This battle became the crucial moment of the bloodiest war in history. Part II
This is the report from German captain Helmut Weltz:
“The ruins of the destroyed Soviet city of Stalingrad killed usual army commandment methods. The truth that we were taught at schools and military academies lost its meaning. The principles and authorities of the decades were all swept away. Those military doctrines that professors taught us at the academy are absolutely no good here. The scale and the brutality of this battle changed the arithmetic of the war.
“Several divisions take the area of only one kilometer. There is only one gun for every five meters of the front. The ammunition is used ten times as much now. There is nothing that reminds the so-called neutral line. There is a thin brick wall instead. The front lines go in the vertical way sometimes. For example, we are in the cellar and the enemy is on the upper floor. Seizing a small workshop is the goal for a whole division. We have made several attempts to storm the shop, we had to meet our enemy face to face at that. We know what it is – 30 minutes of close combat. Close combats, hand-to-hand fights every day, month after month – this is what Stalingrad is. We have been fighting here for many weeks in order to make this miserable breakthrough. It is miserable in comparison with the space that we left behind during the offensive. What’s the matter then? What happened to our army?
“It is night. We are sitting in dug-outs. A radio host says that our Furher is about to deliver his speech. We have a chance to listen to the voice that we have been waiting for so long: “I wanted to reach the Volga River near a certain point, near a certain city. There are several points to take.” Then there was the order to start the offensive: “The enemy has been keeping certain areas of the Red October factory. The open-hearth furnace is the central point of the resistance. Seizing this workshop implies Stalingrad’s defeat. The 179th sapper battalion seized the shop on December 11th, making its way to the Volga river. The next goal is to occupy the south-eastern part of the shop.”
This was the order to Helmut Weltz. The commander put down the details: “I look at my watch: 02.55 a.m. Everything is ready. Assaulting groups took their positions. Their arms and close combat means have been checked. It is time to go out. I make my way through endless ruins to the spot of our original position. It is still dark. The only light that my eyes can see is the light of gunshots and flying bullets. I came right on time. I can hear our guns firing behind me. Shells whistle and howl, they cut the air and explode 50 meters ahead of us, in the workshop. Our artillery continues the offensive. The workshop looks like a big shell-hole: our planes have been bombing it for weeks. Squadrons of bomber planes changed one after another. Cannons, grenade launchers and guns turned everything up side down. There is not even a spot here, which was not destroyed. There are some conic pipes opposite me. Russian snipers shoot from them. We use fire launchers against them. All of a sudden, night turns into day, but just for a moment. I can see a barricade of wagons, railway tracks and steal bars across the workshop. An assault group is somewhere not really far from that place. Then there is a deafening roar: Russians throw grenades at us. They do everything they can to defend the factory. Those Russians are very persistent guys! Death is everywhere whirling and wailing. With my last bit of strength I reach the shell-hole in the corner of the workshop. There is someone there: our doctor puts a bondage on our wounded soldier. I did not believe my ears: the doctor told me that we moved only seven meters forward. A moment later I see a red signal flare flying up in the sky, then there is a green signal flare. This means that the Russians are starting the counteroffensive. We are in need of the reinforcement. Captain Berger informs me that our assaulting group from the left did not move forward even a little bit. Sergeant Major Fetzer phones to tell me that his unit could not stand the attack of the Russians.
“There is a sapper standing to the right from me: “Sergeant Major Schwartz said that Chief Sergeant Major Limbach is wounded with a shell fragment in his head. A half of the assaulting group has been destroyed. Those, who survived can not make a move, they are lying in the dug-out still. The resistance is too strong.”
“It is all over. Everything turned out to be useless. I do not have an idea of where those Russians take their energy from. It is simply incredible. I am gripped with powerless anger. This is the first time in this war, when I have a task and I can’t execute it.”
