The 6th Panzer Division was returning to the Eastern Front after spending most of 1942 in rest and recuperation in France. The 4,000 kilometre journey was a major exercise in itself, requiring seventy-eight trains of fifty cars each. They set off in mid November, taking two weeks to cross the whole of Europe from west to east.
The Divisional commander Erhard Raus was not prepared to pack his troops and equipment efficiently – he wanted them prepared for action as they trundled across the vast interior of Russia, where he knew they would come under attack from partisans. He describes the measures he took:
Partisans along our route everywhere encountered a well-prepared, abruptly initiated defensive operation, no matter whether they blasted tracks or placed obstacles on the rails. Defensive countermeasures had been envisaged against all of these possibilities.
In particularly dangerous stretches of the rail-line, trained sentries with their weapons ready to fire (and with hand grenades also primed) were positioned along both sides and at either end of every car.
The men in each car had been placed in the brakeman’s boxes; at night searchlights went into action whenever necessary. Their cones of light, shining out of both sides of the train as soon as the first shot was fired, dazzled the partisans and made it possible for our men to see every movement and discern their intentions.
Thereupon they were defeated with rapid fire and hand grenades. The brakes were applied and the train came to a sudden halt.
At the same moment, active-aggressive-defensive measures commenced. We had drilled this into the men until the response became automatic. While the machine guns fired from the brakeman’s boxes provided protection, our grenadiers would rapidly mop up along the forest edges, and presently the train would be rolling east again.
More time had to be taken when the tracks had been destroyed, but this predominantly occurred at points where it was possible to repair them quickly since all stations, bridges, and other important obiectives were protected by permanent sentries.
In order to prevent derailments and to protect the locomotives from being damaged, the engineers drove through partisan infested areas at a slow pace, pushing two or three empty cars ahead of the engine. In most cases the technical damage could be eliminated quickly by engineer teams riding in the leading sections of each train.
We had provided these engineers with the appropriate tools and equipment. During such halts as were necessary for them to work, the train was secured from all sides and patrols searched the immediate vicinity.
At night the crews removed the tarpaulins from their tanks and made them ready to fire; this proved to be a very effective means of defense. We included a large number of emergency ramps throughout the trains, which made it possible to unload the panzers quickly whenever necessary and to commit them against especially strong partisan groups.
In order to increase protection for the artillery transports (which the enemy particularly liked to attack), we frequently assigned 20mm flak guns to them, since the partisans had a devout fear of the tracer ammunition they fired.