In mid November 1942 the Germans found themselves in almost complete control of the west bank of Stalingrad. The Russians still hung on in some now quite small pockets on the banks of the Volga. Surely it would not take much more to finally dislodge them. Yet even as they took ground they found bands of Soviet infantry popping up behind them and attacking their rear – these men were being infiltrated through access tunnels for the factory district.
Helmut Walz of the 179th Engineer Battalion devotes a chapter to describing just one day’s fighting on the 11th November. As battalion commander he was now only able to scrape together a group of 30-40 men for another surprise attack at dawn. He describes how the diminishing band of survivors had adapted to their grim existence in the city:
The first dawn has removed the darkness of night. The terrain is dipped in a spooky half-darkness. Every square meter seems to have been ploughed over, bomb and shell craters as far as the eye can see. Here the small corner of a house is still standing. There one sees the steps leading down to a cellar. Between them, the smokestacks that remain standing stick out into the sky like admonishing fingers.
Smoking heaps of rubble complete the picture. The stench of decay spoils the air. We hurry forward through a small balka. Lightly wounded troops come up to meet us. Soldiers cross our road. Their objectives are mortar positions that lie in the terrain off on our flanks. Shells, mines, and ammunition boxes are dragged away.
Impacts in front and behind of us, to our right and left. Every five steps we lie stretched out on the ground and let the shrapnel whirr over our heads.
During the battle in the city, new characteristics developed within us. What we did not yet need in France we manage now: we hit the dirt at exactly the right moment, not too soon and not too late. We can look at the corner of a wall and see whether something is hiding behind it.
New guys don’t last long. The old men who have been in Stalingrad since the beginning have completely adapted to this war, which is unlike any other German soldiers ever fought.
I look at my watch: shortly before four o`clock. The ordered rendezvous point, a small turret, is right in front of us. Three days before, it still was five meters high. Now it is a mound of rubble like any other.
The unit commanders all are on the spot. But now we can`t see anything from here anymore, since the tower has disappeared. So we have to advance straight to the vicinity of the hall. New rendezvous, reorganisation, breakaway.
It already has become uncomfortably clear. Furthermore, all the gunners in the Red Army seem to have finished their breakfast. With great intervals we hurry across rubble and stone, though whirling ashes. Nearby impacts cause the necessary breathers.
Just don’t lie around for too long – on, on! There is no location here where one would be out of danger. At the railway embankment I greet the commander of the grenadier battalion committed here.
One leap and then the embankment is behind me. Now only the asphalt road with the destroyed tram cars remains. Across scarred roads and clattering roof plates, though clouds of fire and dust I hurry onward. The last meters! I’m there.
See Winter Storm: The Battle for Stalingrad for the whole account.
Images courtesy War Albums Ru.