The battle field of the 9th Company near Virigino South of Rshew andf Subzow.
Photo GP. 2012.
Ready to Go over the Top
The men were ready and waiting fully kitted out for the task at hand.
Everyone kept his rifle or sub-machine gun at the ready. The demolition
party had slung their arms to have their hands free for dynamite sticks and
hand grenades. The early morning air was bone-chilly and cooled down
angst-filled bodies. If only one were allowed to pull on a fag! The helmet
sat frosty cold on the skull and ability to see and hear was very limited.
The artillery Captain and several signallers arranged themselves in Clemens’
trench. They installed the field telephone and connected to the Battery
Commander. The Fire Control Officer carefully scanned the enemy landscape
through his field glasses.
”You follow my order!” the artillery officer addressed the raiding party.
”I tell you when to commence the assault. When I give the command you go
over the top! As soon as you are in the open you follow the orders of your
Confidence was required.
The artillery fire started and zeroed in on the Russian positions right in
front of them. The Captain was on the phone with his Battery position. The
last artillery rounds were still flying through the air when he gave the
order to attack.
The men swiftly jumped out of the ditches and raced towards their specified
targets. Everyone knew his objective. Everyone knew what he had to do.
It was the first time that they stepped on to no-man’s land in front of
their trenches. It was a cleared area covered in pale grassy shrub. The
ground was uneven and also one was no longer used to a fast sprint. It was
only adrenaline that pushed the men like agile gazelles over the patch of
farmland. Occasionally the ice cracked loudly in frozen puddles and with a
suction sound the boot sank into the mud. Move, move; forward. Do not
stumble. Lift your feet.
The Russians kept quiet and under cover. Any soldier, whether Russian or
German, knew that there was an attack coming as soon the enemy artillery
kept them down. But what could you do except crouch down deep in the trench
and wait until the shelling stopped? And then it was too late! The Russians
were rushed by the Germans.
As planned, the left group ran to the bunkers and lobbed hand grenades
through the openings. On his way back a Corporal set off a 3-Kilo bomb made
up of several sticks of dynamite tied tightly together sending the whole
In parallel Clemens’ team raced to the main enemy trench throwing hand
grenades as well. Just in front of the trench he fell heavily and hit the
His heart beat rapidly and he felt himself turn pale.
But he jumped up, everything all right.
Thank God! Then he noticed the cunning trip wire, which the Russians had
strung in front of their position. And the trick had worked.
Clemens continued forward.
Hand grenades into the enemy trench.
He could not see any soldiers hiding in it.
Suddenly fresh Russian soldiers appeared in the back ground. They had jumped
out of a second trench line and were running with weapons held high straight
at the Germans.
Panic-stricken Clemens fired his machine gun at the oncoming Russians. As
through some miracle the Russians kept running at him seemingly without
What was happening here?
In hindsight there is an explanation for this “miracle”: The ammunition
producer had been cheating in the manufacturing; it had not filled the
bullet casing with enough gun powder. Of course it billed the full price but
the poor bastards at the front fought with harmless pop-shots.
More and more Russians stormed out of their fox holes in the rear like
hornets disturbed in their nest. They fired like crazy. It was futile for
the Germans to pick a fight. They did not have cover nor did they carry
enough ammunition with them.
Meanwhile a Russian big as a bear had engaged Clemens in hand-to-hand
combat. He squeezed the German sparrow between his powerful arms and heaved
him high like a feather. Clemens could not move an inch, much less wrestle
the grizzly down. To take this gladiator prisoner alive and to drag him to
the German side would have required a minimum of five men.
“Shoot him!” Clemens screamed to his comrade, who had joined the bout. In
fact, the friend had intended a “fair” fight by using the same means as the
big Russian. How naïve! But killing or beating to death had been banned
from “civilian” brawls for many, many generations.
This situation could never be taught in basic training. Clawing and stabbing
frantically to save one’s life was a new experience.
In panic the soldier grabbed his rifle and shot the mighty Russian through
the head. The round was fired right next to Clemens’ head. The bang was
The Russian staggered and his arms went limp.
Clemens cork-screwed himself out of the enveloping grip.
His right ear was deaf. And suddenly he perceived all movement in front of
him to be in slow motion. He saw how endless numbers of Russians stormed
towards him from the hinterland. All in slow motion.
He ordered retreat.
Immediately he sped back across no-man’s land.
His men also raced back to their home trenches. Now the Germans were the
hunted prey. It was not possible to see whether anyone was left behind
injured or killed. The speed of action just allowed a limited angle of
vision sufficient to look out for oneself.
A final jump to safety down into the ditch.
Out of breath the men squatted deep down in their dugouts praying for better
Now the Russian Artillery showered high explosive over the Germans. Numbed,
Clemens was still digesting the pictures of the seemingly endless numbers of
Russian soldiers in the trenches of the second and third lines. If the
Russians were to run over and attack them now, they would never get any
assistance for the Germans did not have a second or third line.
The Germans were short of soldiers!!!
filled with water, ice and snow at the site described above in November
exactly to the day 70 years later. Photo GP.