Survivors of Stalingrad

In November 1942 – in a devastating counter-attack from outside the city – Soviet forces smashed the German siege and encircled Stalingrad, trapping some 290,000 soldiers of the 6th Army inside. For almost three months, during the harshest part of the Russian winter, the German troops endured atrocious conditions. Freezing cold and reliant on dwindling food supplies from Luftwaffe air drops, thousands died from starvation, frostbite or infection if not from the fighting itself.

This important work reconstructs the grim fate of the 6th Army in full for the first time by examining the little-known story of the field hospitals and central dressing stations. The author has trawled through hundreds of previously unpublished reports, interviews, diaries and newspaper accounts to reveal the experiences of soldiers of all ranks, from simple soldiers to generals.

The book includes first-hand accounts of soldiers who were wounded or fell ill and were flown out of the encirclement; as well as those who fought to the bitter end and were taken prisoner by the Soviets. They reflect on the severity of the fighting, and reveal the slowly ebbing hopes for survival. Together they provide an illuminating and tragic portrait of the appalling events at Stalingrad.

The following excerpt comes from one of the thirty-nine different accounts selected by Busch. Erich von Lossow was a Signals officer with the 371st Division. At Stalingrad he found himself ordered to take command of a battlegroup on the front line, keeping a diary almost everyday. The diary survived because he was seriously wounded and flown out on the 7th January 1943.

At Pitomnik airfield from where the Ju 52s take off there are over 2,000 sick and wounded who want to return to the Reich. In inspections we found that some of them had put on dressings without having a wound, one had even mutilated himself in his panic. So this is what it has come to! But they were not from our division.

The Romanians who fled in the south have been spread amongst the regiments: they arrive without weapons or entrenching tools and rob us of our food. The interpreter of a Romanian regiment reported to the staff officer 1a when asked if there were any special occurrences to report:‘The commander was in the forward trench today to observe the morale of the Romanians!’ — our dear brothers. Our leave-takers, fifty-six at the last count, and all those transferred elsewhere in the occupied eastern territories will naturally not be coming back under the circumstances: it is a painful loss to us.

Thus my adjutant and I cover the roles of paymaster, inspectorate and engineer, none of which we have: moreover the doctor has a bad case of jaundice and lies about lethargically.

669th Regiment has four defectors: they look sick of war and tell us they cannot believe we are still bottled up because the Russians have stopped attacking. At night Pollack on sentry-go was kidnapped by Bolshevists and dragged to their side. The drag-marks can be clearly seen in the snow. A scouting party we sent out received lively fire and returned having achieved nothing.

The bread ration has been cut to 200 grams, even at midday we only get half. The horses have no feed, they eat loam and tree bark: one is slaughtered daily.

My eleven Christmas geese ate the only duck in the stable one morning after killing it. After that I gave my commanders one goose each as a Christmas present and killed one to celebrate 2nd day of Advent. I have had to lose Lieutenant Helget as communications officer from 669 because the platoon leaders are going into a new battalion formed from supply troops. I am now handling Battalion traffic and installing a radio post and two to Battalion for the connection to the Company!

My infantry company has lost three more men to snipers: all shot through the head. Casualties to date sustained by the Abteilung to enemy action: sixteen dead, seventy—three wounded.

2nd day of Advent. It has snowed a lot; the view from my window is glorious and also it is warm, enough to go outside without a greatcoat. In front of the 669th’s sector of the line a German voice spoke through a loudspeaker from the Russian trenches: ‘Here is soldier Pollack. I am OK, the rations are better here than you have. Come on over!’ Then there was a burst of MG fire. Either an interpreter, or the German soldier after torture, or the threat of it.

At midday Dummer and I ate the fat goose, a rare delicacy in hungry times, and we were totally filled. Additionally we had the 670th’s band which was supposed to have played first of all to the General but which Prell sent to give me a short serenade. The table was decorated appropriately for Advent, two small packets from my little wife pleased me deeply, they were kept back for today although Deblin brought them in November in a big parcel. The forged-iron candlesticks and glazed tiles adorn my hunting-lodge splendidly. Photos bring me closer to the homeland although it is better not to spend too much time thinking about it.

My little wife still does not suspect that I shall not be there for Christmas and a fairyland lies between us since weeks ago we lived in anticipated joy and jubilation. But who could guess that we would be encircled here? For Herzl this first Christmas alone will be a very bitter one. I do not reflect too much before setting to work.

In the evening a radio message from ‘the outside’.
“Rest reassured of our help! Von Manstein, Field-Marshal.”
Everybody breathes a sigh of relief, everything looks brighter.

We all celebrate Dummer’s 22nd birthday in a nice group. He had been saving some sumptuous delights for now, and so we had potato salad, Debrezin sausage, goose lard, toast, sweet biscuits etc. It was all the more enjoyable with the daily bread ration at 200 grams. Horses are slaughtered on the conveyor belt: the flesh tastes quite decent if it is made up into meatballs.

We are not receiving provisions, fuel or ammunition, too many Ju 52s are being shot down. In the evening Corporal Markmann of the infantry company fell as the result of a mortar attack. The Russians broke through the regiment on the right over a length of 400 metres because the trench complement turned and took to their heels. The will to resist and leadership personalities are lacking. At Aksai, where we found ourselves in August, fighting is raging between the army sent to relieve us against Russians withdrawn from facing our front, and Beketowa.

At 1000 hrs I heard over my monitoring-line to the [Staff Officer] 1a that I am being given command of Battlegroup Muff, formerly 2nd Battalion 669th Grenadier Regiment. I reported to 1a who told me that Captain Muff is taking over 1st Battalion which will go on the offensive when the ‘relief’ comes up from the south. There are no more battalion commanders, and so the choice fell on me because the signals section has the most officers and is in the best order.

At midday with mixed feelings I packed my trunk, cleared out my pretty little house and put everything into crates: in the evening I wrote to my little wife after taking provisional leave of my appalled officers and giving instructions to Rex and Dummer. In that way in wartime things change from one day to another; from commander of a detachment to the commanding officer of a battlegroup, from the signals corps to the infantry, from a hunting lodge to a hole in the ground, from divisional command post to an infantry trench 30 metres from the enemy.

But I hold firm to Bismarck’s creed: ‘I am God’s soldier, and where He sends me there I must go’; I believe that He is sending me and arranging my life as He sees fit.

So now I am also an infantryman. At 0700 hrs I reported to my new regimental commanding officer, Colonel Rugers and then went on to Battlegroup Muff which I am to command. Muff greeted me heartily, brought me up to date and went with me through the trenches. At the entrance to Utech’s trench lay a dead soldier; he was from my detachment and had been on his way to Battalion as a runner. The evangelical chaplain was also in the trench visiting the men: he had his gramophone with him and played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. Bolshevik bullets whistled overhead.

During the night a fine mess. At 0400 hrs five Russians slipped through the right wing of the Romanian sector, three remained lying before the Spanish Rider (steel obstacle) while two crawled forward and reached the Romanian command post. Because one of the sentries had just gone off, the other ran after him scared: the Russians jumped in, took the MG off its stand, left their two machine-pistols behind and made off over the embankment in their white snow-suits after throwing a few hand grenades.

The Romanians have been court-martialled: a very sorry affair. And these are those highly praised ‘auxiliary peoples’ and Axis allies so vaunted by German radio! I have about 100 in Battlegroup von Lossow, amongst them Captain Sindjorzano, in charge of the heavy mortar, a good man; and a lieutenant.

At dusk two half-grown Stalingrad youths slipped through the gully near my trenches. They were told to stop, captured and brought to me. They said they wanted to visit their sister in Beketovka. They were 13 years old, totally unkempt and gave an impression of being shifty.

They were taken to the 1c at Regiment to whom after a while they confessed they had received fourteen days training from a Russian ofiicer and were given the following questions to answer: ‘Where are the Romanians? Where do prisoners work without supervision? What tactical signs are there at crossroads? VVhere are the tele- phone-line junctions?’ The two boys had just finished this research and were on their way back. A considerable mission to give 13-year-old youngsters!

Because they were spies they were shot.

For my two sentries I thought about what reward I should give them. In such cases it would normally be leave or special rations but that was out of the question in the Pocket: nothing could be awarded. Finally the Colonel brought me two packs of his own cigarettes. In order to educate people it is important to find some reward adequate and acceptable under the circumstances. Prescribed punishments are also difficult to impose here.

If a sentry falls asleep at the MG post the best punishment is a punch in the ribs. In peacetime this would be the offence of ‘maltreatment of a subordinate by an officer’ and punishable as such. If I shout at the man the Russians will hear me and throw hand grenades or open fire. If I relieve the sentry of his post and lock him up he enjoys a period of peace and quiet. If I give him extra sentry duty I bear the responsibility, if by reason of his being so tired he fails to hear the enemy creeping up and I suddenly find the Russians sharing my trench. If I merely reprimand and warn him as to his future conduct this is nothing new to him and he takes no notice. It is a problem!