In Stalingrad the appalling conditions of the trapped 6th Army kept getting worse. Men were falling down dead for no apparent reason – just severely weakened by the terrible cold and their desperate hunger.
The Red Army maintained a constant pressure on the perimeter defence line and the defended ‘Kessel’ was gradually shrinking. Already the Russian advance was overrunning huge quantities of German equipment. Sometimes there was no room for them to shelter in the abandoned German bunkers because they were full of the dead.
German officer Alexander Dohna-Schlobiten accompanied General Hube on a tour of the contracting front line:
It was the most profoundly shocking thing I have seen in my life. On the short drive to the front line there was an endless train of retreating soldiers, all of them streaming towards us.
They had no weapons, often no shoes. Their feet wrapped in rags, their emaciated faces encrusted with ice, suffering from their wounds, they dragged themselves deeper into the Kessel.
At the edge of the road lay the dead and dying. I saw people crawling on their knees because their feet were entirely consumed by frostbite.
Raimund Beyer was ‘lucky’ enough to be wounded so badly that he was a candidate for evacuation by air:
Age, high blood pressure, and two heavily bleeding leg wounds seemed to have tipped the balance. I still remember the exact words the doctor said to me softly, perhaps enviously, ‘Send my greetings to the homeland’.
Beyer went out in one of the last planes to leave Pitomnik airfield, there were hundreds of wounded still waiting to get away. The airfield was overrun by Russian tanks later on the 15th January. On the plane the pilot recognised from his accent that Beyer was a fellow Nuremburger and threw him a present:
It was a loaf of bread, like the ones we were given by the slice in the Kessel. A corporal cowering in the corner now barged over to me, snatched the loaf of bread from me, hugged it to his chest and forced his way back to his corner.
He began to tear the bread apart like a madman, ripping hunks off and chewing. At the same time he was warding off several other hands that stretched out towards the loaf, long thin arms leaning over begging for some.
He gobbled and gobbled. I was so taken by surprise that I couldn’t say a word and just indicated my displeasure with several dismissive waves of the hand. But nobody noticed.
Everyone was so shocked that silence fell.
After a short while the fury of those who’d lost out blew over, as the glutton who had wolfed down the bread now started getting stomach cramps and was rolling about screaming and writhing. He was carried out dead from the plane when it landed.
These are just two of the many accounts collected by Jonathan Bastable in ‘Voices from Stalingrad‘.
For many more images see War Albums Ru.