A narrow escape on the Eastern Front

A column of German vehicles on the move in Russia in the late summer 1943.

A column of German vehicles on the move in Russia in the late summer 1943.

German anti tank gun on the Eastern front 1943.

German anti tank gun on the Eastern front 1943.

On the Eastern Front the Red Army was continuing the pressure and the Wehrmacht struggled to maintain the defensive lines that they attempted to establish.

As a platoon commander with a signals unit in the the 4th Panzer Division, Hans Schaufler was establishing a telephone exchange in a remote village near the front lines. The next moment the alarm went up as they discovered that the Russians were at the other end of the village.

Schaufler and his men threw themselves into their half track vehicle and made off at speed, accompanied by two armoured cars, they were able to shoot themselves out of the village. They sped to the rear, noticing as they approached the bridge over the Dessna, that Russian vehicles were travelling at speed in the same direction but parallel to them.

Then as they neared the bridge they came under tracer fire and a series of flares were fired in their direction. Had the bridge already been captured? As they neared they saw it was German troops still firing at them. Then they realised that they were also being pursued:

A concerto of anti-tank guns kicked in. The fire trails went from the far bank to the south and into a cloud of dust. Damn it to hell! T-34’s were rumbling up. That’s the only thing we had been missing! At that point, they were about 800 meters from us. An ice—cold chill ran down my spine and sweat was dripping out of all of my pores up front.

No matter what it took, we needed to find the shortest route to the bridge which was about 300 meters in front of us, if some of us wanted to have the chance to make it to the other side in one piece.

But our comrades over there apparently wanted to block that route with their fire, even though they had to have realized that we were also German and in dire straits. What was the meaning of the circus?

Mad as hell, I moved off the road and into a field, since our friends were firing red signal flares along the road and white ones – over and over again – toward the north. I decided to swing out wide, until those guys were happy.

Thank God that the pastureland had firm ground underneath so that the eight-wheeled armored cars did not bottom out. I could literally see the face of Limmer behind the vision slot and how he called me an idiot, because I did not see the road to the bridge. The two armoured cars had not been firing for some time, since our comrades at the bridge had assumed that duty.

The pastureland started turning difficult, however. I turned back towards the bridge to the south. On the other side, they apparently no longer had anything against that tactic.

Just keep your nerves until the end! Another 200 meters! Another 100 meters. The three T-34’s were also dangerously close by then, but they were fighting it out with the anti-tank guns.

We then just had to get past the roadside ditch. Following that, we raced across the bumpy bridge surface.The T-34’s were also storming towards the bridge. We churned our way through the sand on the far bank and up the slope.

Then there was a horrible cracking sound behind us . . . once . . . twice . . . three times. Then there was a jolt that lifted us our of our seats. But the vehicle was still intact. Beams, boards and stones flew into the air in a black cloud.

We looked to take cover behind a group of German soldiers to catch our breath. Damn! That was close! They all looked at us stupidly, or so it seemed to us.

There was no longer any bridge. And then we found out exactly what had happened.

The Russians had broken through all of a sudden.The operations of our division towards the south had to be called off. Panzergrenadier-Regiment 12 had to move as rapidly as possible, swinging out wide to the north, to be committed on the west bank of the Dessna, so as to prevent the Russian forces that had raced forward from taking the Dessna bridge in a coup de main.

It was directed that all of the crossing points were to be blown up and the approach routes mined. Minutes before they wanted to set the charges, they saw us racing towards them like crazy men, directly towards the minefield.

That’s why they attempted with all the means at their disposal to divert us from moving straight ahead. They used signal flares . . . they used tracers . . . they even used antitank guns. They delayed the approach of the three T-34’s; otherwise, the guys would have been to the bridge before us and would have been more than happy to blow us to smithereens from there.

As had been intended, two of the T—34’s then ran over mines. The third one went up in the air with the bridge.

The game went on: “Forward comrades . . . march to the rear . . . march!”

Hans Schaufler’s recollection was that this incident happened on the 7th September, although he states that ‘any sense of a calendar’ had been lost in ‘the race against captivity or death’ in the following days. See Hans Schaufler (Ed.): Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front.

Panzer Tiger assists another  stuck in muddy ground.

Panzer Tiger assists another stuck in muddy ground.

German half track vehicle, Russia 1943,

German half track vehicle, Russia 1943,

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: