Chapter 9


Unteroffizier Robert Poensgen, war correspondent with Panzer-Regiment 35

1 February 1945. I discovered that a counterattack on Blondmin was to start at 1600 hours. I wanted to be part of it. A Kettenkrad1 was to take me to the front. The road we moved on headed towards Lake Eben. We had pulled back through there several days ago. It was said that our forward positions were at Bislau. After about ten kilometers, my ride broke down—engine problems.

I continued on by foot and reached Bislau around 1730 hours in the muck and the mud and the snow. It was quiet there. No trace of the war.

I encountered an SPW of our signals battalion. It was a telephone section that had the mission of laying wire as far as the command post of Hauptmann Küspert. That was where I want to go, and so I was taken along.

From wounded humping back, I discovered our tanks attacked with mounted grenadiers and that Ivan had fled as fast as his feet could fly. I was angry that I had missed that. The line trip was only moving slowly, since it had to drop wire, after all.

Up front, only an occasional shot could be heard. It was turning dark and the shimmer of many fires could be seen on the horizon. We got ever closer to the light and the sound of fighting that had flared up started coming ever closer. A farmstead was burning to the right of the road. In the light of the flames, two wildly firing assault guns were maneuvering through the snow. A pocket of resistance was being smoked out. A few mortar rounds smacked down on the road, with the result that we had to move more carefully. Grenadiers told us that the tanks had already crossed the railway line.

We reached the railway crossing and burning houses were crackling off to the left. At that point, things started getting critical. It was imperative to find out where the forward lines were so that we didn’t rattle into the Russians. At the forestry department building ahead, where the road disappeared into the woods, were a few tanks.

The wire SPW snuck forward with a low throttled engine. There was only infrequent firing in the village, which was ablaze, off to the right.

On the edge of the road was the first tank. It was securing to the left. I went to it and discovered that it was another 600 meters to Küspert’s command post. But we needed to be careful.

The road showed unmistakable signs of fighting. The trees were shot up. Shredded limbs were lying on the road that had been torn down by artillery impacts.

Off to the left, in the bottomland, two tanks had sunk up to their mudguards in the soft ground. Bogged down. Most of the combat vehicles were gathered around the forestry building. Two tanks were another 100 meters to the front, where they screened the road with grenadiers. It wasn’t so simple to get into the building. The Russians had barricaded the door and our Landser had not taken the time to remove the beams. The leader of the tanks, Leutnant Nieder-Schabbehard, was sitting in a tiny room. The company commander of the mechanized infantry company, Haupt-mannKüspert, who was leading the attack, had gone back to the rear to report to Oberst Christern. He was able to report success. The Russians had been pushed back twelve kilometers. It was not until the rail line had been crossed that the tanks started receiving strong antitank fire from the village in front of us, Blondmin. When they tried to swing out to the left, they ran into the treacherous marshland. Since it was dark by then, the attack could only be continued in the morning. In the course of the night, another tank company and a second mechanized infantry company were to be brought us as reinforcements in order to take Blondmin, which was heavily fortified, and then advance on to the crossroads at Lake Eben.

The wire SPW had also arrived in the meantime. The telephone line to the rear worked and the halftrack rumbled off. Occasionally, there was firing outside. All at once, there was a horrific crash. Antitank guns! Then another and another. We ran to the door to check out the situation. There was another crash and, at the same moment, a red tracer flitted past our noses going down the road. It was coming from the rear. We initially thought it was one of our tanks that had gotten misoriented. A patrol was sent out. In the meantime, it continued to crash and boom. Could that be Ivan?

All of a sudden, there was the sound of engines—howling wildly. The wire SPW came racing up. A tracer hissed right above us, only a hand’s breadth away. The halftrack rattled into the courtyard to take cover. The signaleers jumped out, supported two wounded and reported: Ivan was at the railway crossing with antitank guns and machine guns. That was all they were capable of initially getting out.

The wounded were then taken care of; blood was running across their faces—hit in the head. But it wasn’t all that bad, since both of them could still walk and had already recovered a bit from the initial shock.

Had Ivan really set up some antitank guns to our rear at the railway crossing? On top of that, secured by machine guns? The signaleers had recognized the road-block in the nick of time and were able to turn around. Thank God, the first round was not a direct hit.

Leutnant Nieder-Schabbehard employed three tanks against the antitank gun position. After a short firefight, the nightmare was over. The antitank guns and machine guns had been overrun.

