patrol to Astrachan
Guarding the deep,
open flank of Army Group A's eastern group of forces, the
First Panzer Army, was a chain of powerful strongpoints manned by
Motorized Infantry Division.
It was September 13,
1942, east of Elista in the Kalmuck Steppe.
"Hey, Georg, get ready, we leave in an hour!"
gospodin Oberleutnant - yes Sir!" shouted back Georg the
Cossack, then he roared off.
Georg came from
Krasnodar, where he had learned German in the pedagogic
seminary. The previous autumn he had run straight into the arms of
while serving as a runner with the Soviet army. Since then he had
Company, first as a helper in the field kitchen, then, after
volunteering, as an
interpreter. Georg hated Stalin's bolshevism for many reasons and
he was trusted
by everyone in the company. Georg had even filled in as a
several critical situations.
came directly from a briefing held by the commander
of the motorcycle battalion, where they had discussed the final
details of a patrol
operation through the Kalmuck Steppe to the Caspian Sea. The
commander of the
Sixteenth, which had relieved LII Corps near Elista, wanted to
know what was up
in the broad expanse of wilderness on the flank of the Caucasus
front. A huge gap
nearly 300 kilometers across gaped between the area south of
Stalingrad and the
Terek River, which the 3rd Panzer Division had reached near Mosdok
30. This unknown land between the Volga and the Terek appeared
like a huge
funnel. Its base was the coast of the Caspian Sea. All sorts of
surprises could come
from there. Therefore the area had to be kept under surveillance.
At the end of August
the guarding of this huge no-man's-land was entrusted
to a single division. Its base was Elista in the Kalmuck Steppe.
were to be expected before the end of September, therefore at
first the tasks of
surveillance and reconnaissance across to the Caspian Sea and the
Volga delta had
to be taken care of by long-range patrols, which took the form of
It was at this time
that the 16th Motorized Infantry Division earned itself the
name of the "Greyhound Division."
Except for a few
indispensable specialists, only volunteers were involved in
these operations. The first large-scale expedition operation along
both sides of the
Elista-Astrakhan road began in mid-September. Four patrols were
sent out. Their
assignment was as follows:
I. Discover if and
where the enemy is feeding forces into the gap between the
Terek and the Volga, whether he is making attempts to cross the
enemy strongpoints are located, and if any troop movements can be
located on the
Stalingrad-Astrakhan shore road.
reconnoiter road conditions, the condition of the Caspian coast
and the west bank of the Volga as well as the previously unknown
Astrakhan rail line.
The patrols set out at
0430 on September 13, a Sunday. A sharp wind blew out of
the steppe. The sun was not yet up and it was still very cold.
The patrols were
well-equipped for their adventurous drive 150 kilometers
deep into enemy territory. Each troop had two eight-wheeled
armored cars armed
with 20mm cannon, a motorcycle platoon with twenty-four men, two
50mm anti-tank guns - motorized or mounted on armored personnel
and a squad of engineers with equipment. Five trucks - two each
with fuel and
water and one with rations - as well as a repair squad completed
As well there was an ambulance with a doctor, a radio operator, a
messenger and an interpreter.
Disaster struck the
Schroeder patrol straight away. Soon after departure it ran
into an enemy patrol on the other side of Utta. Leutnant Schroeder
interpreter Maresch and Feldwebel Weissmeier were wounded. The
back and set out again the next day under the command of Leutnant
Meanwhile the patrols
led by Oberleutnant Gottlieb, Leutnant Schliep and
Leutnant Hilger were advancing north and south of and directly
along the major
road from Elista to Astrakhan. On September 14 Oberleutnant
Gottlieb, who had
initially the road before veering north into the steppe toward
Sadovska, was forty
kilometers from Astrakhan. On September 15 he was only twenty-five
from the Volga. From the high sand dunes he had a good view across
to the river.
Sand and salt marshes made the terrain almost inaccessible, but
patrols always found a way.
The maps which
Gottlieb had brought with him were not very good. At every
well they came to the Cossack Georg made inquiries of the nomadic
who appeared to be very well-disposed toward the Germans. In the
course of their
long palavers he was able to gather information about the way
ahead and other
matters of interest.
"The big train?
Yes, it runs several times each day between Kizlyar and
"Yes, they ride
around here. Just yesterday a large party spent the night at the
well over there, an hour's journey away. They came from Sadovska,
be many of them there."
nodded and gave the friendly nomads a few cigarettes.
The laughter was suddenly interrupted by a shout. One of the men
toward the north. Two riders were approaching: Soviets.
disappeared. The two armored cars were behind a dune and
could not be seen by the Russians. Oberleutnant Gottlieb called to
here." But the Cossack didn't answer. He stuck his forage cap
under his broad
motorcycle coat, sat down on the well and lit a cigarette.
The two Russians, an
officer and his horseman, trotted cautiously up to the
well. Georg called something to them. The officer got down and
and his men watched as the two talked and laughed.
They stood side by side. "The dog," said the radio
operator. But then they saw
Georg whip out his pistol. Grinning, he said to the Soviet
officer: "Ruki werch!"
