Chapter 2

THE ASSAULT OF THE 4. PANZER-DIVISION FROM GLUCHOW TO OREL

From the diary of Feldwebel Hermann Bix, tank commander in the 5./Panzer-Regiment 35; the daily logs of the 6./Panzer-Regiment 35; and contributions from Arthur Wollschläger, company commander of the 6./Panzer-Regiment 35

From Kritschew, we moved deep into the rear of the Red Army towards the south and Lochwiza, where we closed the pocket forming around Kiev from the east. Hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers surrendered. But we were not allowed to rest on our laurels. Moscow was the big objective. That meant back towards the north!

We prepared to renew the offensive at Gluchow. At 0635 hours on 30 September, Panzerkampfgruppe Eberbach moved out to the northeast. The first objective was Ssewsk.

There was a short tank engagement at Esmanij; the advance continued through rain and mud to Ssewsk. Regrouped there and then advanced with gusto, initially towards Dmitrowsk. The 5th Company of our Panzer-Regiment 35 was in the lead. Feldwebel Hermann Bix was a tank commander in that company and has provided his firsthand account.

1 October 1941. Somehow I managed to become the point of the company; other tanks had been disabled.

It was already evening when we stopped just outside of Dmitrowsk. We couldn’t allow the fleeing enemy to catch his breath and give him an opportunity to establish himself—that was the watchword. That meant we had to continue at night and “without regard for friendly losses,” as it was so nicely put.

We continued to advance and felt our way forward to Dmitrowsk. Our 5th Company was far ahead of the division, and my vehicle was far ahead of the company as the lead tank. The road was horribly bad in that area, and the bridges buckled like crazy. You really had to pay attention at night so that a track did not come off the surface and you wound up sailing into an abyss.

We rolled along behind a Russian column, then pulled around it, going cross-country. In the darkness, Ivan didn’t notice that we were from the other side.

Two Russian guards were posted at a narrow wooden bridge. One man guided me in a comradely fashion over the buckling pathway so that I did not deviate from the surface or wind up in the bottomland of the creek with my tank.

I radioed back to the company that no one was to fire at the accommodating Russian. Indeed, they should take advantage of his friendly services. As a result, no one pressed down on a trigger release, and we continued to remain unidentified.

Oberleutnant Lekschat, my company commander, radioed me: “Bix, I was just guided over the bridge by Ivan. Continue to be friendly to the comrades!”

I started to recognize the first houses of the city. It was a peculiar feeling to be the lead tank in the uncertainty of the night and to be advancing into the complete unknown of the enemy’s world. Dmitrowsk was most likely a town of about 20,000. In addition to the usual wood buildings, it also had large, massive structures.

When I took a good look, I could see well-camouflaged vehicles all over the place up against the house walls. Most of them were trucks with trailers; in some cases, there were guns. An unbelievable tension was lurking out there in the midst of the eerie quiet. What would happen the next minute?—I only stuck my head out of the cupola as much as was needed to be able to observe. Despite that, they could hit me in the head from any window, if they recognized me. To my advantage was the fact that Ivan thought he was completely secure. The guards took no notice of our tank. This was no time to get nervous and, under no circumstances could I fire. Forward . . . forward . . . gain ground!

We finally reached a large cobblestone square, where I had a bit more observation. The company was following at large intervals, and I radioed that the intervals should be maintained so that no one crashed into another, that other tanks weren’t hampered in an engagement, or, worse yet, that they engaged one another. Nothing was impossible at night whenever the fireworks started.

A truck column bumped along in our direction. Sitting on the vehicles—lined up nicely—were Russian infantry, their rifles between their legs, as if on maneuvers. They passed close by, somewhat hesitantly, as it seemed to me. Would everything turn out well? There were lots of Russians standing in the shadows of the houses, getting all jumbled together. I had the feeling that I had been identified, but I asked the company to hold off in opening fire for the time being, since a single tank at night in such situations usually has nothing good to look forward to.

Lekschat recommended that two tanks continue to move forward, while he took the rest of the company around the plaza to screen. He then requested a platoon of motorcycle infantry, which he wanted to move forward with the tanks into the plaza.

Assault on Orel.

(Antreten = assemble; Uhr = hours; Einnahme = capture)

When I reached the outskirts of the town, I heard a hefty firefight behind me. Pyrotechnics arched skyward; hand grenades detonated; main guns bellowed. I had the feeling all hell was breaking loose. I felt bad things were going to happen.