2 February 1945. It was hazy outside at night. A patrol moved out in the direction of the Blondmin cemetery and identified a Russian assault detachment, without being seen itself. The patrol worked its way back carefully and was able to warn our outposts. Everyone was outside at that point. Nothing could be heard. The Russians were sneaking up carefully! All of a sudden, there was a rattling off to the left. You could hear the unmistakable dull hammering of heavy Russian machine guns firing. An antitank gun bellowed. Mortar rounds fell. The clattering lasted five minutes, and then there was a deathly silence.

A messenger came gasping: Enemy assault detachment turned back; one prisoner. The Russian was brought to the command post. He was wounded and his wounds were properly dressed. He was hungry. We gave him some bread, a cigarette and a cup with Schnapps. He became lively and started talking a lot, which we didn’t understand. He was taken back with the vehicle that brought warm coffee forward.

A couple of wounded came hobbling up. They were followed by a young kid, who was putting all of his weight on a stick. He fell heavily into the straw in the room, which was lit up by a couple of Hindenburg lights. You could see him grinding his teeth, and he pointed to his pants, which were drenched in blood. We carefully undressed him. There was a gaping hole on the right upper thigh below the groin. You could easily put your fist in it. Ricochet! He must have lost a lot of blood. But he was amazingly brave. While the others applied dressings, I held his head and talked to him to divert his attention. He was definitely no more than 18, and it had been his first operation.

“That it would all happen so fast . . . I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t seen anything of the war yet!” That appeared to be his biggest worry. Poor kid! He asked whether the wound was bad. He really wanted to see it. We diverted him, since it was so frightful that he probably would have keeled over.

After they finished dressing him, he complained about pain in his left leg. We looked further and a second deep wound on the left side of the lower body, but it did not appear to be life threatening. Just a chunk of regular flesh was missing. Despite all the bad luck, the kid had a streak of tremendously good luck, and we told him that. We gave him some greetings to take with him back home. He was from Ingolstadt.

I then slept some while sitting on some junk. My head was against a large earthenware pot with salted meat that had gone bad and stunk terribly. I was so tired, however, that I missed the return of Hauptmann Küspert and did not wake up until everyone was going outside. It was already starting to get light. It was intended for the attack to start in half an hour.

I reported to Hauptmann Küspert as a war correspondent and asked his permission to ride along on his command tank. It was an old Panzer IV without a traversable turret and a fake main gun.2

I had a bad feeling and was unable to eat anything, despite the best of intentions. The tanks slowly pushed through the garden to get ready to move out. Right at eight, the vehicles that had gone into position the night before in the woodline along the rail line broke out in the direction of Blondmin. They rolled like the devil across the snowy fields. Heavy firing started coming from out of the village. We observed the attack through binoculars while standing concealed by a bush. Hauptmann Küspert sat on the edge of his turret and radioed fire commands, since we were able to identify several antitank gun positions by their muzzle flashes. Our tanks started firing wildly into the village, which started to burn in a number of places. There was one black dot after the other on the field. Those were the impacts of the mortar rounds from the Russians. They sprinkled the ground with black gunpowder residue.

There was a thick fog of gunpowder smoke over the field, and the brilliant red muzzle flashes twitched through it. The mechanized infantry followed in a thin wave behind the advancing tanks. Here and there, you saw one or two men jump up, hop a few steps and then throw themselves down in the snow again. A couple of them remained where they were.

When the our left wing had reached the village, Hauptmann Küspert issued orders for the right wing to attack. The tanks pushed forwards out of their covered positions; the mechanized infantry advanced.

I had the secret wish that the captain would remain where he was with his command vehicle, since we had good cover between the houses. But he was no “remote control” commander. I was standing on the rear deck of our vehicle. It pushed forward with a rocking motion and a drone as far as the furthest edge of the vegetation. There was a small chapel behind us. We then started to receive heavy fire as well. You could hear it by the crack of the antitank gun, whether it was firing at you or had another target in its sights. Heavy mortar rounds rumbled in the houses behind us. The bricks flew and the reddish dust was thrown around the area.

A friendly tank fifty meters in front of us was hit in the side. All of a sudden, an ear-deafening roar. I had long since crawled behind the turret; at that point, I pressed myself as flat as a bug on the rear deck.

Hauptmann Küspert, who had been observing with his upper body out of the commander’s cupola, disappeared as fast as lightning. Only an arm remained jutting out of the cupola. For a moment, everything turned dark around me. Clumps of snow and earth rained down on me, as thick as hail. Shrapnel smashed against steel; one piece went though my gloves, missing my index finger by a millimeter. It had been the impact of a 12.2 half a meter away from our right drive sprocket.

We pulled back and set up next to the chapel. Once again, there was a harsh blow, a pelting and a rumbling. Ten meters away, an impact in the church. I was showered with bits of red brick. The adjutant was standing in the commander’s cupola at that point. Hauptmann Küspert had been wounded. Even though he had dropped down quickly, his arm had remained outside and it had gotten hit by a couple of terrible things.

Our tanks continued to roll forward. The left wing was involved in intense street fighting. The Soviets were firing from out of all the houses. The right wing also pushed its way closer and closer to the village through the raging fire. Flames were shooting out of the roofs; black banks of smoke rose above the village.

Our command vehicle followed the tanks. We rocked our way forward to the cemetery, which had been churned up by the impacting rounds. Not a single tank track was seen over the graves. That was striking, since the land had been torn up everywhere else by tank tracks.

The artillery fire started abating all at once. The Russian batteries at the edge of the village had been silenced. There was only artillery and antitank gunfire coming from farther to the rear. But the fire control of the Russians seemed to be in a state of chaos, since the impacting rounds landed arbitrarily in the area.

At that point, we were at the entrance to Blondmin. The lead tanks appeared at the far side of the village. We could see the abandoned Russian guns, antitank guns and infantry guns with our naked eyes.

We moved closely past one such position. The ground was churned up by impacts; the edge of the woods behind it shredded. A lot of dead were lying around; the guns had been shot to pieces. Not too far away were the ammunition trucks, nothing but American Studebakers.

The sound of fighting in the village died down. We moved a bit farther forward until we could see Lake Eben. On the far side of it was the estate, where the division command post had been set up a few days previously. At regular intervals, a heavy hitter, a Josef Stalin, fired over at us. Our tanks could not reach it with their main guns.

At that point, there was a wild hunt for Soviets in progress. They were trying to flee the far side of the village. A number of trucks and guns had bogged down in the snow, since the road was no longer trafficable. The Russians fled individually like black dots across the white snow—on foot and in sleds.

Three tanks, which had been along the road at the forestry building, then joined the attack as well, rolling through the woods. At 1100 hours, the important crossroads was attacked concentrically from three sides. From where we were, we could no longer observe, since a curtain of woods pushed its way in between from the right. So we moved back. Past the cemetery one more time and then got to the main route.

The mechanized infantry had already got a couple of the Russian trucks running again. The valuable fuel was siphoned out of the remaining ones. We then went into the village. There was a rich bounty there, nothing but good things that Ivan had to leave behind. Most of it was captured German comfort items. There was huge amounts of fruit conserves, tinned meat, cans of fish, smoking items—everything the heart could desire. In the houses, the cooked chickens were still on the tables, since the comrades had slaughtered all of the poultry. Although it probably never would have crossed their minds in a million years that we would come and consume it.

The fires crackled outside. We sat in front of steaming pots and ate ourselves full. It didn’t bother us at all that there were piles of shit in the corners that stank. After that “snack,” we rolled back to the main road in our tanks and raced through the woods at high speed towards the crossroads. About 100 meters in front of it, we encountered the lead vehicles.

Two farmsteads were burning brightly off to the left. The Soviets had dug in there and received our tanks with heavy fire. We saw the wrecks of two T-34’s and an assault gun, which gave off pitch-black smoke.

Hauptmann Küspert briefed the tank commanders on the situation and issued his attack orders.

One of our Kampfgruppen moved out on the left, while the vehicles in our vicinity observed the edges of the woods and provided immediate fire support in the event resistance flared up. The tanks rolled forward as if on a parade ground. Fire and movement alternated. They then crossed the road that came from Lake Eben. While three vehicles went into position and screened from there to the left, the remaining vehicles swung out wide to the right towards the burning farmsteads. We saw the mounted grenadiers dismount and clear the buildings, while the tanks, smashing down fences and vegetation, followed slowly. But it appeared that the enemy had already pulled back. We crossed the crossroads and moved past the other vehicles through the curtain of woods. At that point, the formation was reorganized. Outposts were directed to be established after the mechanized infantry determined that the woods were clear of the enemy.

For me, it was time to return to Tuchel if I wanted to turn in my articles in a timely manner. There was certainly nothing more to be expected that day.

Later on, I regretted that decision, since our tanks turned back a strong Soviet flank attack supported by tanks and threw Ivan an additional five kilometers back in the direction of Haselmühl. In addition to a number of T-34’s, they also rendered two Josef Stalins immobile after an intense firefight.

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