Stalingrad – Gigantic Field of Ruins

I’ve been reading Winter Storm: The Battle for Stalingrad and the Operation to Rescue 6th Army by Hans Wijers. It is full of first hand German accounts of combat in Stalingrad. The phrase that struck me most was “gigantic field of ruins”. In fact “field of ruins” is often mentioned so I thought I’d collate some of the descriptions.

Stalingrad - Gigantic Field of Ruins

Stalingrad – Gigantic Field of Ruins

The book is available from Amazon (USA, UK, and Canada):

Wijers, H. (2012). Winter Storm: The Battle for Stalingrad and the Operation to Rescue 6th Army. Stackpole Military History Series. Stackpile Books.

Now for some quotes …

These giant factories were crisscrossed by railways for the transport of raw materials and finished products. The factories contained smelting ovens (so-called Martin ovens), rolling mills, forges, and other equipment. (p. 5-6)

These factories – which consisted of multiple halls reduced to rubble by constant shelling – offered good shelter to the Soviet defenders (p. 6)

The tanks crept forward over mountains of rubble and scrap iron and fired on Russian soldiers who showed themselves. The tanks were often engaged by antitank guns and destroyed before they spotted their own targets. Screeching and rumbling, they drove through the large factory halls, rolling machines and work benches into the concrete. In an assault they advanced through the vertical holes for molten metal that led down to the Volga (p.7)

Tanks climbed hills of rubble and scrap, crawled screeching through the destroyed halls and fired at point-blank range into the ruined streets and narrow factory courts. Many tanks shuddered or broke with the force of an exploding enemy mine. (p. 12)

Now the fighting is for the big factories. Every house must have been destroyed, and often battles are fought for mounds of rubble. The artillery is smashing into it, tanks and infantry comb the streets, and this is the toughest work. Everyone who gets out of this alive may thank God. (Otto Lanz, p. 17)

‘STW’ [Stalingrad tractor works] (p. 21)

Apart from concentrated charges and flamethrowers, entrenching tools and my engineer’s axe were the best weapons in the hand-to-hand combat.

Really it was more of a necessity because, when my small group was overrun for the first time, we of course lost our concentrated charges and flamethrowers. But entrenching tools and axes made for good replacements. On October 15 and 16, we were overrun several times and then had to fight westward and then again eastward. Then and again, the Soviets were on the first floor of the factory and [we] were on thew ground floor and vice-versa.

Gawenda was one of the best ‘Indians’. Armed only with an entrenching tool, he would overpower a Soviet sentry silently, after which the rest of the group finished off the remaining Russians. The battle for the tractor factory was really nothing more than a series of daily hand-to-hand engagements for the possession of this or that part of the works with the subterranean connections, which we utilized as well as the Soviets.

(Alfred von Habsburg zu Hohenberg, p. 24-25)

On the morning of October 17, we were in the ruins of the factory. Then we were ordered to cross the open terrain to the factory halls. That was a desert of rubble in which everything lay scattered around (Helmut Walz, p. 39)

In the factory halls. The battle raged between the ruins of walls and between twisted sheets and knots of iron bars (p. 43)

In front of us, there are shell holes, slabs of stone, mounds of rubble, surmounted by the screaming of shells and the roar of impacts. At every impact, the skin on my back and in my necks crawls. We move in a zigzag pattern, crawl across stones and beams, stumble, lie on the ground, stand up, and hurry onward. (Gunter K. Koschorrek, p. 49)

Carefully, we sneak forward, and then we come to a piece of open ground: ploughed-up earth and concrete blocks in which iron beams hare [sic] stuck, possibly a former bunker that was destroyed by our bombs. A long wall stretches away on the other side of the field of ruins. Three pillars still stand upright. (Gunter K. Koschorrek, p. 49)

Ivan is firing like mad at the ploughed terrain, which we have to cross (Gunter K. Koschorrek, p. 49)

We run through the maze of stones, wire and iron parts. None can be seen. We sneak along the wall and come to the entrance of a cellar. (Gunter K. Koschorrek, p. 50)

The shells come howling in and explode all round us. The bombardment falls on us like a tearing animal, and we crawl and hide in a cellar that is half bombed away. (Gunter K. Koschorrek, p. 53)

