In Stalingrad Soviet forces were obstinately refusing to budge from their defended positions on the ever diminishing sliver of land they held on the banks of the Volga. The Germans sent wave after wave of men forward to attack. Yet the the industrial buildings that the Russians occupied provided natural defences, especially when they were occupied by men who just wanted to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
Andrei Khozyainov describes the conditions in the Red October factory where the battle line moved from machine room to machine room. They were holed up and virtually surrounded but they kept going for as long as they had ammunition:
We never took off our boots, and would take it in turns to get some sleep, which we did with our weapons in our hands. We would put our helmets on and rest our heads against a brick.
Bread was sent to us in sacks, so we got only crusts and crumbs. We could make do with the food we were given, but ammunition was another matter entirely. We needed grenades and cartridges. We all realized that without ammunition it might be the end for us.
The Germans opened up with heavy artillery fire again. It felt like they were going to turn the factory canteen to dust. In the basement, we were able to sit tight behind the thick brick walls. It looked as though the ceiling was going to come crashing down at any moment. The air in the basement was filled with dust from all the collapsed plaster.
As soon as the artillery bombardment stopped, the Germans attacked. We dispersed to the windows. Bochkaryov lay down with the light machinegun in the ruins of the boiler-house, Karpov manned the other heavy machinegun, and I went to my own.
This time the Germans’ main effort was directed at the right- hand side of the factory canteen. Ten or so Nazi tanks were moving along the hollow and towards School No. 35. We could hear the roar of their engines, even though they were not moving towards us. But we had to ward off some sub-machinegunners who were coming at us, shrieking as they came.
We could hear the yells ofthe officers and the shouting of the men. There were so many of them, they just kept coming and coming. But our fire forced them to the ground and they stayed there. I was firing until the water in the casing got so hot that it was boiling. I remember that we used up nearly all our cartridge belts. But the battle was over for now, and we had managed to hold on to our position.
On October 8th, some fascists burst out towards the Volga. They were drunk, walking completely upright, without stooping, shooting aimlessly as they went. But these were some sort of special fritzes. Even when they got wounded, they kept crawling forward, shouting something. This time, they nearly succeeded in driving us out of the factory canteen.
This is part of a much longer story of the battle for the canteen. Andrei Khozyainov’s account appears in Jonathan Bastable (ed): Voices From Stalingrad