On the Eastern Front Günter Koschorrek has somehow survived several engagements with the Russians since his return to frontline. Almost exactly a year earlier he had been wounded and had spent the early part of the year recuperating in Germany. Then like tens of thousands of other German wounded who made a recovery, his time had come to return to the meat grinder again.
The Soviet forces were now in the ascendant, increasingly confident and becoming more expert by the day. The Germans had struggled to stabilise the lines before winter. They had had hopes that the pace of Soviet attacks might slow up with winter. Somehow the German morale stayed steady, despite all the retreats and the setbacks, despite the news from the war elsewhere, despite the bombers devastating their homeland. They were still, at all levels, ready to counter-attack whenever they could.
Koschorrek and his colleagues were billeted in a village where only the day before they had time for a film show. Then on the 19th December the Red Army had burst through their lines and Koschorrek found himself running full tilt towards them in a counter-attack:
The ground beneath us shakes with the impacts and explosions. All around us we hear painful cries from the wounded calling out for the medics. We run forward through the thundering hell, with only one thought in mind — to somehow find some kind of cover there in front of us. Even though we make it through the artillery crossfire, death waits for us a thousand times over. The Russian machine-gunners hammer away at us with all barrels and the enemy anti-tank weapons and divisional artillery fire at our every movement.
Bursts of hot bullets swish by me and tear up the thin snow cover around. I can feel a hot burning on my skin and throw myself on the ground again.
Unfortunately I hit my chin on the steel jacket of my machine gun, which I have allowed to slide off my shoulder when I hit the ground. For seconds I am knocked out, but I jump up again and bound over towards my right, where I have seen a flat, snow-covered hedge.
The bullets are fizzing into the ground. For seconds I am reminded how many times over the last few weeks I have sped through the enemy’s rain of fire. Up till now I have been lucky and have, with God’s help, always come through. Will I manage it this time?
I do now what I have always done: I run, bent double, driven on by fear that I’ll be hit any moment. My body seems as if it’s electrically charged, and I feel hot waves running down my back. Sweat pours from my forehead down into my eyes, making them sting. Every now and then I throw myself flat on to the ground and stick my head in between my shoulders like a tortoise.
Thinking that a hit low down in my body would not cost me my life, I prefer to cover the distance to the hedge crawling flat on my stomach, feet first. But I jump up again and run on, the machine gun on my shoulder. It seems like an eternity has passed before my assistant and I reach the hedge. Finally we get there and find a little bit of cover.
On the churned-up field behind us the wounded are whimpering, for they can no longer run. They lie amongst the many dead bodies and roll over in pools of blood, often in their death throes. Less than ten paces behind me I can see Willi Krause lying in a pool of blood. Willi is dead, and still has the gun mounting from Fritz Hamann tied to his back.
Beside me lies a young Panzergrenadier from the group belonging to Dreyer. He is bleeding from his head and is trying to reach the mounting. He can’t reach it. I see him hit by a burst of machine-gun fire, and his bullet-riddled body just collapses. Paul Adam, who has also seen it, lies next to me and coughs from wheezing lungs. His eyes flicker. He had untied his mounting during the run and carried it in his right hand, so as to present the enemy with a more difficult target.
Behind us, an armoured personnel carrier tries to collect the wounded. Further along the hedge the Russians are lying in trenches. Machine guns from the light platoons are now firing from the flank into them. Our attack goes on. Our tanks and assault guns advance along a broad front and fire into the Sovietpositions.
Then the Russian artillery begins to open up again.This time the shells land between us but also on the Russian lines. The Russians hurriedly fire green flares, and the next rounds land only in the area between us. ‘Hurry! Fire green tracers!’ someone yells, and immediately the lights zip away from our lines into the sky. The trick works! The next shells whine over us into the quagmire beyond.
With support from our tanks, we are making pretty good progress. The platoons on our right are already tossing hand grenades into the Russian trenches. I’ve inserted a fresh magazine in my machine gun and am now storming forward with the others towards the trenches. The Russians are surprised and disorganised.
Some of them start to jump out of the trenches and run towards their rear without their ries. Two of them are still standing behind a heavy machine gun and firing. Still at full pelt, I empty my magazine at the pair of them and hit them. Then I slip on the ice on the rim of the trench and dive headlong into it.