In Stalingrad the fighting was as intense as ever as the Germans threw everything they had into the battle in a ‘last’ attempt to capture the whole city. Yet they faced some of of the most determined resistance they had ever encountered.
The Russians clung on to a strip of land on the west back of the Volga. All reinforcements and all munitions and supplies had to cross the wide Volga, which was continuously under fire from the German guns. Men who crossed were immediately flung into the battle. Life expectancy was little more than a day for Soviet infantrymen who crossed at this time.
The Germans were being made to fight for every building. Small groups of men would creep into houses after dark with sufficient ammunition to keep them going for a few days, fortify it as best they could, and then fight it out from their own personal ‘Alamo’, selling their lives as dearly as possible.
Similar battles took place in the industrial buildings. The Grain Elevator was built like a fortress with solid concrete walls. This became the site of a famous battle as a small group of men held out against everything the Germans could throw at them, including tanks and Stuka bombing. They carried on even as the grain stores caught fire. Eighteen sailors from the 92nd Independent Rifle Brigade commanded by Andrei Khozyainov fought their way through to join them on the 17th:
The guardsmen were very pleased to see us, and immediately began cracking army jokes and making funny remarks. We had two Maxim guns, one light machinegun, two anti-tank rifles, three tommyguns and a radio set.
At dawn on the 18th a German tank carrying a white flag approached from the south. ‘What’s going on?’ we thought. Two men showed themselves from inside the tank, a Nazi officer and an interpreter.
Through the interpreter the officer tried to persuade us to surrender to the ‘glorious’ German army, as defence was useless and there was no point in our sitting it out any longer. ‘Get out of the elevator now,’ insisted the German officer. ‘If not we will show you no mercy. In one hour’s time we will bomb you all flat.’
‘What a cheek,’ we thought, and gave the Nazi lieutenant a curt reply: Tell all your fascists they can go to hell in an open boat! You two ‘voices of the people’ can go back to your lines, but only on foot. The German tank tried to back away, but a volley from our two anti-tank rifles stopped it.
Soon after that enemy tanks and infantry about ten times our strength attacked from south and west. After the first attack was beaten back a second began, then a third, and all the while a reconnaissance plane circled over us. It corrected the fire and reported our position. Ten attacks were beaten off just on September 18th.
We were very careful with our ammunition, as it was a long way to bring up more, and a difficult trip. In the elevator the grain was on fire, and the water in the machineguns evaporated. The wounded kept asking for something to drink, but there was no water nearby. This was how we defended our position, day and night. Heat, thirst, smoke – everybody’s lips were cracked.
Andrei Khozyainov’s account appears in Jonathan Bastable (ed): Voices From Stalingrad