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New Russian tactics delay ‘Winter Storm’

Russian soldiers lie dead in their positions.
Russian soldiers lie dead in their positions.

After the massive tank battle of Werchne-Kumsky [sometimes Verkhniy-Kumski] the German units attempting to break through to Stalingrad in Operation Winter Storm faced the Russian occupied hills to the south. General Erhard Raus commanding 6th Panzer Division disagreed with General Hoth on the methods to be used – Hoth overruled him and the 6th and 23rd Panzer Divisions were sent into the fray once again.

Erhard Raus describes how they came unstuck on the 16th December 1942:

The well camouflaged Russian infantry which was situated in groups of two to four men in a system of deep foxholes and narrow trenches, allowed itself to be overrun by the two panzer regiments.

Then, using their innumerable antitank rifles, each of which could be operated by a single soldier, they opened fire at close range against the more lightly armored vehicles of Captain Kueper’s battalion, inflicting heavy losses.

Over and over again it became necessary for the tanks to wait or even turn back and assist, as the panzergrenadiers had to deploy to locate and identify an invisible enemy in combat on foot.

The various enemy nests proved so well hidden in the steppe grass (which was brown like Red Army uniforms) that the only way to find them was actually to stumble across them. Usually some unlucky German soldier had been killed by a bullet before a nest was identified.

Even the Luftwaffe proved unable to deal with this “invisible ghost.” Never before had our tank crews felt so powerless, although they would have been able to stand their ground against the strongest Russian tank attack.

The Soviet armored forces, however, had become far too cautious to run the risk of another defeat.

By early afternoon Colonel von Huenersdorff reported that he had reached his objective but could not eliminate “this invisible enemy” and I ordered him to return to his line of departure.

The lunge into the void had brought us losses, but no success. Worse, we had lost a precious day.

The following day Raus was to try again with motorised infantry, methodically working their way across the territory with grenades and flamethrowers.

See Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945

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