Even now, it became clear that the most important center of Soviet resistance was Hall 4, the big Martin oven factory, from whose ruins mad machine-gun fire lashed out. As firing also occurred from the high chimneys, the Soviets controlled not only the entire factory, but also the roads, ravines, and paths leading up to it through the field of ruins. (p. 84)

The troops had been seized by a frightful nervousness, called up by the general feeling of insecurity in this gigantic field of ruins and the grisly fantastic lunar landscape (p. 85)

Then we’re at the railway. The ruins of destroyed and burned-out vehicles block the way. In the hollow in front of the embankment lie rows of dead Bolsheviks, many fully burned, a horrible sight. Behind the railway, a 40-meter-wide open field extends itself; it once housed a settlement. Today it is only a wide field of ruins; out of which two brick buildings stick, a water tower and a high ruin. (Herbert Rauchlaupt, p. 87-88)

Calmly, we look over the open terrain. Off we go! Without a shot falling, we cover the 100 meters to the water tower from crater to crater at a run. (Herbert Rauchlaupt, 89)

Again we race across the field of rubble. Ten meters, fifteen, twenty meters! Finally the ruin is reached! Everywhere, the countless bomb craters offer protection from view and fire. It’s only 150 meters to the industry railway at the edge of the factory.

Now go! Fifty meters in one entire bound! Fifty meters – that is not much. But it turns into a long road when one has to travel it under the eyes of the enemy in heavy boots and one is breathless and exhausted from the jumping advance across ruins, craters, and the remains of walls. In front of us, a three meter-high slope goes down, and then the factory grounds start. Right in front of us, between the half-destroyed Halls 3 and 5, lies the works road, littered with bricks and iron bars that have crashed down. (Herbert Rauchlaupt, p. 89)

In the works street we see, about sixty meters in front of us, a soldier on the left side sand up in the cover of a piece of wall that has been left standing. So the works road should be passable. In a jump we tumble down the slope and toward the wall. Suddenly, two shots whiz by us from the left and hit the wall of Hall 5 some paces to our right. Luckily, there is a deep bomb crater right at the foot of the factory hall. Into it – cover! Damn, where are these shots combing from? Here it is again, his eerie, horrid war; as it is being waged in Stalingrad for weeks. Not openly and honestly; but invisibly, sneakily, furtively. We crawl up to the other edge of the 4-meter-deep crater and carefully peek over the edge. (Herbert Rauchlaupt, p. 89-90)

In two paces, I am at the small crater which a bomb has made in the muddle of bricks (Herbert Rauchlaupt, p. 92)

We still have the rubble of a collapsed foreroom of Hall 5 in front of us before we can disappear behind the protective wall of the big machine hall. It’s only ten meters to there, ten meters across heaps of stone, iron beams, and bent metal plates – all in the invisible sniper’s line of fire. But less than two meters to our side, an opening leads us to a corridor behind the same wall; our bomb crater is joined to it on the outside. There we will be safe and able to quietly discuss the situation and look at the surroundings. (Herbert Rauchlaupt, p. 92-93)

We jump from cover to cover, crawl behind the remains of walls and hearths that still stand, indicating where houses once stood. Just a few more mounds of rubble and refuse and then we’re there. We climb into a potato cellar, down a rickety ladder. There is the company command post, where the remains of the 103rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment are led. (Joachim Stempel, p. 97)

From the distance, once more the deceptive shimmering facades of the white houses at the edge of the city greet us (Helmut Walz, p. 123)

The tactic of operating with the smallest assault parties gains ground day by day, through of small size, only yards, corners of houses, steps leading down, cellar holes (Helmut Walz, p. 123)

I explain my plan. I want to launch four strong assault parties. Everyone – thirty to forty men – is divided into an assault group and a security group. I sketch a schedule and not points for the attack order. The preparatory fire of artillery and infantry guns is to last only a few minutes in order not to lose the moment of surprise. Te penetration into the halls is not to take place through doors or windows. The entire corner of the hall is to be blown up. The forward observers accompany the leaders of the assault parties. The equipment of the assault parties consists of submachine guns, flamethrowers, hand grenades, concentrated charges, satchel charges, smoke canisters.