This is what a German officer wrote about the Stalingrad battle. It seems that there is nothing to add to them. However, the events of November 11th, 1942, when the last attempt to seize the city failed, were not the most horrible thing to happen. The worst was still to come. Here are a couple of letters, which never got to find there addressees. The censorship of the 6th army hid them not to let the Stalingrad truth reach Germany. Sacks of letters remained unsealed for about 30 years, until they were found in France. Here are some excerpts from them:
“I have your letter right in front of my eyes, father. My answer will not be very long. I thought that I could count for your help. I can hardly imagine that you can sacrifice your own son. I asked you to call me back from here before this strategic insanity made me eat soil. It could have been easy-going for you: just one word about me and that would be all. This letter is not only short, it is the last letter that you will ever get from me. I will not have a possibility to write you anything, even if I wanted to. I can never imagine that I will be ever standing right in front of you to tell you what I think of you. There will be the day, when every German man and woman will curse the insanity of this war. There is no victory. There are people and banners that fall down, but there will be neither people, nor banners in the end. Stalingrad is not a military necessity, it is a political undertaking. Your son will not be a part of it.”
“You are the witness. I have always thought so. I have always been afraid of the East, and I’ve always been afraid of the war with the East. I have never been a solider, I have never even been to a recruiting department. What do I have in common with all of that? What do we have to do about it? We are like the extras of this real stupidity. What the hell is that heroic death about? I have died dozens of times on stage, but it was only a performance! There is a huge difference between the death on stage and the real death! Death is supposed to be heroic, it is supposed to evoke enthusiastic feelings. People should know that they die for a great idea, but how does it look here? They just kick off here, die of hunger and cold, this is a biological fact. People fall here like flies, and no one even looks at those dead bodies, it does not occur to anyone that they should be buried. They are lying everywhere with no heads, no arms, no legs. I do not want to take part in all of that. I feel no happiness, when I think that I will decay in this mass grave.”
Here is what a soldier wrote to his wife:
“My darling, I always think of you and of your delicious meals that you cooked for me. My socks have turned to rags. I cough so much, it makes me suffocate. We have no medicines here. Russians are everywhere around us, and we will not be able to leave this place, until Hitler helps us.”
And this one is full of desperation:
“You have taught me to have God in my soul. You are the savior of souls, father. In your last letter you wrote so much about the truth, or what you consider the truth. I was looking for God in every shell-hole, in every leveled building, behind the corner of every street. I was looking for God in the sky, when I was lying in dug-outs, but God never showed up. I was calling for him from the very bottom of my heart. There is so much murder and hunger in this world, bombs fall down from the sky.”
Lieutenant General Paulus Adan’s aide wrote in his diary: January 31, 1943. It is 7 a.m. The daybreak is very slow. Someone knocked on the door. I saw the headquarters chief coming in. He gave the lieutenant general a piece of paper and said: “My congratulations on your field marshal title. This is the last wireless message, it came early in the morning.” Lieutenant-general said: “Probably, it is an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not please them that way.” The headquarters chief added that the Russians had come. He went out of the room, and then we saw a Soviet general and a translator coming in. They announced us prisoners of war. I put my gun on the table. I executed my last service on duty: I stamped lieutenant general’s book to make his new title official and then I threw the stamp out in the fire.”
Adolf Hitler had a meeting with the chief of the General Headquarters, Zeituper two thousand kilometers from the Volga. Below is an excerpt from the record notes:
“Hitler: I can say only one thing: We have to realize that there is no way to finish the war if we keep on the offensive in the east.
Hitler: I can not make an offensive without the funds. I can not conduct the offensive with soldiers only. I do not know, what I shall do with Paulus. Russians will put him and our other top officials in a cell. They will keep them there for a while to make them talk. The generals will be forced to talk, we will all see that soon. I have to say that it was not the capitulation, but our enemy’s victory.
Zeituper: We can say that Russians will misinterpret the things that we are going to say to the world media.
Hitler: We can add that they did not have any food for months. That’s why Russians managed to defeat them.
Zeituper: I also think that this is a correct explanation.”
No one put German generals in a cell of rats. General Paulus lived in a country house in the Moscow region. He read lectures on the history of the military art. When Paulus was going back home, he said: “Before I leave the Soviet Union, I want to tell the Soviet people that I came to their country as an enemy. Now I leave this country as a friend.”
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill