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“Every German must feel he lives under the muzzle of a Russian gun.”
Lieutenant General Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov
Stories by Dallas Ewen
Alexei Gregorovitch Karpov could feel the sweat running down his forehead and stinging his eyes as he laboured in the hot August sun. Newly promoted to captain, and placed in command of Rocket Battalion No. 23, he worked alongside his men as they constructed earthen emplacements for their weapons on a hill near Spartanovka, a northern suburb of the great industrial city of Stalingrad. He was anxious to complete the defenses but did not feel any urgency. After all, the German Panzers were still over 35 miles away, on the other side of the Don River.
A sentry’s call broke through the steady sounds of men’s work. “Comrade Captain! Come look!” Captain Karpov turned his eyes toward a nearby hill. He could make out several armoured vehicles, their occupants busy with the task of covering them with camouflage nets. He didn’t recall any armoured units from HQ’s map dispositions.
“Dmitri! Misha! Come on, let’s check out those tanks! Maybe our comrades have some vodka to share!” Karpov’s men unslung their rifles and fell in behind him as he buttoned his jacket and put on his officer’s cap. The captain walked with an easy gait and tried not to let his men see him unbutton the flap of his pistol holster.
As they approached the hill, the men could see that the armoured vehicles were already covered with camouflage netting, obscuring their shapes. None of the crew members could now be seen. “Officer in command! Please report!” shouted Captain Karpov. A tanker stood up, dressed in the familiar coveralls of the Russian Army. “Da comrade! No problem comrade!” Karpov was puzzled by the tanker’s broken accent. Then he noticed the exposed tracks of the tank - the roadwheels were unlike those of any Russian tank!
With a shout Captain Karpov hurriedly drew his pistol as his men raised their rifles. But it was too late. The disguised German tankers brought their deadly MG34 machine guns into action and the sounds of ripping bullets filled the air. Captain Alexei Gregorovitch Karpov and his men were cut down in a bloody heap as the tanks roared into action against the rocket battalion. The battle for Stalingrad had begun.
Vasily opened his eyes. Bits of plaster and brick dust were still falling from the ceiling of the ruined room, or what was left of it. I must have been knocked unconscious for a moment when that last shell hit, he thought, I mustn’t let that happen again.
He raised himself on his elbows and looked out through the hole in the wall that was once a window. Dark shapes were moving on the other side of the shattered street. The chatter of machine guns and the thud of mortar bombs was so incessant that it faded into the background. Vasily sensed a stirring to his left. He whirled.
“Easy, comrade, it’s all right.” The speaker wore the uniform of an NKVD kommissar and held a pencil and a pad of paper. “Lieutenant Mikhail Ivanovitch Nevsky, political correspondent.”
Vasily grabbed the Lieutenant by his black-edged collar tabs and pulled him roughly to the ground, just as a shell burst only a few yards away. The Lieutenant’s eyes registered shock as the men were showered with debris. He opened his mouth to speak, but any sound he made was drowned out by a deafening clanking sound just outside. Vasily quickly rolled over and grabbed a bottle with what looked like a wick sticking out of its top. He lit the wick with a flash from a lighter and peered out the window. As the enemy tank rolled past, Vasily skillfully tossed the burning missile onto the top of the tank’s engine compartment. “Now get down!” he shouted, and pushed the startled Lieutenant’s head floorward, just as a tremendous explosion rocked the block.
Through a cloud of plaster dust Vasily could see Lieutenant Nevsky scribbling hurriedly in his notebook. Vasily could just make out the phrases “heroic action” and “bottle with an inflammable mixture”.
“‘Bottle with an inflammable mixture!’” Vasily exclaimed. “Call it by its proper name - Molotov Cocktail!”
Ambush on the Volga
“Heinz! Erwin! Take the point. Manfred, Chris, with me. Ritter, you and Neumann take the MG42 out front.”
Feldwebel Ernst Hartwig issued orders to his panzergrenadier squad in a hushed voice. Night had fallen on the besieged city, and enemy snipers were everywhere, but especially here, in the contested zone. Hartwig’s unit, II Battalion of the 103rd Panzergrenadier Regiment, was deep inside the city, and Hartwig had been ordered to run a night recce.
His men were battle-hardened veterans of the Eastern campaign, but nothing had prepared them for the house-to-house bloodbath that was Stalingrad. Still, Hartwig thought with pride, his men had become proficient, even expert in the savage hand-to-hand fighting that the Ivans gave them, with their Molotov cocktails and Stalingrad spades.
The men moved silently down the ruined street. The full moon that shone down illuminated the scene with an eerie glow. The panzergrenadiers stepped carefully through the rubble, eyes always moving, piercing the shadows...
Shots rang out, seeming to come from all sides. Heinz dropped to the pavement. Beside Hartwig, Manfred’s chest erupted in blood as Maxim bullets thudded into him. Ritter swung the big MG42 around. The tearing cloth sound of 1100 rounds per minute made a high counterpoint to the staccato bursts from the squad’s MP40 machine pistols. The panzergrenadiers were quick to action but were obviously outmatched in an ambush. Hartwig spotted an alley, safe from enemy fire. As Ritter laid down suppression with the MG the squad made a dash for it.
The alley soon emerged onto another, broader street, and the night was curiously silent again. As Hartwig thought about Heinz and Manfred, lost in the ambush, a gleam ahead caught his eye. The moon was shining on the waters of the Volga River, just a few hundred meters ahead. The street appeared undefended. Their reconnaissance mission was a success.
(The commander of II Battalion, Hauptmann Domaschk, quickly shifted the unit into the gap, followed by the 36th Panzer Regiment. By dawn of the next morning, the Germans had consolidated a narrow corridor to the Volga and began rear attacks on outflanked Russian positions. Both Hauptmann Domaschk and the Panzer commander were awarded the Knight’s Cross for their bold action.)