Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Advance to Contact - South of Leningrad, USSR, October 1941

Leutnant Jürgen von Lüttwitz paused to watch a column of Panzers and Panzergrenadiere pass by on the dirt track his platoon was following. The ground was hard, that morning had seen four degrees of frost.¹ Which was good for the vehicles, in the rains of a month back the LKWs would have had trouble.

It was also good for the infantry as they weren't getting spattered with mud!

As the platoon continued up the dirt track for another kilometer, von Lüttwitz had time to think. As his platoon was leading the company, which in turn was leading the battalion, when they reached the point where they were to enter the forest, his men would be heading deeper into the woods than the rest, his position would be on the far left flank of the battalion.

Hauptmann Busch had left it up to him as to how to handle his platoon, but the company commander had recommended that von Lüttwitz advance with three squads up with one squad back as a reserve. He had also suggested that a left echelon formation would be a good idea, easier to change front should the Russians hit them from the open flank.

Infantry left echelon formation
Gruppe = Squad, Zugtrupp = platoon HQ
The squads don't have to be in this order, any order would work.
4th Squad is in reserve
As he heard Busch blow his whistle to signal the turn into the forest, von Lüttwitz saw no reason to deviate from the captain's advice. His 3. Gruppe was turning into the woods as he jogged to catch up with it's squad leader, Unterfeldwebel Leo Klempner. As he passed the leaders of his other squads he gestured for them to follow.

"Leo! Hold up!" Though Busch had chided him for his insistence on calling his men by their first names, he still did it. Acker had encouraged a certain familiarity in the platoon, which for the personnel they had, seemed to work well. He remembered the day Busch had brought the topic up.

"Look, von Lüttwitz, you can't allow yourself to become too familiar with the men, nor encourage them to do the same with you."

"I understand Herr Hauptmann, but Leutnant Acker ran the platoon that way and it seems to work well, the men have a certain comradery that I haven't seen in other platoons. The men know that I'm the man in charge, the noncoms make sure of that."

"Well, be correct if there are big shots around."

"Like Major Hassel?"

"Dear God no, he has nicknames for everyone, he's not one to stand on formality at any time. No, if the regimental or division commander is around, not that I expect that."

"Zu befehl, Herr Hauptmann." von Lüttwitz said with a short bow.

"Cheeky bastard. Now go and sin no more."

Klempner waited by the edge of the forest with von Lüttwitz as the other squad leaders joined them. Von Lüttwitz explained what he wanted, the squad leaders all nodded, they understood. Before Klempner moved out to catch up with his squad, von Lüttwitz grabbed his sleeve.

"Make sure you've got an experienced man on the far flank, none of the Grünschnabeln.²"

"Will do Herr Leutnant, I'll have my assistant squad leader out there, Obergefreiter Egon Böhnisch has a cool head, saw plenty of action in France."

"Very good. Watch yourself out there."

The three Russian soldiers were hopelessly lost. Their unit had been completely destroyed in the early days of the Fascist invasion. Their commissar had survived and had brought them to a unit of partisans in the forests to the northwest of Luga.

But the Germans were everywhere, driving on Leningrad as if men possessed. The Russians understood, soon General Winter would make his appearance.

"I tell you, Yulian Valerianovich, if they can't take up winter quarters in and around the city, the winter will kill them, if not, then our counteroffensive will destroy them!" Krasnoarmeyets Bogdan Ilyich Schastlivtsev waved his hands in the air, as if that motion alone would destroy the grey-green legions assaulting their homeland.

Krasnoarmeyets Yulian Valerianovich Fedoseyev sat up and threw the stick he had been chewing on into the small fire they had built. The nights were starting to get cold, he was sure they would see a significant snowfall in the next few days.

"I tell you, Bogdan Ilyich, it's going to snow, and soon. I can smell it!"

Krasnoarmeyets Dionisiy Valeryevich Sukhanov looked at Fedoseyev and shook his head, "Smell snow? Bullshit comrade, the only thing you can smell is yourself. None of us have washed in over a week. I disgust even myself!"

"Where are you from Comrade Sukhanov? "

"Alushta, in the Crimea. What does that have to do with anything?" Sukhanov spat into the fire as he said that.

"You see, Bogdan Ilyich? Our boy here is from a warm southern clime, what does he know of our northern ways?"

"It snows in our northern mountains, but no, where I'm from the weather is very mild. But smell snow? What does snow smell like?"

Fedoseyev laughed and said, "It smells the same as rain, only colder!"

Sukhanov shook his head as both Schastlivtsev and Fedoseyev had a nice laugh at his expense. But they were right, he had very little experience of snow. He also recalled his grandfather saying that one could smell rain. He had to smile at that.

Schastlivtsev held his hand up, he had heard something in the forest. No one ever questioned his woodland knowledge, he had been a hunter in Siberia before the war.

"Douse the fire, quickly!"

Böhnisch was on the far flank of the skirmish line. He had just given one of the men a dirty look. Schütze Gustav Hengsbach and Schütze Clemens Rickenbacher were fooling around again. He should have known to separate the two men.

