This short story is for all of you who are fellow fans of Sven Hassel. It is my attempt to emulate his style. I hope you like it.
Marlene's Maybach engine roared into life and we held on as she surged forward. We were Germania and our platoon formed part of Combat Group Dieckman, with orders to take part in operation Maus. We were to break through the Russian lines and re-take the city of Rostov.
We'd held the line all winter against repeated attacks by the Reds but July finally heralded summer and the offensive that would see us destroy the Bolsheviks completely once and for all.
It seemed a long time since the days of our training in Heuberg and Wiking had proven itself time after time in the bloody fighting of Barbarossa. The ten of us in the back of Marlene were one of the few squads that was still intact from those early days. But now it was our turn to grab some of the glory and earn our place in Valhalla.
We were part of the group's reconnaissance unit, there was a sdkf 232 armoured car and our three Hanomag 251 half-tracks, carrying thirty grenadiers between them. Our job was to scout ahead of the main column and locate any Russian positions so that they could be taken care of.
The sun was shining and we could see scudding clouds and the occasional tree through the open top of our troop compartment as we sped along the road at around fifty kilometres an hour.
We had just passed through Vodianoie, when there was a deafening explosion and Madelene was rocked by the blast's concussion wave. Small arms fire immediately began screaming off our armour plating and Erik, our driver, pulled off the road as Jurgen manned our new mg42 and began returning the enemy's fire.
We bumped over rough ground for a moment before coming to a halt, then we were through the rear doors and fanning out to either side of our half-track. I scanned the terrain ahead from my prone position and could see that the incoming fire had come from a hedge line about a hundred metres ahead of us. It looked like there was a crossroads there, an obvious place for an ambush.
Try as I might though, I couldn't see any targets and our MG42 had fallen silent. Cautiously, the squad got up and advanced towards the hedge. When we got there, it was to find the bodies of an NKVD unit. The 7.92 mm machine gun bullets had thrown them into all the usual macabre poses that violent death has to offer. By the corner where the roads met, was a discarded bazooka that had obviously been responsible for the destruction of our armoured car.
Udo, our unterscharführer, began searching the bodies to see if he could find any useful information, while the rest of us waited for Madelene to arrive. I watched as the other two Hanomags drove back onto the road behind her, then all three of them drove up to the junction in a line.
I hadn't had time before to pay any attention to the fact that four of our comrades were gone. But even as I looked at the ruined armoured car, I was simply left numb to their passing. Death was our constant companion and his imagination was inexhaustible when it came to creating new ways to take us.
Thick smoke from the still burning wreckage of the 232 obscured the road behind us as we set off towards our next target. I fervently hoped it wasn't an omen of things to come, as I took my place on the left hand bench seat.
We stopped again just outside the town of Stojakov, although hamlet would be a better description for it. The place consisted mostly of ramshackle houses, with what looked like a group of farm buildings scattered amongst them for good measure. Further south, there was a cluster of what looked like virtually derelict outhouses that petered out into fields.
It was decided that the grenadiers would advance in three groups, while the half-tracks offered covering fire in case Ivan was hiding in the town. Sepp took his squad to the north, Gustav led his along the road into the centre of the town, while Udo took us to check out the buildings to the south.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and the palms of my hands were sweating, as we marched across the open fields, sure signs that something wasn't right. My soldier's intuition never let me down and I constantly scanned the sheds for any sign of trouble. Even Madelene's growling behind me did little to reassure me and I was ready for anything when we finally reached the first building.
We split into pairs to make searching faster and Gregor and I set off for the furthest of the sheds. I gripped my MP40 as if my life depended on it, which in many cases, it had. Gregor moved to open the door of the first building we reached but just as he touched the handle, we heard a muffled sound from inside.
Our eyes met and we nodded as one. Gregor threw the door back and I jumped through with my gun at the ready. The shed's interior stank of animal shit and was dark enough that it took my eyes a few moments to adjust after the sunlight outside.
I searched the shadows for the source of the noise I'd heard, as Gregor moved up beside me. I felt him tense, just as he nudged me with his elbow. I followed his stare and there on the floor, were the naked bodies of three women. Two of them were lying still but the third one began moaning incoherently as we moved towards her.
We said what we thought were words of reassurance but she kept on moaning and I was surprised that she hadn't tried to escape. Then I saw why. All three women were spread eagled, their hands and ankles had been nailed to the filthy floor and it was clear from their condition and the stains on the floorboards what had happened to them.
Gregor tried to pull the nails out for the woman that was still conscious but it was useless. All his efforts achieved was to make her scream. So I left him with her while I went to get the medical kit and some tools from Madelene.
By the time I returned, Udo and Hans had joined Gregor, drawn by the screaming. Udo took the hacksaw I'd brought and began cutting the heads off the nails that were holding the woman who had fainted while I was gone. Fortunately, she didn't revive until he had moved onto the next woman and I was already bandaging her wounds.
I gave her some water from my flask and she began talking to me in Russian. Forunately, Udo understood some of what she was saying. The women were all Ukranians and an NKVD unit had done this to them after accusing them of spying for us. Suddenly I wished that the bastards at the crossroads hadn't died so quickly. What kind of men could do this to innocent women?
Our Hanomag pulled up outside the barn and Gregor rushed out to ask Jurgen to radio back for a medic. The rest of our squad joined us when they had finished their search. Kurt brought some blankets in for the women, while Horst began cooking them some soup from our rations. We were Hitler's elite, yet we stood around like embarrassed schoolboys while Udo tended to the women and Horst's soup began to simmer in his mess tin.
A runner arrived from Gustav's squad to advise us that the town was clear. Udo appraised him of our situation and said that we would take up position in the barns to guard the southern approach to the town.
Nils and Otto got the first watch, the rest of us gathering around Udo and the women while we ate our rations. The other two women had regained consciousness but all three were understandably in a lot of pain. Udo gave them some morphine to help but there was little else that we could do and it was obvious that they were all still feeling uncomfortable.
The sun was beginning to set when we heard the familiar sound of Maybach engines and a 251 pulled up outside our barn. A medic and an orderly came in with a stretcher and after a cursory examination of the women, we helped to carry them out to the waiting half-track while Udo radioed ahead to Obersturmführer Eichman that the women might be able to provide some useful intelligence about Russian troop movements in the area.
We were already on the move when the sun rose again the following day. Not far from Stojakov, we came under sporadic small arms fire from some hills to the south of the road but were ordered to ignore the Reds and push on towards Sultan-Saly. We could just see a distant spire that our map said belonged to an Armenian church on the edge of the town, when we came under heavy fire from a hill to our north.
Erik had just thrown Madelene into reverse, when there was a massive explosion behind us. He checked his rear view mirrors, cursing as he swung off the road in a u-turn to race back the way we'd come.
Shells were exploding all around us, chasing us on our way, until we finally managed to get out of range. We stopped in the shade of a tree and Udo asked what had happened. Erik informed us that Gustav's 251 had taken a direct hit. He said a shell must have landed in the open back, because the vehicle had simply vanished, there was no chance that anyone could have survived.
Jurgen had reached command on the radio, so Udo reported our situation and exactly where the enemy were. Sepp's squad pulled up beside us while Udo was talking and we stood around in glum silence waiting for whatever would happen next.
The combat group joined us early in the afternoon, our Obersturmführer instructing us to wait in reserve during the assault on Sultan-Saly. The rest of the regiment deployed ready for the attack and at 17.00 our artillery opened fire as a squadron of Stukas screamed down on the enemy positions.
I nearly felt sorry for the Bolshies as Germania's tanks and grenadiers swarmed forward in the wake of the bombardment. Thick smoke, flames and distant gunfire marked where the fighting raged briefly, before the Reds fled or were taken prisoner. It was dark by the time Sultan-Saly was secured and our picket was established to the south of the town.
Udo was called to a staff briefing, returning nearly an hour later to tell us that we would be getting a new armoured car and a replacement squad from the rearguard unit in the morning. He paused dramatically in his speech and I couldn't help smiling as his chest visibly swelled with pride.
“Sturmbannführer Dieckman himself praised us for the work we have done so far and has granted us the honour of being the vanguard again in our push on Rostov tomorrow.” We gave a resounding cheer. There would be Iron Crosses all round by the end of this.
Once again, we were already moving as the sun rose on the morning of the 23rd. It turned out to be another beautifully sunny day as we raced through Russia. Our new 232 was out in front with the three half-tracks in line about a hundred metres behind it.
We passed through Leninawa without incident and halted well short of the Russian positions that were drawn up about eight kilometres from Rostov. Even from a safe distance, it was easy to see that the Red's defences were extensive and stretched as far as we could see to the north.
But a Fieseler Storch had flown over the lines earlier in the morning and reported that there was an undefended bridge to the south of us. Our orders came through that we were to proceed with caution towards the bridge and ascertain if it was still open. The rest of the combat group would engage the Reds to keep them too occupied to bother us.
We turned back west until we were out of sight of unwanted watchers, then changed direction so that we were heading roughly south east over open ground. The 232 was still on point but our Hanomags were now fanned out in an open line abreast behind it.
All of us were on edge. There were an estimated ten to fifteen thousand of Uncle Joe's rabble out there, with nothing better to do than try to kill us. That's enough to get anybody's adrenaline flowing!
Even though we were being cautious, it only took us twenty minutes to reach our objective. We dismounted in the cover of some trees, then advanced to the bridge, using whatever cover we could find.
All the time I was expecting the enemy to open fire on us. How could they be stupid enough to leave this bridge open? It gave us a clear route around their positions and a direct line to Rostov to the east. Yet we reached the bridge without a shot being fired. The 232 and the new squad took up position on the far side, while the rest of us dug in and Udo radioed command to send us reinforcements and some engineers to get rid of the explosives the Reds had set on the bridge.
We could soon here shellfire from our artillery to the north of us and within an hour, a grenadier company, reinforced with panzer 3's arrived. They hardly paused to redeploy before they threw themselves north against the Bolshies. At 14.00 we had a radio message to tell us the position was in German hands and we were to proceed on towards Sapadni.
We hurtled down the road until, from the brow of a low hill, we had a clear view of the suburbs of Rostov with Sapadni slightly to the south east of us. In the far distance, we could even see the sun reflecting off the waters of the river Don.
We maintained constant radio contact with the rest of the combat group, sending them as much information as we could as to the disposition of the enemy. In return, we were told to hold our position until an artillery observer caught up with us. We were then to move so that we could exploit any breakthrough the group made in it's assault on Sapadni, with express orders to reach point 80.
Point 80 was another hill and we were to hold it so that the spotter could radio range and target information to our artillery batteries. The position was about two kilometres from the railway and offered a perfect view over the whole of Rostov and its surroundings, even as far as the marshes to the south and the towns of Koisug and Bataisk.
Our observer arrived on a Zűndapp motorbike and sidecar outfit and we set off cautiously to take up a new position about a kilometre outside the city. No sooner had we arrived, than shells began to fall in the buildings in front of us. They sounded like someone was ripping the sky apart as they passed over our heads and buildings and defences alike began to disappear, to be replaced by some kind of lunar landscape.
The barrage didn't let up as our grenadiers and tanks advanced, it simply shifted to target areas further inside the city once the guns of the tanks were able to come to bear on the enemy positions.
From where we were, we could see increasing numbers of Russian soldiers fleeing towards the river and Udo ordered us to advance as fast as possible towards our goal. We roared into the streets of Rostov, the noise of our engines deafening as it reverberated back and forth between the buildings.
Jurgen was manning the radio, so Udo had instructed me to take over the machine gun. I held on to the weapon for grim death as we bounced over rubble from the shelling at over forty kilometres per hour.
We turned a corner and bullets began to kick up dust in the street around us. I swung the gun around, squeezing the trigger as it lined up with my targets. It was easy to see why the gun was called Hitler's saw. Gaping holes appeared along the walls of the houses as the rounds punched through brick, wood and bodies alike.
It was surreal. The noise of the engine and the roar of the machine gun meant that I couldn't hear anything else, yet I could see these holes appearing as if out of nowhere, bits of brick,glass and wood flying in all directions as the bullets tore into the enemy positions.
A man's face appeared momentarily at a window before his head exploded as one of my bullets took him squarely between the eyes. All that remained of him an instant later was some blood and bits of brain splattered over the window frame where he had been. Not the best memorial to mark his passing.
Time has a strange habit of working differently during combat. It's as if it's in slow motion, yet simultaneously everything is speeded up as well. In slow motion, a huge Russian stepped out into the street before us. He was readying a bazooka and I watched horrified as he raised the weapon to take aim. I clearly saw his finger tighten on the trigger and knew that I was going to die. But nothing happened.
He looked surprised but then time speeded up again and Madelene slammed into him. She didn't even jerk as she carried on over his body, her eight tonnes simply crushing his corpse into the tarmac. Time slowed down again as one of his arms sailed over us to land on the floor of the troop compartment behind me. Then we were through. The street ahead of us was clear and I could see position 80 less than half a kilometre away.
Udo came running down the hill and leaped into Madelene. The group's artillery was already changing target to fire on the bridges that crossed the Don, as he shouted at Erik to move off. Not ten minutes later, we entered a large square, the far end of which was jammed full of Reds that were trying to escape our army's advance. There was only one road that led away from the square towards the Don but there were too many of them to fit into it and in their panic, they were fighting with each other, which simply made matters worse.
Sepp's half-track pulled up besides us in the middle of the square near a statue of Stalin. I've got to admit I was more than a little nervous as we were only about a hundred metres from what looked like half the Russian army. I was told to remain on the machine gun but Udo led the rest of both squads to form a line in front of the vehicles.
The rear ranks of the crowd, the ones nearest us, turned to face us but rather than the attack as I had half expected, I could see them physically give up. Their shoulders hunched and their heads drooped as a strange silence gradually spread over them. Our engines were ticking over, and shells were still bursting in the direction of the river, yet the square was almost silent, as if everyone was frozen in place.
I was starting to feel uncomfortable, when a small group of men pushed their way through the crowd and advanced towards us. There were six of them, the one in the lead carrying a raised rifle with a white shirt tied to it. Udo walked forward to meet them and they had just begun to talk when the Bolshies pointed at his uniform and backed away a step, looking nervously at our small group.
They had obviously seen Udo's SS insignia and our reputation must have proceeded us. But Udo calmly walked up to them again, making placating gestures with his hands. They continued to talk for perhaps another five minutes before Udo returned to Madelene and instructed Jurgen to tell HQ that we had captured a large number of prisoners and needed reinforcements to take care of them.
And that was the end of our battle. Germania's spearhead met up with Wehrmacht troops at the bridges and the Russian resistance collapsed. By nightfall we were billeted in a house in the suburbs near where we had broken into the city, waiting for the rest of the division to catch up with us.
After tending to our duties the next day, our platoon was given permission to explore the city. There wasn't any more resistance and it was yet another of those weird moments that happen sometimes, I found myself walking down a street in an enemy city, being welcomed by the inhabitants as a liberating hero.
Gregor and I had just reached the edge of a small park, when two girls ran up to us clutching a half empty bottle of vodka. They spoke to us excitedly as they offered us the bottle but neither of us could understand what they were saying. In the end, they grabbed our arms and dragged us towards a small terraced house on the far side of the park.
We paired up, Gregor's girl leading him upstairs, while mine showed me into the front room. We the afternoon drinking vodka and making love until finally we simply lay in each others arms for what seemed like a long time. But when Gregor's boots thudded back down the stairs, it became all too brief an interlude from the world of death that awaited me in the world outside our oasis of peace.
We cleaned ourselves up, then Gregor and I walked to a bar with the girls on our arms as if we were back in peace time Germany. We sat at a table on the pavement, basking in the sun as we smoked Sobraine cigarettes and drank vodka together.
Gregor and I finally left the girls there as evening drew in and made our rather unsteady way back to our billet. You can never really escape from war.
Within six weeks of Germania crossing their start positions, Rostov and the whole of the Don region was in German hands and Wiking was already taking their lightning war into the heart of the Caucasus.
Germania lost three men killed and twelve wounded in the assault on Rostov, but it is estimated that at least ten thousand Russians were taken prisoner by the German army.
The main events of this story are based on the actual assault of combat group Dieckman on Rostov. However, the details have been changed for my story and all of the names are fictitious.
If you like this story, it is one of three that are included with the Overkill rules set that is available from www.1poundrules.website All of my rules cost £1 each and if you buy all five at the same time, you get my Death Race rules free.