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.