The Red Army chases the Germans out of the Ukraine

A Soviet 122mm Howitzer on the move in the spring of 1944.

A Soviet 122mm Howitzer on the move in the spring of 1944.

In the Soviet Union the Red Army was still making good progress chasing the Germans westward. As the spring arrived and the weather improved the pace accelerated. It was no less exhausting of the Soviet troops to be doing the chasing. They had to maintain the pressure, not giving the enemy time to pause and prepare proper defensive lines.

Petr Mikhin was an artillery officer advancing with the front line infantry, ready to call in artillery fire as needed. At the beginning of April he was in the Kirovograd area in central Ukraine. they had already pushed through thin German defence lines several times in the last few weeks.

We were now pushing towards the Dnestr. The Germans had to abandon one defensive line after another. Even now, under our pressure the Germans were yielding a trench line ahead of us.

We, the survivors, were so exhausted by the three previous assaults on this line that we weren’t running, but slowly strolling towards the German trench under a bright spring sun. The sun was so hot by eleven o’clock that morning, that we were uncomfortable in our unbuttoned overcoats. The riflemen sat down on the edge of the German trench, dangling their legs into it, and lazily wiped their sweating faces with their side caps. To hell with the Germans; let them run away, no one had the strength to chase them again.

… [the telephone line to their artillery behind them was temporarily cut]…

The 45—year—old Mineev from Penza was beyond joy that the line had been fixed; he roared so loudly as he passed my orders to the gun crews that my receiver started to crackle.

Some twenty seconds later, we could hear the rustle of our rounds passing, over our heads, and then dozens of powerful explosions covered the field through which the Germans were running. Our riflemen immediately stirred and craning their necks, they looked out across the steppe in front of them.

When the dust raised by the explosions dissipated, instead of the running Germans we all saw scattered bodies here and there across the field. Some of the bodies remained prone on the grayish—yellow field, but some of the survivors among the fallen rose to their feet and started to run for their lives again. There weren’t so many of them, and they clustered in small groups of three or four men. I saw glee on the faces of our riflemen; they were so excited that at first they couldn’t say a word. Then they all started to cheer at once, looking back at me. Abaev was also happy. He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me delightedly: ‘Hit that group over there! Look how many of them there are!’

A command to the battery followed, and a shell swept away the fleeing Fritzes. The soldiers kicked up an even louder row, and now each man was trying to point out to me the group of fleeing Germans to shell next. The joy of revenge quickly restored their energy, freed them from the fear that they had experienced in the attacks, and softened their sorrow over the comrades they had lost in the fighting. Watching the enemy die in front of them was like balm for their rattled nerves.

So, the Germans had been destroyed and the riflemen had gotten a rest and had cheered up. Abaev ordered his battalion to move out, and we all set out in a rare crowd across the barren, unploughed field. Gradually the battalion’s remnants shook out into an attacking line, with Abaev and me running on the left flank. Shtansky could barely keep pace, hampered by the roll of cable on his shoulders and the field phone dangling from his hand, which kept swinging and hitting him in the legs. I grabbed the phone so that it was easier for him to run.

Crossing a hillcrest, we spotted a new German trench line in the distance. I thought to myself, ‘How many more of these trenches would we have to take on our road to Berlin?’

The Germans spotted us and a machine-gun burst sprayed us, as if warming up for battle. Then a German howitzer battery, deployed in the open behind the trench, opened fire. We took cover.

Shtansky had already connected the field phone to the cable and I called in fire on the German howitzers. They were not dug in; they must have just deployed to fire in a hurry. This made our job easier. Powerful explosions covered the entire battery. It immediately fell silent as the crews took cover next to their guns.

Just in case, I fired another volley at the battery and then I shifted my fire to the German trench. My shells exploded along the whole length of the trench. The German infantry couldn’t withstand it, clambered out of the trench and fled again. I gave them the chance to run away and then hit them again, to ensure they wouldn’t try to return to the trench.

Then I again shifted my fire to the German battery to make sure it wouldn’t resume firing. The fleeing German infantry reached the battery and the surviving artillerymen joined their flight. Abaev immediately ordered the battalion to charge, and we raced after the retreating enemy.

See Petr Mikhin: Guns Against the Reich: Memoirs of an Artillery Officer on the Eastern Front

As they pushed on they captured two German 105mm artillery pieces. They were delighted to be able to fire German guns at the retreating Germans and their battery took possession them for the remainder of the war, which they used alongside their Soviet 122mm guns. There was a plentiful supply of German ammunition from the position they had captured, and, as they advanced they were able find similar supplies again and again.

PanzerGrenadiers from the SS 'Viking' Division  near Kovel in the Ukraine.

Panzergrenadiers from the SS ‘Viking’ Division, near Kovel in the Ukraine.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank April 4, 2014 at 10:00 pm

The Panzergrenadiere are Wehrmacht, not SS. Just look at the breast eagle and collar tabs.

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