Russian resistance stiffens on the Eastern front

A German sniper accompanied by a spotter.
German troops carrying back one of their wounded.

The Red Army was beginning to rebuild itself and was returning to the battlefield with renewed confidence. As the German offensive got under way in the south, with a new blitzkrieg breakout, there were occasions when they faced very well organised resistance. In his memoirs of life in the Wehrmacht at this time Benno Zieser describes an unspecified battle. The German lines were ill prepared and poorly dug in when were they awakened by a massive bombardment at dawn – a sure prelude to an attack on their positions:

The massed barrage of artillery and heavy mortars lasted nearly an hour. Then the infernal din suddenly ceased altogether. Our ears numbed, we raised our heads and stretched our cramped limbs. Were we still alive?

There was a sudden yell. Franzl looked wildly at me. ‘Know anything about tanks? he asked. We leapt up and stared over towards the Russian lines. A curse on them! There they were, moving towards us, tanks, on a wide front, a whole phalanx of monsters of steel, T34s, and our terror paralysed us…

My God! groaned Franzl ‘There must be forty of them. Now we can write our wills’ ! Left right – everywhere – violet-coloured flares now filled the sky, bursting as they fell into strings of flame; violet for tanks, violet for alert!

Then green flares; green for artillery support. Violet, green, violet, green, without end. A desperate cry for help

The tanks drew nearer. Behind them marched Russian infantry, in packed ranks, the whole countryside covered with brownish shapes.

Mechanically I lifted the M.G. out of the shallow trench and set it up in front of me. I was beginning! to realize that what was coming to us now was going to be worse by far than any barrage had been.

‘If only we had dug in deeper! They’ll scrub us out of here like flies.’ ‘Too late to dig now’ said Franzl quite calmly.

Only a miracle could save us from utter catastrophe, and a miracle there was; suddenly the skies filled with a mutter which rapidly grew into a roar and because it never ceased was even more impressive than the chaotic whining and crumping of the guns engaged in the battle.

Scarce daring to hope, we looked up and saw not a few but clouds and clouds of Stukas bearing down in wedge formation. Before we had fully grasped their reality, they had swept overhead. Then they sharply dipped their right wings and with nerve-shattering screech of sirens came down on the tanks. Boom … boom … boom

Black as pitch, mushrooms of red-crowned smoke uncoiled up into the sky. One of the monsters, after a direct hit, just disintegrated into nothing. Another slithered over on its back just like a cockroach and its tracks clanked round in the air. Others spun wildly on themselves. The whole earth quivered under that weight of bombs.

See Benno Zieser: In their shallow graves.

After the fall of Sevastapol the Luftwaffe had very rapidly organised the transfer of the bulk of its forces to the east to support the main offensive ‘[permalink id=20475 text=”Fall Blau”]’. For the moment they retained air superiority in the East. One of the crucial tactical advantages held by Germans, the use of dive bombers as close support ‘artillery’, remained.

A group of Russian T-34 tanks destroyed beside the railway tracks, somewhere on the Eastern front.
The remains Russian of transport that was destroyed during a withdrawal near the Don river.

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