They were both in their late twenties, fairly typical for the 223. Infantrie-Division, a unit raised in Saxony just before the invasion of Poland. There were a large number of reservists in its ranks. Hengsbach and Rickenbacher were from the same small village, neither, as Unterfeldwebel Leo Klempner liked to say, had a lick of common sense.

Hengsbach had thrown a small branch at Rickenbacher which had made a surprising amount of noise. Both men looked chagrined at the look Böhnisch gave them.

As he motioned at his two clowns to continue to advance, Böhnisch swore that he could smell something ...


"Damn it, how many do you think there are?" Sukhanov whispered in Schastlivtsev's ear.

Before he could answer, Fedoseyev said, "Company strength at least. See how the line stretches back into the trees?"

"What do we do?" Sukhanov moaned.

"Be still you idiot." Schastlivtsev hissed.

Von Lüttwitz moved as quietly as he could to his left flank. The word had come up the line that 3. Gruppe suspected something or someone in the woods some hundred meters away. By the time he arrived, Klempner had already taken a small patrol off into the woods.

"What's going on, Egon?"

"I smelled smoke, like a campfire. We found a spot where someone had doused a fire, within the past few minutes. It didn't give off a lot of smoke, not that you could see, but the wind carried the smell to me. Unterfeldwebel Klempner took a couple of the lads further out to investigate."


"Most definitely, one of them left a military cap near the fire, probably dropped it in their haste to get away."

Von Lüttwitz turned to Schütze Heinz Baar, one of his runners, "Heinz, get to Hauptmann Busch, tell him we've made contact with a small party of Russians." Turning to Böhnisch he asked, "Scouts maybe?"

"No Sir, more likely stragglers. Remember, the SS had that big anti-partisan operation going on down near Luga a week or so ago. Flushed a bunch of 'em, inevitable some of them got away. Poor bastards are probably just running from us."

"Even so, we need to make sure."

Living in the forest for over two months had taken its toll on the three men. Sukhanov fell heavily as he tripped over a dip in the ground filled with leaves, he hadn't seen it.

Schastlivtsev hissed, "Get up Dionisiy Valeryevich, the Fascists aren't far behind."

Sukhanov tried to stand, he grimaced then dropped back to the ground, holding his lower leg. "I think it's broken Comrade. Leave me, I'll hold them up."

Before Schastlivtsev said a word, Fedoseyev gripped Sukhanov under one arm, "Use your rifle as a crutch, if we can get into that thicket, we might be all right."

Sukhanov looked in the direction Fedoseyev had indicated, they were still a good distance from the thicker part of the woods. But he got to his feet, gritting his teeth, he let his two comrades assist him along.

"Look here Leo, one of them must have fallen, someone is dragging him now!" Schütze Roman Wolf pointed at the disturbed ground around a shallow dip in the forest floor.

Klempner looked ahead, a ways off he could see that the forest thickened, he would bet his next promotion that the Russkis had gone that way.

Realizing that he couldn't do much with just himself and two other men, he reluctantly decided to pull back to the main body of the platoon and make his report.

Hauptmann Busch listened as the sergeant made his report to him and to von Lüttwitz. He didn't think that there were many Russians out there, as one of the men had said, probably fleeing stragglers.

"What do you think, Jürgen?" Busch asked the platoon leader.

"I think we keep moving, we're going to be stuck in these woods over night and I'd rather not get scattered chasing ghosts." von Lüttwitz shook his head, "It's always something, isn't it Herr Hauptmann."

"Yes, yes it is. I'll send word back to battalion. Also, bring your platoon in a little tighter with the rest of the company, as you say, it will be dark very soon. We'll let the Major decide if we hunt those men down or continue our sweep."

"Well, one of the objectives was to drive the Russians out of the woods." von Lüttwitz said.

"Yes, we've used a battalion to drive out a few stragglers. We'll never get to Leningrad at this rate. Let's set up camp now, I want to know what battalion wants before going further."

"Zu befehl, Herr Hauptmann!"


Von Lüttwitz turned to where Unterfeldwebel Klempner was standing, pointing at the sky. "What is it Leo?"

"It's starting to snow."

"Scheiße," was all von Lüttwitz could think of to say.

¹ -4° Celsius, roughly 25° Fahrenheit
² Greenhorns or rookies. (German)


  1. Tough times for the Soviets and soon to be tough times for the invaders. A suspenseful post Sarge, cold has arrived with 24 F Up North this morn.......brrrr.

  2. Suspenseful indeed, Sarge. "Stragglers" are unimportant - except to themselves and the men they may kill during their evasion.
    Boat Guy

    1. Stragglers can be like that Lego brick you "find" in the middle of the night in your bare feet. Not a real threat, but certainly painful at the point of contact.

    2. Good analogy, Sarge

  3. Another great installment, and as usual, the image is worth more than 10,000 words. Thanks!

  4. This is going to turn out badly, for some of them. Perhaps on both sides.

    1. Fighting in the woods is always fraught with peril.

  5. A minor nit in the third from last sentence "Von Luttwitz turn to". "turned"?

  6. "Chasing down every straggler" = "Eating up the early part of Winter". Tick, tick, tick.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.