The security group has machine guns, submachine guns, explosives, and mines. The distance between both groups always is to be thirty meters. The ground gains is to be occupied immediately and secured by the following Croat battalion. (Helmut Walz, p. 124)

My escort is already waiting outside. The first dawn has removed the darkness of night. The terrain is dipped in a spooky half-darkness. Every square meter seems to have been ploughed over; bomb and shell craters as far as the eye can see. Here the small corner of a house is still standing. There one sees the steps leading down to a cellar. Between them, the smokestacks that remain standing stick out into the sky like admonishing fingers. Smoking heaps of rubble complete the picture. The stench of decay spoils the air. We hurry forward though a small balka. (Helmut Walz, p. 125)

New guys don’t last long. The old men who have been in Stalingrad since the beginning have completely adapted to this war, which is unlike any other German soldiers ever fought.

I look at my watch: shortly before four o’clock. The ordered rendezvous point, a small turret, is right in front of us. Three days before , it still was five meters high. Now it is a mound of rubble like any other. (Helmut Walz, p. 125)

With great intervals we hurry across rubble and stone, through whirling ashes (Helmut Walz, 125)

Across scarred roads and clattering roof plates, through clouds of fire and dust I hurry onward. the last meter! I’m there. (Helmut Walz, p. 126)

References

Wijers, H. (2012). Winter Storm: The Battle for Stalingrad and the Operation to Rescue 6th Army. Stackpole Military History Series. Stackpile Books.

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5 comments to Stalingrad – Gigantic Field of Ruins

  • Richard Burnett

    How does is compare with Beevor?
    and is there any point in wargaming any part of Stalingrad considering the German decisions already made?

  • Steven Thomas

    Different types of books. Wijers is more evocative. Beevor for strategic.

    Doesn’t your question about Stalingrad also apply to recreating any historical battle?

    Personally I am a fan of refighting historical battles. And I see considerable scope for wargaming in Stalingrad. Whether the whole campaign, a big assault covering a day or two with a division or so a side, or specific encounters between small units.

  • Richard Burnett

    Let me be specific. I would wargame a conflict or event before the issue had been settled. For example I would wargame the early portion prior to 6th armys encircleent, where the possibility of retreat existed, or where 4th panzer army could have made a difference, but not afterwards as such actions of the encircled 6th would have altered little or nothing
    Too many war games are built around “victory point outcomes” where the historical loser “wins” by doing a little better, as if that matters, than they did histotically.
    and there is the problem of play balance, in the immortal words of the director Roger Debris, “the third act has got to go, its so depressing, they are losing the war” (from Mel Brooks ” the Producers”) So we resort to altered orders of battle victory points, to include point count “armies” as ee see in BoltAction, and pronounce it bistorical becausewe got the uniforms correct (not) and the names right
    Evrn Jim Dunnigan drew a line, refusing to redo Midway because of the enormity of factors involved culminating in that miracle, seemingly a battle predetermined
    and yet the hobby war games everything, pronounces it all historical to the laughter of the other professionals, military histotical, logical, economic

    • Steven Thomas

      All fair points.

      As it happens my interest in Stalingrad is the period before the Soviet counter-offensive. That seems to fit your criteria.

      My own criteria is different. I look to history to provide two things for my wargaming – strategic / tactical challenges and period flavour / context. And of course I’d like a fun game.

      I am not concerned about the outcome of the game compared to history. The majority of my WW2 gaming is using Crossfire so the force sizes are small. Negligible in the grand scheme of things, so would have little impact on higher level events.

      A particular company of Germans beating a particular company of Russians will not change the course of history. But it can be a fun game, with interesting tactical challenges and tons of period flavour given it occurs in a gigantic field of ruins.

  • Richard Burnett

    A fun game??
    presenting tactical challenges?
    But we know the Russian tactics, we know how to bust the bocage. Much of war is in the solving of problems, presented by an opponent who has adapted or learned.
    Orders of battle are never as they appear in say, Osprey, not the uniforms. Michael Doublers Closing with the Enemy outlines the esson learning of the US Army, showing that the solution to the bocage happened after or as the bocage problem was solved.
    Our usual game presents us the solutions already, thatnew soviet tank, the js2, doesnt surorise the german in the game. But it did in 1944.
    The confusion of the parachute drop doesnt confuse the American or German, no German player is going to invrstigate those dummy parachutists since he Knows . better Snd nasty Ultra surprises dont exist in our games
    But thats bevause of the playbalance, meaning no one will play the volksturm at yhe Bulge or Berlin
    on the other hand, no one really wants to play Germans at all at the Normandy landings since they all lost against a hopeless situation that would have required a modt unhistorical remaking of everything German

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