Operation Hubertus - Part Four

Soviet soldier prepare for an attack

Operation Hubertus – Ljudnikov's Last Stand in Stalingrad

By Wolf Höpper

Return to Part Three...

13 November:

Germans regroup – attacks partially stopped – in several sectors German successes – “Red October” finally cleared – 138th Rifle Division isolated  - Situation for Tschuikovs troops worsens

During the night Major Linden ordered Pionier Bataillon 162 to be withdrawn from the 389. Infanteriedivision since their progress was not looking to be very successfully.

He attached them to the Kampfgruppe  578 (Grenadier Regiment 578 and Pionier Bataillon 50). He doesn’t change their objective although, they were to tighten their grip around the encircled Soviets and finally eliminate this strong pocket so as to free forces for the southern attack against “Lazur”.

The assault groups attacked again and broadened their hold on the Volga banks. Here the Germans supported the attack with assault guns from Sturmgeschützabteilung 244. Although most of the vehicles were knocked out, they reached their objectives. One objective was house no. 81. It was taken after heavy room to room fighting. The Soviet 344th Rifle Division, which was basically a battalion sized combat group, were forced to retreat. Pionier Bataillon 162 managed to split the bridgehead behind “Red Barrikady” and reached the Volga. Thereby elements of 308th, 344th and 45th Rifle Division were isolated.

Pionier Bataillon 336 attacked on the left side of the Pionier Bataillon 162, but was stopped at a road junction where the Soviets had set up cross-fire positions to control the whole area. A further advance seemed very unlikely at this point.

The supporting attacks were more successful. Pionier Bataillon Sprenger in conjuncture with Pionier Bataillon 305 and the assault forces of 79. Infanteriedivision cleared the rest of “Red October” factory and set up a connecting, but brittle frontline.

Red October factory complex
The Germans were now not more than 100 meters away from the Volga! At 0850 hours elements of 138th Rifle Division, 650th Rifle Regiment, undertook a strong counterattack out of the fuel depot against the assaulting Pioneers of 305. Infanteriedivision, but it was repulsed.

These successful attacks finally cut off any chance of the defenders receiving any supplies at all. Success was now dependent on holding the Volga bank strips, but the Soviets were far from surrendering. Where even small groups were still alive, they fought on, especially one group of Russians, 3 men under their commander Rolik, who drove the Germans crazy. They were not simply holding a position, but roamed their whole sector.

Pioneers ready to assault

They undertook small guerrilla style actions, firing upon unwary Germans, cutting telephone wires and even cut off hand grenades on wire, which the Germans intend to direct into the command post of Tschuikov himself. Their example was spreading to the other defenders and evolved into an indicator for the whole battle itself. The Soviets believed as long as Rolik fights they can fight.

The Soviet commander, Polkovnik Ljudinkov, demanded heavy artillery support so his soldiers could re-establish a line of supply. The artillery answered his request, they laid a devastating, very precise barrage on the Germans.

Shortly thereafter, the Soviets attacked. They managed to destroy the Germans and only one badly wounded man returned to tell of the fate of his comrades. A second group of volunteers was also gunned down to three men. The German attempt to hold the sand bank was aborted, but only after the gained ground was totally mined.

In the sector of Kampfgruppe Scheele the Soviets, 39th Rifle Division and 284th Rifle Division, made weak recon attacks, which were again repulsed by hand grenade and close combat.

During the entire day in the southern sector of 79. Infanteriedivision disrupting heavy barrages by artillery and mortars were reported. The high point was reached around midnight. 

At 1030 hours all regimental and group commanders met at the command post of 79. Infanteriedivision to confer about a possible attack in the sector of group Seydel to reach the Volga bank. Since the Soviets were again attacking halls no. 7 and no. 10 at 1100 hours, and the necessary forces were still with 305. Infanteriedivision, the attack was cancelled. At 2030 hours an order from LI Armeekorps arrived, which demands an attack for the next day between the debris heap and fuel depot to gain the Volga banks. The staff of Pionier Bataillon 179 was ordered to blow up the underground passages behind hall no. 7 for the next night.

At the end of the day Tschuikovs troops were divided into several distinct pockets and islands.

Soviets assault a factory hall
138th Rifle Division was totally isolated from its neighbouring units. They still defend parts of Barrikady and one 350m by 200m bridgehead in the north. Polkovnik Ljudnikov conferred with Tschuikov and desperately demanded reinforcements. The later promised to do so, but it was only lip service, since the ice flow on the Volga still prohibited all major traffic. The situation was so desperate, that the phones were not encrypted, but both participants didn’t state their names.

