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The Tank Battle at Venev
"Немецкие танковые асы" (1992)
перевод с немецкого Давид Джонстон (2002)
On 13 November, the
Eberbach Brigade was called on by Gen. Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg
for an attack in the direction of Venev. Oberst Eberbach had
exactly fifty tanks left; at full strength he would have had three
The cold wave that had now set in was making life
difficult for the panzer crews. By early morning on 13 November the
temperature had fallen to twenty-two degrees below zero. Optics became
misted and oil thickened. There was no winter clothing or antifreeze.
Nevertheless, the Eberbach Brigade set out full of confidence.
The armored unit pushed past Tula on the right and
drove— this time without infantry—toward the north. It rolled through
Stalinogorsk unopposed. The next objective was Oslavaya.
"Filthy cold!" moaned Bix as he stared from the turret
cupola. The wind, which was blowing out of the north, threatened to
freeze his breath.
"If we only had some winter things," offered Schwartz.
"That's for sure!" murmured the
Ahead, Bix saw a tank stop at the side of the road.
The leading group rolled past and Bix realized that the figure standing
in the commander's cupola in the black jacket was Oberst Eberbach.
"If the old man can stand it, then we can too," said
Knowing that their commander was in the same situation
did not ease conditions, but did make them somewhat easier to bear.
The advance continued and next morning the panzers
found themselves at the edge of a village not far from Oslavaya.
Suddenly an entire regiment of Russian infantry appeared from out of the
morning mist, advancing toward the tanks. The first bursts of machine
gun fire were already whipping toward the waiting panzers.
"Lekschat Company, counterattack!" crackled through
The motors of the tanks roared as they moved off
toward the enemy in a broad wedge. Lances of flame spurted from cannon
and machine guns. High-explosive shells exploded in the enemy
formations. Many of the Red Army soldiers were run over by the tanks. It
was a grisly scene: Russian infantry charging German tanks. But the
situation was also dangerous enough for the panzer crews. As soon as a
commander raised his head from the turret hatch to get a better view of
the terrain, he immediately came under fire from machine guns or enemy
snipers. Some of the shots whizzed close past their targets—others found
the mark. Bix kept looking outside in an attempt to assist his driver.
Once, a burst of machine gun fire whizzed just past his left ear.
Bullets cracked against the steel of the armored cupola and ricocheted
to the side. After the light snowfall the rather hilly terrain was so
slippery that the tanks occasionally slid down the icy slopes like
Bix's panzer slid to the side and toppled into a
gully. It slid into an outcropping with a jolt.
"Hopefully we can get out of here again," sighed Bix.
an auto mechanic by trade, just grinned. "We'll get out all right! Just
Engaging first gear, he steered the tank diagonally up
the towering slope, and it worked! Slowly the tank crawled higher, until
it was again on level ground.
Once again the tanks fired high-explosive shells into
the masses of Russians storming toward the gully. The Red Army soldiers
dug into the snow and disappeared within a few seconds.
Lekschat radioed a warning: "Be careful, Bix.
Oberfeldwebel Rieger has been killed by a sniper."
Rieger had been the commander's driver. Everyone in
the unit knew him. Just recently Oberst
Eberbach had granted his wish and made him a tank commander.
In the meantime a large part of the Russian regiment
had been wiped out. Only a small number of soldiers escaped to the
The advance was resumed at about midday. Once again
Hermann Bix drove in the lead position. The tank rolled forward almost
unmolested. Bix had no idea where he was. He had no maps of the area,
but since there was only one major road there, he assumed this must be
the right way.
It was already early afternoon when the Feldwebel
saw the first houses of Oslavaya before him.
Bix was wearing a Russian fur-lined cap. This
camouflage was so effective that the drivers of the Russian trucks that
came toward him showed no inclination to flee. On the contrary, the
Russian soldiers riding in the trucks even waved to him.
Bix radioed Hauptmann Lekschat: "Have passed
some Russians; they haven't recognized me."
"Good, Bix! Carry on along the same road. The first
vehicles are just arriving here now and are getting a polite reception.
We won't fire unless absolutely necessary. Out."
