The German lines in Russia were being disrupted by counter attacks. Many units were receiving only intermittent supplies and food for men and horses was scarce. In this weakened state they were forced to withdraw. In the last week of January they were hit by snow storms that made the sub zero conditions even more difficult. Max Kuhnert, a cavalry scout, describes the retreat at this time:
I could not simply follow, but had to keep my eyes and ears open to know exactly where we were going, where we were and where we had been, in case I was sent on a despatch or even had to scout. As I have already mentioned, those Russian maps that existed were very primitive and unreliable. Drifting snow or even snowstorms only made matters worse, and also made marching very difficult. In those conditions our horses, each following the one in front, did not mind at all when we held on to their tails to be pulled along. I never rode my horse on those stormy days or nights, unless it was absolutely necessary-for instance, if I had to report to HQ, wherever it was situated, or when going on a mission.
As I was being dragged along, some or most of the time on an empty stomach and parched for a drink, I often used to picture myself sitting at a table of plenty, in warm friendly surroundings and peaceful conditions, and tortured myself by imagining I was drinking a nice cool lager or slurping a hot cup of coffee, whatever suited the situation best. Wading through the high snow, slipping and stumbling, one minute freezing because of the icy winds and the next minute getting sweaty because of the fatigue, pushed our morale very low.
After a night spent mostly being dragged along we had made some brief stops but there was no shelter, simply some burned-down ruins. We saw
a village ahead, as the first light was showing. Very tired and badly in need of some shelter and nourishment, we struggled on, full of hope, only to be once again bitterly disappointed.
The village was on a hill, and we were about half-way up when we received a warning from a despatch rider of the battalion in front, told to take defensive positions at once as Russian tanks in large numbers were coming our way. That was the bad news. The good news was that several of our tanks of our armoured division were also approaching, though from what direction was not very clear. One always got this panicky feeling when one was dog-tired. Find cover, shelter or anything to get out of the way of those monsters was the order.