With over a million men committed to Operation Uranus, the Soviet Army was able to attack in far greater strength than the Germans thought possible. The opening moves on the 19th November from the North were followed by another major thrust from the South launched on the 20th. The brunt of the attack fell on the Romanian Army.
Once again a devastating artillery barrage smashed apart their lines even before they were attacked by the T-34s and supporting troops. Soon the Red Army was taking tens of thousands of men prisoner. Of those remaining many chose to flee.
As their shell shocked Romanian allies collapsed amid great confusion, the Germans had difficulty discovering what was happening. A Staff Officer from the HQ of the German 6th Army was sent to find out directly:
An unrestrained, disorderly crowd flows past me. Soldiers trudging along in groups or alone. A field kitchen heads towards us. Wounded soldiers hang off it, as it is dragged along by horses. A few more field kitchens, and then three small trucks. They are also packed to the roof with men. Unhappy, dumbfounded faces. Men looking like ghosts cling to the sides with hooked fingers.
They trudge along, moving their legs robotically. Their tall sheepskin hats are pulled down to the bridge of their noses, the collars of their greatcoats are turned up to cover their mouths, so all you can see is a band of their unshaven faces, which they try to hide from the burning-cold wind. Almost all of them, apart from a few yowling drunks, are marching in silence.
Nobody reacts when I try to speak to them. I am glad when this nightmare passes by me, but a little further on I encounter another group. And once again this barely moving trail of ghosts winds past, some with open eyes, others with eyes shut. They don’t care where this road leads. They are running away from war and want only to save their own lives. Nothing else means a thing.
A Romanian colonel tells me frankly, as he straightens the pus-soaked bandage on his head: ‘You’ll get nothing more out of my soldiers. They are not obeying any of my commands
Another German officer observed:
They all had an expression of horror which seemed frozen on their faces. You would have thought the very devil was snapping at their heels. They had thrown everything away as they made their escape.
And as they ran for it added to the number of withdrawing troops, which was huge enough without them. It all added up to a picture which reminiscent of the retreat of Napoleon from Moscow.
Images courtesy War Albums Ru.