the enemy without being noticed. The engineers set up booby traps in the abandoned bunkers.
It was amazing how many vehicles could suddenly move. Most of the drivers had hidden a canister of fuel in some corner or the other for the direst of emergencies. That was good, but it tossed all calculations for the traffic flow out the window. By midnight, everyone had filtered in and rolled or marched along the route in the defile towards Gorodischtsche. To the front, the rearguard continued to fire and bounded back to the southeast prior to daybreak.
We arrived in Gorodischtsche early in the morning. For the first time, the combat forces exhibited signs of dissolution. Leaderless units and scattered forces fled to the east; vehicles got jammed up; and wounded asked to be taken aboard vehicles. The route to Stalingrad was a single massed column. You could only join in and roll along. The division was in no position to lead there. The units had their objectives; the headquarters moved ahead.
New orders from the corps awaited us in Stalingrad. We were to establish a new line of resistance along the defile about one kilometer west of the city’s outskirts. Once again, the division was to position itself between the 24. Panzer-Division and the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.).
The division command post was set up in the basement of a silicate factory on the western edge of the city. On 24 January, the division was once again capable of working.
The field replacement battalion of the 305. Infanterie-Division was already in the division’s sector. We were happy to accept it among our ranks. We also received a medical company form the 389. Infanterie-Division. It was employed to our left.
The elements of the division arrived, were passed through the lines and, for the most part, placed in the right portion of the sector at the fork in the defile under the command of Oberst Reinisch. They had contact with the 24. Panzer-Division. Contact was also reestablished with the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) through insertion of elements of Panzer-Regiment 2 under Hauptmann von Cramon.
On 25 January, a new front was established on the western edge of Stalingrad. Portions of all of the divisional elements were located. Major Zinkel was actually able to bring along three guns of his III./Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 16. His was the only battalion of the divisional artillery that could still be employed as artillery. Two tanks were also on hand, albeit completely immobile.
Major Dormann arrived with his small and exhausted band from the rearguard. They had trundled their way for three days and nights without rations or sleep through the pathless snow. They had also brought their weapons. For the time being, the enemy was only following hesitantly.
In Reinisch’s sector and in the sector of Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon 305, enemy thrusts were turned back. At that point, the focal point of the fighting was in the center and southern portion of the pocket.
On 23 January, the last airfield at Stalingradski had been lost.
On 24 January, the Russians punched through to the Volga for the first time from the west. By doing so, they separated the northern pocket from the main body of the 6. Armee. The supply situation became catastrophic. Starting on 25 January, the front-line troops received only 100 grams of bread daily. Everyone else received only 50 grams.
From that point forward, the only rations received were by means of aerial canisters dropped at night. Despite keeping a sharp eye on them, it was unavoidable that starving men would pounce on them and start to devour the contents. We were out of ammunition. There was no resupply. The division formed search parties that occasionally found additional ammunition in the ruins of former positions.
On 26 January, a Rumanian regiment that was inserted into the front defected en masse to the Russians. The front collapsed in that sector.
On 27 January, the pocket was split again, this time into a center and southern portion. It would not be much longer at that point. The men’s strength rapidly dwindled. In many cases, the hunger initiated apathy.
Starting on 28 January, artillery and mortar fire recommenced in our sector. The Russians attacked with tanks and infantry and were turned back. New artillery preparations; new attacks.
Once again, the 16. Panzer-Division and the elements attached to it successfully defended. In immediate counterattacks conducted at night, the Russians, who had penetrated into the positions in some cases with tanks, were ejected. Even we did not know where we were drawing our strength from to be able to do that. In the end, it was only the instinctual feeling of not leaving the comrade next to you in the lurch. But the bloody losses soon let the number of fighting soldiers sink to an absolute minimum.
Despite the sacrifices of the doctors, the fate of the wounded was horrific. They could barely be fed. The “binder building,” an apartment complex of large and still somewhat intact units in our vicinity was packed to the rafters with wounded and sick. It started receiving extremely heavy artillery fire. There were no other quarters available.
The scattered forces also had a heavy burden to bear. Luftwaffe elements reported to us, willing to fight as long as we provided them with something to eat. We could not give that to them, so they continued on in desperation. All of the foxholes were full of wounded, exhausted and broken men. No one could provide any help any more. The division’s bunker was filled with wounded. The staff was forced into a small anteroom.
The enemy strolled in front of our positions a kilometer away and installed his weapons without interruption behind snow walls. We were able to watch everything in great detail and were unable to do a thing about it.
On 30 January, heavy artillery fire commenced. The troops bore it in stoic quiet. There wasn’t enough strength left to get mad. What would have been the purpose; it was soon to be all over with anyway. The only thing that held us together still, that made life worth something was comradeship. Whoever gave that up or lost it was abandoned to nothingness.
That evening, we heard Göring’s speech about our heroic demise. A bitter feeling arose in us. Our mood was anything but heroic. We did what we had to do—that was all. And dying is not as simple as the speaker would lead you to believe. It takes a while before you’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s over. Then, however, there’s a strange feeling of freedom and detachedness until you finally discover a glimmer of hope and desire to live again somewhere in the corner of your heart.
On 31 January, Generalfeldmarschall Paulus surrendered on the Red Square in the southern part of Stalingrad. The 16. Panzer-Division continued to fight in the northern pocket.
On 1 February, the hour had also come for our division. Once again, there were heavy fighting and artillery fires. The division turned back enemy attacks along its front one more time. It was almost a miracle.
To the left of us, the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) was overrun in the course of the day and ceased to exist by evening. There was no more outside contact. A patrol sent out reported that the Russians were involved with taking the remnants of the
60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) prisoner. They were practically all wounded.
The Russians had achieved a deep penetration into the 24. Panzer-Division to the right of us. There was still fighting at the tractor works. Our Kampfgruppen up front reported heavy losses, with no more contact to either the right or the left. The last ammunition report for the entire division listed: “In all, two crates of infantry ammunition (found); two impact fuses for light howitzers.”
It was clear to all of us that things were coming to a close. But the will to live raised its head one more time. The position up front could no longer be held by evening. It was pulled back to the houses in front of the silicate factory. The operation succeeded. Hauptmann Schmitz andOberleutnant Brendgen from Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 79 were on the go the entire night to direct the remnants of the regiment—barely a company—into positions. The entire northern pocket had been reduced to about 400 to 500 meters in width. There was nothing off to the left of us any more.
During the night, the Russians to the left of us pressed far into the rear area behind us. The remaining survivors of Panzer-Nachrichten-Abteilung 16 and the division staff attempted a relief effort of sorts, inasmuch as they advanced into the former sector of the 60. Infanterie-Division (mot.) in order to gain some breathing room. The men were scattered.
Shortly before daybreak, Major Dormann and some wounded put up resistance against efforts to encircle the division from the left rear. It was pointless. He only advanced into groups of wounded men and prisoners, who were being assembled by the Russians and were standing around between the Russian combat forces. He was the only one to return.
At daybreak on 2 February, the fate of the division was finally sealed. The Russians had apparently identified the focal point of the division’s resistance and rolled up the remaining elements of the Kampfgruppen and the group around the division command post from the rear and the southwest with tanks and infantry. The last act of the drama took place at great speed. The two crates of infantry ammunition had long since been expended; the last gun had fired its last round. All of a sudden, the Russians were on top of us from two sides in the morning twilight. After a short fight, it was all over. There was no capitulation. A few powerless figures were assembled. The division had done its duty to the utmost to the very end.
By chance, the division commander, Generalmajor Angern, was able to make his way out through a gap on the right to the rear. He tried to make his way to the tractor works with Oberleutnant Brendgen, whom he ran into, since the sound of occasional firing could still be heard there. The effort did not succeed. He sent Oberleutnant Brendgen back and decided to make his way back to the south by crossing the Volga. He was accompanied by his loyal enlisted aide. Brendgen saw him disappear behind a hill of snow.
The Russians reported on 5 February that they found the corpse of a German general while clearing the combat zone around Stalingrad. It was most likely the commander of the 16. Panzer-Division.
It was quiet around Stalingrad. The fate of our wounded and sick men was sealed. Practically unattended by the Russians, there were hardly any who survived the next few days.
The prisoners were hauled away from the battlefield in a long column. Inadequately supplied and housed, almost half died over the next few weeks in the collection point at Beketowka and elsewhere.
In tortuous marches, another portion of the prisoners were driven through the steppes—first to the west and then to the east—without quarters in the cutting cold. The crack of a Russian submachine gun, whenever someone remained behind, was something that we grew accustomed to.
After four weeks, the remnants of that group reached the rubble of Stalingrad.
It is good that we did not know at the time what was to face us. Only about four percent of the prisoners survived the long, bitter years in Russia. The last ones did not see their homeland until thirteen years later.
General Winter. 6 December 1941: retreat at 40 below zero.
Laying cable in deep snow.
One of the fallen, frozen solid in the snow.
Attack on Chatkowo: an infantry gun mounted on a sled, 5 May 1942.
Winter along the Reseta River. At night, it dropped to 50 below (-58 Fahrenheit).
1 Translator’s Note. i.G. = im Generalstab = “in the General Staff.” General staff officers up to the rank of general officer appended this suffix after their rank as an honorific.
2 Translator’s Note. While the Sudetenland is well known, the Vogtland remains obscure, primarily because it was not a bone of contention prior to the start of World War II. The Vogt-land is an ethnic region of southern and southeastern Germany (Bavaria, Saxony, and Thuringia) and portions of Bohemia in the former Czechoslovakia.
3 Translator’s Note: That is, the corps commander.