The Soviet officer put his hands up and was so surprised that he
called to his
horseman to surrender as well. The Gottlieb patrol returned to
Chalchuta with two
Euler had been given the special assignment of learning
precisely how the defensive installations in Sadovska were
whether troops were being sent across the Volga in this area north
From Utta to Sadovska
was about 150 kilometers in a straight line. Euler
immediately veered off from the main road toward the north. They
about ten kilometers, when suddenly the Leutnant's heart skipped a
beat: a huge
dust cloud was approaching rapidly. "Disperse the
vehicles!" he ordered. Euler
raised his field glasses. The cloud was coming closer, fast. But
then the Leutnant
burst out laughing: it wasn't Soviets coming towards them, but
antelopes, a huge
herd of Saiga antelopes, which live in the steppes of southern
Russia. When they
finally caught the scent of the humans they turned away and
galloped off to the
east. Their hoofs raced over the dry steppe grass and whipped up a
dust cloud so
big it looked as if an entire panzer regiment was driving across
the endless plain.
Next Leutnant Euler
reconnoitered to the north, found the villages of Justa and
Chasyk strongly manned, drove around them and turned toward
On September 16 Euler
and his two armored cars were just five kilometers
from Sadovska and thus seven kilometers from the lower Volga. It
thirty-five kilometers to Astrakhan. In all probability the Euler
patrol was at the
most easterly point reached by any unit of the German Army during
of "Operation Barbarossa" and had thus come closest to
this campaign objective.
What the patrol found
was of great significance: the Russians had dug an anti-
tank ditch around Sadovska and built an deep bunker line. This
prepared bridgehead position, designed to protect an obviously
of the lower Volga by the Soviets.
When the Russian
sentries recognized the German armored cars a panic-like
excitement broke out in the positions: the defenders, who until
now had obviously
been quite unconcerned, raced into their bunkers and rifle pits
and opened up a
furious defensive fire with anti-tank rifles and heavy
machine-guns. Euler cut off
two Russians who were running through the terrain in the general
Scared to death, the
two Red Army soldiers, a staff officer of the 36th
Machine-gun Battalion and his runner, gave themselves up. It was a
but now it was time to be off!
Schliep, the commander of the armored car company, had
likewise set out with his patrol on September 13. His route ran
south of the large
road. His main task was to find out if- as prisoners had stated -
there was in fact
a usable rail line from Kizlyar to Astrakhan which was not
indicated on any maps.
It was most important that they find out about this oil rail line,
which could also
have been used for transporting troops.
Schliep found the rail
line. He related: "From a distance we saw a group of
fifty to sixty civilians who were working on the railway
embankment. The line
consisted of a single track and was framed on both sides by a sand
the guard bolted when we appeared, we were greeted joyfully by the
civilian workers. The group consisted of Ukrainian families, old
and children, who had been forcibly evacuated. They had been
working here for
months. Many of the Ukrainians spoke German and we were welcomed
The soldiers were
still talking with the Ukrainians when a smoke cloud
suddenly appeared in the south. "A train," shouted the
Schliep brought his
armored cars into position behind a sandy knoll. Then an
endlessly-long freight train with oil and gasoline cars came
wheezing toward the
station. Two locomotives were pulling the train. Six shots from
the 20mm cannon
and the locomotives blew apart. Steam sprayed from the boilers and
coals whirled through the air. The train stopped. Car after car
went up in flames.
"Damn, that lovely gas," grumbled the gunners.
The engineers were
about to blow up the station building when the telephone
rang. Startled, they stood up. "Man, that scared the hell out
of me," sighed
UnteroffizierEngh of the repair squad. But then he thought quickly
and called to
Schliep: "Herr Leutnant, telephone!"
grasped the situation and ran into the hut with his
interpreter. Grinning, the interpreter took the phone:
"Stanzia senseli, natshalnik."
"Da, da, tovarich," he said reassuringly.
On the other end of
the line was the Astrakhan freight depot. Astrakhan! The
southern end of the A-A Line (Astrakhan-Arkhangelsk), the
objective of the war
against Russia. The spearhead of the German Wehrmacht had
Astrakhan on the
telephone. The supervisor in Astrakhan wanted to know if the oil
train from Baku
had passed yet. The opposite train had been waiting in a siding
near Bassy for an
An opposite train! The
interpreter tried to convince the comrade in Astrakhan
that he should send the other train. But this piece of advice made
the man in
Astrakhan suspicious. He asked a few questions and the inexpert
received seemed to justify his suspicion.
He berated the
imposter and cursed furiously. Finally the interpreter gave up
the game and said: "Just wait, little father, we'll be in
At this the comrade in
Astrakhan shouted the worst Russian curse he knew
into the receiver and hung up. Thus he couldn't hear how, two
minutes later, the
wooden station at Senseli blew up with the aid of two explosive
The Schliep long-range
patrol returned to Utta on September 17 safe and
sound and without loss. Schlief had to make his report that same
day to the
division and to the Commander-in-Chief of Arrny Group B,
Weichs, who by chance was at the command post.
The senior officers
breathed easier. There was still no threat from the steppe
and the lower Volga, meaning from the Caucasus flank. This was a
discovery, because since the end of August Army Group A had been
trying to get
its stalled Caucasus offensive going again on its left wing.
Panzer Army von
Kleist was to smash open the door to Baku in order to capture the
paradise and thus reach one of the decisive objectives of the
Source : Paul Carell's
"Long-range patrol to Astrachan."