All around me, it was as quiet as a mouse. Once again, the old saw that it was sometimes safest all the way up front proved true.

In an effort to give some relief to my comrades behind me, I then started to engage every vehicle that approached, since our presence could no longer be hidden. We needed to be on our toes. Ivan had been warned. I had radio contact with the company and heard that the motorcycle infantry had taken a lot of prisoners. The town of Dmitrowsk was firmly in our hands.

The tanks formed a large semicircle in front of the town to screen. It was indescribably hard to keep our eyes open and remain alert after the strain of the day. Taking turns, one man of the crew stood in the turret and stared off into the night. I bit my ten fingers one after the other so that the pain would keep me awake.

2 October. Early in the morning, the company was called back to the marketplace. The motorized riflemen took over screening up front. But another mission was awaiting me. Together with Oberleutnant von Gerdtell, we reconnoitered. We took off with the first rays of the sun, remaining hard on the Russians’ heels and headed in the direction of Kromy.

After about twenty kilometers, I ran into a Russian fuel dump, right on the road. There were five gigantic tanks. The personnel initially fled. When they saw that there was no one behind me, they attempted to set the tanks on fire with antitank rifles. We took them under fire immediately. A few were hit; the rest sought their safety in flight.

Fuel for our tanks! Fuel was the most important thing for the continued advance. The wheeled vehicles could barely follow in the bottomless mud of the roads. The fuel tanks arrived only half full when they got to Dmitrowsk.

I reported by radio to von Gerdtell. He forwarded the report to the battalion. Measures were immediately taken to safeguard the valuable spoils. We, on the other hand, received instructions to continue hounding the withdrawing enemy.

Our engine gave out after fifteen kilometers. I was directed to link up with the company. That was easier said than done! You had to pay attention like a mad man to make sure your comrades didn’t take you out, thinking you were a Russian tank. Correspondingly, I fired green-white signal flares. We were damned far ahead of the company. I didn’t really know how far until I saw the following tanks return the signals.

The pursuit continued. Russian columns were passed and disarmed before they even had a chance to fire. Guards at bridges were surprised or tricked. A few wooden bridges were on fire, but they could be put out in time. The large concrete bridge at Kromy was also taken intact by the tanks after a short firefight. The Russians couldn’t believe, did not want to believe, that we were already there. One battalion was overwhelmed and disarmed while it was building field fortifications.

On the other hand, the Russian aircraft were constantly over us. They plastered us with bombs and rockets and attacked the march columns like hornets, whose nest had been attacked.

A civilian transit bus, taking its normal route, approached the lead tanks: Halt! Dismount! Final station!

The Russians’ surprise in Kromy was so complete that our arrival was not even reported higher, even though all of the telephone lines were running and intact. The regimental translator called the postmaster in Orel. It goes without saying that he told the man he could continued sleeping peacefully, since the bad Germans were nowhere to be seen, far and wide.

We rested, did some sightseeing, and refueled in Kromy. We took the fuel from the Russians, since few of our own vehicles made it as far as the city.

3 October. The tanks moved out in the direction of Orel at 1100 hours. The Russian aerial attacks increased by the hour and by the kilometer. Practically without interruption, the bombers, fighter-bombers, and fighters flew over the columns all the way back to Dmitrowsk. They took off and landed at the airfield in nearby Orel. Friendly Flak was ineffective, and there were no German fighters to be seen. As a result, everyone was in a snit: we were taking considerable casualties, since there was no cover and no way to dodge. There was only one answer: forward with twice the effort . . . forward . . .forward!

The tanks moved as fast as their engines would allow; the motorcycle infantry snaked their way forward, avoiding the fighter-bombers with brazen maneuvers. They fled forward, in a manner of speaking, getting close to the enemy and then pouncing. The prime movers of the artillery went cross-country until they got their guns into firing range.

At 1500 hours, the first shells of a 10-centimeter battery of our 103rd Artillery detonated on the landing strip of the airfield at Orel. A dramatic duel developed. The cannoneers, helplessly exposed to the fires of the rockets and weapons of the Russian fighter-bombers, sent shell after shell from the tubes. Whose nerves would fail first . . . whose strength would give up first? Aircraft were destroyed on the ground by the shrapnel. Others were prevented from landing. Many on the airfield were forced to make emergency starts. But the gun crews also suffered heavy losses.

There was no perceptible relief until Kradschützen-Bataillon 34, firing from sidecars while rolling forward, assaulted the airfield. Aircraft, both landing and taking off, were destroyed, blowing apart and burning on the landing strip. A portion of the aircraft withdrew in the direction of Tula, where they were then forced to take off and land. And finally the German fighters also arrived—for a few hundred comrades, it was too late.

The forces quickly regrouped. The company commanders were summoned to a commanders’ conference. The 6th Company, under the command of Oberleutnant Arthur Wollschläger, a battle-seasoned veteran many times over, assumed the lead. The daily logs of the 6th Company recorded the following:

3 October 1941. The company commander returned from the commanders’ conference. After a short orders conference, we moved out as the first ones in the direction of Orel. Russian aircraft greeted us but, thank god, flew past us farther to the rear. They apparently did not think there were German tanks so close to their city. The tanks were ordered to be prepared to engage. A bridge appeared in front of us. Engineers linked up with us in case they were needed in a moment’s notice. Individual Russians fled. We stepped on the gas and assaulted in the direction of the bridge. It was prepared for demolition, but the Russians were unable to ignite the charges. Our armored engineers removed the charges with practiced hands. A security group remained behind. But we charged through the thin line of defense; we moved and moved.

We stopped to observe on some high ground. There was a valley in front of us. Then there was a woodline, behind which were houses—the first ones of Orel.

The Russian bombers, fighter-bombers, and fighters droned and roared above us. We could see them take off and land in Orel with our naked eyes. May God have mercy on our comrades farther to the rear!

Moving quickly, we headed downhill and then like wild men across the open space. If there was a defensive belt around Orel, then it could only have been located in the wood line ahead of us. The two lead tanks, including the tank of our company commander, had already reached the first few trees, when fire suddenly rained down on us from all sides. Two tanks received direct hits and started to burn.

Only one thing mattered at that point: find cover and find the enemy! We moved behind a row of houses. We had some cover there and, more importantly, had a field of fire to the front. Our motorcycle infantry made leaps and bounds, nearing the woods. They took out one gun after the other. We supported them and continued to advance. We then encountered our company commander, whom we had all thought dead. In the meantime, he and the old fox Jüppner—it was their tanks that had disappeared into the woods—had assaulted and taken a bridge that was important for our continued advance. We secured it and waited for the battalion, in accordance with our orders. Russian fighter-bombers started attacking us in rolling waves.

At 1600 hours, our artillery started laying down heavy fires on targets ahead of us. At 1615 hours, we moved out again. We continued to be the point of our 4. Panzer-Division.

We slowly rolled out of the woods. We raced across the open terrain in a long line. We were met by heavy defensive fires from all types of weapons. There was a railway embankment ahead of us; between the embankment and us was a road. It had to be the road from Kromy to Orel. A railway underpass was a reminder to be careful. We pushed our way forward, slowly and deeply echeloned. Like the claws of a monster, the underpass gaped at us. We carefully took a gander into the hole. There was a ridgeline distinguishable behind the railway line. Had the enemy also established a defensive line there?

Who dares, wins! That’s what the company commander was probably thinking, as he boldly moved into the semidarkness of the tunnel. He appeared at the other end, unscathed. He immediately issued orders to the company: “Move out!”

Our time had come! The city of Orel was open in front of us. We fired to the left and right, kicked up a ruckus as if we were an entire tank regiment and charged into Orel in a race with the devil.

We received heavy fire from antiaircraft weaponry off to the left, but we disappeared between the rows of houses in the blink of an eye. Large buildings appeared off to the left. Uh oh! It was a military facility. Perplexed soldiers gazed at us. We stormed past them. Let’s hope no vehicles become disabled! Gigantic clouds of smoke took away our visibility. We disappeared into it and continued on with unabated speed. Over there, yes, over there . . . a streetcar was still running! Then everything went ass over teakettles. Trucks flipped over. Antiaircraft guns were overrun before they could go into position. We moved along the main street of Orel.

A bridge reared up in front of us. A monstrous structure of steel and concrete. We raced across without stopping. It bore our weight; it did not fly into the air. That was the main thing at that moment. It was not until that point that the city belonged to us!

We advanced as far as the railway station, exploiting the confusion of the Russians. Long columns were assembling there. Everyone was fleeing in the direction of Tula.

We assaulted past the perplexed soldiers in the direction of some high ground. Orel was below us and two kilometers behind us. We were able to take in the entire city. We observed, screened and reported our location by radio.

