The horrors of the Russian front

A German 'Sturmgeschütz' - an assault gun moving along a typical Russian road during the early stages of Barbarossa

In Russia Wilhelm Pruller's unit continued to make rapid progress. In his diary he records how impressed he is with his commanding officer because he is continually pressing them forward. His entry for this day shows how the front changed very quickly, leaving pockets of the Russian forces stranded behind. Some of these were dealt with as described here but the overall German strategy was to encircle whole armies and force their surrender:

Thursday, 3rd July 1941

The whole war takes place, more or less, on the road. Without securing the land lying to the right and left of the road, we move along and reach the appointed goals.

How many Russians must be cruising round the country still! How many enemy tanks are off the road, hidden in protected positions, waiting for the right opportunity to rush up behind the troops and raise hell. Funny the way this war is being waged. But it’s the only way. The success proves it.

At about 7.00 a.m. we march. It has begun to rain again, worse luck! We halt in front of Kamionka. To our left some flak guns go into position and cover the north.

In a hollow we discover Russian cavalry, which the flak begins to fire at. You can see clearly through the binoculars the ruin that the flak is inflicting on the Russians. Horses and men lying about in wild disorder. You can see one of the Russians trying to raise himself up, and then his strength ebbs away and he collapses like a sack. It’s frightful.

A Russian tank came from the north towards Kamionka, drove straight into battle headquarters with the turret open, the tank leader standing straight up, and about 10 Russian soldiers including women sitting on top of the tank. Each one had a pistol. They wanted to break through Kamionka to the east — suicide commando!

One of the Russians got the ordnance officer with a pistol shot. What good do our weapons do against such a huge tank? The thing went through Kamionka almost unscathed, and travelled right across the bridge going east before our flak picked him up.

When we passed the demolished tank later, it was completely burned out. Some of the women, completely nude and roasted, were lying on and beside the tank. Awful.

All along the whole road of approach you see Russians who have been mashed up by our lorries or tanks. If you look at one of them, you can’t believe that it was ever a human being. An arm there, a head there, half a foot somewhere else, squashed brains, mashed ribs. Horrible.

A German soldier approaches the body of a Russian soldier in front of his burning tank.

See Wilhem Pruller: Diary of a German soldier

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