Radio-telephone operators from Division Großdeutschland run a
cable through the snow.
Lutschessa-Valley. December 1942. Source: Spaeter, Helmuth: Die Einsätze der
What was the problem in the Lutschessa-Valley?
cut through the German front line from West to East. Here was the interface
of the 110th and 86th Infantry Divisions. It was not
long ago that the Russians had broken through exactly here and penetrated
deep into German-held territory. They intended to cut the German supply line
which here ran parallel behind the front. The divisions depending on the
supply line would thus be in great danger. Alarm bells ringing!
General Walter Model – the brain behind the German bastion – had sent his
fighting cells into the open wound. For rapid reaction in fast developing
operational scenarios the Generals had perfected the “Battle Group” concept
which entailed the detachment of available units of required arms into such
temporary Groups for immediate battle commitment. After the operational goal
was achieved, the Battle Group would be dissolved.
Hoernlein was tasked with restoring the dented frontline in the Lutschessa
Valley. The Battle Group was subordinated to Division Großdeutschland under
consisted of units below:
Battalions, Artillery and Flak from Division
Battalions, Artillery, Anti-tank units and Pioneers from the 86th, 101st
and 253rd Infantry Divisions.
III. Battalion of 278th Grenadier Regiment from the 95th Infantry
Artillery, Flak and a POW Construction Company from XXIII Army Corps.
the critical front section reached down to the river Lutschessa. Now the
German positions were further back. Hoernlein planned to hammer out the dent
in three stages.
Stage 1 –
Attack line from Pustoschka to Wereista.
Stage 2 –
Establish blocking position on the ridge at Prudjanka.
Stage 3 –
Push the front line forward to the narrow forest near Merkuschi.
required for the Battle Group (“Kampfgruppe”) mission could not be
estimated. This would of course depend on Russian resistance. But one thing
was clear in advance: The Germans would have to fight for each metre of land
at high cost in both men and material.
Stage 1 –
Attack at Pustoschka – Wereista
Company CO Captain Regner warmed himself up in the house used by the
Hoernlein-staff. An officer gave him a general situation report:
”Our state here is completely different to yours in Rshew. We have no fixed
trenches. We don’t have a clear front line at all. Everything is fluid. In
one village there may be Russians and in the next the Germans are
He turned to a military map on his desk.
”We are here. There you see the lines of a hill which slopes down to a basin
where the Russians are well dug-in. We did not succeed in wiping them out by
frontal assault. – You will now form a raiding party of four sections and
proceed behind the hill. From the rear you will have a good view down the
basin and from this position you attack the Russians.”
very uneasy. He did not know the surroundings and had so far no experience
of fighting in open terrain. Both officers left the building for a closer
inspection. Check the scenery with binoculars.
Tactics for the attack.
Siting of the main dressing station.
queasy. It was his first personally led attack. Now he knew how his soldiers
must have felt when he ordered the attack on the enemy trench in patrol raid
He picked four sections which he believed capable enough to handle the
mission. Their ability would be his strength.
“Forward; move out!”
The men shouldered their assault packs and began moving in the direction of
the jumping-off point for the attack.
In front of them hovered a hilly, nearly treeless landscape, covered with
”Where is the front?” a soldier asked.
”There are no trenches. The front is constantly changing and permeable. In
one valley there might be Russians and the next valley we may hold.”
Regner could only repeat what he had been told . He pointed towards the
horizon. Snowy hills and depressions.
”In a hollow over there the Russians are well entrenched.”
Fully concentrated the men followed his arm movement.
”The division had already attacked the Russians frontally from here but did
not succeed to break through.
We are now ordered to move around the hill and attack the Russians in the
hollow below it from behind.”
His arm circled through the air to illustrate the general march direction.
Why did Regner not have a map which would allow them all to get properly
The soldiers got nervous.
What sort of flimsy and unclear description of the situation was this?
Was this wishy-washy summary supposed to be a plan of attack ?
The lack of information just spread unnecessary worry and tension.
The impression was of bad preparation and imprecise action.
The men felt treated like automated morons unable to use own initiative.
Accordingly unmotivated they followed their Company Commander through the
They had fully grasped that there now was a completely new fighting
situation. The term “mobile warfare” was mentioned, but what did it really
Suspense and stress were written over all faces.
The path was
leading down the hollow of a valley. Suddenly a tank appeared in the
distance. It raced up the path towards the men.
One could not tell from the silhouette whether it was a Russian or a German
the hill on your right at the double! Now!” Captain Regner yelled.
Panic-stricken the soldiers scrambled up the slope and pressed their bodies
into the snow. Whoever was sitting in that tank could not possibly overlook
the dark coats of the men in the white snow. Camouflaging was impossible
because the snow cover was not thick enough to dig into.
men pressed themselves with all their might into the snow.
Gasping from exertion they awaited their fate.
”At least the tank cannot roll over us”, Clemens thought; the slope was so
steep that the tank would topple over if it tried to do so.
”But he may easily eradicate us with his cannon and machine gun”, he knew.
These were horrible seconds.
They could not run away, nor dig into the soil or hide.
They were like targets on a firing range.
In sheer panic they stared at the cannon muzzle to see if it would turn
The tank was churning up the valley at high speed.
A German model.
Wait and see. It could be a captured tank manned by Russians.
Out of the corner of his eye, Clemens glimpsed that his neighbour held a
magnetic mine on his chest. His hand firmly gripped the mine handle.
Obviously he was determined to fight. If the tank indeed were to crawl up
the steep slope to squash them flat, then he would attempt to throw the mine
under the tracks.
”He will never be able to throw his mine”, Clemens figured. “If there are
really Russians in that German tank they will fire at us without going up
the hill. We’ll be mince meat for sure.”
Breathless and deep down in the snow they watched the tank.
With enormously loud engine noise it roared through the hollow. It passed
them all and disappeared down the valley.
Palpable stress was etched into their faces.
”We’re off! Up the crest to the right!”
Panting they forced themselves up the hill. Not everyone wore his helmet
since it became far too cold at low temperatures chilling the skull badly.
The assault pack with extra ammunition and weapon weighed a lot. On top of
that the machine gun crew carried additional ammunition boxes, tripod and
rifle. The body steamed under the clothing. Faces were red hot.
”When we continue in this direction”, the CO pointed with his finger, “we
should find the Russians beyond that crest over there. So let’s move on!”
”Well, but what then!” Clemens thought. “What about a briefing on the actual
up the hill beyond which they assumed the Russians to be dug-in.
Theoretically, they would be attacking the Russians from behind and from a
In fact a very advantageous approach.
In disorganised order the Germans crawled up the slope. Clemens peered
carefully over the crest.
Down in the hollow, there were the Russians squatting with their backs
towards the Germans. They all were armed to the teeth and seemed tense. One
man was smoking. Silence. They focussed their eyes in the other direction
from where they assumed the Germans to be coming.
Silently Clemens slid back. Not all the soldiers had yet arrived on the
Suddenly a shrill voice cut through the still air:
”There are the Russians!!!”
Horrified Clemens stared over at the idiot in question. It was Schmitt!
Like in some action film he started firing his sub-machine gun at the
Is he crazy???!!!
The Germans were thus discovered long before a single man could get his
The Russians however turned round fast as lightning and fired everything
they had at their disposal;
grenades flew up over the crest accompanied by heavy MG-fire. That was not a
Russian machine gun, one could tell from the sound. The very rapid firing
revealed that it could only be a German MG42. A captured weapon.
Not one second was left for the 9th Company to use its original,
advantageous situation, meaning to coordinate the attack in silence, place
all weapons in position and then to attack.
The men could have used this unique situation in their favour if Schmitt had
not messed up in his panic.
How could he believe that he alone could win against a large group of fully
armed men?! If he had positioned a heavy machine gun silently, perhaps he
would have stood a chance. But with an under-powered sub-machine gun he
obviously could not achieve anything at all!!!
Schmitt had revealed their position and the Russians fired back accurately
like world champions.
The Germans had lost all advantage and just pressed down in the snow. There
was no opportunity to fire back, especially as nobody dared to crawl back up
to the crest.
The Germans had lost the battle.
The snow coloured red.
Everybody thought of himself first and crawled out of the line of fire. Some
were lucky, some were not.
Flight was the only way out.
Between the detonations one threw oneself down the hill diving protectively
into the snow.
The iron shrapnel of Russian shells and grenades showered the hillside
hitting any obstacle.
A blow struck the back of Clemens’ head.
”Now it’s my turn!” Like lightning this awareness rushed through his brain
Move, move; get out of the line of fire at any cost! He jumped up and raced
down to the bottom of the valley.
Clemens felt the back of his head under the helmet. Blood was running down
He felt blood pumping in his skull caused by the race down the hill but the
cold weather dampened his pain.
Only a few men had escaped the slaughter. Most remained back in the snow.
Those who were able to walk had anyway got their scars.
In deep shock the little crowd marched down the valley in the direction they
had come. They followed the tracks of the tank.
”All these losses were so unnecessary!” Clemens was truly upset. “Schmitt so
desperately wanted to become a hero!”
The others agreed by silently nodding their heads.
Wounded soldiers in a
stable which served as First Aid Post.
All 3 pictures are from the 260th Infantry-Division near Juchnow in the
Bulge of Rshew in start of 1943.
Excerpt from the
situation map of Division Großdeutschland on 1st December 1942 at Gussewo,
South of Olenin. The black line shows the dented German front. The red
arrows mark the direction of Russian
pressure. Their units are recognized and noted on the map with divisional
The photo further
up shows a German
Panzer with white camouflage at full speed in the snow. Photo from the 260th
Infantry-Division in the Rshew-salient in winter 1942. Source: www.260id.de