Soviet tank column smashes through civilian refugees

Column of Soviet IS-2 tanks on the road in East Prussia, 1st Belorussian Front.  On the left side of the road - abandoned German Panzerfaust.

Column of Soviet IS-2 tanks on the road in East Prussia, 1st Belorussian Front.
On the left side of the road – abandoned German Panzerfaust.

As the Red Army pushed rapidly into eastern Germany there were many instances of truly appalling atrocities, often featuring the rape and murder of civilians. The desire for revenge burnt strong amongst members of the Red Army, often based upon their personal experiences of the German invasion. There was also a semi-official encouragement of visiting horrors upon the Germans, with articles in the Soviet press.

Quite apart from the Nazi propaganda there were plenty of horror stories and rumours being circulated amongst the millions of Germans fleeing west. They were now caught up in a moving battlefield and often there was no escape.

Men from the 7th Panzer Division who had lost their tanks were being evacuated together, in an attempt by their own Divisional commander to avoid the German High Command’s orders that they be redeployed as infantry. They were headed east towards Gotenhafen in the hope of finding a ship:

It was shortly before midday on 5 March. The fleeing columns slowly but tenaciously continued along the road to the east, towards Gotenhafen and Danzig. There were two columns next to each other, the motorized vehicles and our tanks on the left, the horse-drawn wagons of the Wehrmacht and the civilian population on the right, but both heading in the same direction — eastwards. Occasionally, a horse-drawn wagon tried to make better progress by pulling into the motorized column, resulting in traffic jams which had to be cleared.

There was still snow, but at midday it began to thaw, it was already growing pleasantly warm. March!

About two kilometres to our left, I saw a road running parallel, full of horse—drawn vehicles. They were therefore our own, not Russian, as they would have been motorized.

Then, on the other road, from the east, in the opposite direction to the column, Russian tanks drove up, and smashed through the column. We identified them as T-34/85s. The distance was too great, we heard nothing, only saw how the horses reared up, people ran to the sides, watched how the wagons were pushed and crushed by the tanks, how people fell from the wagons under machine-gun fire. This was how the Red Army did things – it was terrible!

We were really shocked, because we couldn’t fire. We would just have endangered the civilians over there and of course over here by our own column, as the Russians would have fired back.

The tanks smashed through everything, crashing over the refugee wagons and heading west. Everything happened very quickly, and then the tank unit disappeared from view.

After this dreadful show our column doggedly continued. Suddenly I saw three soldiers, wearing earth-brown uniforms and civilian clothes, running amongst our vehicles. They carried Russian submachine—guns with drum magazines attached — a small scouting group! When they saw our tank, they disappeared between the vehicles to the south side, beyond the horse-drawn wagons.

Although I was not sure if these small, inconspicuous people were the enemy, Hans Kalb shouted: ‘There! Look! Russians! How can they run amongst us like that, shoot them all, the damned dogs! Shoot!’

But he saw that the Russians had already taken cover on the other side. Then he said, ‘It’s come to this, that the Russians run around amongst us, and we can’t do anything about it!“

This account appears in Prit Buttar: Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45.

The corpse of a German woman, who was killed in an explosion at Metgetene (Metgethen) in East Prussia.

The corpse of a German woman, who was killed in an explosion at Metgetene (Metgethen) in East Prussia.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John November 23, 2016 at 6:52 am

Clearly, none of you are soldiers, or have been deployed to a conflict area.

Please bear in mind it is easy to judge in hindsight from the comfort of your armchair.

Both soldiers from the German Army and the Red Army have performed atrocities. Denying that from EITHER side is bias. Judging this soldiers personal story and point of view as a lie does not justice to the individual soldier, for he might very well have been one of the soldiers who respected the Laws of Armed Conflict.

A proper analysis of such a brief excerpt is impossible, for that you need more information. Not only about the soldier, but also about the performance of his unit and command.

Nick November 6, 2016 at 10:03 am

Well, the man, who had written it, is definetely belongs to military, to the 7th Panzer Division. And he said that “This was how the Red Army did things – it was terrible!”. So, the German military never did such things as a routine? Or, when their Panzer Division have orders to move somewhere, they would mercifully wait for refugees to pass, and maybe give some of them chocolates,? That’s hypocrisy. They have no right to judge.

Jeff September 16, 2016 at 7:58 am

Actually Bob “the Germans” didn’t murder tens of million of civilians etc. Elements of the German military did. Those civilians the Soviets murdered were guilty of no such crimes.

Bob March 5, 2015 at 3:26 pm

What is fascinating is after the Germans murdered tens of millions of civilians in the east and laid entire cities and countries to waste, that they still refused to acknowledge that they had brought this on themselves and their countrymen.

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