Bailing out of a tank in Russia

The Czech built 38(t) tank advancing through a Russian village during the early part of Operation Barbarossa

Otto Carius was commanding a tank in the 20th Panzer Division, advancing towards Minsk during Operation Barbarossa:

The tempo of the march continued unabated. Even supply now had trouble keeping up. The ground troops couldn’t follow at all of course, no matter how hard they marched.

Nobody was worried about the area on either side of the Rollbahn.The partisans, whom we would get to know later, hid out there.

Our field bakeries were also soon hopelessly held up in the rear. Army bread became a rare delicacy. Although the poultry supplied us with meat in spades, this monotonous menu soon became boring. Our mouths started to water when we thought about bread and potatoes.

But soldiers who are advancing and hearing the trumpets and fanfares of special victory announcements on the radio don’t take anything too seriously.

On July 8, we got hit. I had to bail out for the first time. We were in the lead. It was at Ulla, a village that was completely burned down. Our engineers had built a pontoon bridge next to the one blown up over the Diina. It was there that we penetrated the positions along the Diina.

They put us out of commission just this side of the wood line on the other side of the river. It happened like greased lightning. A hit against our tank, a metallic crack, the scream of a comrade, and thatwas all there was! A large piece of armor plating had been penetrated next to the radio operator’s seat.

No one had to tell us to get out. Not until I had run my hand across my face while crawling in the ditch next to the road did I discover that they had also got me. Our radio operator had lost his left arm.

We cursed the brittle and inelastic Czech steel that gave the Russian 47-mm AT gun so little trouble. The pieces of our own armor plating and assembly bolts caused considerably more damage than the shrapnel of the round itself.

My smashed teeth soon found their way into the trash can at the aid station. The shrapnel embedded in my face remained there until it saw the light of day all by itself as had been correctly predicted. I hitch-hiked my way back to the front.

The burning villages pointed the way until I met up with the company just before Witebsk. The burning city painted the nighttime sky a bloody red. After we had taken Witebsk the next day, we started to feel that the war was only just beginning.

See Tigers in the Mud: The Combat Career of German Panzer Commander Otto Carius

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