Although the Eastern Front had already exploded into action near Kharkov, where hundreds of thousands of men were engaged in a fierce engagement, this was the exception to the rule for the millions of men strung along the thousand mile front line. Hitler’s major offensive for 1942 had still to get under way.
The greater part of the line now reverted to conditions of trench warfare that would have been familiar to many veterans of the First World War. In fact some veterans from the earlier war were starting to appear in the German lines, as they began the search around the home front for men to make up the replacements for the huge casualties they had sustained.
At the very end of a very long supply line conditions varied enormously. Hans Roth was in the line that June 1942, in the Livny sector near Orel:
Before me is a vast Russian plain, massive gorges cut treacherously deep into the black earth, like cracks in a windowpane. Forever humid and swampy, they are a threatening breeding ground for malaria and other feverish epidemics which are yet to be named.
The HKI,[ Hauptkampflinie – main line of battle] extends here along a thin strip of woods and sparse huts. The ground has been scarred and the grass scorched by thousands of impacts from the months of dug-in fighting. A tropical heat hovers over the badly torn up trenches. On the other side in this flickering heat can be found the Russian bunkers.
It’s very difficult to keep your eyes open, for the heat is heavy and our limbs are like lead. is the most The half hour before noon, with its tempting calmness, critical moment of the entire day. We wait for the meal service as we doze off, only a breath away from falling asleep.
Then, all of a sudden, a hissing comes across from the other side, crashing with a thunder beyond our cover. The same thing occurs every day at noon. Regardless, we’re still startled from our dreams every time. The images of home and all our longing thoughts are abruptly torn apart ….
The hissing, rolling, and thundering last for one to two hours. Here and on the other side, the relentless wind mixes the stinking plumes of smoke from the explosions, these waves of fumes in all colors, with the blinding white shrapnel clouds, into a dirty grey mass. The firewall begins to die down slowly.