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. By the end he is starving to death as is everyone around him.
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 towards Stalingrad 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 for Stalingrad 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 for Stalingrad 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 to Stalingrad. 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 towards Stalingrad. 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 of Stalingrad. 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.Stalingrad is 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 of Stalingrad to 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 calling Stalingrad the 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 hold Stalingrad. How wrong they are. If they could only see what Stalingrad 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 approaching Stalingrad from 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 to Stalingrad?
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 is also 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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