I recently came across two articles at the Warfare History Network, recounting the experiences of German servicemen on the Russian front during World War II.
After a seven-day journey through East Prussia and Lithuania, we reached Newel. Then we were off-loaded and drove through bitter cold and a snowstorm eastward to our assigned position. We soon discovered our equipment was unsuitable. The roads were as smooth as glass and the tractors were completely worthless. The iron tracks slipped on the smooth roads. The bolts on the treads came off, and the tractors were left stranded on the road without treads. Our “Lanz” tractor that was supposed to help us out in difficult situations was also useless. It had ironclad wheels and could not keep to the roads. We had to leave these brand-new tractors sitting in the ditches. Thanks only to our Opel all-wheel-drive trucks, which performed excellently in all weather, were we able to reach our destination to the south of Welicke-Luki.
We had just arrived at the front when the guns were immediately positioned and aimed, and we had to start firing. The Russians welcomed our forward observers over a megaphone, saying, “You half-trained Luftwaffe soldiers straight from Munsterlager repo-depot, we’ll whip your asses in no time!” This showed how well informed Ivan was!
Our computing section was quartered in a farmhouse only a few meters behind the guns. At the first salvo, the window pane blew out on our card table, and the battery commander was lying on the ground shouting, “Direct hit! Take cover!” Then we found out that the damage had been caused by the reverberation of the recoil of our own guns.
The three Soviet T-34 tanks edged forward slowly as the drivers scanned for the concealed Germans that lay ahead. The lead tank suddenly clanked to a stop and swung its long barrel around … Suddenly, the lead tank’s hatch opened about 10 inches and a head appeared with binoculars to scan the scene. Sniper Josef “Sepp” Allerberger brought the Soviet tanker’s head into the center of his scope, and at some 500 feet he squeezed off a round. A splat of blood hit the hatch as the head sank into the bowels of the tank.
The battle might have gone the other way had it not been for the young 19-year-old Austrian sniper who singlehandedly changed the course of the engagement by likely taking out the commander of the three tanks. His timely, well-aimed bullet negated the Soviets’ heavy initial advantage in firepower and maneuverability.
. . .
Allerberger and Matthaus Hetzenauer, another skilled Austrian sniper in the same division, were officially credited with killing more than 600 enemy soldiers during the Soviet advance toward Berlin in the latter stages of World War II. And their sniper totals did not include scores and scores of Soviets who fell to their rapid-fire machine pistol efforts during numerous determined and often foolish Russian frontal assaults.
Both young Austrians received the prestigious Knight’s Cross for their efforts, and unlike most snipers they left rather detailed descriptions of their work on the Eastern Front. Most snipers, like Finland’s Simo Hayha—dubbed “White Death” for his more than 505 confirmed kills in the Winter War just prior to the start of World War II—were reluctant to discuss their work which many considered underhanded or unmanly.
Both articles are interesting reading for military history buffs. Recommended.