Battery Lindemann

View of one of the 406mm naval guns while being installed at Battery Lindemann. The gun had a range of between 29 and 34 miles.

 

Photos from propaganda magazines showing Battery Lindemann under construction and completed.

Perspective view of Battery Lindemann.

Although the navy had its own construction units, this project was too large for them to handle. The OT had to deploy about 9,000 men to prepare positions for all the batteries in the Pas de Calais. Most of the batteries required for Operation Sealion initially occupied temporary firing positions until the concrete fortifications were ready to receive them.

Although the Kriegsmarine planned to position additional 380mm gun batteries along the Baltic after the summer of 1940, it gave the French coast higher priority in preparation for Operation Sealion. The new interest in the Baltic stemmed from the Soviet Union’s occupation of the three Baltic States in the summer of 1940, which gave the Red Fleet new bases outside the Gulf of Finland. The naval staff drew up plans for two batteries of 380mm guns, one to be sited on the Danish island of Bornholm and the other on the German coast near Kolberg to bar the Soviet fleet from the western end of the Baltic. Work began in November 1940 but had come to a stop by April 1941 as the site of the southern battery at Bornholm neared completion. The navy decided against emplacing any of the guns there and moved them to Hanstholm in Denmark, where work had also started back in November. The machinery and equipment went to Kristiansand in Norway, where another 380mm battery under construction was to join with Hanstholm to close the Skagerrak Straits. The largest guns were the 406mm (16-inch) pieces of Battery Schleswig-Holstein that the navy had installed at Hela on the Hel Peninsula in November 1940 to cover the approaches to Danzig. These were the ‘Adolph’ guns, intended for the 56,000-ton H-Class battleships. Organization Todt began the work late in 1940 and the site was ready for occupation by April 1941. The first gun’s test-firing took place in May, followed by the other two guns in June and October. The position included two munitions bunkers, a 23-metre-high fire-control position towering above the forest, and three large concrete emplacements for the turreted guns.

Not long after the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Kriegsmarine bottled up the Red Fleet at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, reducing the need for the heavy battery positions in the Baltic. In September 1941 the naval high command (OKM) determined that Battery Schleswig-Holstein would be better employed in France, and by December the guns had been dis mantled and made ready for shipment to the West. The gun crews and other personnel did not leave Hela until April 1942, by which time the guns were already in France. The OT had begun the construction of the battery position in December 1941. The initial designation was Battery Grossdeutschland, but later in 1942 it was renamed Battery Lindemann in honour of Captain Ernst Lindemann, who went down with the Bismarck on 27 May 1941.

Construction for Battery Lindemann had to wait until the arrival of the guns from Hela in early 1942, since the casemates had to be built over the guns. These guns first fired in the summer of 1942.

Construction of a Battery Position

The construction time for a battery with concrete emplacements varied according to the size and type of gun position. A simple concrete platform that allowed the artillery piece to rotate from its fixed position took the least time to pour and cure and constituted the first construction step for a battery position. At this early stage the position also included concrete storage chambers for ammunition. This first stage took a relatively short time to complete. A gun casemate for an artillery piece with or without a shield or turret required much more time to put together. The casemates for the super-heavy artillery had to be built around the guns, which took even longer than for most gun positions. A large artillery piece to be emplaced on a large concrete bunker-like position with a turret or shield for protection took about the same length of time since the structure’s concrete roof had to be poured and cured sufficiently before the installation of the gun. A large gantry crane had to be brought to the site to emplace the guns and their turret before the construction of the casemate walls and roof.

Battery Lindemann, the largest in the Pas des Calais, is a good example. Work on its foundations began at the end of 1941, well before the first guns arrived. Once the guns were emplaced, work continued through 1942. The last gun positions were not ready until late spring 1942 and the first test-firings did not take place until June and July.

It took from six months to a year to get most of these batteries operational. Besides the firing positions, munitions bunkers, crew shelters and fire-control posts, other positions also had to be built to serve the battery.

The battery was operational by June 1942 and formally inaugurated in September. It consisted of three 406mm cannon each mounted in a turret within its own casemate. The walls of the upper level of the casemate were built around the gun turret. Each of these Regelbau S-262 gun casemates, identified as Anton, Bruno and Caesar, were large enough to contain quarters and facilities for the garrison, as well as munitions storage. Separate chambers in the magazine at the lower level held 600 rounds, powder charges and fuses. There was also a heating and air- conditioning room, an engine room and a filter room. The intermediate level and the upper level housed quarters for the garrison, the NCOs and officers, with showers, toilets and other facilities. A guard post covered the men’s entrance and on the opposite side another, larger entrance with a guardroom allowed access to munitions and supplies. At the end of the entrance an overhead monorail system carried shells to a hatch and lowered them to the magazine level. The roofs were thick enough to resist 380mm shells. The overall dimensions of the casemates were approximately 50 x 47 metres

In 1943 the OT completed ammunition magazines large enough for trucks to enter, as well as a hospital bunker. Wire obstacles and sentry posts surrounded the battery site. In addition, the battery was defended by 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns captured from the British, two 75mm guns, several 25mm and 50mm anti-tank guns, a few mortars and several heavy machine-guns mounted in Tobruks. The thirty Tobruks were Bauform/Regelbau-58c intended for machine-guns. An additional Tobruk mounted one of the two 50mm anti-tank guns. Near the main gate leading to the town of Sangatte there was a Regelbau-655, a troop shelter with one chamber for six men, one for ammunition and an attached Tobruk. This bunker measured 10 x 10 metres. The battery formed a strongpoint manned by naval troops, but many of the bunkers were army designs. At the main gate there were two pre-fabricated concrete one-man sentry posts.

A large, two-level fire-direction S-100 Leitständ (fire-control) bunker served as the eyes of the battery guns. The OT built only four additional bunkers of this type in Norway and Denmark for the super-heavy 406mm gun batteries and for two other batteries. The Leitständ bunker housed an office for the battery commander and the bunker commandant. A rotating steel cupola mounted a 10-metre stereoscopic range-finder near the front of the block. In front of it was an observation cloche. A telephone and a radio room for receiving and relaying instructions were in this forward section, below the cloche and range-finder cupola. The operators in these rooms also received information from other observation positions. Behind these rooms there was a large computations room where about a dozen men tabulated the information and used plotting boards and charts to make the calculations for the firing orders that were sent to the gun casemates. Beyond this large room, near the entrance, were chambers for officers, NCOs and enlisted men. A ventilation room and an engine room to power the bunker and its equipment were located at the end of the bunker on either side of the entrance and gas lock. The lower level included quarters for the enlisted men with showers, toilets and a heating room. This large bunker measured 28.6 x 20.6 metres. Except for the positions on the roof, earth covered the exposed surfaces. The entrance at the rear was accessed from ground level by an incline.

One of the key instruments for locating targets was mounted on the roof of the S-100 bunker. This was the See-Riese FuMO 214 radar known as the Giant Würzburg (Würzburg-Riese) by the Allies. The Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine both used this type of radar. The one at Battery Lindemann was a naval version. The radar, like the cupola for the range-finder, stood above ground level, since this was the only way it could function properly.

The entire battery site occupied a position 500 to almost 1500 metres behind the coastal cliffs that rose over 20 metres above the beach. The coastal road ran between the cliffs and the battery position, which began on a small rise. Here stands the S-100 fire-control bunker with a view of the sea. The ground drops slightly behind this bunker for a few hundred metres and then begins to rise. This is where the three gun casemates were built. The ground rises behind the gun casemates, forming an escarpment. The small rise in front of the gun casemates and the escarpment behind them hides the bunkers from sight from the sea. Anti-aircraft guns and their facilities were located at the top of the escarpment.

The S-100 fire-control bunker was forward of the gun positions on a rise in the terrain that leads down to the sea cliffs across from the main coastal road. The battery and all its associated positions were surrounded by obstacles that included an anti-tank ditch and a wall along a few sections. The outer perimeter consisted of about 700 ‘Belgian Gates’ that were once part of a continuous anti-tank barrier south of Brussels extending towards the Meuse between Namur and Liege in 1939-1940. Barbed wire and minefields extended beyond the perimeter. Some minefields were actually inside the perimeter. An electrified wire fence surrounded each of the three gun casemates.

he battery complex also included a medical bunker, H-118, identified as the hospital. This bunker, measuring 22.2 x 12.8 metres, was smaller than the fire-control bunker but was large enough to house a couple of wards for patients, an operating room, a storage room and the quarters of the medical officer and his staff. Near this bunker stood the huts for the garrison, and a little further to the west were the two large ammunition bunkers. These two bunkers measured about 20 x 20 metres and were built into the terrain. Only the tunnel-like openings that ran in front of each bunker and the outer wall were exposed. On the south side of the position, near or at the top of the escarpment, two areas on either side of the anti-aircraft positions were encircled with double apron barbed wire obstacles. One of these areas included troop accommodation and entrances to a tunnel system that was never completed. The other area included two observation bunkers to assist in fire-control. Battery Lindemann and its associated close-combat defensive positions formed a strongpoint (StP) known as StP Neuss. Strongpoints like this or for smaller batteries often included covered brick-lined trenches that allowed the troops to move relatively safely from one point to another. This strongpoint was so heavily bombarded that it was difficult to determine if there had actually been covered trenches on the site. Other obstacles included steel hedgehogs, anti-tank ditches, etc. An anti-tank ditch ran along much of the east side, outside the perimeter made of Belgian Gates, and was backed by a concrete anti-tank wall up to 4 metres high. The medical bunker, the fire-control bunker and the three gun casemates were linked to a water line with a pumping station located between the gun casemates and the fire-control bunker.

Some features that show up on plans of Battery Lindemann but are often ignored are the hydrants. High-pressure water hydrants were distributed at various points at the large gun battery positions –and even the U-boat bunker complexes – for fire-fighting because fire extinguishers in the fortifications had limited capabilities. At complexes like Lindemann, special features like the hydrants, air-conditioning systems for cartridge rooms and power generating systems were necessary to operate the equipment effectively.

The other heavy battery positions were not much different from Battery Lindemann and were usually part of an StP. The engineers and artillerymen had laid out the batteries to meet the needs of the weapons available to them. As a result, except for the types of structure needed, no two batteries were identical. At Battery Lindemann and Battery Todt the large naval cannon were mounted in armoured turret types designated as Bettungsschiessgerüst C/39, but at Battery Grosser Kurfürst the 280mm gun was found in a single gun turret mounted on a large S-412 bunker. Like the Lindemann and Todt casemates, this bunker included all the facilities needed for munitions, the machinery and the crew. Batteries Fjell and Oerlandet in Norway were even more impressive than the ones in France. Their 280mm triple-gun turrets from the battlecruiser Gneisenau were mounted on an emplacement with a concreted shaft that connected to the magazines and a tunnel system below it. The shaft of Battery Fjell below the turret was 17 metres deep and consisted of six levels that were used for loading the weapon. Battery Vara at Kristiansand, Norway, had 380mm guns mounted in a turret on an emplacement that was part of a complex of four large single-level gun bunkers somewhat similar to the 305mm guns of Battery Mirus on the Channel Islands. The S-169 gun emplacement was actually adjacent to the bunker facilities and not on top of the bunker as at Battery Grosser Kurfürst. Since there was nothing below the gun position, this type was considered an open emplacement. One of these S-169 gun bunkers – only four of which were actually built – included a casemate over the gun turret.

