While over a million men were engaged in the new German offensive of 1942, Operation Blau, the remainder of the Wehrmacht – around two and a half million men – were stuck in largely static warfare. Lines of trenches and defensive positions faced each other for over a thousand miles running south from Leningrad.
Hans Roth, an anti tank gunner, found himself near Livny, about half way down the line, south of Moscow. He describes the dramatic air assaults that took place at night during this period:
The air raids during these starry nights in the Liwny sector are unforgettable. An overwhelming calm after the evening’s infernal noise of dueling artilleries, a few quiet minutes when you can write a letter in the trench, then, all of a sudden, a fine singing in the air: the Ivans [German slang for Russian soldiers] are coming!
The light singing transforms into a rattling howl, which now fills the air for hours. Each night is the same awe-inspiring picture; hundreds of lightning flashes burst into the air. Shades of white, green, and red splatter the sky; long yellow-orange streaks shoot into the air, and are accompanied by the hard knocking of 2cm anti-aircraft artillery.
Glaring white magnesium flashes then fall from above. Red flames from a fire sizzling on the ground jump out 50 to 60 meters, and then appear as yellow-white ornaments on a burning Christmas tree, which is what we call the American tracer shells – only there are no gifts under it, but rather infantrymen.
We try to conceal our movements in order not to reveal any more to the Russians than they can already see, for dawn is encroaching over our sap trenches and ditches. Next a slurping and gurgling come from above, which turns into a booming hissing, then a huge bang; the earth trembles, a shower of shiny glowing splinters cut through the air … once . . . twice, and once more. Planes then hurtle by over our heads. In the neighboring trenches, flames now shoot into the sky until there are no more bombs.
Flashes of light come from above; he is shooting at us with his on-board weapons. From below, we attack the multi-coloured bursts with our machine guns and 2cm artillery. There is a crashing and thundering all around us. What a tremendous spectacle, just like judgment day! Whoever is calm enough to take this wild, frenetic picture in, will keep these nights in Liwny – in spite of everything – in good memory.