A German counter attack on the Eastern front

A German soldier at a front line observation post near the city of Chelm/Kholm, Russia, January 1942.

On the Eastern Front Hans Roth had been in action almost continuously since Christmas Day, he had survived an exhausting retreat back to the city of Obojan during which most of the German wounded had died in the extreme cold. Only by playing dead had he survived one of the Russian attacks, lying in the snow as they kicked his body. His memoir gives a remarkably unflinching account of the savagery of the fighting where no quarter was given. This was where whole units of Soviet troops, engaged in suicidal attacks behind the German lines, were wiped out with flame-throwers and where wounded Soviet troops would blow themselves up with a last grenade if they thought they could take a German with them.

It is clear that morale remained high in his unit with a determination to fight on, even though they were on the back foot. They would take any opportunity that arose from a lull in the fighting to mount their own attacks:

January 8:

There is absolute quiet in the direction of Strelezkaja, not a single shot fired from over there. The eternal attacks probably will have also tired out the enemy; they will be asleep over there – as they can, because they determine the pace of the action, not us. Maybe they assemble their powers for a counterattack? Who knows? But we have to find out.

A reconnaissance troop goes out. With utmost care the men are stalking toward the village. There is utter quiet in Strelezkaja, few posts are standing around, bored and freezing. Without them noticing we return at 5.00 a.m. to Obojan. In a hurry we assemble a strong raiding party with two PaKs, even assault guns are included.

At 5.30 a.m. we penetrate Strelezkaja. The surprise of the sleeping Russians is one hundred percent successful. Most of them do not even get the chance to get up. Without mercy everything and everybody is gunned down or clubbed to death on their sleeping cots. The whole nightmare lasts about a half hour.

Strelezkaja burns down to the ground, in every hut there are 20 to 30 dead Russians; the houses become places of cremation. (Today we know that more than 360 Russians fell victim during the bloodbath.)

Well, you Asian pack, you certainly did not dream of that!

The day’s combat was far from over, later a Russian attack would infiltrate the German field hospital and massacre the wounded only to be beaten off with hand to hand fighting. See Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front, 1941-43.

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