After half an hour, Oberfeldwebel Gabriel with his light platoon and Leutnant Küspert with his platoon from the 5th Company linked up with us. We split up our forces in the city and occupied and screened all of the important areas.

The ground fog climbed slowly from the loamy waters of the Oka. Dusk started to envelop the city. The roads and streets were devoid of humans. A few aircraft dropped bombs. Here and there, there was a flash. But a couple of bombs did nothing to change the fact: Orel was ours!

Feldwebel Bix, who had advanced through the city with Küspert’s platoon, continues his firsthand narrative:

We were screening on the eastern side of Orel. Suddenly, I heard a freight train departing under heavy steam in the direction of Mzensk. I remembered that a captured Russian had told me before I sent him to the rear that there was a freight train at the rail station, which was loaded with heavy tanks. Due to the great distance, I had no radio contact, and I was unable to relay that information. Besides, I really didn’t trust the Russian that much.

But then I saw with my own eyes that the train existed and that it—outside of my firing range—was completely loaded with tanks and was steaming off to the east. By then it was too late!

We would get to meet those tanks in the next few days, however!

6 October. We continued to advance in the direction of Mzensk. When we reached the locality of Woin, we encountered stiff resistance. The tank regiment went into position to the left and right of the road. I was on the left wing of our 2nd Battalion, along with Leutnant Böckle. Just to the right of the Orel-Tula rail line.

Oberleutnant Lekschat and Leutnant Küspert of our company reported strong enemy fire from up front. Küspert had to pull back in a hurry, because the Russian tanks had bashed up his turret in a bad way. Lekschat also received a hit and had to pull back. Someone identified heavy Russian tanks and reported that he was unable to detect any damage among the steel monsters, even after direct hits with antitank rounds. Leutnant Böckle, an old hand at identifying tanks, issued a warning and stated that he thought they might be the new T-34’s and KV-I’s. It was said they had terrific armor.

I then saw a tank column approaching us as it rolled along the railway line about 600 meters away. The vehicles appeared somewhat nimble and not very large, and I thought, as a result, that they couldn’t be all that heavy. Böckle saw them as well and warned me again.

About 300 meters in front of us, they turned to the left and moved across my front across the open terrain like a moving target. This is going to be like a shooting competition, I thought.

But we couldn’t believe it—we didn’t want to believe it: even the best-placed hits ricocheted off the armor! The crews did not even react when we hit them directly on the turrets. The Russian tanks continued to move unperturbed in the face of our bristling fires. They headed towards our poor comrades on the road, right in front of our noses, until they got to an ideal firing distance.

And then we saw something that we heretofore would not have considered possible: We saw our tanks pull back by the company, turn around and then make haste to disappear over the high ground.

Lekschat also ordered us to pull back, since our losses on the right wing were too heavy. Even at the shortest of ranges, we were unable to take on those beasts, while they were able to take us out at 1,000 meters without breaking a sweat. It was enough to make you cry!

Oberst Eberbach, our regimental commander, recognized the dangerous situation, probably just in the nick of time. He brought 8.8-centimeter Flak and 10.5-centimeter cannon forward to prevent the breakthrough of the superior Russian tanks, against which we were completely powerless. An 8.8 knocked out a T-34, but it was then hit. The second gun didn’t have any better luck. There was a general feeling of helplessness.

When I pulled back in my tank and took off at full steam, I ran into the Eber-bach’s command tank on the road. He had also been hit bad. I heard that the regimental signals officer, Leutnant Nebel, was badly wounded.1

Not too far from the road, a shot-up prime mover of the engineers was burning. A soldier with a shredded leg was lying next to it and screaming in pain and desperation. The flames were threatening to grab hold of a second wounded engineer any moment. There was a whistling and a cracking all around. Should I stop? Somewhat hesitantly, I forced myself out of the turret and jumped down, attempting to at least get the one wounded man out of harm’s way of the flames.

Two tankers came running up, bent over. They pitched in without a word, helping me to carry and to find cover. They then grabbed the second engineer, who was screaming in agony, and brought him under cover at the double. I discovered that the prime mover had been loaded with antitank mines and could go up at any minute.

We had just reached a protective ditch with the last wounded man, when there was a brilliant stream of flame heading skyward. The equivalent of a barrage broke loose from the prime mover. The antitank mines detonated. The shards whizzed around for a hundred meters in all directions. The air pressure threatened to burst our lungs, even though we were in a ditch.

I then had the opportunity to take a closer look at the other two, who had helped. They were Oberst Eberbach and Stabsarzt Dr. Mühlkühner.2 The doctor started treating the wounded in an expedient manner. He flagged down a vehicle and then the two took off to the main aid station.

The two officers continued running to help wherever help was still needed, since the T-34’s had made a mess of things there. It was good that the Russians apparently did not know that there was nothing on our side that could stand up to them. Otherwise, they would have punched through to Orel and left us standing there with our mouths open.

We had to strain our minds the next few days to think of some way to approach the T-34’s and KV-I’s with our main guns, which had been degraded to the status of doorknockers.

Somewhat embarrassed, I also made a resolution during a quiet moment: To never leave a wounded comrade behind, even if the devil himself was personally chasing me. Oberst Eberbach, whom we referred to secretly as Schnulch, had personally taught me a lesson.3

10 October. We were ten kilometers outside of Mzensk. We had boxed our way forward with some difficulty after overcoming the initial shock of the T-34. We were always careful, using treachery and cunning.

One morning, when I crawled out of our “heroes’ basement”—a hole about half a meter deep dug out under our tank between the tracks—I saw that it had snowed for the first time. It was my twenty-seventh birthday.

Together with Leutnant Küspert, I received orders to reconnoiter. At a godforsaken hour, I moved cross-country in my tank in the direction of Mzensk.

Without encountering any resistance, we reached the western edges of the city when it turned light. I was all by myself, since Küspert’s vehicle had become disabled on the way. Even then, there was an advantage: He was able to relay my radio messages to the company, since the distance was too great for my five-watt transmitter.

I moved through a Russian field position and saw bundled-up Ivans crawling around in their holes, tired and bleary eyed. The waved to me in a friendly fashion, as if they wanted to say: “Nice that tanks are here!” That we were the bad guys was something they could not see on account of the hazy weather. We left them alone in their beliefs. In fact, I even turned my cap around so that they did not get any dumb ideas.4 After all, I had to hang out of the cupola a bit in order to take a look around.

It appeared that “reveille” had been sounded in Mzensk. Things started to come to life in the village and along its edge. I saw a few tanks behind the house gables, as well as a few infantrymen getting coffee. Mzensk was spread out in front of me like an open book. But I wasn’t allowed to fire; I was simply on a reconnaissance mission. It would have been a piece of cake if the other tanks of the battalion had been behind me!

I radioed back my observations, attempted to calm my nerves, and continued to observe conscientiously.

It suddenly occurred to me that we had a steep slope behind us, which hadn’t caused any concern when we descended it beforehand. How were we supposed to get back up it fast enough, if we suddenly had to scram? The engine had been turned off for some time. As a security precaution, we turned it over again. Unfortunately, it made a horrific noise. Ivan probably recognized us at that point. I heard a trumpeter’s signals coming out of the city and saw everything grow frenzied. The tanks fired up their engines and moved out of their camouflaged positions. It was high time we disappeared.

With some trepidation, we slowly moved back up the slope, our weapons directed forward and ready to fire. It seemed to take an eternity before we were on the crest. With a sigh of relief, we then turned around and toddled off. No, it was not a flight. We had more than accomplished out reconnaissance mission.

On the radio, I heard that our 2nd Battalion was moving out to attack Mzensk. In the snow flurries that had just started, I saw our tanks, looking like shadows, scurrying over the rise. Oberleutnant Wollschläger was once again point with his 6th Company. We integrated ourselves into the ranks of our 5th Company.

Arthur Wollschläger has provided the following firsthand account of the fighting for Mzensk:

Early on the morning of 10 October, there were an orders conference and preparations for attack in Scheino. Another attack on Mzensk, despite the misery there yesterday. I had a small treasure in my possession, a captured Russian map. A smaller bridge was marked on it south of the large Suscha crossing. Our 6th Company was directed to take the lead again. The engineers of the battalion’s engineer platoon were directed to mount up on the tanks.

We advanced cross-country in the midst of heavy snow squalls. Overnight there had been a deep snowfall. No tank tracks from the previous day; no paths could be seen. There was nothing to orient on far and wide. On top of that, you couldn’t see more than 100 meters. Despite that, I had the excellent Russian map, which showed exact contour intervals and other features; even the smallest of field paths were marked.

I had drilled into my head the exact route we were to take. After leaving the outskirts of Scheino, I only had to follow the ridgeline. According to the map, it led directly to my objective. If the tank started canting to the right, then the driver only had to pull left and vice-versa. The distance to the bridge was known, and the four paths we had to cross could be felt in the tank, whenever the tracks rattled across the frozen ruts in the roadway.

After crossing the fourth path, we turned by plan on an angle of forty-five degrees to the east and ran . . . right into the bridge. Since all of Kampfgruppe Eberbach was following my tracks, getting “disoriented” would have been disaster. As already mentioned, however, the precise Russian map with the thorough entries helped, as did the fact that the thick snow squalls removed us from the enemy’s observation.

The prepared demolitions could be easily seen on the bridge. I saw a hut on the far side of the river, which had bundles of straw on the west side to act as a wind guard. In front of them was a group of bundled-up Russian soldiers, undoubtedly the guards for the bridge, which had been earmarked for demolition.

I waved to the Russians. They were supposed to come over to me. I was right at the river with my tank. Four engineers were shivering behind my turret. About six Russians soldiers approached me hesitantly along the bridge. Our weapons were directed towards the detonators.

The Russians slowly reached the middle of the bridge. Suddenly, there was a hard bang next to my left ear. Despite the headset, it hurt and stung. A Russian collapsed. One of the engineers had lost his nerves and had fired from behind the turret. It was completely unnecessary and in contravention of our proven tactics.

For better or for worse, I had to issue fire commands to my tanks. After a few bursts, the hut was on fire. Oberfeldwebel Steger and two men from the engineer platoon sprang across the bridge, which could have gone up at any minute. They went to the main place where the detonators were placed and cut the cords. Others ripped the lines from the charges.

The tanks moved across the swaying bridge slowly and carefully. It creaked and groaned under their weight but, thank God, it held!

Under the command of Leutnant Lech, the engineers remained at the bridge to secure it. We raced through the streets of the small town towards the large bridge over the Suscha. We saw heavy tanks there. Nothing we wanted! I reported the situation by radio, and we then broke through a fence into a backyard and played the part of a “shrinking violet.”

A group of Russian soldiers came out of the house towards my tank. I fired my pistol at short range. They fled, with a couple of them remaining behind, most likely hit. One man threw himself into the dead angle next to my tank. I needed to act quickly! I was able to get to him by means of a hand grenade.

For the time being, the few tanks of my company remained concealed, and we listened to the sharp sounds of battle coming from the city. We dismounted and, as a precautionary measure, set up the overrun fence again. We waited for our hour to come. Not very dramatic, but stressful and nerve wracking.

After that short break—we did not receive any orders—we moved back towards the bridge. We encountered Oberst Eberbach on the way, and he praised our 6th Company.

As part of the viewing audience, we saw how an 8.8 Flak knocked out a big boy on the bridge. Oberleutnant Ehrenberg and Oberleutnant von Gerdtell then succeeded in knocking out two KV-I’s at pointblank range. That broke the spell!

Although half a dozen Russian tanks broke through, they were taken under fire by the tanks further to the rear, with one T-34 being set on fire. A friendly tank, which had a stuck round, was hit.

From the northern edge of the city, you could hear the sound of numerous heavy enemy tanks. Additional Russian tanks were reported from the direction of the west bridge. The situation was made more difficult by the fact that the command tank of Oberstleutnant Hochbaum, of all people, had damaged the bridge. As a result, a 10-centimeter cannon and an 8.8 Flak had to be manhandled carefully across the bridge. The situation grew more threatening by the minute. There was no longer any way back.

A squad of combat engineers laid fifteen mines on the main road. The 10-centimeter cannon finally got into position. Heavy enemy tanks were already attacking from the direction of Tula and from the west. One rumbled onto a mine; another was knocked out by the cannon. That gave us a little breathing room for a while. Then the grenadiers of the 33rd started arriving on foot, with the regimental commander, Oberst Grolig, in front. The motorized riflemen were employed directly from the march in the southern part of the city, where the Russians were also attacking with infantry at that point. Screening in the direction of Tula were only a few tanks, a platoon of riflemen and one 8.8 Flak.

It was right there that the Russians struck with six heavy tanks and infantry at just the same time as more enemy forces were being reported at the west bridge. The situation turned critical. The 8.8 succeeded in knocking out three heavy Russian tanks. That brought the charging Russian infantry to a standstill. The remaining enemy tanks turned back.

Our little group of tanks had turned even smaller. Towards midnight, we were pulled back. We rolled out of that witches’ cauldron, where the motorized riflemen were in the process of digging positions and setting up barricades against the Russian tanks, so that the important crossings over the Suscha bridgehead could be held.

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