Operation Hubertus - Part Three

Soviet ZIS-3 field gun

Operation Hubertus – Ljudnikov's Last Stand in Stalingrad

By Wolf Höpper

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VI. The operation – a day by day account

9 November:

Attacks in the sector of 79. ID – capture of the oil refinery

In the area of 79. Infanteriedivision the Soviets flew strong bomber sorties against the factory positions. In the same sector of 79. ID, between 0310 and 0420 hours, the Soviet 180th Guards Rifle Regiment undertook a number of weak recon thrusts against factory hall no. 2. All were repulsed. During the day the 138th Rifle Regiment attacked no less then 12 times against hall no. 10. The strength varied, but on average 200 men attacked each time. Most of them were repulsed in close combat. 

Some local breaches into the hall itself were cleared with counterattacks. In the morning Sturmgeschützabteilung 244 was withdrawn from the division and sent north to the upcoming attack.
During the night heavy air raids accompanied by artillery bombardments hit the German lines of 79. ID. The 79. ID was suffering more than their neighbouring units under the constant bombardments, since it was covering the right flank of 24. Panzerdivision, which was guarding the vital Mamayev Kurgan hill preferred by German artillery and air observers for coordination on the shipping on the Volga.

Since the Germans here also threaten large parts of chemical factory “Lazur”, the Soviets constantly attacked their positions. German assault activities in this sector were also weakened for the upcoming attack. The Soviets saw a chance for a local counter-offensive, not realizing, that 79. ID and 24. PzD were withdrawing and regrouping their forces for the upcoming attack against the factory.

In the sector of 295. Infanterie/100. Jäger divisions, Pionier Bataillon 100 and 295, together with assault groups of their divisions, managed to capture the oil refinery and breakthrough the left flank of Soviet 284th Rifle Division to the Volga river. Otherwise only some houses were conquered and the attack comes to a standstill. Here the Germans have gained another foothold on the Volga bank, from where they intended to attack north to finally take “Lazur” and the “tennis racket” itself.

24. Panzerdivision finally managed to assemble the ordered assault company and sent it immediately to the 389. Infanteriedivision.

10 November:

The Soviets kept up their constant attack against 79. Infanteriedivision – Major Linden worried about infantry strength.

Stalingrad September to November

The 79. Infanteriedivision’s reported that during the night the Soviets again bombed their positions.

At 0730 hours the Soviets attacked with stronger force of 138th Rifle Regiment out of the fuel depot against hall no. 10 and penetrate the southern part. At 0845 hours this attack was halted, but resumed one hour later after reinforcements. Although 79. ID started an immediate counterattack, the penetration could not be cleared. The 79. ID simply lacked the reserves for a strong counterattack. The reserve battle groups were not committed because von Seydlitz-Kurzbach denied the request from the division’s commander to release them. He didn’t want the assault forces to be weakened. Since the Germans were not effectively counterattacking, the Soviet commander, Polkovnik Batjuk, threw more troops into the arena in six more attacks, each about 200 – 300 men strong, to further the initial success. None of the attacks gained substantial ground.

Fighting in the ruin of the city

In the morning the Soviet 180th Guards Rifle Regiment attacked, with between 30 and 40 men, hall no. 7 three times and tried to increase their penetration into the hall, but the attacks were deflected. In the afternoon four more similar attacks were undertaken, but all of them were unsuccessful, the last after bloody close combat.

From 7 November the Soviet positions in the sector of 79. ID had been hit every day by fifty 21cm shells of I/Artillerie Regiment 733, to neutralize specific targets. This brought some relief and certainly disrupted Soviets plans, but they were still able to fortify their defences and bring in their scarce reserves.

The Martin oven hall (no. 4) was hit twice with very good results by German Stukas, each flight 15 planes strong.

The constant Soviet attacks in the sector of 79. ID certainly disrupted the German plans for an offensive here. Although the Soviet commander, Polkovnik Batjuk, was not aware of the German plans, he realised that his positions were vital for the survival of Stalingrad and taking of the important Mamayev Kurgan hill. He constantly sought to improve them so a counter-offensive in his sector could be started. Tschukov also saw a slim chance at this point and constantly shipped reserves into the area of 284th Rifle Division so they could keep up their efforts. Other sectors, like that of the 138th Rifle Division, suffered because these measures.

Major Linden was very concerned about the low attack strengths of some infantry units, he constantly contacted von Seydlitz-Kurzbach to demanded reinforcements. Even his observation, that too many highly trained specialists would be lost in the attack and be missed in the upcoming spring offensive, were swept aside and ignored.
Soviets advance across the wasteland
11 November:

The Germans attack – chimneys of “Red Barrikady” are levelled – Slow progress by the attackers – chemist´s shop is captured – Attack against “Commissars House” fails – first breakthroughs to the Volga river – “Red October’ factory is attacked – Casualities for the Germans are running high

Shortly after midnight assault groups moved as quietly as possible into the machinery halls of “Red Barrikady”. The pioneers were burdened with satchel charges, explosives, machine gun belts, tons of hand grenades and additional pioneer equipment like large wire cutters, ignition boxes and flame-throwers. All were quiet and they knew exactly where to position themselves.

Germans move forward for another attack These hardened veterans had done this over and over before. Some of the hard nerved even smoked in anticipation of the soon to start bombardment. As Hauptmann Rettenmaier of 578. Grenadier Regiment remembers, they were confident that they would throw the Russians into the Volga. He commented to his troops that the Russians fight here harder than in other cities, they answer “We saw worse in Rostov and Voronezh!” Even Rettenmaier himself thought that this operation might just succeed.

Suddenly an explosion was heard from a neighbouring room. One of the pioneers had stepped on a Soviet land mine. He and 18 of his comrades had died before the operation was even underway. They didn’t have much time to think about what happened, it was 0330 hours and the German artillery had begun an immense, not seen for a long time, artillery barrage on the Soviet positions of 138th Rifle Division. All the artillery of LI Armeekorps fired on a thin line 3000 meters wide right before the pioneers’ eyes. The earth shook under the massive pounding of the German artillery fist.

The Soviets answered with a barrage of their own. General Voronov immediately ordered all available batteries on the eastern Volga bank to counter the bombardment.

For nearly two hours Germans and Soviets alike were held in their positions as the gods of war exchanged their wrath. 
In the morning at 0630 hours, during the bombardment, von Richthofen’s Stukas managed to hit the chimneys of “Red Barrikady” directly and levelled them. This robs the Soviets of their superb artillery observation posts and some very good sniping positions.

The first aim of Pionier Bataillon 305, in front of Rettenmaier´s Kampfgruppe 578, was the White House, held by parts of 768th Rifle Regiment (138th Rifle Division). Pionier Bataillon 50 attacked the Red House, defended by 241st Rifle Regiment (95th Rifle Division).

The reinforced II Battalion/576. Grenadier Regiment, under Hauptmann Kemper of about 150 – 200 men strong, attacked the fortified positions of 650th Rifle Regiment (18th Rifle Division) in the left sector of the Red Barricades factory.

Map showing Factory locations

Although they were supported by Pionier Bataillon 294, they made slow progress. During the first day they only gained an average of 30 meters. They dearly paid for that ground with heavy casualties. The most vicious fighting was centred around hall no. 7. This large 700 x 100 metre multi-story building, and its neighbouring heating plant, were well fortified and stubbornly defended by the Russians.   

Obviously the barrage had some effect on the Soviet defenders. The I and III/576. Grenadier Regiment, intended as flank covering forces for their II Battalion, manage to break through at the 161st Rifle Regiment (95th Rifle Division) and partially reached the Volga bank. They immediately tried to smoke the retreating Soviets out of their river bank dungeons, but the hand grenades rolled uselessly into the Volga. They had to stay and guard the exits, since at night the Soviets would pour out and counterattack.

Soviets defend a River bank The attack against the White House proved to be well planned and executed. At first the pioneers overcome the weak defences of the remaining Russians and gain good ground. It was not until they reached the area surrounding the chemist’s shop that the Soviet defenders scrapped-up some reserves, among them staff and signal’s personal from 37th Guards Rifle Division, and attacked the pioneers on their right flank. Suddenly the storm troopers had to seek cover. For many long minutes the situation was desperate, the Germans were under fire from two sides. The covering infantry, Kampfgruppe 578, was held back by still active and often lone Soviet soldiers (308th and 344th Rifle Divisions) fighting for their lives from hidden and changing positions.
The commander of 3rd platoon, Pionier Bataillon 305 drew up the following plan: The whole company fires on their two side threats and thereby covering a group of five men with a flamethrower. The remaining three groups set up heavy machine guns and fire at the window holes and known positions of the defenders to force them to take cover.

They could only manage to keep up this fire for seconds, the Soviet snipers were a real menace for the attackers and shot very precisely. The flamethrower crew rushed, with sub-machine guns blazing around them, to the main entrance of the big austere building, the only point of cover and out of the sight of the hated snipers.

They discover the entrance was blocked and they shouted back to their comrades and demanded a second hail of covering fire. One reckless pioneer ran back to the old positions for the shaped charges. After a few seconds, that seemed like minutes, he returned. The remaining pioneers waited in anticipation. There was a sharp explosion followed by minutes of silence. Suddenly there was a sound like a beast crying out its rage and agony. Black smoke came out of the building’s openings. The flamethrower moved room to room, floor to floor, spaying doom on the poor, hapless defenders.

Finally Kampfgruppe 578 arrived, and the combined two-side attack routed the Soviet snipers. When the Germans advanced and took the few surrendering, frightened and shocked Soviet prisoners, the building was already ablaze and started to crumble into debris. 

MG team concealed by a fence
Further advance towards the Volga bank was abandoned, since the Soviets, 768th Rifle Regiment and 42nd Rifle Brigabe had taken up positions and dug in only 200 meters from the Volga bank. After what they just experienced, they were still willing to defend to the last bullet and man.

Even the Germans were worn out and decided to regroup for the next day.

The attack of Pionier Bataillon 50 was less successful. They crawled more than they were advancing upright over the debris, cutting their way through remaining barbed wire towards the Soviets. They were not able to infiltrate the house itself, since here the Soviets had the building uniquely fortified. The ground floor didn’t have any entrances, all of them were walled up! Although the pioneers reached the house, they were unable to get in since the debris was not high enough to support them up to the second level. After several direct assaults the Germans retreated to safe positions and their intention to attack further was abandoned. Major Linden decides to regroup for the next day.

Grenadier prepare to assault

Pionier Bataillon 336 was able to take several blocks from 344th Rifle Division and 308th Rifle Division in their sector, but had to abandon the gains later, since they had totally run out of ammunition. 

Pionier Bataillon 389, reinforced with Pionier Bataillon 162, attacked straight and partially reached the Volga bank. They were able to drive back 118th Rifle Regiment (37th Guards Rifle Division), but otherwise the southern aimed attack came to a standstill. Russian resistance proved too stiff.

At 0355 hours 79. ID attacked the Soviet positions of 120th Rifle Regiment and 117th Guards Rifle Regiment at the Martin oven hall (hall no. 4), in conjunction with their lefthand neighbours.

The plan: They assigned reinforced Pionier Bataillon 179 and Pionier Bataillon Sprenger (41st + 45th) for this task. Their first goal was the southeast side of this hall.

They attacked in the following order: right flank: Pionier Bataillon Sprenger, centre 1st and 3rd companies, left 2nd company. The southwestern hall wall was designated as dividing line for the responsible sectors. The northeastern hall wall was assigned as the dividing line between 3rd and 2nd company.

Artillery Regiment 179 and the assigned infantry guns shelled the nortwestern part of hall no. 4 for 5 minutes to hold down the defenders, after that the assault groups advanced quickly locating and fighting local nests of resistance. The artillery observers advanced with the leading assaulters to provide effective fire support on the spot.

The artillery spotters were assigned to Pionier Bataillon Sprenger, the observers for the light infantry guns with 1st and 3rd company, Pionier Bataillon 179.

2cm FlaK38 guns hold down snipers in the roof from their positions at the ladder house.

Croatian Regiment 369 was to conquer and secures the newly gained ground behind the assault groups. One company was held in reserve.

Assembly was to be completed at 03.00 hours under codename “Martin”.

Infantry gun defends a building
But all did not go the plan:

Assault group 1 was not able to get out of its assembly positions. Groups 2 and 3 only advanced with heavy flamethrower support about 30m inside the hall. Group 4 advanced on the northern side of the hall, but had to retreat at dawn towards their starting positions due to heavy fire from the Soviet positions of the 120th Rifle Regiment. Groups 2 and 3 suffered heavy causalities, during their dangerous advance over the debris, rubble, old machinery and wrecked iron parts.

The Soviets employed a number of unique defensive measures. They reinforced positions with steel plates, so only small slits remain from where they fired their weapons. These fortifications were very difficult to spot and even harder to suppress and destroy. The attackers did manage to capture some badly wounded Soviet soldiers. After interrogating them the commander of Pionier Bataillon 179, Hauptmann Wenz, learnt that the Soviets themselves planned an attack inside the hall no. 4. The Germans had simply thrust with their assault groups into the assembling 112th and 120th Rifle Regiments.

Soviets in snow suits

At first no substantial breakthroughs were achieved, but after a redirection of the attack axis, both assault groups broke through on the right, northern, side of the “Red October” factory and reached the Volga bank. This, together with the successful thrust on the northern part by Grenadier Regiment 208 and Grenadier Regiment 226 against the Soviet 339th, 347th and 685th Rifle Regiments of 99th Rifle Division, established a cauldron in which about 2000 Soviet defenders of 95th and 99th Rifle Divisions were trapped.

This success was highly regarded by the German 6th Army and seen as the beginning of the end for Tschuikov’s forces.

Together with their neighbours, 79. ID, the 14. Panzerdivision ordered a local attack in the sector of Motorcycle battalion 64 (MB 64) south of bread factory no. 2, to reach the Volga in the sector of 241st Rifle Regiment. After a short bombardment from the division’s artillery at 0345 hours the Germans stormed forward and reached the river bank with one group. They were quickly cut off and  counterattacked. A second volunteer group, assembled to relieve their comrades, attacked and broke the resistance of Soviet 241st and 161st Rifle Regiments, but was later also cut off. Both groups were annihilated by the Soviets, only one wounded man escaped and reported the fate of his comrades. The goal to reach the river and hold the positions here was not achieved.

After the reports of the causalities floated into the 305. Infanteriedivision’s headquarters, General Major Oppenländer contacted von Seydlitz-Kurzbach and demanded the attack be aborted. At this point the German assault forces had already suffered up to 30% casualties. Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach was not willing to do so and remarks “This is a Führerbefel!”, Oppenländer resigns from his post and is replaced by the Chief of Staff of the VIII Armeekorps, Oberst Steinmetz.

Major Linden listened to the battle reports of the different unit commanders and drew the following conclusions:

1. The pioneers were heavily burdened by their clumsy and awkward combat equipment. These street fighting specialists were thereby unable to carry enough ammunition for their infantry weapons to successfully keep up the fire-fight in the long term. They simply ran out of bullets.

2. The debris filled, many times bombed, ground proved to be very helpful for the defenders and often blocked line of sight.

Germans in a factory hall

This slowed the advance to a mere crawl for the next cover and prevented the coordinated attacks of the different assault groups.

3. The following infantry units were not able to provide ample fire support and it took them too long to clear isolated pockets of defenders.

He reported these points to von Seydlitz-Kurzbach and demanded immediate infantry reinforcements. But all he received was a sharp denial from his superior with the remark that nothing could be taken away from other divisions, since the Soviets were preparing for an offensive in the Romanian sectors. Nonetheless he reconsidered the ups and downs of the day and ordered that the full attack in all sectors should only be revitalised after a regrouping and it should be started on 13 November.

At about the same time the attack was started in the northern sector, between 0310 and 0420 hours the Soviet 138th and 180th Guards Rifle Regiment undertake minor attacks against hall 2 of “Red October”, in the area of 79. Infanteriedivision. These attacks were countered with close combat actions. Shortly thereafter they attacked in the same area of hall no. 10 twelve times with approximately 200 men each time. Some units managed to invade parts of hall 10, but were thrown out again by spontaneous local counterattacks. The old main line of resistance was re-established and several weak counterattacks with tank support were repulsed by the Germans.

In the evening the Soviet 95th Rifle Division undertook a counterattack southeast of the “Red October” factory, but raging German mortar and artillery fire immediately stopped this attempt in its tracks. The intention of Schtscherbakov was to hinder the Germans from taking troops from his sector and reinforcing their advancing flanks.

Soviet trench

12 November:

79. Infanteriedivision is constantly shelled and attacked – The “Commissar’s House” or Red House is captured – minor advances by the Germans

During the night the Soviets flew aggressive sorties against the positions of 79. Infanteriedivision.

At 0500 hours the German artillery laid a firestorm on the Soviet positions for one and a half hours.

The Germans learnt from the mistakes of the previous day and equip Pionier Bataillon 50 with ladders. This battalion was moved into the former attack sector of Pionier Batailon 305. The later was moved towards 79. Infanteriedivision. 

The attack from the previous day was resumed. The 2nd platoon, Pionier Bataillon 50, managed to get to the house walls and set up the ladders, while the infantry together with the remaining pioneers set up precise screening fire to hold down the defenders. The pioneers suffered horrible losses while climbing into the rooms, with hand grenades and flamethrowers in use, they defeated the Russians room by room fighting. When the situation became more and more hopeless for the defenders, they retreated to the first floor and finally into the cellar. The German attackers were not able to penetrate the cellar through the descending stairs, so they broke the wooden floor open with picks and threw fuel canisters, smoke grenades and explosives into the darkness below them. Thick smoke starts soon appeared, indicating, that intense fires were raging. This was too much for the defenders and they evacuated themselves through prepared escape tunnels to the positions of the 138th Rifle Division. The result was nonetheless a success for the Germans, they removed this strong point from the Soviet defensive line, which had dominated the Volga bank and connected areas for several hundred metres.

After a brief break, the Germans regrouped and called in another artillery bombardment for their next advance. They intended to clear some neighbouring housing blocks to secure their positions.

After they received their support, they assaulted a row of houses. At house no. 78, the attacked was halted by a Soviet machine-gun in a trench that had pinpointed the Germans’ positions. Leutnant Kretz of 578. Grenadier Regiment gathered some men, stormed forward, firing his sub-machine gun and took the enemy position.

The final act of the attack came from a Red Army soldier to his left, who fired his PPsH and downed Leutnant Kertz.

German Grenadier
He was the last leutnant of 578. Grenadier Regiment to die on this day on the Volga. This loss shocks his men and nearly halted the whole attack, but they overcame their horror and took house no. 78. Shortly after they took up positions in the house itself, the sharp eyes and ears of one machine-gunner saved this newly gained position. From the second floor he noticed a strong Soviet force sneaking up to the house. He opened fire, which alerts the rest of the Germans, and with a counterattack they were able to hold the building.

After they received some fresh troops at 0950 hours, 305. Infanteriedivision gained control over all of the area east of the gun factory. The 389. Infanteriedivision reached the Volga bank on a 500 meter broad strip. The fuel tanks were taken and cleared by Pionier Bataillon 294 of all enemy resistance. During German attack, the 768th Rifle Regiment was split in two parts and it drove a deep wedge into the Soviet positions and divided 138th Rifle Division of Ljudnikov into two parts. One of his battalions only had a combat strength of 15 soldiers. The Soviets were partially driven back to within 70 metres of the Volga bank.

Soviets moving from building to building

Ljudnikov decided to commit his last reserve battalion and threw them against the advancing Pionier Bataillon 294. This cleared the situation for the moment. Another platoon fought until only 4 men were left and ammunition was running out. One of these brave men was sent back, already wounded, to order fire on their own positions.

The 14. Panzerdivision and 79. Infanteriedivision resumed their attack from the previous day, this time together with Panzergrenadier Regiments 103 and 108, and gained the Volga bank. They were supported by Pionier Bataillon Sprenger and the usual heavy air/artillery barrage. The Soviet 241st Rifle Regiment was totally destroyed and the few survivors fought their way to neighbouring units.

The battle groups of 24. Panzerdivision repulsed a counterattack by 284th Rifle Division against the chemical factory “Lazur”.   

The advance of Pionier Bataillon 162 and 389 (389. Infanteriedivision sector) ground to a standstill.

Only minor advances, often less than 20 metres against stubborn and unforgiving resistance by 138th Rifle Division and 37th Guards Rifle Division, forced the Germans to halt their offensive in this sector. The northernmost part of the offensive had failed after the first day.

During the morning the Soviet 138th Rifle Regiment undertook several hazardous attacks in the area of hall no. 10, but a vicious melee develops, by which the Germans repulsed the Soviets with the large-scale use of hand grenades. A similar attack at 1350 hours against hall no. 7 was also repulsed. The front line soldiers in this sector observed strong movements between hall no. 10 and the fuel depot. They reported this back to their division headquarter and where it was rightly concluded that the Soviets were moving reserves into the area. They immediately warned 305. Infanteriedivision of this new danger. Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, without knowing this fact, ordered the Panzer company of group Seydel (group Schwerin) to be withdrawn to the great Don bend to reunite with the parts of the 24. Panzerdivision.

At this point of the battle the situation was very serious for Tschuikov. His northern defensive strong point, the 138th Rifle Division under Polkovnik Ljudnikov, was split, severely thrown back and held only partial frontlines. Around “Red October” no gains were achieved and the connecting units between this two strong points were more and more reduced to thin, most often non-cohesive, improvised lines. A cohesive defence of the Volga bank was not guaranteed and the measures he was able to implement were less and less coordinated.

After this second day of bloody combat von Seydlitz-Kurzbach reported to the headquarters of 6th Army that the newly arriving infantry replacements, especially for 79. Infanteriedivision, were insufficiently trained and therefore suffer high casualties.

Soviets moving from building to building
Part Four: 13 to 19 November (live 17 Dec)...

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