At the end of the day 305. Infanteriedivision could only report the capture of two house blocks. All major goals, the elimination of the cauldron and connection with the southern battle groups, were not achieved.

Soviets defend a building 14 November:

“Red Barrikady” is finally captured – Tschuikovs command post under threat – Overall situation for the Soviets very precarious

The night remains quiet. The commander of 79. Infanterie-division met with the commander of Grenadier Regiment 517 (295. Infanteriedivision), and discussed a possible attack to reach the Volga bank on 17 November.

The regiment was so weak, that they could only muster one assault company with some heavy weapons, so the plan was aborted.

II Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 576 with pioneer support under Hauptmann Kemper finally took the remaining parts of the “Red Barrikady”. The most vicious fighting occurred in the underground tunnels of the factory. For about three days only the heavy use of flamethrowers, explosives and hand grenades finally secured the German victory. The Germans themselves lost about 60% of their assaulting forces in this sector. The 650th and southern part of the 768th Rifle Regiments (138th Rifle Division) were driven towards the Volga bank.

The message came as good news in the headquarters of LI Armeekorps. Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach was very pleased and believed from this point (until the catastrophic 19 November) that “his” pioneers would take Stalingrad.

Assault groups of 305. Infanteriedivision took two houses in the morning, but they were lost during the day.

Pionier Bataillon 294 defended their positions around the fuel depot against strong flank attacks from the 241st and 650th Rifle Regiments, their planned attack in this direction therefore had to be aborted.

Factory Hall
In the sector of Pionier Bataillon 50 the attack was slow, but progressing. They were pressing forward in an eastern direction to further minimise the cauldron. They partially reached the Volga and the battle was on a knife edge. They, together with Pionier Bataillon 162, were right above Tschuikovs command post! On their left flank soldiers from the 45th Rifle Division were attacking the German pioneers with furious support from the Soviet artillery. The Germans tried once more to smoke out the Soviet defenders, and once again the hand grenades roll right into the Volga without doing any damage.

Tschuikov was aware of the situation and ordered all of his staff personnel to take up arms and repulse the aggressors. While reclining with his staff chief in his private rooms he proposed that staff chief and himself may have to clean their weapons. In the damp, wet and nearly dark room he awaited the Germans, but they never came.

The efforts of the desperate soldiers, staff officers, clerks and the rest of units fighting in front of the command post pushed the pioneers back and secureed a small 200m x 100m defensive zone before Tschuikov’s residence.

At about the same time units of the 305. Infanteriedivision noted Soviet difficulties shipping supplies to the centre sector of 138th Rifle Division. The Soviets began to use air lifts to provide supply.

Between the fuel depot and hall no. 10 troop movements and three tanks were observed at 1830 hours. The Soviet commander, Polkovnik Batjuk, was shifting some forces for an upcoming counterattack the following day. Grenadier Regiment 208 reported at 0400 hours that the moment of 40 men toward the Volga was observed from the Martin oven hall. An artillery barrages was ordered and the movement stopped. Shortly afterwards a up to this point unknown Soviet bunker was hit by a shell and explodes.

Kampfgruppe Scheele was attacked by 40-50 men, this attack was repulsed.

6th Army Chief of Staff, Schmidt phoned at 1145 hours the headquarters of 79. Infanteriedivision and ordered II Battalion/Panzerartillerie Regiment 4 and the observation battalion to withdraw. The division’s commander, von Schwerin, protested against it, he saw his chances for a successful attack against “Lazur” dwindle, but the order remained in place. The II Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 226 was badly mauled during the last days of counterattacks and it was considered for replacement with the Croatian Grenadier Regiment 369.

When the assault groups of 79. Infanteriedivision take up their positions around “Red October”, they faced the remnants of eight shattered Soviet divisions.

Grenadiers advance through the ruins

Right behind “Red Barrikady” the steamer “Spartakovets” arrived and 400 soldiers and 40 tons of supplies were delivered to Ljudnikov. On its hazardous return trip it evacuated 350 wounded.

East of the “Red Barrikady” two house blocks were captured by Pionier Bataillons 179 and Sprenger. An immediate Soviet counterattack by 150 men was bloodily repulsed.

Tschuikov contacted his front headquarters and complained that for three days he hadn’t received any supplies and was running out. What he did not mention was that despite the emergency he had 12 tons of chocolate on hand. According to the calculations of his supply officer, if they handed out ½ bar per day per man, they could hold out another two weeks.

Fighting in the rail yards

The day remained, compared to the previous days, quiet, if smaller attacks were not taken into account. Major Linden carefully read the incoming reports and took telephone calls from the different front commanders. 

The picture he was getting was not as happy as his superiors, especially von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, wanted it to be.

Although his pioneers reached several points of the Volga bank, encircled the main defensive forces and partially split Tschuikovs 62nd Army into isolated islands and pockets, he lacked the forces to eliminate the defenders altogether. The pioneers had to be used to cover their own flanks and the lately formed infantry assault companies were suffering high casualties holding ground against the constant Soviet counterattacks.

15 November:

Meagre reinforcements for the Germans – Soviets fly air lifts to support their isolated troops – desperate German attacks against 138th Rifle Division – Only small pockets held by the Soviets

The houses that were lost the previous day were recaptured.

The 79. ID received two march companies of returning wounded men from XII/79/4 and XII/79/5. Each company was 24 NCO´s and 159 soldiers strong. They were at once incorporated into the assault groups, since this division planned to attack the remaining positions for the next day.

At 0930 hours several weak attacks against the German held halls of 79. Infanteriedivision were repulsed. A strong Soviet group assembled in front of Kampfgruppe Scheele of about 80 men was destroyed by artillery. Another attack in the afternoon, 1530 hours, against hall 10 was repulsed by Kampfgruppe Scheele. One anti-tank gun, which was brought forward by the Soviets, received a direct hit from a light infantry gun (leIG18) and was destroyed.

Other Soviet attack efforts against hall 2, held by Grenadier Regiment 226, were also repulsed. German Grenadier Regiment 212 was withdrawn to the reserve and Croatian Regiment 369 took up their positions.

German artillery

The Soviets continued to fly airlifts to supply the units of Ljudnikov’s split division. The strips and bridgeheads held by them were so narrow and close to the Germans some supplies land in the sector of 305. Infanteriedivision. The Germans opened them and only find meagre rations of greasy bacon and dry bread and wrongly concluded that the defenders must certainly be at their end.

Major Linden decided to undertake one last desperate attack against the 138th Rifle Division in the south of the “Red Barrikady”. He shifted his remaining forces again, drawing them partially from other divisions, like Pionier Bataillon 305, and set them up in front of the 138th Rifle Division. The combined attacks of Pioner Bataillon 50, 294, 305 and 336 fell upon the 768th and 650th Rifle Regiments. The Soviets fought for every inch, every trench and rubble pile, like they had done the previous days and weeks in their besieged city.

Soviet Light Mortar

The attack gained minimum ground and proved too weak. Both sides were worn out. The final attack against the southern bridgehead of “Krasnaya Barrikady” was aborted, the German casualties were running too high. Major Linden considered aborting the operation in the northern sector altogether.

However, the position of Tschuikov’s 62nd Army was precarious:

The 62nd army was surrounded at three parts. Their resistance lines were thinning, the still heavy ice flow on the Volga prevented supply shipments on a large scale, and the air lifts can only provide scant food and ammunition supply for the brave and fearless soldiers.

124th Rifle Brigade (Polkovnik S.F. Korochow) held a small bridgehead in the north, two bridgeheads around Barrikady were held by 138th Rifle Division. The size of the largest was only 250m by 100m deep. The largest, but thinnest, was held by 14th Guards Rifle Division under General Rodimzev.

The broadest part was around Mamayev Kurgan, where 2000m of depth was held, but otherwise only a few hundred metres could be occupied.

Only the steep Volga bank was saving the Soviets. When the Germans broke through the Soviets retreated behind these banks, reformed and counterattacked. Even the German artillery was not able to hit these positions as their shells could not target accurately the thin beach strips. Into the bank itself, the Soviets drove deep tunnels where they could store supplies, let their men recuperate and assemble some reserves from stragglers and mauled units. They were able to form and reform shattered units for counterattacks and keep up a kind of cohesiveness for their hard hit Army. 

16 November:

Conferences and complaints on the German side – local counter-attacks – minor successes for the Germans

The first snow falls in Stalingrad

Since this last offensive was taking more and more time, an angry von Richthofen phoned Zeitzler at the Führer’s headquarter and demanded either the necessary combat actions should be ordered or the attack altogether aborted. He more or less says that the commanding officer, General Oberst von Paulus, was the wrong man in this position. The underlying animosity against von Paulus was not unheard even by Zeitzler. The later spoke for von Paulus and put von Richthofen back in order with a sharp rebuke. Although on the difficulties of the offensive he agrees with von Richthofen.

von Richthofen
In the sector of 305. Infanteriedivision at 2300 hours the Soviets fired from at least eight newly established machine-gun positions from the island in the Volga. Lights were seen about a kilometre further up the river, and the Germans realised that the Soviets were bringing in new reserves and supplies by steamer. The next night they moved a 7.5cm anti-tank gun to the steep bank and destroyed the boats. No further shipping efforts were made and this marked the end of any supplies for Ljudnikov’s 138th Rifle Division.

During the night Soviet airlifts dropped supplies over hall no. 4 in the sector of 79. ID. The II Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 208 was withdrawn and replaced by III Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 212.

The snow begins It was also intended that 79. ID should man the positions of 305. ID up to the fork balka. Hereby 305. ID should be able to free forces for another attack on 17 November.

Otherwise the Germans and Soviets alike stayed relatively quiet in their sectors. Only Kampfgruppe 577 attacked together with Pionier Bataillon 336 and captured two houses in the so-called 70-es row. At 1245 hours the 95th Rifle Division started an attack against Kampfgruppe 517. The combined artillery of III Bataillon/Artillerie Regiment 179 and the division’s own guns nearly halted that attack, but a local breach was achieved, which could not be cleared by the Germans.

After a brief, but intense artillery barrage, the assault company of 24. Panzerdivision, supported by Pionier Bataillon 389,  finally broke through to the Volga. Their objectives were the bridgeheads of 37th Guards Rifle Division east and northeast of “Red Barrikady”. However, the rest of 389. Infanteriedivision did not follow up, since they were held down by flanking fire from 118th Rifle Regiment. A third of the company died and their commander, Beyersdorff, was badly wounded. Their objective, to split both bridgeheads was not achieved. The remaining combat worthy parts of 24. Panzerdivision were still in the “Lazur” factory area.    

In the sector of group Seydel a flamethrower tank was destroyed by heavy infantry guns in what can be considered close combat. In this sector, the boundary between 305. ID and group Seydel was attacked by the 161st Rifle Regiment with about 350 to 400 men. They were repulsed and finally abort the attack, but only after heavy casualties were sustained by both sides.

At night, between 2000 and 2100 hours, the Soviets dropped supplies to the defenders in front of hall no. 4 of “Red October” by air.

17 November:

Germans fool Soviet pilots – changing orders – new plans

Freezing rain and blowing snow allowed only perhaps 50m of ground to be gained by the Germans in the sector of 79./305. Infanterie divisions. This resulted mainly from the very small scale of the actions against 95th Rifle Division. Even this division was finally at the end of its power. The Soviets started to retreat as no reinforcements were forth coming. When the news of such “retreats” reached Tschuikov, he became concerned about the morale of his troops, more so than he was the days and weeks before. He wondered if his soldiers’ morale will finally collapse.

Meanwhile the German soldiers of 305. Infanteriedivision started fires to confuse the Soviet pilots who flying supplies for their encircled comrades. 

Soviet Worker's militia
The Germans were aware that the nightly fires set up by their Russian counterparts were meant for the pilots to indicate their positions. They decided to trick the Soviet aircrews and “cut” the air lifts. It worked, instead of supplying their hard fighting ground soldiers, they drop the goods right into the hands of the Germans.

At this point a wireless order reached LI Armeekorps’ headquarters, Hitler demanded that at least the gun factory and “Lazur” should be taken. This was the direct order for von Seydlitz-Kurzbach that his planned “Operation Schwerin I” must be executed.

The moment seemed right, since the Soviets hadn’t started any attacks that day and their normally very active artillery was firing only sporadic disruptive fire. The German front line commanders noticed no substantial troop movement or any aggressive activity from their opponents.
After some necessary regrouping, both battle groups, Scheele and Seydel were put into readiness. The troops were ready, the planes loaded, but at 1900 hours LI Armeekorps was informed, by the commanding officer von Schwerin, that due to fog and strong snow falls, the attack could not be started. Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach postponed it for the next day. Otherwise the day stayed quiet for both sides.

Fighting in the snow 18 November:

Changing tactics – last efforts – regroupings and final plans

After a short barrage, the Germans lacked artillery ammunition after days of fighting, groups Scheele and Seydel attacked. The encircle forces of 95th Rifle Division in the leather factory and eliminate all but 2 men. Otherwise the attack started to slow, the weak, but determined, Soviet defenders were able to pin the attackers by carefully placed machine-gun posts and mobile defence. Houses could no longer be defended as stubbornly as the days before, so the responsible commanders abandon them instead, retreated to safe positions and counterattacked the Germans’ exposed flanks.

Thereby they drew German forces from their newly gained objectives to fight the threat to their flank. The Soviets retreated again and attacked the weakened Germans to regain their old positions. These see-saw battles occurred mainly between forces of 20 to 30 men on each side. The German attacks were basically meant to gain better positions for their upcoming general attack against chemical factory “Lazur” and the tennis racket.

In the sector of 295. Infanteriedivision, I Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 517, raised a reinforced assault company and sent it to 305. Infanteriedivision. There it reinforced Kampfgruppe 578. Before 0400 hours the Germans were able to take house no. 83. 

This attack was not as bloody for the Germans and they concluded rightfully that their opponents seemed to be almost spent. 

Otherwise the whole sector of 305. Infanteriedivision stayed quiet. Ljudnikov’s defenders saw that the Germans were moving reinforcements forwards, drawn from rear area service units, to their front lines. When Ljudnikov received this information, he was absolutely and rightfully, sure that the Germans would renew their attacks the next day. His soldiers held a few hundred square metres and his division was down to a couple of hundred men. In front of their lines the bodies of 118th Rifle Regiment lay. They had thrown themselves against the assaulting pioneers to repulse them, but were gunned down. Their sacrifice saved the remaining defenders, only 6 out of 250 men survived. About an estimated 600 soldiers held the last hope for Stalingrad. Polkovnik Ljudnikow knew that the next day might be his last, but he was not willing to give up. After ordering all possible preparations for the next day, he retired to the quiet of his command post and contemplated the coming day.

Storming a factory

19 November:

That night Stalingrad stayed quiet. Only sporadic artillery fire was exchanged. Both sides were weary and recuperate, like beasts in their lairs, knowing that one of them will be jumping out in the morning to rip the other to pieces.

The temperature dropped to –25 degrees Celsius, a freezing and bone chilling wind was blowing through the rubble of the city. Snow was only lightly falling, but the wind ran through the ruins like banshees howling. The ice flows on the Volga crashed against each other and again struck up their cracking, unholy sound of doom. The soldiers of both sides sat in their trenches, holes, or behind crumbling walls and waited, some with fear and some with anticipation, for the morning light.

The smoking ruins of Stalingrad Slowly the sun rose, the dimmed light seeped through the fog to create an unearthly twilight. Together with the sound of the wind, the rubble of Stalingrad created a scene like the forecourt of hell itself. The soldiers on both sides were filled with determination and the inextinguishable fire of will. Their nerves were stretched to the limit in anticipation of the upcoming fight for survival. Every soldier on each side knew that this day would decide their fate.

It was 06.00 hours in the morning and the Soviet men and women of Ljudnikov’s 138th Rifle Division gripped their weapons tightly, holding down their heads in anticipation of the expected artillery and air barrage. Many of them prayed that they would not die without taking the lives of one of the enemy.

Polkovnik Ivan Iljitsch Ljudnikov sat next to his staff comrades, his nerves calm and prepared. He peered through his binoculars observing the German positions, checking his maps again and again. He, like the other soldiers at the last positions in front of the Volga, waited. No word in the command post was spoken. They all waited for the inevitable to come.

Both sides waited for the gods of war to open the gates of hell. The minutes crawled by on the wristwatches of the German assault group leaders, without the usual roar of incoming artillery shells. The attack never came.

Germans wait fro the next day of attacks

By 19 November the Soviets had launched Operation Uranus, which immediately brought Operation Hubertus to an end. The 6th Army’s focus switched to the situations developing on their flanks out side the city.

Note: For this special day only "sporadic attacks" are mentioned by several sources, but no specifics can be ascertained. No reference is found within the relevant German unit histories that they attacked the last positions of 138th Rifle Division, especially a grand all-out offensive is not mentioned. Besides some detailed information about the weather no other important references about the activities in Stalingrad, other than some unit regrouping within 79th ID, can be 100% ascertained. So this last day has to be more or less fictional, but it might have been like that. 

Evaluation and Conclusions...

Last Updated On Wednesday, October 21, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront