May 29, 2011
THE LOST DIARY
It all began when my Father died in March 1997 and we had the sad task of sorting out his personal papers amongst which we came across the mystery diary. The diary was written in German and we presumed that a WW2 Soldier wrote it.
Our Son took the Diary to Loughborough University where he was studying and his Dutch Tutor subsequently translated the diary to English for us. On reading the translation it was a personal insight into a young German Soldier fighting in WW2 his experiences, thoughts and fears for the future ending abruptly in October 1942 at the onset of the Battle of El Alamein.
We had no idea how this Diary came into my Father’s possession but as I am particularly interested in Family History thought it would be a nice gesture to return the Diary to Hubert or his surviving family. The challenge was now set and how was I going to start this mission. I decided to join the Anglo-German FHS as to me this was an obvious course to take, as the Society would have the necessary finding aids and a Magazine, which was distributed, throughout the World.
I first of all obtained a list of names from the Berlin Telephone Book provided by the Society and wrote to eight German people with the surname of Topp. Six people replied saying they could not help me but the seventh person recommended I get in touch with the Deutsche Dienststelle as this organisation dealt with the fate of German Soldiers. The second thing I did was to put an advert in the Mitteilungsblatt and this was in the March 1999 issue of the Anglo-German Family History Society. From the advert I had a reply from a lady in Canada, a member of the Anglo-German History Society, with a suggestion that although she didn’t know where Hubert was Erich Topp may know. I then wrote to Erich Topp who replied to me immediately but although he couldn’t help me turned out to be one of the Commander’s of the U-Boats in WW2!!
The next step was to write to the Deutsche Dienststelle and they were most helpful and in fact traced Hubert for me. The Deutsche Dienststelle forwarded my letter to Hubert which said “Dear Herr Topp, I believe, at last, that I have found my young German Soldier who will be 79 on Sunday” to which he replied “Yes I am your young German Soldier”. What a surprise Hubert had he couldn’t believe that a Diary of his left in the desert years ago had turned up after all this time. Hubert then filled in the details of what happened to him after October 1942 and how he went on to fight the War ending up in Warsaw and how he was severely injured which resulted in his leg being amputated. Hubert married in 1945, not to his sweetheart mentioned in the Diary, but to Ruth and had a family of five. Hubert then became a teacher and taught for 40 years before he retired.
My husband and I flew to Germany in December 1999 where Hubert and his family made us most welcome. I subsequently returned his Diary that he had left in a vehicle when the German Army had to retreat due to the advancing British in the Battle of El Alamein.
This story had a wonderful ending and the help received from various people was tremendous particularly those who did all my translations as without this vital assistance Hubert and I would not have been able to correspond. As to the future our two families wish to continue to keep in touch and in fact Hubert’s daughter has been over to England to stay with us.
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WWII Diary of a German Soldier
Helga Herzog Godfrey
I was born and raised in Germany. After my father’s death, my mother spent many winters with my husband and I here in Florida. During these visits, she and I transcribed my father’s World War II diaries into German from the old “Gabelsberger” shorthand, which only Mama was able to read. Subsequently, I translated them into English.
These diaries fortunately were discovered by my sister Sigrid in the attic upon the sale of the old family home after my father’s passing in 1989. She felt Mama and I should translate these books for the family. At a later point many friends and acquaintances encouraged me, to publish this diary, to document his thoughts, experiences, and innermost feelings from the beginning of his conscripted military service in 1939 through 1946, when he returned home after being released from a French POW labor camp. During the latter part of 1946 and into 1947, an epilog describes his daily struggles to return to normalcy, the resumption of his teaching career, and the search for food to feed his family. He describes his touching love for his family, as well as his anger and hatred for the insane war and its inept leaders. A war, he was forced to participate in as an ordinary German soldier. Many times he naively commented very unfavorably, sometimes using “choice words” about Hitler, the Nazi Party, and his superiors, a risk, if found out, could have cost him his life.
I myself have many memories of the war and its horrors as a little girl without a father, spending night after night in a bunker, the “liberation” of our small town by the Americans. This has left deep and lasting impressions on me.
Later on, I met a wonderful American with whom I fell in love and married, with my father proudly walking me down the aisle. This, in spite of the resentment he held against Americans, for shamefully turning him over to the French as a forced labor POW.
I remember his sadness, when his little “Murschel”, as he used to call me, left for America with his conviction that if he was lucky, he may be able to see me only once more during his lifetime. However, he was able to enjoy many trips to the United States and I with my family visited my parents often in Germany.
After reading his legacy, I knew, I have my beloved father’s permission to share his writings with others, and by doing so, honor his memory.
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By David Crossland
BERLIN: A guilt-ridden account of an ordinary German soldier’s experiences in World War Two is countering a recent trend among historians to portray Germans as victims of the war.
Willy Peter Reese, an infantryman who fought on the Russian front and died in 1944 aged 23, kept a diary of how German soldiers killed scores of prisoners of war, committed rape, threw pregnant women and children out of their homes and stole food.
Stern magazine has printed excerpts of Reese’s graphic book, “Stranger to Myself”, ahead of its publication this month.
“We were without feeling for the suffering of others,” Reese wrote. “We bragged about what we had conquered and about the effect a pistol could have on a defenceless woman.”
Reese, a slight man with round spectacles who wrote poems and was keen on literature and the arts, typed the diary into a manuscript during his last leave in 1944.
His mother kept it for decades. After her death, it was passed on to his cousin who set about seeking a publisher.
“He chronicled his own degeneration, that’s what attracted us to his work,” said Claus Carlsberg, spokesman for the Ullstein-Heyne-List publishing house.
“I think this text could help break the silence between the generations. Almost everyone has a relative who was a soldier, and the soldiers tend to be reluctant to talk about it.”
Reese’s account shows how the Nazi war machine corrupted ordinary people. It gives an insight into how a cultured, educated nation obediently followed Hitler into a war of conquest and destruction.
SETTING RECORD STRAIGHT: The book also contrasts with a recent focus that, according to historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler, has been threatening to obscure the country’s view of its past.
Books, magazine articles and TV documentaries have in the past two years shifted the historical debate to the suffering of Germans in Allied bombing raids and their mass eviction from eastern territories after the war.
Wehler, a historian at Bielefeld University, said: “We mustn’t forget it was Germany that launched total war, that the British with their bombings were reacting to the German Blitz.
“We have to prevent history getting totally distorted. I find this view sinister if it isn’t embedded in the right context.”
Reese, the son of a tax accountant, was a 20-year-old trainee bank clerk in the western city of Duisburg when he was called up in February 1941.
He was transferred to the eastern front in late 1941, and fought in the 95th Infrantry Division in Ukraine, Belarus, west of Moscow and in southern Russia.
With brutal honesty, Reese describes being part of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the most ruthless, bloody and gigantic military assault in history.
“The dead piled up and the desperate fought on behind the walls of their corpses. My comrades fell, blown to pieces by direct hits, wounded or with nervous breakdowns,” he wrote.
His diaries tell of cruelty and rape by ordinary German soldiers, and track their decline into a numb, alcoholic stupor as “an inferno of fire, steel and blood” raged around them.
“We danced in the railway carriages and fired into the air, made a captured Russian woman dance naked for us and smeared her with boot polish, we made her as drunk as we were,” wrote Reese.
Germans had long clung to the notion that it was only Hitler’s SS troops, and not ordinary soldiers — their fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles — who killed Jews, Soviet prisoners of war and civilians.
But since the 1990s, a controversial touring exhibition on the Wehrmacht’s war against the Soviet Union, with photographs, documents and eyewitness accounts, has disproved that view.
Reese hated the Nazis but had a simple explanation for his obedience. “We didn’t want this. But we preferred to submit ourselves to the fate of battle…than to the certain death through the courts.”
Wounded several times, Reese volunteered to return to the front. He wrote that his soul had “rotted” and that he was “lost”. The last words in his manuscript are “I loved life.”
Reese went missing in June 1944 near the Belarus town of Witebsk, some 500 km west of Moscow, as the Germany army struggled to slow the Soviet advance towards Berlin.
Twenty-five years later, the Red Cross informed his mother that he was probably killed in action.—Reuters
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Stalingrad: A Turning Point
In July 1942, the Germans resumed their advance into the U.S.S.R. begun the previous summer, seeking to conquer Stalingrad, a vital transportation center located on the Volga River. Germans and Russians battled with dogged ferocity over every part of the city; 99 percent of Stalingrad was reduced to rubble. A Russian counteroffensive in November trapped the German Sixth Army. Realizing that the Sixth Army, exhausted and short of weapons, ammunition, food, and medical supplies, faced annihilation, German generals pleaded in vain with Hitler to permit withdrawal before the Russians closed the ring. On February2, 1943, the remnants of the Sixth Army surrendered. More than a million people-Russian civilians and soldiers, Germans and their Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian allies-perished in the epic struggle for Stalingrad. The Russian victory was a major turning point in the war.
DIARY OF A GERMAN SOLDIER
The following entries in the diary of William Hoffman, a German soldier who perished at Stalingrad, reveal the decline in German confidence as the battle progressed. While the German army was penetrating deeply into Russia, he believed that victory was not far away and dreamed of returning home with medals. Then the terrible struggles in Stalingrad made him curse the war.
Today, after we’d had a bath, the company commander told us that if our future operations are as successful, we’ll soon reach the Volga, take Stalingrad and then the war will quickly end. I believe that the Fuhrer will carry the thing through to a successful end.
July 29 1942. . . . The company commander says the Russian troops are completely broken, and cannot hold out any longer. To reach the Volga and takeStalingrad is not so difficult for us. The Fiihrer knows where the Russians’ weak point is. Victory is not far away. . . .
August 2. . . . What great spaces the Soviets occupy, what rich fields there are to be had here after the war’s over! Only let’s get it over
August 10. . . . The Fuhrer’s orders were read inevitably soon be over. Perhaps we’ll be home out to us. He expects victory of us. We are all by Christmas. convinced that they can’t stop us.
August 12. We are advancing towardsStalingrad along the railway line. Yesterday Russian “katyushi” [small rocket launchers] and then tanks halted our regiment. “The Russians are throwing in their last forces,” Captain Werner explained to me. Large-scale help is coming up for us, and the Russians will be beaten. This morning outstanding soldiers were presented with decorations. . . . Will I really go back to Elsa without a decoration? I believe that forStalingrad the Fiihrer will decorate evenme.. . .
August 23. Splendid news-north of Stalingrad our troops have reached theVolga and captured part of the city. The Russians have two alternatives, either to flee across theVolga or give themselves up. Our company’s interpreter has interrogated a captured Russian officer. He was wounded, but asserted that the Russians would fight forStalingrad to the last round. Something incomprehensible is, in fact, going on. In the north our troops capture a part of Stalingrad and reach theVolga, but in the south the doomed divisions are continuing to resist bitterly. Fanaticism. . . .
August 27. A continuous cannonade on all sides. We are slowly advancing. Less than twenty miles to go toStalingrad. In the daytime we can see the smoke of fires, at night time the bright glow. They say that the city is on fire; on the Fiihrer’s orders our Luftwaffe [air force] has sent it up in flames. That’s what the Russians need, to stop them from resisting . . .
September 4. We are being sent northward along the front towardsStalingrad. We marched all night and by dawn had reached Voroponovo Station. We can already see the smoking town. It’s a happy thought that the end of the war is getting nearer. That’s what everyone is saying. If only the days and nights would pass more quickly . . .
September 5. Our regiment has been ordered to attack Sadovaya station-that’s nearly in Stalingrad. Are the Russians really thinking of holding out in the city itself? We had no peace all night from the Russian artillery and aero planes. Lots of wounded are being brought by. God protect me . . .
September 8. Two days of non-stop fighting. The Russians are defending themselves with insane stubbornness. Our regiment has lost many men from [he “katyushi,” which belch out terrible fire. I have been sent to work at battalion H.Q. It must be mother’s prayersthat have taken me away from the company’s trenches . . .
September 11 . Our battalion is fighting in the suburbs ofStalingrad. We can already see theVolga; firing is going on all the time. Wherever you look is fire and flames. . . . Russian cannon and machine-guns are firing out of the burning city. Fanatics. . .
September 13. An unlucky number. This morning “katyushi” attacks caused the company heavy losses: twenty-seven dead and fifty wounded. The Russians are fighting desperately like wild beasts, don’t give themselves up, but come up close and then throw grenades. Lieutenant Kraus was killed yesterday, and there is no company commander.
September 16. Our battalion, plus tanks, is attacking the [grain storage] elevator, from which smoke is pouring-the grain in it is burning, the Russians seem to have set light to it themselves. Barbarism. The battalion is suffering heavy losses. There are not more than sixty men left in each company. The elevator is occupied not by men but by devils that no flames or bullets can destroy.
September 18. Fighting is going on inside the elevator. The Russians inside are condemned men; the battalion commander says: “The commissars have ordered those men to die in the elevator.” If all the buildings of Stalingrad are defended like this then none of our soldiers will get back toGermany. I had a letter from Elsa today. She’s expecting me home when victory’swon.
September 20. The battle for the elevator is still going on. The Russians are firing on allsides. We stay in our cellar; you can’t go out into the street. Sergeant-Major Nuschke waskilled today running across a street. Poor fellow, he’s got three children.
September 22. Russian resistance in the elevator has been broken. Our troops are advancing towards theVolga. . . .. . . Our old soldiers have never experiencedsuch bitter fighting before.
September 26. Our regiment is involved inconstant heavy fighting. After the elevator was taken the Russians continued to defend themselves just as stubbornly. You don’t see them at all, they have established themselves in houses and cellars and are firing on all sides, including from our rear-barbarians, they use gangster methods. In the blocks captured two days ago Russian soldiers appeared from somewhere or other and fighting has flared up with fresh vigour. Our men are being killed not only in the firing line, but in the rear, in buildings we have already occupied. The Russians have stopped surrendering at all. If we take any prisoners it’s because they are hopelessly wounded, and can’t, move by themselves.Stalingradis hell. Those who are merely wounded are lucky; they will doubtless be at home and celebrate victory with their families. . . .
September 28. Our regiment, and the whole division, are today celebrating victory. Together with our tank crews we have taken the southern part of the city and reached the Volga. We paid dearly for our victory. In three weeks we have occupied about five and a half square miles. The commander has congratulated us on our victory. . . .
October 3. After marching through the night we have established ourselves in a shrubcovered gully. We are apparently going to attack the factories, the chimneys of which we can see clearly. Behind them is theVolga. We have entered a new area. It was night but we saw many crosses with our helmets on top. Have we really lost so many men? Damn this Stalingrad!
October 4. Our regiment is attacking the Barrikady settlement. A lot of Russian tommy gunners have appeared. Where are they bringing them from?
October 5. Our battalion has gone into the attack four times, and got stopped each time. Russian snipers hit anyone who shows himself carelessly from behind shelter.
October 10. The Russians are so close to us that our planes cannot bomb them. We are preparing for a decisive attack. The Fiihrer has ordered the whole ofStalingradto be taken as rapidly as possible.
October 14. It has been fantastic since morning: our aeroplanes and artillery have been hammering the Russian positions for hours on end; everything in sight is being blotted from the face of the earth. . . .
October 22. Our regiment has failed to break into the factory. We have lost many men; every time you move you have to jump over bodies. You can scarcely breathe in the daytime: there is nowhere and no one to remove the bodies, so they are left there to rot. Who would have thought three months ago that instead of the joy of victory we would have to endure such sacrifice and torture, the end of which is nowhere in sight? . . .
The soldiers are callingStalingradthe mass grave of the Wehrmacht [German army]. There are very few men left in the companies. We have been told we are soon going to be withdrawn to be brought back up to strength.
October 27. Our troops have captured the whole of the Barrikady factory, but we cannot break through to theVolga. The Russians are not men, but some kind of cast-iron creatures; they never get tired and are not afraid of fire. We are absolutely exhausted; our regiment now has barely the strength of a company. The Russian artillery at the other side of theVolgawon’t let you lift your head. . . .
October 28. Every soldier sees himself as a condemned man. The only hope is to be wounded and taken back to the rear. . . .
November 3. In the last few days our battalion has several times tried to attack the Russian positions, . . . to no avail. On this sector also the Russians won’t let you lift your head. There have been a number of cases of self inflicted wounds and malingering among the men. Every day I write two or three reports about them.
November 10. A letter from Elsa today. Everyone expects us home for Christmas. In Germany everyone believes we already holdStalingrad. How wrong they are. If they could only see whatStalingrad has done to our army.
November 18. Our attack with tanks yesterday had no success. After our attack the field was littered with dead.
November 21. The Russians have gone over to the offensive along the whole front. Fierce fighting is going on. So, there it is- -theVolga, victory and soon home to our families! We shall obviously be seeing them next in the other world.
November 29. We are encircled. It was announced this morning that the Fuhrer has said: “The army can trust me to do everything necessary to ensure supplies and rapidly break the encirclement.”
December 3. We are on hunger rations and waiting for the rescue that the Fuhrer promised. I send letters home, but there is no reply.
December 7. Rations have been cut to such an extent that the soldiers are suffering terribly from hunger; they are issuing one loaf of stale bread for five men.
December 1 . Three questions are obsessing every soldier and officer: When will the Russians stop firing and let us sleep in peace, if only for one night? How and with what are we going to fill our empty stomachs, which, apart from 3%-7 ozs of bread, receive virtually nothing at all? And when will Hitler take any decisive steps to free our armies from encirclement?
December 14. Everybody is racked with hunger. Frozen potatoes are the best meal, but toget them out of the ice-covered ground under fire from Russian bullets is not so easy.
December 18. The officers today told the soldiers to be prepared for action. General Manstein is approachingStalingradfrom the south with strong forces. This news brought hope to the soldiers’ hearts. God, let it be!
December 21. We are waiting for the order, but for some reason or other it has been a long time coming. Can it be that it is not true about Manstein? This is worse than any torture.
December 23. Still no orders. It was all a bluff with Manstein. Or has he been defeated at the approaches toStalingrad?
December 25. The Russian radio has announced the defeat of Manstein. Ahead of us is either death or captivity.
December 26. The horses have already been eaten. I would eat a cat; they say its meat isalso tasty. The soldiers look like corpses or lunatics, looking for something to put in their mouths. They no longer take cover from Russian shells; they haven’t the strength to walk, run away and hide. A curse on this war! . . .
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Anton Kuzmich Dragan
A SOVIET VETERAN RECALLS
Lieutenant Anton Kuzmich Dragan, a Russian soldier of 13th Guard division of the Red Army, describes the vicious street fighting
in Stalingrad during late September 1942.
Anton Kuzmich Dragan
A SOVIET VETERAN RECALLS (1942)
Anton Kuzmich Dragan, a Russian soldier, describes the vicious street fighting in Stalingrad during September 1942.
The Germans had cut us off from our neighbours. The supply of ammunition had been cut off, every bullet was worth its weight in gold. I gave the order to economize on ammunition, to collect the cartridge-pouches of the dead and all captured weapons. In the evening the enemy again tried to break our resistance, coming up close to our positions. As our numbers grew smaller, we shortened our line of defence. We began to move back slowly towards the Volga, drawing the enemy after us, and the ground we occupied was invariably too small for the Germans to he able easily to use artillery and aircraft.
We moved back, occupying one building after another, turning them into strongholds. A soldier would crawl out of an occupied position only when the ground was on fire under him and his clothes were smouldering. During the day the Germans managed to occupy only two blocks.
At the crossroads of Krasnopiterskaya and Komsomolskaya Streets we occupied a three-storey building on the corner. This was a good position from which to fire on all comers and it became our last defence. I ordered all entrances to be barricaded, and windows and embrasures to be adapted so that we could fire through them with all our remaining weapons.
At a narrow window of the semi-basement we placed the heavy machine-gun with our emergency supply of ammunition—the last belt of cartridges. I had decided to use it at the most critical moment.
Two groups, six in each, went up to the third floor and the garret. Their job was to break down walls, and prepare lumps of stone and beams to throw at the Germans when they came up close_ A place for the seriously wounded was set aside in the basement. Our garrison consisted of furry men. Difficult days began. Attack after attack broke unendingly like waves against us. After each attack was beaten oft we felt it was impossible to hold off the onslaught any longer, bur when the Germans launched a fresh attack, we managed to find means and strength. This lasted five days and nights.
The basement was full of wounded; only twelve men were still able to fight. There was no water. All we had left in the way of food was a few pounds of scorched grain; the Germans decided to hear us with starvation. Their attacks stopped, bur they kept up the tire from their heavy-calibre machine-guns all the time.
We did not think about escape, but only about how to sell our lives most dearly—we had no other way our….
The Germans attacked again. I ran upstairs with my men and could see their thin, blackened and strained faces, the bandages on their wounds, dirty and clotted with blood, their guns held firmly in their hands. There was no fear in their eyes. Lyuba Nestercnko, a nurse, was dying, with blood flowing from a wound in her chest. She had a bandage in her hand. Before she died she wanted to help to bind someone’s wound, but she failed….
The German attack was beaten off. In the silence that gathered around us we could hear the bitter fighting going on for Mameyev Kurgan and in the factory area of the city.
How could we help the men defending the city? How could we divert from over them even a part of the enemy forces, which had stopped attacking our building?
We decided to raise a red flag over the building, so that the Nazis would not think we had given up. But we had no red material. Understanding what we wanted to do, one of the men who was severely wounded took off his bloody vest and, after wiping the blood off his wound with it, handed it over to me.
The Germans shouted through a mega-phone: “Russians! Surrender! You’ll die just the same!”
At that moment a red flag rose over our building.
“Bark, you dogs! We’ve still got a long time to live!” shouted my orderly, Kozhushko.
We beat off the next attack with stones, firing occasionally and throwing our last grenades. Suddenly from behind a blank wall from the rear, came the grind of a tank’s cater-pillar tracks. We had no anti-tank grenades All we had left was one anti-tank rifle with three rounds. I handed this rifle to an anti-tank man, Berdyshev, and sent him out through the hack to tae at the rank point-blank. But before he could get into position he was captured by German tommy-gunners What Berdyshev told the Germans I don’t know, bur I can guess that he led them up the garden path, because an hour later they starred to attack at precisely that point where I had put my machine-gun with its emergency belt of cartridges.
This time, reckoning that we had run our of ammunition, they came impudently out of their shelter, standing up and shouting. They came down the street in a column.
I put the last belt in the heavy machine-gun at the semi-basement window and sent the whole of the 250 bullets into the yelling, dirty-grey Nazi mob. I was wounded in the hand but did not leave go of the machine-gun. Heaps of bodies littered the ground. The Germans still alive ran for cover in panic. An hour later they led our anti-tank rifleman on to a heap of ruins and shot him in front of our eyes, for having shown them the way to my machine-gun.
There were no more attacks. An avalanche of shells fell on the building. The Germans stormed at us with every possible kind of weapon. We couldn’t raise our heads.
Again we heard the ominous sound of tanks. From behind a neighbouring block stocky German tanks began to crawl out. This, clearly, was the end. The guardsmen said good-bye o one another. With a dagger my orderly scratched on a brick wall: “Rodimtsev’s guardsmen fought and died for their country here.” The battalion’s documents and a map case containing the Party and Komsomol cards of the defenders of the building had been put in a hole in a corner of the basement. The first salvo shattered the silence. There were a series of blows, and the building rocked and collapsed. How much later it was when I opened my eyes, I don’t know. It was dark. The air was full of acrid brickdust. I could hear muffled groans around me Kozhushko, the orderly, was pulling at me:
On the floor of the basement lay a number of other stunned and injured soldiers. We had been buried alive under the ruins of the three-storey building. We could scarcely breathe_ We had no thought for food or water–it was air that had become most important for survival. I spoke to the soldiers:
“Men! We did not flinch in battle, we fought even when resistance seemed impossible, and we have to get out of this tomb so that we can live and avenge the death of our comrade”
Even in pitch darkness you can see some-body else’s Ewe, feel other people close to you.
With great difficulty we began to pick our way out of the tomb. We worked in silence, our bodies covered with cold, clammy sweat, our badly-bound wounds ached, our teeth were covered with brickdust, it became more and more difficult to breathe- but there were no groans or complaints.
A few hours later, through the hole we had made, we could see the stars and breathe the fresh September air.
Utterly exhausted, the men crowded round the hole, greedily gulping in the autumn air. Soon the opening was wide enough for a man to crawl through. Kozhushku, being only relatively slightly injured, went off to reconnoiter. An hour later he came back and reported:
“Comrade Lieutenant, there are Germans all round us; along the Volga they are mining the bank; there are German patrols nearby…”
We took the decision to fight our way through to our own lines.
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