The tank rolled slowly through the city until it came
to the marketplace, where there was a fork in the road. Bix was
uncertain for a few seconds. He called back, "Which road should I take?"
"Take the one to the right, Bix," radioed his company
commander. "According to my information it leads to the train station."
Bix had his driver swing the tank to the right. Soon
afterward a Russian truck loaded with soldiers came toward them. The
Russian crew recognized the tank as an enemy vehicle. Red Army soldiers
jumped down and disappeared into the surrounding houses and gardens. A
second, following truck likewise stopped.
"High-explosive!" ordered Bix.
The loader and gunner functioned like clockwork. The
first shell crashed into the wall of a house. An antitank rifle appeared
over the side of one of the trucks. The panzer's second shot was a
direct hit. The effect was tremendous.
"Move farther forward, Bix!" The order crackled
through the headphones. "The company will follow!"
The tank rolled past the burning truck and, turning
behind a house, drove into a garden. Bix emerged cautiously from the
turret hatch and scanned his surroundings. Now he could hear the noise
of the following tanks as they advanced as far as the marketplace.
Hauptmann Lekschat arranged each tank carefully so that it had a
clear line of sight and an open field of fire.
At that moment Bix saw a KV-I fire its gun, but the
shell was apparently not meant for him, as it whizzed past behind the
corner of a house farther to the right.
"That shot was aimed at me!" reported Leutnant
Bökle. "Enemy tank is sitting on the road facing in my direction. Take
him in the flank!"
"Through that fence, Schwartz," bellowed Bix. The tank
approached the fence and crashed through. When Bix's view was clear he
recognized the outline of the mighty Russian tank about thirty meters
"That's a KV-I. He hasn't seen us yet. Load special
round. Perhaps we'll be able to penetrate his turret with it!"
Petermann rammed the shell into the chamber just as
the giant fired another shot at Bökle 's panzer. Then the first shot
left the barrel of their own cannon. The shell struck the turret of the
enemy tank and glanced off. The second stuck in the KV-I's armor plate.
The Russian tank showed no ill effects after the third direct hit and
continued firing at the Leutnant's panzer.
Bix realized that he would not be able to destroy this
tank with gunfire. He called back, "My cannon has no effect on the KV-I!
None of the shells are getting through, Herr Leutnant! Send some
Pioniers with concentrated charges!"
Bökle 's reply, passed along by the radio operator,
was not long in coming. "Bix, if nothing else works, try to shoot his
cannon in two, otherwise he'll knock you out as soon as he sees you!"
At first Bix thought the Leutnant must be
pulling his leg.
"I'll try it," murmured the gunner, "but..."
"Well try then, Krause," shouted Bix, even though he
considered the attempt to be hopeless.
Something had to be done before they were spotted and
Krause targeted the cannon of the enemy tank as near
to the gun mantlet as possible. A normal armor-piercing round was
loaded. The barrel of the KV-I's cannon was thickest at the mantlet.
Perhaps he would be lucky.
"Open fire!" gasped Bix.
The armor-piercing round struck steel, but because of
the short range the entire area between the German and Russian tanks was
shrouded in thick smoke, so Bix could not see the results of the shot.
"The same again, Krause!"
The gunner fired a second and then a third shot. The
KV-I now began to rotate its turret, and the long cannon swung in the
direction of the German panzer. With a cnxnching sound the KV-I's gun
barrel cracked against the trunk of a small tree. The tank's turret
stopped and at that exact moment Leutnant Bökle opened fire on
"There, he's smoking!" shouted Schwartz. A dark cloud
of smoke whorled out of the stricken KV-I's gun barrel and from within
the body of the tank. Before that there had been a muffled explosion. On
firing its cannon, the shell must have detonated inside the tank, as
indicated by the smoke coming from within.
The radio operator reported: "His barrel has burst,
Bix peered through his field glasses and saw with
amazement that the gun barrel of the Russian tank had been pierced three
times. It had been no burst barrel. The Feldwebel couldn't
believe his eyes, but there it was: Krause had put all three shots
through the gun barrel of the enemy tank and rendered it useless.
Suddenly the hatch of the Russian tank flipped open.
The commander tried to climb out. A shot rang out and the Russian was
left hanging in the opening.
This experience taught Bix that from short range, even
with the small-caliber gun, he could engage and destroy the heaviest
There were explosions all over the city as the
Pioniers ' concentrated charges went off. The armored engineers had
moved forward and were blowing up the heavy enemy tanks one after
another. Later the infantry and the Pioniers silenced the last
remaining nests of resistance. Oslavaya had fallen.
The panzers rolled onward in the evening hours. They
drove on throughout the entire night. Venev was reached on the morning
of 24 November. The battalion re-formed and rumbled toward the city in a
broad wedge. The panzers came under fire from enemy tanks when they
reached the railway line that ran south of the city. Once again the
Lekschat Company was positioned on the right wing and "Harpoon" was on
the extreme right flank.
"We can't get across here, Herr Hauptmann,"
radioed Leutnant Bökle. "We would most likely shed our tracks on
the embankment and the railroad tracks. Then we'd be sitting ducks for
the Russians. We must find another place."
Lekschat immediately agreed: "Good, Bökle, that would
be best." Then he called "Harpoon."
"Harpoon from chief: go farther to the right and look
for a favorable crossing. Report as soon as you find something, Bix!"
The Feldwebel 's panzer began to move. Schwartz
turned it around and then, driving slowly, set off parallel to the
railway embankment. After several hundred meters the embankment became
lower, and Bix discovered a level crossing.
"Drive up to it cautiously, Schwartz!—Krause, load
armor-piercing and stand ready!"
The panzer worked its way forward slowly. The nose of
the tank was over the edge of the crossing and still there was no enemy
"Across, Schwartz!" shouted the Feldwebel. The
tank accelerated and rolled forward, reached a firm field road on the
other side, and then drove on a few hundred meters more. Bix called in
his report. At once Lekschat sent the company's tanks to follow. Not
until the last was driving across the tracks did the Russians open fire.
"Move forward quickly, Bix!"
Bix was familiar with this order because he had heard
it often enough during the past weeks. The tank drove on and when Bix
looked around he saw that the rest of the company's tanks were lagging
behind. The last Panzer III, which had come under fire from the Soviets,
was stopped on the level crossing and was returning fire in an effort to
keep the enemy's attention fixed to the front.
Left on his own, a little later Bix came to the
northern arterial road from Venev. Here, too, the picture was one of
enemy vehicles driving one behind the other. The lone German tank did
not appear to be recognized as such. After receiving Bix's report,
Hauptmann Lekschat ordered him to turn around and drive into the
"Just as at Mzensk, Bix. Into the city from behind,
the last place they'd expect us from," added the chief.
A light antiaircraft gun appeared in front of the
Panzer III. Tracks rattling, the tank rolled over the gun while its crew
ran to the side. A heavy machine gun was also run over. The attack by
the German tank had been too much of a surprise.
Right and to the front, Bix spotted a hill. Beneath it
lay a frozen pond, along whose left side ran a road. It was covered with
tank tracks, leading the Feldwebel to be cautious. It was
therefore no surprise when a KV-I suddenly rolled out of a side street
from behind one of the larger houses. Not realizing that the other tank
was an enemy, the KV-I rolled straight past in front of Bix. The tank's
commander even waved to the rear, urging Bix to follow. What should he
do? Stop, fire, turn around?
While he was still deliberating, two Russian T-38
reconnaissance tanks came rattling down the hill.
"They've recognized us!" shouted the radio operator.
Just then the first tank began to slide on the icy
slope. The driver of the following tank tried desperately to turn hard
right and miss the ice, but it, too, slid straight down the slope and
thundered against an outcropping, which straightened the tank out and
sent it down the hill behind the first like a bobsled.
The first T-38 crashed through the ice at the foot of
the hill. The second rumbled onto the ice and attempted to gain ground,
but its tracks simply spun in place.
Schwartz immediately turned the Panzer III around. The
gunner soon had the enemy in his sights. There was a flash as he fired
and the shell hammered into the enemy tank between its turret and hull.
