28. The Germans about the Russians

Wehrmacht’s officer: “We didn’t capture anyone particularly ‘cos the Russians always fought to the last man”

Fortitude of Russian Soldiers knows no borders. Letters, memoirs of Wehrmacht’s soldiers and officers demonstrate what sort of people Russian warriors emerged from the first days of war. They did not even think to retreat or surrender.


“My commander was twice older than me and he had already happened to fight against the Russian in Narva in 1917 when he had been a lieutenant. “Very here, on these vast expanses we’ll find our death like Napoleon” he couldn’t hide his pessimism… – Mende, keep this hour in mind. It signifies the end of former Germany” (Erich Mende, ober-lieutenant of the 8th Silesia infantry division about a conversation that took place in the last peaceful minutes, on the 22nd of June 1941)

“When we engaged the Russians for the first time they obviously didn’t expect us but we couldn’t consider them as unprepared. There wasn’t really any enthusiasm! (as for us) Everybody was rather seized by feeling of greatness of the forthcoming campaign. And immediately after that a question arose: Where, in which settlement will this campaign find the end?” (Alfred Dürwanger , lieutenant, commander  of antitank company of the 28th infantry division that advanced from Western Prussia across Suwalki)

“On the very first day as soon as we launched an attack one of our own shot himself with his weapon. Holding the rifle between the knees he put barrel into the mouth and pulled the trigger. In this way the war was over for him and all the horrors caused by it as well” (artilleryman of antitank gun Johann Danzer, Brest, 22nd of June 1941).

“Conduct of the Russians was absolutely different from the conduct of Poles and allies who failed on the Western front. Even being surrounded the Russians fought desperately” (General Günter Blumentritt, Chief of Staff of the 4th Army)

“Fierce battle to conquer the fortress – numerous losses… Where it was possible to beat out and drive out the Russians there new forces cropped up. They climbed out of the basements, houses, sewers and other temporary shelters, deliberately targeted and our losses increased continuously. (from combat reports of the 45th Wehrmacht’s infantry division which was charged to take Brest fortress. The division numbered 17 thousand military personnel against 8 thousand people of fortress’ garrison who were taken aback. Only for the first night of fighting in Russia division lost almost as much soldiers and officers as in 6 weeks in France).

“These metres became an utter violent fighting for us which never died down from the first day. All around was destroyed nearly to its very foundation. Almost all the buildings were razed to the ground. Sappers of attack team get on the roof just in front of us. They had explosive charges on long poles. They stuck them into the windows of upper floor to neutralize the enemy machine-gun nests. All but in vain – the Russians didn’t surrender. Most of them lurked in strong basements and fire of our artillery didn’t harm them. You can see an explosion, another one, silence for a moment and then they open fire again.” (Schneiderbauer, lieutenant, commander of platoon of 50mm antitank gun of 45th infantry division about the battles on the South island of Brest fortress).

“You can almost certainly say none of civilized inhabitants of the West would ever realize the character and soul of the Russians. Knowledge of Russian character would act as a key to get combat features of Russian soldier, his advantages and his methods of struggle on the battle field. Firmness and temper of a warrior have always been primary factors in the war and have often played more significant role than number and arms of troops… You can never say in advance what the Russian man is going to take: as a rule he rushes about from one extreme to another. His nature is as extraordinary and complicated as this huge and incomprehensible land itself… Sometimes Russian infantry battalions became confused after the very first shots but the next day the same units fought with fanatic resistance… All in all Russian man is undoubtedly a perfect soldier and under skilful leadership becomes a dangerous adversary.” (Mellenthin Friedrich von Wilhelm, major general of armoured crops, Chief of Staff of the 48th tank crops, subsequently Chief of Staff of the 4th tank army).

“On the Eastern front I met people who could be called peculiar race. Already, the first attack turned into a life-and-death struggle.” (Hans Beker, tanker of the 12th tank devision)

“During the attack we stumble on the light Russian tank T-26.  We urgently hit it from 37mm gun. When we were coming closer the hatch was opened and the Russian man stuck out. Only upper body. He started shooting a gun. It was clear soon that he was legless. They were torn away when the tank was damaged. But in spite of it he shot a gun at us!” (from memories by artilleryman of antitank gun about the first war hours).

“Qualification level of the soviet pilots exceeds expectations… Fierce resistance, its mass character doesn’t fit to our primary guessing.” (Hoffmann von Waldau, major general, Chief of Staff of Command of Luftwaffe, recorded in diary on the 31st of June 1941)

“We didn’t capture anyone particularly ‘cos the Russians always fought to the last soldier. They never surrender. Their tenacity isn’t comparable with ours…” (from interview of officer of tank unit of army groups “Centre”  to war correspondent Curzio Malaparte (Zekkert)).

“… There were dead bodies of brave crew inside the tank. Before they were only wounded. Deeply shocked by this heroism we buried them with full military honors. They fought up to the last breath. But it was only one small drama of the Great War. After the only heavy tank blocked the road during 2 days, this road was free…” (Erhart Raus, colonel, commander of kampfgroup “Raus” about tank KB-1 that fusilladed and knocked down convoy of lorries and tanks as well as artillery battery of the Germans; in total the tank crew (4 soviet warriors) deterred the advance of battle group “Raus” (approximately half of the division) two days and nights, 24th and 25th of June).

“17th of July 1941. Sokolnichy near Krichev. Last night we buried Russian unknown soldier [It was a 19-year-old senior sergeant-gunner Nikolay Sirotinin]. He was alone at the gun, shot colony of tanks and infantry for a long time and was killed. Everybody was surprised by his courage… Oberst said over the grave that if all the Fuhrer’s soldiers fought like this Russian man we could conquer the whole world. They fired volleys three times. Still he’s Russian, is there a need for such worship?” (from diary of ober-lieutenant of 4th tank division Hendelf)

“Losses are terrible and they can’t be compared to those in France… Today the road is ours, tomorrow the Russians take it, then we again and so on… I’ve never seen anybody angrier than these Russians. Real beasts! You never know what to expect of them. And where do their tanks and the rest come from?” (from diary of soldier of group of armies “Centre”, the 20th of August 1941; after such an experience the saying “Better three French campaigns than one Russian” spread very quickly among German troops)

“I expected nothing of the kind. It’s just a purest self-murder when five warriors fight against battalion’s forces. (from confession by major Neuhoff, commander of the 3rd battalion of the 18th infantry regiment of group of armies “Centre” to doctor. With 800 people, this battalion broke through border defence successfully. And then it was attacked by unit consisting of 5 warriors).

“You can’t believe it if you don’t see it with your own eyes. Red Army soldiers even burning alive kept on shooting out of the blazing houses. (from the letter by infantry officer of the 7th tank division about actions in the village by Lama river, in the middle of November 1941).

“The Russians have always been famed for scorn of death. Communist regime’s developed this quality even more and now Russian massive attacks are more efficient than ever before. An attack launched twice is reiterated for the third and for the fourth time in spite of losses incurred. And the third and the fourth attacks are launched with the same determination and composure… They didn’t retreat but drove forward uncontainable. To thwart such kind of attack it’s not so much a question of availability of techniques but of extremely self-mastery. Only battle-seasoned soldiers were able to conquer fear that seized everybody.” (Mellenthin Friedrich von Wilhelm, major general of armoured crops, Chief of Staff of the 48th tank crops, subsequently Chief of Staff of the 4th tank army, participant of fight in Stalingrad and Kursk).

“O my God, what have these Russians meant to do with us? It would be great if somebody up there lends an attentive ear to us otherwise we’re going to kick the bucket here.” (Fritz Siegel, corporal, from his letter home dated the 6th of December 1941).

From the diary of German soldier:

“1st October. Our assault battalion has reached Volga. In fact there are still 500 metres to Volga. Tomorrow we are on that beach and this is the end of the war.

3rd October. There is a very strong fire fight. We can’t across these 500 metres. We stay at the border of some grain elevator.

6th October. Damned elevator! It’s impossible to reach it. Our losses are over 30%.

10th October. Where do these Russians come from? The elevator is destroyed completely but every time we try to come to it there is a fire from under the ground.

15th October. Hooray, we’ve captured this elevator. There are only 100 people left in our battalion. It was found only 18 people defended the elevator. We found 18 dead bodies.” (Nazi battalion numbering 800 people stormed these heroes for two weeks).

“Courage is bravery inspired by spirituality. The toughness with which the Bolshevists defended their bunkers in Sevastopol was more a bestial drive, and nothing could be more mistaken than to assume that it was the result of Bolshevist views or education. The Russians were always like that, and will likely always remain so.” (Joseph Goebbels)

“They fought to the bitter end, even the wounded didn’t allow us to come near. One Russian sergeant, unarmed with a dreadful wound on his shoulder rushed to us holding digging tool but was immediately killed. Madness, the real madness. They fought like beasts – and dozens of them fell in battle.” (Hubert Koralla, corporal of the sanitation unit of the 17th tank division about battles along Minsk – Moscow road.)

From mother’s letter to Wehrmacht’s soldier, “My dear son! Perhaps you could find a scrap of paper to make yourself known. Yesterday we got Josef’s letter. He’s fine. He writes: “Before I desired to take part in offensive against Moscow but now I’d be glad to get out of this whole hell.”

History of Russia is the history of great battles and great victories, great feats and great sacrifice. It is not sacrifice in vain, but sacrifice for a future life. Our ancestors always fought for their Motherland, “We want not a foot of foreign land, but we will not give up an inch of our own land” We are descendants of great people. Our duty is to keep in memory their feat, to study history, to analyze, to draw conclusions and not to make mistakes that can lead to enormous human sacrifice and irreversible consequences.