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Final Assault on the Reichstag

A total of 89 heavy artillery guns and Katyusha rocket launchers were trained on the Reichstag for a thunderous barrage before the infantry stormed it, turning the structure into a ruin.

When the Reichstag was finally taken on 30 April 1945, Soviet soldiers swarmed through its elegant hallways to scrawl graffiti recording their presence, and their feelings about the Germans.

By the evening of the 28th April 1945, Marshal Zhukov’s lead forces were preparing the final assault on the Reichstag. Chuikov’s Eighth Guards advanced from the south, Berzarin’s Fifth Shock Army with 11th Tank Corps from the east, and Kuznetsov’s Third Shock Army the unit designated to make the actual seizure – from the north-west. The spearhead unit from Third Shock was General S. N. Perevertkin’s 79th Rifle Corps. They had two major obstacles to overcome before they reached the Reichstag building. First, the Moltke Bridge would have to be seized and a crossing of the Spree forced. To this task was assigned 171st Rifle Division. Then, after the corner building on the opposite Kronprinzenufer had been cleared, the 171st would have to join the 150th Division in neutralising the huge complex of the Ministry of the Interior – ‘Himmler’s House’ – which was expected to mount a terrific resistance. Late on the 28th, the Germans attempted to blow the Moltke Bridge, but the explosion left the centre section hanging precariously in place. The Soviet soldiers tried to force a crossing but were driven back by murderous fire from German pillboxes. Shortly after midnight, however, two Soviet battalions succeeded in blasting their way through the barricades and across the bridge, where they proceeded to clear the surrounding buildings to allow a crossing in force.

At 0700 hours the next morning, Soviet artillery began a 10-minute pounding of ‘Himmler’s House’. Mortars were also hauled up to the second floor of a next-door building and fired point-blank through the windows. The infantry began the assault, but it was another five hours before they managed to storm into the complex’s central courtyard. The fighting was intense and vicious. Close-range combat was pushed from room to room and up and down the stairways. Finally, at 0430 hours on 30 April, the Ministry of the Interior building was secured, and the Red Army troops began taking up their positions for the storming of the Reichstag.

While this battle raged, just a few hundred yards away, the last Fuhrer-conference was getting underway in the bunker. General Weidling reported on the situation, sparing nothing in his description of the city’s, and the Third Reich’s, plight. There was virtually no ammunition left, all of the dumps being now located in Soviet-occupied sectors of the city; there were few tanks available and no means for repairing those damaged; there were almost no Panzerfausts left; there would be no airdrops; an appalling number of the ‘troops’ left defending the city were red-eyed youngsters in ill-fitting Volkssturm uniforms, or feeble and frightened older men or those who had been earlier deemed unfit for military service. It was inevitable, Weidling told Hitler, that the fighting in Berlin would end soon, probably within a day, with a Soviet victory. Those present reported later that Hitler gave no reaction, appearing resigned to his fate and the fate he had inflicted on the country. Still, when Weidling requested permission for small groups to attempt break-outs, Hitler categorically refused. Instead he glared dully at the situation maps, on which the locations of the various units had been determined by listening in to enemy radio broadcasts. Finally, around 0100 hours, Keitel reported to the Fuhrer that Wenck was pinned down, unable to come to the Chancellery’s aid, and that the Ninth was completely bottled up outside the city. It was over. Hitler made his decision to kill himself within the next few hours.

Around noon on the 30th, the regiments of the l50th and l7lst Rifle Divisions were in their start positions for the attack on the Reichstag. In a solemn though brief ceremony, several specially prepared Red Victory Banners were distributed to the units of Third Shock Army which, it was thought, stood the best chance of being the first to hoist it over the Reichstag. In l50th Division, one banner was presented to 756th Rifle Regiment’s. First Battalion, commanded by Captain Neustroyev; another went to Captain Davydov’s First Battalion of the 674th Regiment; a third to the 380th’s First Battalion, led by Senior Lieutenant Samsonov. Banners were also given to two special assault squads from 79th Rifle Corps, both of them manned by elite volunteer Communist Party and Komsomol (Young Communist League) members.

At 1300 hours, a thundering barrage from 152mm and 203mm howitzers, tank guns, SPGs, and Katyusha rocket launchers – in all, 89 guns – was loosed against the Reichstag. A number of infantrymen joined in with captured Panzerfausts. Smoke and debris almost completely obscured the bright, sunny day. Captain Neustroyev’s battalion was the first to move. Crouching next to the captain, Sergeant Ishchanov requested and was granted permission to be the first to break into the building with his section. Slipping out of a window on the first floor of the Interior Ministry building, Ishchanov’s men began crawling across the open, broken ground towards the Reichstag, and rapidly secured entrances at several doorways and holes in the outer wall. Captain Neustroyev took the rest of the forward company, with their Red Banner, and raced across the space, bounding up the central staircase and through the doors and breaches in the wall. The company cleared the first floor easily, but quickly discovered that the massive building’s upper floors and extensive underground labyrinth were occupied by a substantial garrison of German soldiers. One floor at a time, they began attempting to reduce the German force. The task uppermost in everyone’s mind was to make their way to the top and raise the banner; the soldiers who succeeded in this symbolic act, it had been promised, would be made Heroes of the Soviet Union. Fighting their way up the staircase to the second floor with grenades, Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya managed to hang their battalion’s banner from a second-floor window, but their efforts to take the third floor were repeatedly thrown back. It was 1425 hours.

Immediately after the beginning of the attack on the Reichstag, German tanks counter-attacked against the Soviet troops dug in around the Interior Ministry building. The 380th Regiment, which had been attempting to storm the north-western side of the Reichstag, came under withering fire and was forced to back off and call for help from an anti-tank battalion. Meanwhile, on the second floor, Captain Neustroyev radioed a request for a combat group to support his men and ordered them to clean out the German machine-guns still on the second floor. Sergeants Yegorov and Kantariya were entrusted with the banner once again, and the battalion readied for the battle to take the third floor.

Towards 1800 hours, another strong assault was launched up into the third floor of the Reichstag. This time the Red Army infantrymen succeeded in blasting their way through the German machine-gun positions. Three hundred Soviet soldiers now occupied the German parliament building but a much larger number of heavily armed German soldiers remained in the basement levels. However, the Soviets enjoyed the better position and after a number of tense hours, in the early morning hours of 1 May – the Soviet workers’ holiday, and the target date for their conquest of Berlin – they finally cleared the remaining Germans from the building. Even before all German opposition had been wiped out, at 2250 hours, two Red Army infantrymen climbed out onto the Reichstag’s decimated roof and hoisted the Red Victory Banner. Berlin was under the control of the armies of the Soviet Union.

Germanic Warfare

Chatti Germanic Tribe | Northern Germanic Tribes: Cherusci, Jutes, Saxons.

Early Germanic warriors either first century BC or AD. The Germans east of the Rhine had a fearsome reputation and constantly waged war on their Gallic neighbours. The Gauls who lived close to the German border were considered to be the most hardened of the Gallic peoples as a result.

What we know of the Germanic warrior comes mainly from Greek- and Latin-speaking Roman authors. At this time, the Germans wrote nothing down. Some evidence survives in the archaeological record to give us a material picture of his arms and armour. Yet his reputation has survived the ages: fierce to the point of being savage, fearless bordering on the reckless, cunning like the fox. Unlike his Roman opponent, the Germanic war fighter was remarkably underequipped. In large part this was due to the paucity of basic materials. “Even iron is by no means abundant with them”, Tacitus noted, “as we may gather from the character of their weapons”. About one in ten warriors had a single-edged knife (measuring 7–12 centimetres, 2.8–4.7 inches long). Others carried a sword for cutting and thrusting; or a machete-like sax (measuring about 46 centimetres – 18.1 inches – long) for slashing and chopping. Some might bear a double-edged sword similar to the Celtic long sword of the Raeti and Norici or Roman spatha. However, Germanic weapons were made of a form of iron called ‘steely iron’ which has a much lower content of carbon, typically 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of its weight, making it softer and more likely to bend when struck with force. To compensate for this weakness, Germanic swordsmiths made the sax with a thicker upper edge, but notwithstanding this measure, against the harder steel weapons used by the Romans, Germanic swordsmen were at a material disadvantage.

Axes were wielded by those with means, while others with fewer means used wooden clubs hewn from logs which had been fire-hardened or made more deadly with iron spikes.35 Both weapons were used with devastating effect: even the rough edge of a club can cause considerable blunt trauma and crush bones. They also used bows of fir and yew and arrows, slings and slingshot that were devastating when used en masse. When the ammunition ran out, they threw rocks and stones.

Their preferred weapon was a slender but versatile spear. “They carry lances”, wrote Tacitus, “frameae as they call them, with the iron point narrow and short, but so sharp and so easy to handle that they employ them either for stabbing or throwing on occasions”. They also carried darts – missilia the Romans called them. Ranging from 90–275 centimetres (35.3–108.3 inches) in length with a tip 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 inches) long, in an expert’s hand these were terrible weapons, especially to men wearing chain mail armour, the links of which the sharp, narrow point could pierce and rip apart. Each man carried several into battle and “they can hurl them to an immense distance”.

The regular Germanic fighter wore little or no body armour, unless stripped from an opponent or made by a local craftsman, “and only a man or two here and there a helmet or head piece”. Though there were likely national or clan differences in dress, he typically wore a short- or long-sleeved tunic, baggy or close-fitting long trousers belted at the waist, and a cloak fastened with a brooch. German woollen cloth was somewhat rough to the touch but nevertheless dyed in solid colours, or woven with stripes or geometric patterns. A shield was the primary mode of defence. Sculptures and coins show Germanic shields to be flat and long, and in shape oval, rectangular or hexagonal. Tacitus comments that their shields were not supported by metal or leather but were simply wicker or painted boards, however, metal edging strips have been found in eastern Germany contesting his generalisation. He also mentions the care with which they painted the coloured devices on the front of them. Surviving first century BCE examples from Denmark, one measuring 88 centimetres (34.6 inches) by 60 centimetres (23.6 inches) and the other 66 centimetres (25.9 inches) by 30 centimetres (11.8 inches), are made of wooden planks. In these specimens a central ‘barleycorn’ shaped shield boss protects the handgrip, but iron domed and pointed circular shield bosses have also survived.

Germanic warriors fought both on foot and horseback. Each was similarly equipped with spear or darts and shield. Lightly armed infantry made up the largest part of a Germanic tribal army but their cavalry, even in smaller numbers, were very effective. Germanic cavalry would often dismount and fight on foot and Caesar observed that they even trained their horses to remain standing in the same spot so they could leap up on to them and ride to another part of the battlefield or escape. “Their horses are not remarkable”, writes Tacitus snootily,

for beauty or speed, neither are they trained to complex evolutions like ours; the riders charge straight forward, or wheel in a single turn to the right, the formation of the troop being such that there is no rear flank.

The right turn meant that the rider’s shield side was presented to their enemy so he could launch his weapon with his right side fully protected.

Young men able to run fast formed the vanguard of the attack as they were able to keep up with the cavalry charge. It was actually part of their ritual of attaining manhood. When deemed ready, a young man was formally presented with a lance and shield in the presence of his tribal assembly in what was regarded as the youth’s admission to the public life of his community. In times of war, one hundred of the ablest young men were selected from their villages to accompany the cavalry on foot. Some, having proved their courage and skill, might then become retainers or bodyguards of the clan or war chief,

and there is an eager rivalry between the retainers for the post of honour next to their chief, as well as between different chiefs for the honour of having the most numerous and most valiant bodyguard. Here lie dignity and strength. To be perpetually surrounded by a large train of picked young warriors is a distinction in peace and a protection in war.

The relationship between the retainer and retained was complex, based on a code of honour, reward and recognition:

Upon the field of battle the chief is bound in honour not to let himself be surpassed in valour, and his retainers are equally bound to rival the valour of their chief. Furthermore, for one of the retainers to come back alive from the field where his chief had fallen is from that day forward an infamy and a reproach during all the rest of his life. To defend him, to guard him, nay, to give him the glory of their own feats of valour, is the perfection of their loyalty. The chiefs fight for victory; the bodyguard for their chief.

The Germanic nations were admired by Roman authors for their free spirit and democratic form of self-rule. Chiefs were elected by a tribal assembly to administer the law in their communities and each leader had a council of one hundred free men to consult for advice and to enforce his decisions. For campaigns they elected a war leader. Caesar had observed “when a state either repels war waged against it or wages it against another, magistrates are chosen to preside over that war with such authority, that they have power of life and death”. After the war, they relinquished that power. “They choose their kings for their noble birth”, observes Tacitus,

their generals for their prowess: the king’s power is neither unlimited nor arbitrary, and the generals owe their authority less to their military rank than to their example and the admiration they excite by it, if they are dashing, if they are conspicuous, if they charge ahead of the line.

These were characteristics Drusus would have admired as they were the very same principles by which he led his own men.

Raiding was common practice among Germanic nations. In part this arose from the need to keep retainers fed and usefully employed as “forays and plunderings supply the means of keeping a free table”.62 Not for them tilling the land, but yet they could stand bloody wounds if it meant their status would rise on account of them.63 Germanic tribes tried to avoid a pitched battle. ‘Hit-and-run’ was the preferred tactic in battle, using ambushes to strike their enemy when they were least expecting and prepared for an attack. Only as a last resort, did they meet in a set piece battle, and having first carefully picked the ground, preferring wet or wooded or stony ground. The Germanic army on the battlefield is often portrayed as a rabble, a mêlée, but this is inaccurate. They assembled in columns and took up wedge formations, familiar to the Romans as the cuneus, a tactic they themselves used. Like the Romans, the men in the wedge formation interlocked or overlapped their shields to form a shield wall or ‘shield castle’. In 58 BCE, the Germanic king, Ariovistus, arrayed his men against Julius Caesar by assembling the seven tribes under his command in columns of 300 men strong with spaces between them. The Romans attacked from the front and sides, and the Germanic left flank – their unprotected side – collapsed, but on their right flank – the side protected by their shields – Ariovistus’ men were able to deflect the Roman attack by pushing aggressively forward into Caesar’s ranks.68 They were only defeated when Roman reinforcements arrived.

Just as the warriors of Raetia, Vindelicia and Noricum did, Germanic warriors fired up their spirits by singing and chanting. The Germanic war fighters sang to Hercules according to Tacitus (who may have equated him to Thor or Irmin, son of Wuotan), and

they raise a hymn in his praise, as the pattern of all valiant men, as they approach the field of battle. They have also a kind of song which they chant to fire their courage – they call it barding (barritus) – and from this chant they draw an augury of the issue of the coming day. For they inspire terror in the foe, or become flurried themselves according to the sound that goes up from the host. It is not so much any articulate expression of words as a war-like chorus. Their great aim is to produce a hoarse and tempestuous roar, every man holding his shield before his mouth to increase the volume and depth of tone by reverberation.

Stalingrad Kessel Collapses I

On 16 January 1943, just after the capture of Pitomnik, Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal, complaining that the Luftwaffe was only parachuting supplies. ‘Why were no supplies landed tonight at Gumrak?’ Fiebig replied that landing lights and ground-control radios were not working. Paulus seemed to be unaware of the chaos at the airfield. The unloading parties were badly organized and the men too weak to work properly – ‘completely apathetic’, was the Luftwaffe’s opinion. Discipline had broken down among the lightly wounded as well as stragglers and deserters drawn to the airfield and its promise of salvation. The Feldgendarmerie ‘chain dogs’ were starting to lose control over the mobs of starving soldiers, desperate to get away. According to Luftwaffe reports, many were Romanians.

By 17 January, the Sixth Army had been forced back into the eastern half of the Kessel. There was comparatively little fighting over the next four days, as Rokossovsky redeployed his armies for the final push. While most German regiments at the front followed orders, disintegration accelerated in the rear. The chief quartermaster’s department recorded that ‘the Army is no longer in any position to supply its troops’. Almost all the horses had been eaten. There was almost no bread left – frozen solid, it was known as ‘Eisbrot’. Yet there were stores full of food, held back by overzealous quartermasters, which the Russians captured intact. Some of those in authority, perhaps inevitably, exploited their positions. One doctor later described how one of his superiors, right in front of his eyes, ‘fed his dog with thickly buttered bread when there was not a single gram available to the men in his dressing station’.

Paulus, convinced that the end was near, had sent a signal on 16 January to General Zeitzler recommending that units which were still battleworthy should be allowed to break out southwards, because to stay in the Kessel meant either imprisonment or death through hunger and cold. Even though no immediate reply was obtained from Zeitzler, preparatory orders were issued. The following evening, 17 January, a staff officer with the 371st Infantry Division told Lieutenant-Colonel Mäder that: ‘On the codeword “Lion” the whole Kessel would fight its way out on all sides. Regimental commanders were to assemble fighting groups of around two hundred of their best men, inform the rest of the line of march, and break out.’

A number of officers had already started to ‘consider ways to escape Russian captivity, which seemed to us worse than death’. Freytag-Loringhoven in 16th Panzer Division had the idea of using some of the American jeeps captured from the Russians. His idea was to take Red Army uniforms and some of their very reliable Hiwis, who wanted to escape the vengeance of the NKVD, in an attempt to slip through enemy lines. This idea spread to the staff of the division, including its commander, General Angern. Even their corps commander, General Strecker, was briefly tempted when he heard about it, but as an officer with strong traditional values, the idea of leaving his soldiers was out of the question. One group from XI Corps subsequently made the attempt, and a number of other small detachments, some on skis, broke out to the south-west during the last days of the Kessel. Two staff officers from Sixth Army headquarters, Colonel Elchlepp and Lieutenant-Colonel Niemeyer, the chief of intelligence, died out in the steppe.

Paulus clearly never considered the idea of abandoning his troops. On 18 January, when a last post from Germany was distributed in some divisions, he wrote just one line of farewell to his wife, which an officer took out for him. His medals, wedding ring and signet ring were also taken out, but these objects were apparently seized by the Gestapo later.

General Hube received orders to fly out from Gumrak early the next morning in a Focke-Wulf Condor to join Milch’s Special Staff. On 20 January, after his arrival, he in turn sent a list of ‘trusted and energetic officers’ to be sent out to join him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority were not specialists in supply or air transport, but officers from his own panzer corps, especially his old division. Hube, no doubt, felt justified, since Sixth Army headquarters had stipulated that panzer specialists were among those entitled to evacuation by air.

General-Staff-trained officers were also included in the specialist category, but the most curious priority of all was what might best be described as the Sixth Army’s Noah’s Ark. Sergeant-Major Philipp Westrich from 100th Jäger Division, a tilelayer by trade, was ‘flown out of the Kessel on 22 January 1943 on the orders of Sixth Army, which requested one man from each division’. Lieutenant-Colonel Mäder and two NCOs were selected from the 297th Infantry Division, and so the list went on, division by division. Hitler, having given up Paulus’s Sixth Army for dead, was already considering the idea of rebuilding another Sixth Army – a phoenix’s egg snatched from the ashes. On 25 January, the idea became a firm plan. Hitler’s chief adjutant, General Schmundt, recorded: ‘The Führer decreed the reforming of the Sixth Army with a strength of twenty divisions.’

Officer couriers, taking out vital documents, had been selected on compassionate grounds. Prince Dohna-Schlobitten, who left on 17 January, was given the job for XIV Panzer Corps headquarters, not because he was the chief intelligence officer, but because he had the most children of any officer on the staff. Soon afterwards, Sixth Army headquarters insisted that officers flown out as specialists should double as couriers. Captain von Freytag-Loringhoven, selected because of his record as the commander of a panzer battalion, was ordered first to collect dispatches and other documents from army headquarters. There he saw Paulus, who ‘seemed absolutely bent under the responsibility’.

At Gumrak airfield, after a long wait, he went out to one of five Heinkel bombers, escorted by Feldgendarmerie, who had to force back the wounded and sick at the point of their sub-machine-guns. At the moment of leaving the Kessel, he inevitably had mixed feelings. ‘I felt very badly about leaving my comrades. On the other hand it was a chance to survive.’ He had tried to get Count Dohna (a distant cousin of Prince Dohna) out as well, but he had been too sick. Although securely packed into the aircraft, with some ten wounded soldiers, Freytag-Loringhoven could see that they were not out of danger. Their Heinkel remained stationary beside the runway while the other four took off. A pump had jammed during refuelling. Artillery shells began to fall closer. The pilot threw aside the pump, and ran back to the cockpit. They took off, lifting slowly, with their heavy load of wounded, into the low cloud base. At about six thousand feet, the Heinkel suddenly came up out of the cloud and into ‘wonderful sunshine’, and Freytag-Loringhoven was another who felt as if he ‘had been reborn’.

When they landed at Melitopol, ambulances from the base hospital were waiting for the wounded, and a staff car took Freytag-Loringhoven to Field Marshal Manstein’s headquarters. He had no illusions about his appearance. He was in ‘a very bad state’. Although a tall, well-built man, his weight had fallen to 120 pounds. His cheeks were cavernous. Like everyone in the Kessel, he had not shaved for many days. His black panzer overalls were dirty and torn, and his fieldboots were wrapped in rags as a protection against frostbite. Stahlberg, Manstein’s ADC, immaculate in his field-grey uniform, was clearly taken aback. ‘Stahlberg looked at me and I saw him wondering, “Does he have lice?” – and I certainly did have lice – and he shook hands very cautiously with me.’

Stahlberg took him straight in to see Manstein, who gave him a much more friendly welcome. The field marshal immediately got up from his desk and came round to shake hands without any apparent qualms. He took the dispatches and questioned the young captain closely about conditions in the Kessel. Yet Freytag-Loringhoven felt that he was essentially ‘a cold man’.

Manstein told Freytag-Loringhoven that he would be attached to Field Marshal Milch’s Special Staff established to improve the airlift. He reported first to Colonel-General von Richthofen, who just acknowledged his arrival and said that he was too busy to see him. Field Marshal Milch on the other hand, ‘an old Nazi’ whom he had not expected to like, proved ‘much more human’. He was horrified by Freytag-Loringhoven’s appearance. ‘My God, look at the state of you!’ After asking about the conditions in Stalingrad, Milch said: ‘Now you must have good food.’

He gave orders that Freytag-Loringhoven should receive special rations of meat, butter and even honey. The exhausted young panzer commander was then shown to one of the sleeping compartments on the luxury train. ‘It was the first time that I had seen a bed in nine months. I did not care about my lice. I threw myself into the white linen and decided to postpone my visit to the delousing station until first thing the next morning. The comfort and the warmth – it was minus twenty-five degrees outside – was an unbelievable contrast.’

Those officers coming out to work on Milch’s Special Staff were disorientated at first by their transformation to another world of plenty and possibility. But they still had no clear idea of what could and could not be expected of an airlift. ‘Is it possible to fly in tanks one by one?’ was one of Hube’s questions at his first meeting with Milch.

Milch himself, like anybody who had not set foot inside the Kessel, still could not grasp how truly terrible conditions were within. On receiving Paulus’s signal on 18 January that the Sixth Army would be able to hold out for only a few days more because they were virtually out of fuel and ammunition, he told Goering in a telephone conversation: ‘Those in the Fortress appear to have lost their nerve.’ Manstein was of the same opinion, he added. They both seem to have instinctively adopted a policy of personal sympathy for individuals at the same time as they distanced themselves from the horrors suffered by the abandoned army.

The wider implications of the impending disaster were left to Führer headquarters and the propaganda ministry in Berlin. ‘The Stalingrad Kessel is approaching the end,’ Goebbels had declared at his ministerial conference three days before. ‘The German press must prepare appropriate coverage of the victorious outcome of this great battle in Stalin’s city – if necessary with supplements.’ The ‘victory’ was supposedly one of moral symbolism.

Helmuth Groscurth, Strecker’s chief of staff and the most active member of the opposition to the regime in the Kessel, was determined that the facts of the disaster be communicated to senior officers to provoke them into action. He arranged a passage out for one of his trusted colleagues, Major Count Alfred von Waldersee. Waldersee was to go straight to army headquarters, at the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin, to see General Olbricht, a senior member of the opposition, and then the retired General Beck, with the message that ‘only an immediate strike’ against Hitler could now save the Sixth Army. Beck asked Waldersee to go straight to Paris to see General von Stülpnagel and Field Marshal von Rundstedt. Rundstedt’s reply was ‘so depressing’ that Waldersee lost all hope of achieving anything.

Groscurth sent a last letter to his brother on 20 January, the birthday of his daughter Susi – ‘who soon will have a father no more, like thousands of other children’, he wrote. ‘The torment goes on and will get worse by the hour. We are pushed back into the narrowest area. We will, however, fight on to the last round, as ordered, particularly since we are told that the Russians have been killing all prisoners, which I doubt… People have no idea what’s going on here. Not a single promise is kept.’

Sixth Army headquarters sensed that Milch’s staff did not appreciate how bad things were. ‘There is not a single healthy man left at the front,’ it reported that day, ‘everyone is at least suffering from frostbite. The commander of the 76th Infantry Division on a visit to the front yesterday came across many soldiers who had frozen to death.’

The Soviet offensive began again with renewed force on that morning of 20 January. The 65th Army broke through north-west of Gonchara, which was captured that night. Gumrak, only a few miles away, was the main objective.

The evacuation of the airfield and nearby headquarters the following evening was chaotic as Katyusha batteries opened up. That night, Milch’s staff received a signal from Sixth Army headquarters: ‘Gumrak airfield unusable from 22 January at 04.00 hours. At that time the new airfield of Stalingradsky will be clear for landing.’ This was optimistic. The landing strip at Stalingradsky was incapable of taking large aircraft. General Paulus was by then entirely fatalistic, and almost certainly suffering from deep depression. A Luftwaffe major just returned from the Kessel reported to Field Marshal Milch that Paulus had told him: ‘Whatever help arrives from now on will be too late. We have had it. Our men have no strength left.’ When the major tried to brief him on the general situation to the west facing Army Group Don, he had replied: ‘Dead men are no longer interested in military history.’

Because of the lack of fuel, 500 wounded men were left in the field hospital at Gumrak. As dawn rose on the morning of 22 January, Russian infantry could be seen in the distance, advancing in extended line ‘as if on a hare shoot’. As the enemy approached to within rifle range, officers from 9th Flak Division who had been responsible for the airfield packed into the last vehicle, a staff car. A hundred yards down the road they found a soldier from the field hospital, both of whose legs had been amputated, trying to propel himself along on a sled. The Luftwaffe officers stopped, and tied his sled to the back of the car as he requested, but it overturned almost as soon as they started again. One lieutenant suggested that he cling on to the front, since there was no room left inside. The wounded man refused to hold them up any longer. They were by then within range of the Russian infantry. ‘Leave me!’ he shouted. ‘I haven’t got a chance anyway.’ The Luftwaffe officers knew that he spoke the truth. Anybody who could not walk at this point was already as good as dead. They drove on and the crippled soldier sat slumped in the snow by the side of the icy track, waiting for the Russians to arrive and finish him off.

He may well have been shot, like many wounded by the wayside. The Communist writer, Erich Weinert, attempted to claim that ‘abandoned cripples’ trying to hobble after their comrades had got in the way of ‘the gunfire of the advancing Red Army’. The truth was that the Red Army, like the Wehrmacht, made little provision for enemy wounded. Reports that the 500 left behind in the field hospital at Gumrak in the care of two sick orderlies and a divisional chaplain were massacred are, however, inaccurate. The Red Army just left them to fend for themselves on ‘water from snow and horse carcasses’. Those who survived were moved to the camp at Beketovka ten days later.

The spectacle of defeat grew more terrible the closer retreating soldiers came to Stalingrad. ‘As far as the eye can see, lie soldiers crushed by tanks, helplessly moaning wounded, frozen corpses, vehicles abandoned through lack of fuel, blown-up guns and miscellaneous equipment.’ Meat had been hacked from the flanks of a dead horse beside the road. Men dreamed of coming across a parachute container, packed with supplies, but they had been either seized on landing, or lost in the snowfields.

Although the collapse in the centre could not be stemmed, in many sectors German battle groups carried out a dogged fighting retreat. Early in the morning of 22 January, the remnants of the 297th Infantry Division were pushed back from the Voroponovo sector towards the southern outskirts of Stalingrad. Major Bruno Gebele and the survivors of his battalion awaited the next onslaught. Their only artillery support consisted of several mountain howitzers commanded by a sergeant, who was told to hold his fire until the Russians were between 200 and 250 yards away. Shortly before seven o’clock, as the remnants of Gebele’s battalion sheltered from artillery fire in their bunkers, a sentry gave the alert: ‘Herr Major, sie kommen!’

Gebele had time only to yell ‘Rausf His soldiers threw themselves into their fire positions. A mass of snow-suited infantry was charging towards them, baying ‘Urrah! Urrah! Urrah!’ The first ones were only forty yards away when the German grenadiers opened fire with light machine-guns, rifles and machine pistols. The Russians suffered terrible losses. ‘The first wave was killed or left lying there, the second also, and then a third wave came. In front of our position the Soviet dead piled up and served as a sort of sandbag wall for us.’

The Russians did not abandon the attack. They simply changed its direction, and concentrated against the flanking detachments. At nine-thirty, they broke through the Romanians over to the left. An anti-tank round hit Gebele’s second-in-command, who was standing next to him, killing him instantly. Gebele himself then felt a massive blow to his left shoulder. A bullet from the same burst of machine-gun fire had also killed his chief clerk, Feldwebel Schmidt, having gone straight through his steel helmet. The enraged Gebele, resting a carbine on the snow wall in front of him, was able to get off a few shots, using his good arm and shoulder.

Another wave of Russian infantry came at them. Gebele screamed to his surviving men to open fire again. A staff sergeant tried firing a light mortar, but the range was so short that the headwind made a couple of the bombs fall on their own positions. Eventually, having held out for seven hours, Gebele saw that a Russian flag had appeared on a water tower to their rear. They had been outflanked. He gathered the last survivors of his battalion, and led them back towards the centre of Stalingrad. Inside the city, they were shaken by the scenes of destruction and military collapse. ‘It was bitterly cold,’ wrote one of them, ‘and surrounded by such chaos, it felt as if the world was coming to an end.’

That 22 January – the day after Goebbels had prepared the stage-management of the Stalingrad tragedy by calling for ‘total war’ – Sixth Army received the signal from Hitler which sealed its fate. ‘Surrender out of the question. Troops fight on to the end. If possible, hold reduced Fortress with troops still battleworthy. Bravery and tenacity of Fortress have provided the opportunity to establish a new front and launch counter-attacks. Sixth Army has thus fulfilled its historical contribution in the greatest passage in German history.’

Whenever Luftwaffe planes flew over, men looked up longingly, and continued to stare at the sky well after the tiny dot had disappeared. ‘With heavy hearts’, wrote one soldier, ‘we gazed after the German aircraft and thought how wonderful it would be to be able to fly away, out of this inferno in which we had been abandoned.’ After the capture of Gumrak airfield early on the morning of 22 January, only a handful of planes had managed to land at the small Stalingradsky landing strip. The ‘air-bridge’, and thus the last line of escape, had collapsed.

Resupply now depended on canisters dropped by parachute, ‘the supply bombs’, but despite Sixth Army’s requests for red canopies, the Luftwaffe continued to use white. The system of drops became even more hit-and-miss, because few units had any recognition panels left and VIII Air Corps lost radio contact with Sixth Army head-quarters on 24 January. Hube had a message dropped telling soldiers in the ruins of Stalingrad that, on hearing aero-engines, they should lie down on the snow-covered ground in the form of a cross to signify ‘German soldiers here’. When the light or visibility was bad, they fired signal flares into the air to direct aircraft as they approached, but the Russians all around would immediately shoot flares of similar colour into the sky to confuse the pilots. Strong winds also blew many loads across the rapidly changing front lines into enemy hands. Some men were so desperate that they risked trying to retrieve canisters right out in the open. Russian snipers picked them off with ease. In the ruins of Stalingrad, starving German soldiers attempted to ambush Soviet soldiers just to get their bread bag.

The fall of Gumrak had meant yet another terrible journey for the wounded, many of whom had already been transferred from Pitomnik, having failed to find a place on an aeroplane there. ‘Exhausted wounded men dragged themselves to the ruins of the town’, one survivor reported, ‘crawling like wild animals on all fours, in the hope of finding some sort of help.’

The conditions in Stalingrad in the makeshift hospitals were even more appalling than at Gumrak, with around 20,000 wounded packed into cellars under the ruins of the city, to say nothing of the sick, which may well have brought the total to 40,000. Some 600 badly wounded men filled the cellars of the Stalingrad theatre, with no light and no sanitation. ‘Moans, calls for help and prayers’, wrote a doctor from the 60th Motorized Infantry Division, ‘were mixed with the thunder of the bombardment. A paralysing smell of smoke, blood and the stench of wounds filled the room.’ There were no more bandages, no medicine, and no clean water.

A number of doctors from front-line units received orders to help out in the network of tunnels in the Tsaritsa ravine. This complex, like galleries in a mine, now contained over 3,000 seriously wounded or seriously ill soldiers. Dr Hermann Achleitner, on arriving for duty, was reminded immediately of the phrase: ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’ The piles of frozen corpses outside shocked him deeply. Inside, the image of hell was increased by improvised oil lamps as the only source of light. The fetid, deoxygenated air was disgusting to breathe. He was greeted by pitiful cries of ‘Give us something to eat!’ The patients received only one thin slice of stale bread per day. The doctors turned this into a sort of soup, which was hot and made it go a little further. The lack of bandages was serious for the cases of severe frostbite. ‘Often’, he noted, ‘toes and fingers stayed behind in the filthy old bandages, when we changed them.’ Delousing was impossible. Medical orderlies changing bandages found a grey mass of lice crawling on to their own wrists and arms from the patient. When a man died, the lice could be seen leaving his body en masse in search of living flesh. The doctors did what they could to isolate cases of typhus as soon as it was diagnosed, but they knew that it would not be long before they had an epidemic on their hands. A young German soldier, surveying the misery around, was heard to murmur: ‘They must never know at home what is happening here.’

The retreat from the steppe, as the Kessel was crushed by Rokos-sovsky’s armies, brought the number of Germans crowded into the ruined city to over 100,000 men. Many, if not most, of them were suffering from dysentery, jaundice and other sicknesses, their faces tinged a greenish yellow.

The reactions of Stalingrad civilians were not always hostile, as wounded men from the 297th Infantry Division discovered. ‘Two Stalingrad women rubbed my frozen legs for an hour to prevent the effects of severe frostbite,’ wrote an officer. ‘Again and again, they looked at me with compassion and said: “So young and yet he must already be dying!” ‘The same group of soldiers, to their astonishment, found several Russian women in a partly wrecked house. They had just baked some bread, and agreed to exchange a loaf for a hunk of frozen horsemeat.

Regiments and divisions were utterly meaningless. The 14th Panzer Division had fewer than eighty men still able to fight. Hardly a single tank or heavy weapon with ammunition remained. In such a hopeless situation, discipline was starting to break down. Resistance continued largely through fear of Russian revenge, following Paulus’s rejection of surrender.

Unthreatened by anti-tank guns, Soviet T-34s crushed German weapon pits and gunners alike under their tracks. Bunkers and fortified buildings were destroyed with a field gun wheeled up to almost point-blank range. German soldiers now suffered a terrible sense of powerlessness, unable to do anything for their wounded comrades or even for themselves. Their own merciless advances of the previous summer seemed to belong to an entirely different world. On 25 January, Paulus and Colonel Wilhelm Adam, one of his senior staff officers, received light head wounds from a bomb explosion. General Moritz von Drebber surrendered with part of the 297th Infantry Division three miles south-west of the mouth of the Tsaritsa. The Soviet colonel who came to take his surrender is said to have demanded: ‘Where are your regiments?’ Moritz von Drebber, according to this version broadcast two days later on Soviet radio by the novelist Theodor Plievier, another German Communist of the ‘Moscow Emigration’, glanced around at the remaining handful of men, broken by exhaustion and frostbite, and replied: ‘Do I really have to explain to you, Colonel, where my regiments are?’

The chief medical officer of the Sixth Army, General Renoldi, was one of the first generals to give himself up. (Red Army intelligence first heard as a result of his interrogation that Paulus was in a state of collapse.) Some generals, however, took an active role. Hube’s replacement, General Schlömer, was shot in the thigh, and General von Hartmann of the 71st Infantry Division was killed by a bullet through the head. General Stempel, the commander of the 371st Infantry Division, shot himself, as did a number of other officers as the enemy seized the south of Stalingrad up to the Tsaritsa river.

On 26 January at dawn, tanks of the 21st Army met up with Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Rifle Division north of the Mamaev Kurgan, near the Red October workers’ settlements. The scenes were predictably emotional, especially for Chuikov’s 62nd Army, which had been fighting on its own for almost five months. ‘The eyes of the hardened soldiers who met were filled with tears of joy,’ wrote Chuikov. Bottles were passed back and forth in fierce celebration. The Stalingrad Kessel was split in two, with Paulus and most of the senior officers bottled up in the smaller, southern pocket, and General Strecker’s XI Corps in the northern part of the city round the Stalingrad tractor factory. His only link with the outside world was the 24th Panzer Division’s radio set.

Over the next two days, German and Romanian stragglers, the wounded and shell-shocked, as well as still-active combat groups, all withdrew into the ever-diminishing southern pocket, where Paulus and Schmidt had set up new headquarters, under the Univermag department store on Red Square. The last symbol of German occupation was the swastika banner hanging from a makeshift flagpole fastened to the balcony above the main entrance. The remains of Colonel Roske’s 194th Grenadier Regiment provided its defending force. Roske was promoted to General as the new commander of the extinct 71st Infantry Division.

Stalingrad Kessel Collapses II

The increasing number of senior officers who were surrendering meant that Don Front’s 7th Department, responsible for ‘Operational propaganda’, was busier than ever. So many prisoners had been brought in for interrogation since the offensive started that it had been hard to select the ‘more interesting’ ones.

Captain Dyatlenko received a signal ordering him to return immediately to Don Front headquarters. Another captured German general had already been brought in for interrogation. Dyatlenko knew it was worth spending time on this new arrival, General Edler von Daniels. The search through the mailbags of the crashed transport aeroplane at the beginning of the month had produced the letters in the form of a diary which Daniels had written to his wife. Daniels, like most newly captured prisoners, was in a vulnerable state. As an experienced interrogator, Dyatlenko knew that the best tactic was the least expected one. He questioned his prisoner obliquely about his ‘Kessel-baby’, then took him off balance by suddenly producing the letters and papers which Daniels thought were safely back in Germany.

‘Herr General,’ Dyatlenko records having said to him. ‘Please have your papers back. This is your property and you can put it in your family archive when you return home after the war.’ Apparently Daniels was overcome with gratitude. He accepted tea and biscuits and Russian cigarettes, and then ‘answered our questions’. Dyatlenko kept at him until evening. After a break for dinner, he carried on until midnight.

On many occasions, such a refined approach was not necessary. The psychological confusion and the anger of defeat, produced docility if not cooperation from officers who felt both personally betrayed, and also guilty towards their own men for having assured them of the Führer’s promises of salvation. During interrogation, they often made a point of uttering derogatory remarks against Hitler and the regime. They called Goebbels ‘the lame duck’ and bitterly regretted that the overweight Goering had not undergone a ‘Stalingrad diet’. But it certainly appeared to their Russian captors that these generals had recognized the real character of their Führer only when they experienced the treacherous way in which he had behaved towards them and the Sixth Army. Few of them had described him or his policies as criminal when they were advancing deep into Russia and atrocities were being committed so close behind their front lines that they must have been aware of them, if not in some cases directly responsible.

From these interviews with captured officers, Don Front head-quarters formed the firm impression that Paulus ‘was under great strain, playing a role that had been forced on him’. They were increasingly convinced that Paulus was virtually a prisoner in his own headquarters, guarded by his chief of staff. Dyatlenko had no doubt that Schmidt was ‘the eyes and hand of the Nazi Party’ in the Sixth Army, because captured officers reported that ‘Schmidt was commanding the Army and even Paulus himself.

Colonel Adam, when interrogated later by Dyatlenko, told him that Schmidt had been the one who gave the order for the truce envoys to be sent back. (Dyatlenko did not reveal that he had been one of them.) The senior officers at Sixth Army headquarters had apparently been well aware of the contents of the oilskin pouch. On that morning of 9 January, when Dyatlenko and Smyslov waited in the bunker, they had read during breakfast the leaflets dropped by Russian planes with the text of the ultimatum. That same morning, General Hube had flown back into the Kessel from his visit to Hitler. He had brought the order that there was to be no surrender. According to Adam, this had strengthened General Schmidt’s intransigent position at Sixth Army headquarters.

On 29 January, the eve of the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power, Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal of congratulation from its ruined cellar. ‘To the Führer! The Sixth Army greet their Führer on the anniversary of your taking power. The swastika flag still flies over Stalingrad. May our struggle be an example to present and future generations never to surrender in hopeless situations so that Germany will be victorious in the end. Heil mein Führer! Paulus.’

This signal, grotesque in the circumstances, seems more likely to have been drafted and sent by General Schmidt. The words certainly had his ring to them. Paulus, at that stage, was ill from dysentery, shaken by events and demoralized, so it is not hard to imagine him just giving a nod of approval when shown the message form. Groscurth, for example, had reported in a letter not long before: ‘Paulus is in a state of physical and moral disintegration.’

On 30 January, the anniversary itself, Goering made a broadcast from the air ministry, comparing the Sixth Army to the Spartans at Thermopylae. This speech was not well received in Stalingrad, where it was listened to on radios. The fact that it was Goering, of all people, who was delivering ‘our own funeral speech’, heaped insult upon injury. Gottfried von Bismarck described the effect as ‘macabre’. In the theatre cellars in Stalingrad, which were packed with wounded, Goering’s voice was instantly recognized. ‘Turn it up!’ somebody shouted. ‘Switch it off!’ yelled others, cursing him. The broadcast finished with Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. Some officers joked bitterly that the ‘suicide of the Jews’ on the top of Masada might have been a more appropriate comparison than Thermopylae. They did not realize quite how accurate they were. Hitler was indeed counting on a mass suicide, above all of senior officers.

Hitler’s own speech was delivered by Goebbels later on that anniversary day, having been delayed by RAF bombers. It rang with bitter defiance, but the streak of self-justification was too raw to be hidden. He devoted only a single sentence to Stalingrad, the disaster which cast such a shadow over the regime’s day of celebration: ‘The heroic struggle of our soldiers on the Volga should be an exhortation to everyone to do his maximum in the struggle for Germany’s freedom and our nation’s future, and in a wider sense for the preservation of the whole of Europe.’ It was the first admission that from then on the Wehrmacht would be fighting to stave off defeat.

The next day, Hitler, as if to offset any sense of disaster, created no fewer than four new field marshals, including Paulus. It was the largest group of senior promotions since the victory over France. When the signal came through announcing his promotion to General Field Marshal, Paulus guessed immediately that he had been presented with a cup of hemlock. He exclaimed to General Pfeffer at his last generals’ conference: ‘I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal.’ Another general told his NKVD interrogator that Paulus had said: ‘It looks like an invitation to commit suicide, but I will not do this favour for him’. Paulus instinctively disapproved of suicide. When he heard that some of his men were choosing a ‘soldier’s suicide’ – standing on top of their trenchworks waiting to be shot down by the enemy – he gave orders to forbid the practice.

Hitler was not, of course, concerned with saving lives, he was interested only in creating potent myths. He clearly hoped that senior army officers would follow the example of Admiral Lütjens on the Bismarck, a fantasy no doubt encouraged by news of the deaths of Generals von Hartmann and Stempel.

The reduction of the southern pocket continued rapidly. By 30 January, Soviet troops had penetrated right to the very centre of the city. In the cellars where the main mass of Germans sheltered from the cold and the artillery fire, there was a mood of despair and dread anticipation. In the old NKVD headquarters, the winter sky was visible through the smashed dome. The stone floor was covered with rubble and fallen masonry, and the cage-like structure of stairs and railings was twisted. A red-cross flag outside the entrance enraged a German infantry officer, who saw it as a signal of surrender. He went down to the cellar, where the doctors continued to operate in the light of a field-hospital gas-lamp, while they waited for the Russians to arrive. Gaunt and wild-eyed, the officer threatened them with his sub-machine-gun. ‘What’s going on here? There’ll be no surrender! The war goes on!’ Many men were unbalanced by battle stress or hallucinations due to severe malnutrition. The cellars were filled with men raving in delirium. Dr Markstein, a Danziger, just shrugged. ‘This is a dressing station,’ he said. The deranged warrior did not shoot them, he disappeared ghost-like back into the gloom without another word.

When General von Seydlitz, in the same building, released his divisional commanders on 25 January to decide for themselves whether or not to surrender, Paulus relieved him of his command. He placed all of Seydlitz’s divisions under General Walter Heitz, the commander of VIII Corps. Heitz then issued an order that anyone who attempted to surrender should be fired upon. When Seydlitz and over a dozen other officers surrendered – they included Generals Pfeffer, Korfes and Sanne – bursts of machine-gun fire were aimed at them from German lines as the Russians led them away. Seydlitz claimed later that two German officers were mortally wounded as a result of Heitz’s ‘apocalyptic order’.

General Heitz, however, having given the order ‘We fight to the last bullet but one’, does not appear to have included himself and his headquarters in this rhetorical flourish. An officer under his command remarked that his staff, almost certainly with his knowledge, had already prepared white flags.

Colonel Rosenfeld, the Luftwaffe commander of 104th Flak Regiment, adopted the rhetoric expected by the regime. ‘The swastika flag flies above our heads,’ he signalled on the evening of 30 January. ‘The order of our supreme commander-in-chief will be followed to the last. Long live the Führer.’ That night Sixth Army headquarters sent a signal, warning that individual commanders were surrendering because their troops had no more ammunition, but also adopted similar flourishes to those of Rosenfeld, claiming that they were ‘listening to the national anthem for the last time with arms raised in the German salute’. Again, this sounds more like Schmidt’s style than that of Paulus. Whatever the truth, few soldiers had either the wish or the energy to share such emotions. ‘During that night of 30 January’, recorded a sergeant, ‘each man was preoccupied with his own thoughts, with gnawing uncertainty, with painful wounds and frostbite, with thoughts of home, and with our fate.’ Officers especially expected execution. Many removed their badges of rank.

In the middle of that same night, General Voronov in his izba at Don Front headquarters awoke in a panic from a restless sleep. The idea had suddenly come to him that Paulus might escape on an aircraft landing on the ice of the Volga. Stalin’s reaction to the loss of such a prize was evidently not hard to imagine. He jumped out of bed at once and telephoned to give orders for guns along the east bank at Stalingrad to be trained on the ice as a precaution.

By early next morning, 31 January 1943, Shumilov’s 64th Army had secured virtually all of the centre of Stalingrad. Ruined buildings and cellars had been cleared with grenade and flame-thrower. Red Square was subjected to an intense mortar and artillery bombardment, before Russian soldiers moved in on the Univermag department store. Roske’s remaining grenadiers above Paulus’s headquarters in the basement finally laid down their weapons. At 7.35 a.m., Captain Behr on Milch’s staff received the signal: ‘Russians at the entrance. We are preparing to surrender.’ Ten minutes later, as Senior Lieutenant Fyodor Ilchenko went down into the packed and stinking basement, came the signal: ‘We are surrendering.’ Behr then passed on the message to Manstein’s headquarters at Army Group Don. Back in Germany, the official communiqué announced: ‘In Stalingrad the situation is unchanged. The defenders’ spirit is unbroken.’

Staff officers from General Shumilov’s headquarters arrived to discuss surrender terms with General Schmidt in the basement. Paulus remained in an adjoining room, while Adam kept him informed of every step. Whether this was a ploy to allow Paulus to distance himself from the surrender, or a further example of Schmidt handling events because Paulus was in a state of virtual collapse, is not clear. Finally, two hours after Lieutenant Ilchenko’s appearance, General Laskin arrived to take Paulus’s formal surrender, before he, Schmidt and Adam, were taken to Shumilov’s headquarters by staff car, as General Roske had apparently insisted. Like their men, the three men who emerged into the sunlight had incipient beards, even if their faces were not quite as cadaverous as those of their soldiers. Colonel Adam, Vasily Grossman noted, had the flaps of his ushanka fur hat down ‘like the ears of a pedigree dog just out of the water’. Newsreel cameramen were waiting to record the event.

Those still in the cellars of the city centre waited until Red Army soldiers appeared. Waving the barrels of their sub-machine-guns, they ordered the Germans to throw their weapons in a corner and file out. The defeated made ready for captivity by wrapping the rags from torn-up uniforms round their boots. Some German soldiers called out ‘Hitler kaputt!’ as a signal of surrender. Russian soldiers might reply ‘Kameraden, Krieg kaputt! Paulus kapituliert!,’ but mostly they shouted ‘Faschist!’ or ‘Fritz! Κomm! Komm!’

When Soviet troops entered the theatre cellars, they gave the order: ‘Whoever’s capable of walking, get outside to be marched to a prison camp.’ Those who set off assumed that the wounded left behind would be looked after. They discovered only later that the Red Army operated on the principle that those prisoners who could not march were finished off where they lay.

In one or two cases, rage and despair produced an explosive mixture. In the NKVD building, every German expected to be shot in reprisal, after an officer, who had concealed his pistol, suddenly shot a Russian major at point-blank range, then turned the gun on himself. Somehow the moment of anger among the Russian troops passed, and the prisoners were spared.

The surrender at Stalingrad produced a volatility in which the fate of a German was utterly unpredictable. Soviet soldiers, whether deliberately or by accident, set fire to the improvised hospital full of wounded in the pioneer barracks by the airfield. Two Luftwaffe flak officers, who had been escorted to an upstairs room by Russian soldiers, in the belief that the red patches on their collars signified high rank, escaped by jumping out of a shattered window. They landed by the latrine, and when soldiers appeared ready to shoot them, the younger lieutenant saved both their lives by quick thinking and acute psychology. He told his companion to pull down his trousers. The Russians laughed and spared them. They could not shoot men with their trousers down.

The NKVD Special Department groups were searching for Hiwis and also for ‘fascist dogs’, by which they meant ‘SS, Gestapo, panzer troops, and Feldgendarmerie’. A number of German soldiers, wrongly identified as SS, who laughed at the suggestion, were pushed to one side and executed with sub-machine-guns. Apparently Red Army soldiers from a Siberian division turned away in disgust from the spectacle. The same account, based on the interrogation six months later of a woman Soviet intelligence officer by the Secret Field Police, records the execution of a group of twenty-three Hiwis.

The NKVD’s search for Hiwis was relentless. Any man not in full German uniform risked being shot on the spot, as one battalion commander from the 297th Infantry Division discovered. ‘Soviet soldiers suddenly stopped us, and because of my lack of uniform and cap, wanted to shoot me as a “Hiwi”. Only a doctor’s knowledge of Russian saved me.’

A considerable number of Hiwis proved loyal to the Germans right to the end. In the ruins of Stalingrad just before the surrender, some soldiers from the 305th Infantry Division were starving. The Hiwis with them disappeared, and they thought that they had seen the last of them, but the Russians returned with food for them. Where they had found it, they would not say. The loyalty of these Russians was not always reciprocated, however. Shortly before the surrender, one officer was asked by his warrant officer: ‘What shall we do with our eight Hiwis? Should I shoot them?’ The lieutenant, taken aback at such cold-bloodedness, rejected the idea. He told the Hiwis to hide or slip out as best they could. They were on their own.

The fate of the Hiwis rounded up at the end of the battle of Stalingrad is still unclear, partly because the files of the 10th NKVD Division remain firmly closed. There is no way of knowing how many had died during ten weeks of encirclement and the last three weeks of intense fighting. Some were shot on capture, a handful were used as interpreters and informers, then almost certainly killed later, but most were marched off by the NKVD. Even members of Red Army intelligence did not know what happened to them afterwards. They may well have been massacred – there were accounts later of captured Hiwis being beaten to death, rather than shot, to save ammunition – but in the early part of 1943 the Soviet regime wanted to increase its force of slave labour, especially when it was transferring Gulag prisoners to shtraf companies. A solution of working Hiwis to death certainly offered a more vicious revenge since it would have protracted their suffering. On the other hand, both Stalin and Beria were so obsessed with treason that only instant death might have satisfied them.

During the last few days of the battle, the Soviet military authorities were increasingly anxious to prevent small groups escaping their net. Three German officers in Red Army uniform, led by a lieutenant-colonel, were captured on 27 January. A Russian lieutenant from a tank regiment cornered another two officers, and was wounded when they fired at him. Of the nine or ten groups of Germans estimated to have broken out of the ring, none of them appear to have escaped, but by then Army Group Don had been forced back beyond the river Donets, over 200 miles from the Kessel. There is, however, an unconfirmed and unconvincing story of a soldier who did make it, but was killed next day when a bomb hit the field hospital in which he was being treated for exhaustion and frostbite. Others are said to have tried to escape southwards out into the steppe and seek shelter with the Kalmyks, who had been friendly, but the Kalmyks themselves, like numerous other peoples from the southern regions of the Soviet Union, soon attracted the revenge of Beria’s NKVD.

Russian soldiers from front-line units, especially Guards divisions, are said to have been more correct in their treatment of the vanquished than second-line units. But some drunken soldiers, celebrating victory, shot prisoners, despite orders to the contrary. Even members of elite formations rapidly stripped their captives of watches, rings and cameras, as well as the Wehrmacht’s highly prized mess tins in aluminium. Many of these items would then be bartered for vodka. In some cases a decent pair of jackboots would be seized off a prisoner, who would be thrown the Russian’s decrepit cast-offs in return. One doctor lost his prized copy of Faust, a small leather-bound edition printed on onion paper, which a Russian soldier wanted for rolling makhorka cigarettes. Blankets were also snatched off backs, sometimes just for the satisfaction of revenge because the Germans had taken the warm clothes of so many Russian civilians.

As the gaunt prisoners stumbled out of cellars and bunkers, their hands held high in surrender, their eyes searched for a piece of wood that could serve as a crutch. Many were suffering from such bad frostbite that they could hardly walk. Almost everyone had lost toenails, if not toes. Soviet officers observed that the Romanian soldiers were in an even worse state than the Germans. Apparently their rations had been cut off earlier in an attempt to maintain German strength.

The prisoners kept their eyes down, not daring to look at their guards or the ring of emaciated civilians who had emerged from the ruins in such astonishing numbers. All around, odd shots broke the silence of the former battlefield. Those in bunkers sounded muffled. Nobody knew whether each report signified the end of a soldier found hiding, of one who had offered resistance in some way, or of a severely wounded soldier receiving the coup de grâce.

These defeated remnants of the Sixth Army, without weapons or helmets, wearing woollen caps pulled down or even just rags wrapped round their heads against the hard frost, shivering in their inadequate greatcoats fastened with signal cable as a belt, were herded into long columns of march. A group of survivors from the 297th Infantry Division was confronted by a Russian officer, who pointed at the ruins around and yelled at them: ‘That’s how Berlin is going to look!’

On 26 January at dawn, tanks of the 21st Army met up with Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Rifle Division north of the Mamaev Kurgan, near the Red October workers’ settlements. The scenes were predictably emotional, especially for Chuikov’s 62nd Army, which had been fighting on its own for almost five months. ‘The eyes of the hardened soldiers who met were filled with tears of joy,’ wrote Chuikov. Bottles were passed back and forth in fierce celebration. The Stalingrad Kessel was split in two, with Paulus and most of the senior officers bottled up in the smaller, southern pocket, and General Strecker’s XI Corps in the northern part of the city round the Stalingrad tractor factory. His only link with the outside world was the 24th Panzer Division’s radio set.

The northern pocket, with the remnants of six divisions under General Strecker, still held out. Strecker, with the headquarters of XI Corps in the Stalingrad tractor plant, signalled: ‘Troops are fighting without heavy weapons or supplies. Men collapsing from exhaustion. Freezing to death still holding weapons. Strecker.’ His message was robust, but conspicuously avoided Nazi clichés. Hitler, who received the signal after the meeting with Zeitzler, replied late in the afternoon: ‘I expect the north Kessel to hold out to the last.’ To emphasize the point still further, he issued a Führer directive a short time later: ‘XI Army Corps must resist to the last to tie down as much enemy strength as possible to facilitate operations on other fronts.’

The four Soviet armies had redeployed rapidly to crush the last pocket. With a concentration of 300 field guns to just over half a mile, the factory district was smashed once again. Any surviving bunkers were destroyed at point-blank range, some with field guns, some with flame-throwers, sometimes with tanks driving right up and sticking their barrel into an embrasure.

Strecker believed that, purely to help Manstein, there was a military purpose served by fighting on, but he utterly rejected any idea of self-destruction for propaganda purposes. In his mind, there was no doubt where the duties of an officer lay, as a conversation with a regimental adjutant shortly before the end showed.

‘When the time comes,’ the adjutant assured him, ‘we will commit suicide.’

‘Suicide?’ exclaimed Strecker.

‘Yes, Herr General! My colonel will also shoot himself. He believes we should not allow ourselves to be captured.’

‘Well let me tell you something. You will not shoot yourself, nor will your colonel shoot himself. You will go into captivity along with your men and will do everything you can to set a good example.’

‘You mean…’, the young officer’s eyes lit up, ‘I don’t have to shoot myself.’

Strecker spent most of the night of 1 February at the regimental headquarters of an old friend, Colonel Julius Müller. A single candle burned in one corner of the bunker as the small group present talked about the recent fighting, past friends and the imprisonment ahead. ‘No one mentions all the suffering,’ Strecker noted, ‘no one speaks bitterly.’ In the early hours of the morning, Strecker stood up. ‘Müller, I have to go,’ he said. ‘May you and your men go with God.’ Strecker was greatly taken with Thomas Carlyle’s description of God as ‘the true Field Marshal’. No doubt, his vision of heaven was a place of perfect military order.

‘We will do our duty, Herr General,’ Müller replied as the two men shook hands.

Strecker had already rejected the requests of his divisional commanders to surrender, but at four in the morning of 2 February, Generals von Lenski and Lattmann asked Strecker once more for permission. Strecker refused again. Lenski then said that one of his officers had already left to negotiate terms with the Russians. Strecker saw no point in continuing. He and Groscurth drafted their final signal. ‘XI Army Corps has with its six divisions performed its duty down to the last man in heavy fighting. Long live Germany!’ It was received by Army Group Don. Strecker asserted later that he and Groscurth had deliberately omitted any acclamation of Hitler, but the version recorded and then sent on to East Prussia ended with ‘Long live the Führer!’ Somebody must have thought it politic to make the signal more palatable at the Wolfsschanze.

When two Russian soldiers appeared looking rather hesitant at the entrance of the command bunker, Groscurth shouted at them to fetch a general. Strecker wrote afterwards that many of their own soldiers were ‘only barely alive’.

Operation Backfire

A list of desired German scientists—“List I”—accompanied the memo. It included 115 rocket specialists. When the British learned about the U.S. Army’s intentions to hire the German rocket scientists, they asked to first be allowed to conduct two rocket exploitation projects of their own. The Americans agreed and released into British custody a group of scientists, engineers, and technicians including Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and Arthur Rudolph.

The first British project was called Operation Backfire, a V-2 field test that took place on Germany’s north coast, at a former Krupp naval gun range in Cuxhaven. Operation Backfire was designed to analyze technical data about the V-2 by having the Nazi rocket engineers fire four rockets, also taken piecemeal from Nordhausen, at a target in the North Sea. This would allow the British to evaluate various technical elements, from how the rocket was launched to its flight controls and fuels.

Operation Backfire, succeeded in examining and experimentally test launching, with the assistance of German technicians, three V-2 rockets. The Backfire launches took place in the British zone of occupation, at a former Krupp armament proving ground at Altenwalde, near Cuxhaven, Germany, on the North Sea coast. The launches were made on 2, 3, and 15 October 1945. The last launch was known as Operation Clitterhouse and included foreign (U.S., French, and Soviet) observers. The data acquired from all the launches and contained in five illustrated manuals was shared with the U.S.

Arthur Rudolph, the former Mittelwerk operations director, was considered an expert in launch techniques, and to his biographer, he later recalled a scene from Operation Backfire: “The V-2 ran on alcohol of the same chemistry as that appearing in say, Jack Daniels and Old Grandad [sic]. The people at the test site apparently knew that.” One night, according to Rudolph, a group of British and German V-2 technicians got drunk together on the rocket fuel. A British officer came upon the group arm in arm, “apparently comrades now, and lustily singing, Wir Fahren gegen England, or ‘We Will March Against England.’ ” General Dornberger was not part of the drinking and singing. The British kept him on a short leash, away from the test firing and always under a watchful eye. The British had alternative plans for Walter Dornberger. They were not interested in the knowledge Dornberger possessed. They wanted to try him for war crimes. After the test, he would not be returned to the Americans as the British had originally promised.

“The British pulled a sneaky on us,” explained Major Staver, who attended Operation Backfire. The Americans were not permitted to take Dornberger back after the Operation; instead, Dornberger was declared “on loan” and was taken to England. There, he and von Braun were “interrogated for a week by the British and then kept behind barbed wire in Wimbledon for four and one-half weeks while waiting to be picked up by the Americans.” Eventually, von Braun was returned but General Dornberger was not. Instead, he was issued a brown jumpsuit with the letters “PW” for Prisoner of War stenciled on the back. Under armed guard, he was taken to the London District Cage near the Windermere Bridge for interrogation. From there, General Dornberger was transferred first to a castle in Wales and then to Special Camp XI in Island Farm, South Wales, where he was an extremely unpopular prisoner.

“Walter Dornberger was definitely the most hated man in the camp,” Sergeant Ron Williams, a prison guard, recalled. “Even his own people hated him. He never went out to the local farms to work like other prisoners.” Wherever General Dornberger went while he was at Special Camp XI, he required an escort. The British feared that other prisoners might kill him.

Report of Operation Backfire

 

The drawing from the “Backfire” report shows the positions and the movements of the Artillery Regiment z.b.V. 901 during their use of the V-2 rockets at Hachenburg in the Westerwald in the spring of 1945

Von Braun

At the end of July 1945 von Braun’s group finally got word that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington had approved a plan to bring the Germans to the United States. Under the secret “Project Overcast,” 350 German specialists were to be sent, with the nominal rationale being assistance for the war against Japan, although its surrender four weeks later changed little. But with that news came a shock: this number did not encompass only Ordnance’s Peenemünders. In fact Colonel Toftoy, who had been called back to Washington in late June to take over the rocket branch, was given a quota of one hundred; the USAAF and the navy had their own long lists of desirable specialists. Toftoy returned to Paris for meetings in late July and then visited Witzenhausen. He heard firsthand about the urgency of finding long-term family accommodations, especially as contracts were to be for a year only and family members were to stay behind. Ultimately, after another round of consultations with Staver, Porter, von Braun, and the leading Germans, Toftoy decided to accept about twenty extra, his orders notwithstanding. The first version of “List I,” as the Germans called it because they believed more would come later, had 124 names and was completed on 2 August. One of those names was Magnus von Braun, by then living in Eschwege.

One of the complications in drawing up a list was that, after a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war, the British had succeeded in getting the U.S. Army to lend some of its rocketeers to “Operation Backfire.” Based at the North Sea port of Cuxhaven, Backfire aimed to give the British Army experience with V-2 handling and launching. Dornberger was sent to Cuxhaven in mid-July, but he was soon shipped off to a POW camp in England for high-ranking generals, where he was threatened with a war crimes trial for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Hans Kammler was nowhere to be found and likely died near Prague at the end of the war, so Dornberger was the chosen scapegoat, but the whole idea ultimately foundered on its hypocrisy in the face of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and so on. Neither the British nor the Americans connected Dornberger, von Braun, Rudolph, or any of the others to the horrors found at Dora and Nordhausen, however. Allied officers and specialists automatically assumed it was the sole responsibility of the SS and that there was a fundamental distinction between technical experts and Nazi war criminals. In his 17 June report to Ordnance in Washington, Staver described the rocketeers as “top-notch engineers” no different from Allied “scientists” in developing weapons of war.

Wernher von Braun was on British lists as a desirable technical expert too, whether for Operation Backfire, for interrogation in England, or even for long-term employment. On 18 July the Backfire group asked the U.S. Army for the “apprehension” of von Braun, Rees, Schilling, and Steinhoff, “last reported as free civilians in area WITZENHAUSEN-ESCHWEGE.” This request went nowhere. A month later Sir Alwyn Crow, who headed missile projects in the Ministry of Supply in London, asked more realistically for the loan of von Braun, Axster, Steinhoff, and Rees for one week. As of 23 August this request was still under discussion by U.S. representatives. On the twenty-eighth von Braun wrote from Witzenhausen advising Dieter Huzel to marry his fiancée so that she would qualify as a dependent when he went overseas, and Wernher and Magnus together wrote a letter in the blind to their parents, promising them full support if they came to the American zone. They spoke in code of going to the United States: “In the near future we will probably move to Ntino [Constantine Generales] and his people.” Thus it appears that Wernher von Braun’s pleasant interlude in London, his first since his Christmas 1934 trip, probably did not occur until the very end of August or the beginning of September 1945.

He and the three others were flown to England and were interned in a special camp for German experts in Wimbledon, very near the famous tennis grounds. There he ran into Heinrich Klein, a leading designer of artillery and solid-fuel rockets for Rheinmetall-Borsig: “v. Braun, a little superior, let it be known that now the real work in the rocketry field could begin, as the land of unlimited possibilities was contemplating it.” He went on about the A-9 as the “first intercontinental rocket,” but it was only the initial step to a satellite that would orbit at 300 km (186 mi) altitude and 30,000 km/h (18,600 mph) velocity. Apparently nothing of the difficulties of the preceding months had dislodged him from his enthusiasm for, and rather unrealistic expectations of, working in the United States.

He was a little more anxious about how the British would treat him, but he found that as soon as he met Sir Alwyn Crow, “I was hardly inside his office before we were engaged in friendly shop talk.” Crow tried to get a list of people not going to the States whom von Braun might recommend to the British, and he may even have invited him to work for Britain—in both cases without success. One of the most memorable incidents of his London stay occurred during his morning ride between Wimbledon and the city center. The RAF driver silently pulled over and stopped in front of a building demolished by a rocket. “I was unable to tell the precise way in which the V-2 had done its damage, because the rubble had been cleared away,” von Braun later said, never giving any indication that the sight affected him more deeply. Soon thereafter he and his compatriots were flown back to Germany, and he was told of his imminent departure for America. It was time for the great venture into the unknown to begin.

Three A 4s started successfully during “Backfire”

 

The Russian R-1 rocket project

The Soviet option

It has been widely reported that the Germans unanimously decided to surrender to the Western Allies. This is not the case. Some of the scientists were more impressed by the Soviet system than they were by American capitalism, and Helmut Gröttrup was the most conspicuous of these. Gröttrup was an electronics engineer who no longer wished to ‘understudy’ Von Braun as he had done in the development of the V-2 rocket. Gröttrup decided to approach the Soviets and was offered a senior position in Russian rocket development. Between 9 September 1945 and 22 October 1946 Gröttrup with his loyal team of researchers worked for the USSR in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany (later to become the German Democratic Republic). His director of research was Sergei Korolev, Russia’s leading rocket scientist. In the autumn of 1946, the entire team was moved to Russia. Gröttrup had cooperated with Russia in bringing 20 of the V-2 rockets to the newly established rocket research institute at Kapustin Yar, between Volgograd and the deserts of Astrakhan. The base is known today as Znamensk and it had opened on 13 May 1946 specifically to offer facilities to German experts. In charge was General Vasily Voznyuk and on 18 October 1947 they launched the first of the V-2 rockets brought in from Germany.

Gröttrup worked under Korolev to develop the Russian R-1 project; these were in reality V-2 rockets built using Russian manufacturing and materials with the German designs. The People’s Commissar of Armaments, Dmitry Ustinov, requested that Gröttrup and his team of technicians design new missile systems, culminating in the projected R-14 rocket which was similar to the design of long-range missiles that Von Braun was developing during the war. The site at Znamensk developed into a top-secret cosmodrome and the small town itself was expanded to provide a pleasurable and civilized lifestyle for the families of the research teams working on the rockets. It was no longer included on Russian maps, and there were strict rules against disclosure of what was going on.

The value of the German expertise to the Russians proved to be limited and, in due course, the authorities allowed the research workers to return to their homes in Germany. The design of rocket motors in Russia by Aleksei Mikhailovich Isaev was already superior to the German concepts used in the V-2 rockets, and their lightweight copper motors gave rise to the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7. It was this design advantage that gave the Russians technical superiority in rocketry and led to their launching the world’s first satellite Sputnik 1, and subsequently to the launch of Yuri Gagarin as the first man into space.

The same technology gave the Russians the capacity to launch the first lunar probe, and later the spacecraft sent out towards the planets. Indeed, this design of rocket is still in use today. Once it was recognized that there was little point in keeping the German rocket specialists in Russia, on 22 November 1955 Gröttrup was given leave to return to his native Germany. In cooperation with Jürgen Dethloff he went on to design and patent the chip card which was to become so important in modern banking systems, and so his post-war genius is with us today.

V2ROCKET.COM

Blood on the Volga

By the time General Vasily Chuikov, the previous deputy commander of the 64th Army positioned south of Stalingrad, was appointed as commander of the 62nd Army, the 62nd Army had lost half of its men. For some, the Volga appeared to be the best means of escaping certain death. Chuikov knew that the situation was desperate and that the only options for him and his men were to save Stalingrad or die in the attempt. Defeat or surrender was not even to be considered.

The city’s defenders learned that secret police were stationed all along the Volga; anyone who attempted to cross the river without permission would be shot on sight. But the Volga was also bringing reinforcements of fresh troops and elite units. Crossing the river under German fire meant that the crossing itself was a death sentence—the typical life expectancy of a soldier arriving to reinforce the city was twenty-four hours—but the carnage allowed Chuikov to maintain a hold on part of the city.

The elite 13th Guard Division saw 30% of its 10,000 men killed in the first twenty-four of arrival, with a mere 320 surviving the battle for a 97% death rate. The risk of death was so imminent that even Chuikov was obliged to keep moving his command post from place to place at the last minute, to avoid being a casualty of the intense fighting that saw attacks staged along a front line that was sometimes less than a mile wide.

But the deadly dimensions of the battle were part of Chuikov’s strategy. By keeping the gap between Russian and German positions as narrow as possible, Chuikov reasoned that the German air campaign had to exercise caution in their bombing or risk killing their men when they dropped bombs on the Soviet line.

Starving soldiers are desperate men and because crossing the Volga was so dangerous, food was not entering the city, only more soldiers. The Russians weren’t the only ones suffering the lack of food, an issue which would become a dominant factor for the Germans as the battle continued. The fighting took its toll on the Germans, as they saw their initial advantage with their tanks and dive bombers come to be matched by Russian artillery reinforcements and anti-aircraft guns from east of the Volga River, out of range of the German tanks and the Stuka dive bombers. With trial-by-fire training, the Russian Air Force was able to be more offensive in its attacks, thanks to its increased aircraft.

Life in Stalingrad was a nightmare for the soldiers and civilians as the city was reduced to rubble. Bodies rotted, and the smell of decomposing corpses hung over the city. Disease became rampant. The noise from the Stuka dive bombers and Katyusha rockets created a grim orchestra of war. It was a scenario that challenged the stamina and even the sanity of all who endured it because there was no escaping the daunting consequences.

Generalleutnant Fiebig’s Fliegerkorps VIII, meanwhile, provided the army with effective air support. It struck enemy troops, vehicles, guns and fortified positions on the battlefield, as well as logistics and mobilization centres and road, rail and river traffic behind the front.

Throughout September, Fiebig’s corps directed most of its attacks against Stalingrad itself, the main targets being the Lazur chemical factory inside the “tennis racket” (a huge rail loop), the Krasnyi Oktyabr (Red October) metallurgical works, the Barrikady (Barricade) gun factory and the Dzherzhinski tractor factory. The corps pounded those targets most days, except when aircraft were urgently needed to support an Axis advance or stem a Soviet counter-attack in the region north of the city. On 18 September, for example, Lieutenant-General Chuikov noticed that the German aircraft crowding the sky above Stalingrad suddenly departed, giving Sixty-Second Army a much-needed “breathing space”. Fiebig had hastily called them away, he realized, in order to deploy them in the region north of the city, where they were urgently needed to counter a surprise attack by the Stalingrad Front. Six hours later, Chuikov noted with disappointment, “it was clear that the [Soviet] attack was over: hundreds of Junkers had reappeared.”

Chuikov quickly noticed that the Luftwaffe carried out surprisingly few raids at night. He could not work out, therefore, why the Stalingrad Front attempted its attacks during the day, “when we had no way of neutralizing or compensating for the enemy’s superiority in the air, and not at night (when the Luftwaffe did not operate with any strength).” The city’s defenders did not make the same mistake, he added later in his memoirs: “The enemy could not fight at night, but we learned to do so out of bitter necessity; by day the enemy’s planes hung over our troops, preventing them from raising their heads. At night we need have no fear of the Luftwaffe”. This was certainly true: at Stalingrad, as at Sevastopol, the Luftwaffe conducted almost no night missions to speak of. Its aircraft lacked the specialized night navigation and bomb-aiming equipment necessary for situations like this, when opposing forces battled in close proximity. Also, its airfields, with a few exceptions, were poorly equipped for night operations.

Fiebig’s air corps also bombed and strafed any Soviet forces seen among the broken buildings and piles of rubble. Chuikov recalled that “the Luftwaffe literally hammered anything they saw in the streets into the ground”. In his detailed memoirs, he also quotes the situation report of a young lieutenant, whose company came under severe air attacks on 18 September. “From morning till noon,” Lieutenant A. Kuzmich Dragan wrote,

clusters of German planes hung in the sky over the city. Some of them would break away from their formations, dive and riddle the streets and ruins of houses with bullets from ground level; others would fly over the city with sirens wailing, in an attempt to sow panic. They dropped high explosives and incendiaries. The city was in flames.

Determined to support German troops now fighting for every house and building by stopping the steady trickle of Soviet reinforcements entering the city from the eastern bank of the kilometre-wide Volga river, Fiebig’s corps also directed attacks against the river crossing facilities. Rear-Admiral Rogachev’s Volga Fleet used numerous crossing points, but mainly “Crossing 62”, its moorings at the Krasnyi Oktyabr and Barrikady factories. The small fleet ferried substantial numbers of men and large quantities of rations and ammunition across the river to the desperate Sixty-Second Army. These courageous sailors, Chuikov maintained, “rendered an incalculable service…. Every trip across the Volga involved a tremendous risk, but no boat or steamer ever lingered with its cargo on the other bank.” Had it not been for them, he concluded, the Sixty-Second Army would almost certainly have perished in September.

Alan Clark, British author of a now-outdated popular account of the war in Russia, maintained that, if the Luftwaffe “had been employed with single-minded persistence in an “interdiction” role … the Volga ferries might have been knocked out.” Clark was clearly unaware of Luftflotte IV’s poor state when he wrote these words. Von Richthofen had no aircraft available for a proper interdiction campaign against the Volga crossings. As noted above, by 20 September his air fleet had already lost half its total strength and, because of a drop in serviceability levels, had a mere 516 air-worthy planes (when Blau began, it had 1,155). Moreover, 120 of those were reconnaissance and sea planes, leaving him with only 396 operational combat aircraft. With this small force, he was already extremely hard-pressed to fulfil his army-support obligations. Having stripped Pflugbeil’s Fliegerkorps IV to the bones in order to concentrate an acceptable number of aircraft at Stalingrad, he had left the two German armies in the Caucasus with very little air support and could only increase it during times of crisis by returning units temporarily from the Stalingrad region. Thus, he could spare no aircraft for a systematic interdiction campaign against Volga crossings.

Fliegerkorps VIII did not ignore the crossings, of course. Both Fiebig and von Richthofen realized that, if Paulus’ men were going to destroy the enemy troops fighting fanatically in the ruined city, they had to sever their supply and reinforcement lines. Although they lacked aircraft for a proper interdiction campaign, they continually threw as many bombers and dive-bombers as they could spare each day against the railway lines carrying men and materiel to the eastern bank of the Volga, against the exposed and poorly-defended loading and landing platforms and against any barges and steamers seen crossing the river. Fiebig often managed to keep aircraft continuously above the crossing points. As Chuikov remembered: “From dawn till dusk enemy dive-bombers circled over the Volga” Likewise, Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimirov noted in 1943:

The enemy bombers, operating in groups of 10 to 50, ceaselessly bombed our troops, the eastern part of the city and the crossings on the Volga…. The Germans relied on their aircraft to crush the fire system of our defence [that is, the artillery], paralyze our organization, prevent the arrival of reinforcements, and disrupt the movements of supplies.

German aircraft hunted down each boat and barge, but, as the discussion of air attacks on Black Sea shipping revealed, sinking ships from the air was extremely difficult. The relatively small size of Volga barges and ferries made them difficult targets. As a result, Fiebig’s dive-bombers proved far more successful against rail-heads and ferry landing platforms than they did against the vessels themselves.

The doomed Germans soldiers fought on bravely as best they could given their weakened physical conditions and lack of supplies; they had little choice. The Soviet offensive named Operation Saturn got underway on December 16 1942 with the purpose of bringing the final stage of the battle to its conclusion as relief efforts were made impossible and the trapped Germans were contained in a shrinking position. General Winter had frozen the Volga River allowing soldiers and supplies to travel over the ice into the city.

20160510 Grau – River Flotillas in Support of Defensive Ground Operations The Soviet Experience