"Hit!" roared Schwartz as flames burst forth from the
Bix shouted to his gunner, "On to the second, quick,
before he can fire!"
The second T-38 was now turning on the spot. Just as
it came face-to-face with the Panzer III, it hesitated somewhat. Krause
pressed the firing button and the shell struck the tank forward on the
side. The force of the blow caused the T-38 to spin about its axis
several times on the slippery ice. Both enemy tanks had been put out of
action. Still ahead of them, however, was their "big brother." If it
were to open fire, all hell would break loose. Bix was relieved to
discover that the KV-I had meanwhile driven out of sight around a bend
in the road.
"After him!" shouted the Feldwebel. As the tank
moved off, Bix thought of the numbers he was likely to meet as soon as
he entered the city. They passed the first houses. Then they were
standing in a large square, probably a type of marketplace. Russians ran
in all directions when the German tank appeared.
"More heavy tanks, Herr Feldwebel," reported
Schwartz, but Bix had already sported the giants.
Strangely, the tanks did not attack the lone German
panzer, but disappeared at high speed down a side street.
"What's going on?" asked Bix, half to himself. This
was unusual for the Soviets. Their tanks usually attacked at once. Were
these planning a trick of some sort? The Russian tank drivers were
definitely not cowards; they had proved this more than once in the past
"We must find some good cover, Herr Feldwebel,''''
warned Schwartz. "We're sitting ducks here. If they move up an
antitank gun it will be able to fire on us as it pleases."
After a quick look around, Bix ordered: "Behind that
wooden building, Schwartz!"
When they reached the building, Bix made sure they
were out of sight to both sides. The company was coming from the rear
and they had a good field of view to the front. Nothing came from there,
A little later the first of their own tanks appeared.
The company's leading tank stopped at the edge of the square and the
rest held their positions in the street behind it. Apparently
Hauptmann Lekschat first wanted
to hear what his reconnaissance tank had to tell him.
Bix emerged from his turret and listened. All at once
he heard a tank motor being fired up about one hundred meters to his
left. Then the sound of the motor came nearer.
"Move ahead as far as the end of the barrack!" he
called to his driver.
Schwartz drove forward until the bow and forward edge
of the turret came around and the commander could see. Bix at once
spotted the heavy KV-I, which was heading straight for him. Bix tried to
duck into the turret, but his jacket caught on something on the edge of
the turret. He might be hit at any moment.
"Armor-piercing round at the mantlet!" he gasped.
Krause reacted at once. The first shot clouded the
area between the two tanks with smoke. There was a crack as the second
shot was fired and still there had been no movement from the KV-I. Then
there was a flash from the muzzle of the long barrel of the Russian tank.
The Russian gunner had fired blind, however, and the shell whipped by
several meters from the German tank.
"Back up!" called Bix over the intercom. The Russian
giant was going to ram them.
In his previous attempts to get into the turret, Bix
had inadvertently ripped the communications cable from its connector and,
amid the noise of the approaching enemy tank, none of the men in the
fighting compartment could hear him. As he saw no other alternative, Bix
now crawled all the way out the turret hatch and took cover behind the
right side of the turret away from the direction of the approaching
Voices rang out from the fighting compartment. The men
inside now had no idea whatsoever what was going on. Without orders to
do so, Schwartz had not backed the tank up. That left Bix only one
The Feldwebel knew the dangerous situation he
would be placing himself in by leaving the protection of the turret and
crawling forward to signal the driver through his vision block to back
up. There were only seconds left, because the enemy tank was now only a
few dozen meters away. There was no longer any doubt: the KV-I intended
to ram the side of the German panzer!
This maneuver had been tried often by the Russian
heavy tanks lately, often with success. At this critical moment a
thought occurred to the Feldwebel: why didn't he simply fire on
them? At any moment he expected the shot that would end it all. Then he
saw the driver's face through the bulletproof glass of the vision block
and gave him the signal to back up. Schwartz reacted instantly. The tank
abruptly jerked backward a few meters.
At the same instant the armored bow of the Russian
tank flew past barely two meters in front of Bix and the corner of the
barracks. The tank's tracks screeched and the air stank of diesel
exhaust fumes. Seconds later the KV-I smashed into a massive stone wall.
When the tank had rammed halfway through brick wall, the entire facade
collapsed on top of it. There was a crashing, rumbling, and screeching,
and the motor of the KV-I died. The dangerous foe had been immobilized.
Bix had his gunner fire two armor-piercing rounds at the disabled KV-I's
turret from barely ten meters. Both failed to penetrate. Panting, Bix
forced himself back into the hatch. He saw how the driver of the KV-I
was now attempting to back his way out of the rubble. Brickwork was
already tumbling down.
Bix heard the Hauptmann call, "Harpoon from
Chief, we're coming!"
The first shell from the approaching German tanks
struck the turret of the KV-I. This, too, failed to penetrate the thick
armor of the Russian tank. The KV-I's driver was gradually succeeding in
freeing the big tank from the wall. Suddenly, Bix remembered the battle
at Oslavaya, when they had put several shots through the cannon barrel
of a Russian tank.
"Listen, Krause, aim as at Oslavaya!"
Krause had anticipated the order. He cranked the
turret around until the thickest part of the KVI's gun barrel was in his
sight and fired the first armor-piercing round. The second followed soon
At the same time, armor-piercing shot from the other
tanks began to strike the KV-I. Suddenly, glowing fragments of steel,
which shot out in thin fountains from the armored sides of the Russian
tank as the shells struck, were whizzing toward the Feldwebel.
The armor-piercing shells, which bored into the thick armor plate and
stuck there, had blasted out the glowing fragments.
After firing for the third time, Bix called to cease
fire. Peering through his binoculars he could see that it had worked
again. The gun barrel of the KV-I had been hit three times and
definitely been rendered unusable.
"Now in the running gear!" he called to his gunner.
Krause fired four shots into the KV-I's running gear
in short order. The giant was immobilized.
"The Russians are climbing out!" reported Schwartz.
Bix watched as the Russian crew climbed out of a hatch
and then disappeared into the neighboring houses.
"Battalion thought that our company had been wiped
out," called Hauptmann Lekschat after answering the battalion
commander's anxious questions.
"It's no wonder, what with all the firing," responded
the Feldwebel. Several more KV-I's had been abandoned by their
crews and were captured undamaged by the battalion when it arrived on
the scene. Bix and his crew would not soon forget the fighting in Venev.
The combat there had been some of the most dangerous they had ever been
The advance by Panzer Brigade Eberbach continued. The
tanks were now driving north. The first Moscow signposts appeared along
On the last night of the advance the tanks drove
toward Kashira in the freezing cold. Russian aircraft bombed the armored
columns. That night the vehicles covered only ten kilometers, as the
deep ruts left by Soviet tanks had frozen, creating a significant
hindrance. Whenever one of the panzers drove into one of these ruts it
was practically locked in. The track bolts, which had become as brittle
as glass in the cold, sheared off on the walls of the ruts. When a track
change was necessary, the men had to carry it out in minus forty degree
temperatures. Attempts to drive in the bolts with hammers resulted in
flying splinters of steel, which often inflicted painful injuries.
When the panzers reached their objective, a small
market town, they were met by fire from Soviet antitank guns. Once again
Feldwebel Bix's tank was involved in the attack. He put two
antitank guns out of action and then they were in the town. The Russian
soldiers still holding out in the houses were overcome by the following
German infantry in house-to-house fighting. The Red Army soldiers
defended desperately, because only in the houses was there shelter from
the frightful cold. Whoever was driven outside faced death by freezing.
The tank crews and infantry had scarcely settled into
the huts when there was another alert. "Everyone back to the jumping-off
position at once!"
Hauptmann Lekschat had no
idea what this meant. Moscow lay only sixty kilometers ahead of the
panzers, and they were to pull back? For Bix and his men, for the
Lekschat Company, and for the entire Eberbach Panzer Brigade the order
"This is the end of our dream," said loader Petermann.
"The blitzkrieg to Moscow has been called off."
Petermann was right. Never again did German tanks get
so close to the Soviet capital as in the terrible winter of 1941.