Soviet soldiers fire 45-mm anti-tank gun model 1937 53-K at the German positions on the Volga at Stalingrad.

Soviet soldiers fire 45-mm anti-tank gun model 1937 53-K at the German positions on the Volga at Stalingrad.

Günter K. Koschorrek had spent just over a month on the Eastern Front, having first found himself in action on 24th November. Having narrowly escaped that engagement his hastily thrown together unit had been coming under successive attacks and their position was looking increasingly vulnerable.

The 15th December found Koschorrek yet again facing another Russian attack. His thoughts, like many others, were turning to whether it would be possible to survive for much longer.

Why don’t the assault guns come? We wait and wait, and then – too late! We hear the mortar shells rushing in. In spite of the fact that they hit the ground some distance away, splinters do zip through the air and pass close to our heads.

It doesn`t particularly upset us: we’re used to much worse. I even decide to stand up, so that I can keep my feet moving. Then a shell explodes on the slope across from us. We can see the splinters fizzing in the snow.

A soldier calls out, and I feel a slight pain underneath my left knee cap.They are calling for the medic, who is in our group. He is taking care of the wounded man, whose thigh has been torn open by a splinter and who as a result is bleeding heavily. He is an Obergefreiter wearing the blue uniform of a Luftwaffe field division. He came to this group with three others when his own unit was decimated.

After the medic has taken care of the man, I show him the place where I felt a hit. Directly under my kneecap there is a small hole, about the size of a pea. It doesn’t hurt, and I can move my leg okay, but a thin trickle of blood, almost black in colour, is running down my shin.

The medic attaches a plaster. ‘Too bad,’ he says almost apologetically and shrugs his shoulders.

I know what he means. He is trying to tell me that unfortunately it does not qualify me for a Heimatschuss [literally a ‘Home Shot’ – a wound bad enough to get you sent home] I feel the disappointment – a hope has been dashed. And then I think how quickly human feelings and attitudes can change. It is only a matter of weeks since I was dreaming of glory and heroism and was so full of élan that I was almost bursting.

Now I long for a Heimatschuss – because it appears to me to be the only way that I can, with any sort of honour, say goodbye to this soul- destroying environment and, for at least a few weeks, get away from this awful country and its gruesome winter.

Is it cowardice to think like this, to start comparing our war here with trying to stop a full-blown avalanche merely by using human bodies? With human beings who, full of despair and freezing to death, shiver in icy holes in the snow and each morning thank God that their bones have not frozen solid because they are still needed to help you get away to safety from the attacking enemy?

I don’t think that this rabble of soldiers, thrown together, and without proper heavy weapons, will be able to hold back the Russians here on the Don and Tschir this winter. Anyone who can escape from this situation with just an injury really can talk about his luck. But thinking that you might fall into this category isn’t being realistic: it’s a dream.

And when does a dream ever come true? The path of a splinter or bullet does not conform to the wishes of the ordinary soldier. Splinters and bullets are hard, hot and nasty.They search out life hiding in dirty rags and try to extinguish it with one blow.

For Koschorrek dreams did come true. Christmas came early for him when his minor wound developed an infection, his whole leg swelled up and became immobile. Within days he was evacuated. Without such luck he probably wouldn’t have survived to write his subsequent account, based on the scraps of a diary he wrote at the time.

See Günter K. Koschorrek: Blood Red Snow.

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Dec

14

1942

Operation Winter Storm pushes on towards Stalingrad

14th December 1942: Operation Winter Storm pushes on towards Stalingrad

Suddenly, there is movement there! Three – no, four,five, six Russian tanks, probably T-34s, slowly advance on our position echeloned to the rear. I sound the alarm for the two self-propelled guns. The crews huddle behind the thinly armored gunshield, the barrels turn toward the enemy. Apart from this, there is no movement on our side. Over there the slowly advancing tanks are followed by several waves of Russian infantry that can be clearly made out against the snow cover with their thick brown greatcoats and well-known hats.

Dec

13

1942

Conditions deteriorate inside the Stalingrad cauldron

13th December 1942: Conditions deteriorate inside the Stalingrad cauldron

The shelling gradually flattened our positions, which had to be improved. Where could we get building timber? For us and many others, the wooden houses in the suburbs were the only supply of wood, and only daily hunts, which also brought in many other useful things, gave relief; a packet of long nails, wire, and white flare rounds, which I traded for my cigarettes, ensured friendly faces in the position at evening.

Dec

12

1942

Operation Frankton survivors reach their target

12th December 1942: Operation Frankton survivors reach their target

We were lucky. We could have arrived to discover that the harbour was empty; there had been no way to knowing how many ships we would find until this moment, and we were satisfied. We chose four targets. We turned back towards the cargo ship and pulled up alongside. Her hull shrouded us in darkness. We could hear the crew singing. I wondered what they’d be singing in a few hours’ time. It proved an easy target. I attached my magnet-holder to the hull to prevent the tide from carrying us away.

Dec

11

1942

The Eighth Army advance reaches Agheila

11th December 1942: The Eighth Army advance reaches Agheila

They fought very bravely, and the crew of one gun allowed Tom’s tank to get within fifty yards of them before firing. Unfortunately for them, they missed him, only carrying away the ration boxes on one side of the tank, and he overran the gun, actually crushing one of the crew under the tank. In this action, the M.O. was badly wounded, and for a long time was in danger of losing an arm and a leg. But later we heard that he had managed to keep both, although they would never be 100 per cent useful again. His driver was killed outright.

Dec

10

1942

New work – in the Auschwitz gas chambers

10th December 1942: New work – in the Auschwitz gas chambers

We were lined up in front of the house. Moll arrived and told us we would work here at burning old and lousy people, that we would be given something something to eat and in the evening we would be taken back to the camp. He added that those who did not accept the work would be beaten and have the dogs set on them. The SS who escorted us were accompanied by dogs. Then he split us into a number of groups. I myself and eleven others were detailed, as we learnt later, to remove the bodies from this cottage.

Dec

9

1942

Embarking on a troopship – destination unknown

9th December 1942: Embarking on a troopship – destination unknown

Each messdeck held about 100 men, and each man had a space at a long table each table having about 12 men grouped round it. There was some space around the tables and here all our equipment, blankets and bedding were stored. Hammocks were the order of the day, and they were slung on brackets over the tables and around the walls (or should that be bulkheads).

Dec

8

1942

Hunger in a PoW labour camp in Thailand

8th December 1942: Hunger in a PoW labour camp in Thailand

I had had this tick fever for 2 days and didn’t go sick for I was sweating on the holiday allowing me to recover but the Nips held a big check roll-call at 10 a.m. and I am afraid, for the first time in my army career I fainted and had to be carried off. Of course their food for the last few days has been bad even for this place and I suppose that had something to do with it also.

Dec

7

1942

Operation Frankton is launched from HMS Tuna

7th December 1942: Operation Frankton is launched from HMS Tuna

It was around two in the morning and we were falling behind schedule. The orders had been plain; no man’s jeopardy should put the mission in peril. The Major was having to make swift decisions, and I could see that he was tormented. He could not just leave the two men there to fend for themselves in the freezing water. They would die for sure.

Dec

6

1942

Low level daylight attack on the Philips plant, Holland

6 December 1942:Low level daylight attack on the Philips’ plant, Holland

It was midday, a lovely sunny day, virtually no cloud, so I set off across the Dutch countryside at high speed. I decided not to follow the given route out which was towards the coast of Holland and out into the North Sea. I decided that that’s where the fighters would be and therefore, I turned north, to the Zeider Zee. The fighters would all be directed to the main formation.