The Panzer-Abteilung 129, a tank battalion serving with the German 6th Army, fought its way into the Soviet city of Stalingrad in late 1942 only to find itself pinned down during winter. A a million-man Red Army counter offensive, attacking in two giant pincers, surrounded the Germans that November.
Trapped, the battalion’s soldiers sheltered wherever they could in a village to find warmth — and whatever meager protection the homes provided from regular Soviet air attacks.
The last days of the battalion were brutal and unimaginably miserable, as recounted in the first volume of historian Jason Mark’s highly-regarded series Panzerkrieg: German Armored Operations at Stalingrad — which traces the day-by-day history of 6th Army tank battalions using extensive primary sources from those who witnessed the battle.
“Gradually, the losses become sensitive,” German war correspondent Parzival Kemmerich wrote in December 1942. “Every night, and sometimes even by day, there are dead and wounded in the village. Added to this is the lack of panzer crews. Last but not least, the psychological stress resulting from the inactivity imposed on us becomes apparent.”
“Waiting, coupled with idleness, is probably the worst thing for the German soldier. He then begins to brood, and the sun shines darker.”
Shortly after Kemmerich wrote that account, the battalion prepared to head west to resist Soviet forces which had flanked the 6th Army from behind. But some of the biggest problems for the ordinary German soldier was sheer exhaustion combined with malnutrition — and the weather. The horrible, frigid weather.
Despite the Russian winter being the second one experienced by the German army in the war, Panzer-Abteilung 129 lacked winter clothing. That was due in part to Soviet forces overrunning several supply depots.