The Soviet Army was busy consolidating and expanding its ring around Stalingrad. After smashing through the Romanian lines they increasingly came up against German units that put up a more determined resistance. Although the overall strategy of Operation Uranus was brilliantly executed, the Soviet tactics in the use of their infantry remained remarkably crude and wasteful at times.
Günter Koschorrek’s Wehrmacht replacement unit had only arrived in Russia a month before. He had made one hair raising trip into Stalingrad with a supply party, but continued to remain with the reserves in a base outside Stalingrad.
Although they had seen much activity around them since the 19th, Koschorrek himself had not yet faced the enemy in battle. His unit was hastily combined with a Pioneer Corps unit and joined the outer ring of German defences on the Don Heights Road, defending the village of Rytschov:
At about midday one of the machine guns on our right flank suddenly starts hammering away. Then we hear rifle fire. The firing becomes more intense, and next we see Russian infantry appearing through the haze. I am meeting the enemy face to face for the first time, and, apart from an undeniable curiosity, also feel an enormous amount of nervousness and excitement.
The brown, huddled figures remind me somehow of a great herd of sheep moving over a snow-covered field. As soon as the herd comes under fire from us, they hesitate for a moment, move apart from each other, and then immediately move forward again.
Koschorrek suffered anxious minutes as the machine gunner next to him panicked and was unable to fire his gun. Shortly after he got it working the man fell wounded so Koschorrek took it over:
My mind goes blank. I only see the advancing stream of enemy soldiers coming directly at us. I again fire straight into it. Only fear is there – fear of this dirty brown heap of destruction constantly moving closer, which wants to kill me and everyone around me.
I do not even feel the burning pain on the inner surface of my right hand,which I have caught on the hot metal while changing barrels seconds after getting a jam. This is crazy! We are firing with four machine guns and at least eighty carbines from secure, covered positions into the advancing horde.
Our machine gun bursts rip openings in their ranks. Dead and wounded are hitting the ground all the time. But more of them are coming through the haze, and we can’t see them clearly. The first ones are now so close to our positions that we can readily make out the plump, bent figures with rifles and Russian Kalashnikovs [see comments below].
Then, suddenly, two of the machine guns on our right flank are silenced. Immediately the mass moves towards that flank from which they ’re now getting only rifle fire. Together with Meinhard, I continue to fire into it as it moves towards the right.
Their move now becomes their undoing: the heavy, hard-hitting fire of the 20mm quad anti-aircraft guns also comes as a surprise to us. Their bursts sound like low, regulated beats on a drum. We can see how the tracer rounds spew out of all four barrels and hit the middle of the attacking mass, tearing huge gaps in its ranks.
Our two machine guns on the right flank start firing again; I assume that their silence was deliberate. The quad machine gun is now raking the attackers in front of us, and when it stops firing stillness descends over the battlefield.
We can hear calls and crying in Russian. I take a deep breath.The first battle with the enemy has affected me deeply, but now all my thoughts are working again. I raise my head out of the trench and peer into the field ahead. In front of us lie innumerable brown clumps on the snow. The quad`s fabulous fire power still amazes me. I never imagined it would have an effect like that.
It was just the beginning of a long day followed by a night in an open foxhole.See Günter K. Koschorrek: Blood Red Snow.