I. Furlough and Troop Trains under Partisan Attacks
Precautionary measures for the protection of railroads had to be stepped up because of increasing partisan activities in the East. Furlough and troop trains moving over railroad lines which crossed partisan-infested forests were organized as combat units. When a man was sent on furlough he had to carry his rifle until he reached a designated station. He left it there and picked it up on his return trip. The transport commander was simultaneously combat commander, the ranking man in every car was car commander. Demolition of tracks combined with raids from the forests which came close to the lines on both sides were to be expected at all times, particularly at night. In case of a surprise attack or upon a specific alarm signal, the occupants of all cars were instructed to jump off- evennumbered cars to the left, odd-numbered to the right- and to repel the attack. A few assault detachments and a small reserve remained at the disposal of the transport commander in case of a special emergency.
An interesting incident occurred in November 1942 when 6th Panzer Division was moved to the area south of Stalingrad after its rehabilitation in Brittany. The division was loaded on seventy-eight trains of approximately fifty cars each. Each train was organized for combat in accordance with the abovementioned procedure. Numerous raids and surprise attacks occurred during the trip through the marshy forests. Only a few trains got through the Pripyat region without incident. Most of the attacks were directed against the trains hauling tanks and artillery, and fierce fighting broke out in each instance. One artillery battalion commander and several men were killed and a number of officers and men wounded. The trains were greatly delayed and many of them had to be rerouted. During the ten-day trip they were mixed up and arrived at their destination in improper order and long overdue. A special problem was created by the fact that the trains loaded with artillery and tanks arrived last because twenty such trains were attacked by partisans, some of them repeatedly. This materiel was urgently needed because, from the time when the first train unloaded at Kotelnikovo, the division was under enemy artillery fire and the railroad station was attacked by dismounted cavalry. To secure and enlarge the detraining area required additional
fighting. The division had to detrain where the enemy was assembling his forces because there was no continuous German front in this area after the encirclement of Stalingrad. It was due only to enemy hesitation that the units, which had just been unloaded and lacked heavy weapons support, did not get into serious trouble. The enemy started his attack on the assembly area of the completely isolated division immediately after the arrival of the trains carrying the German tanks. On 5 December 1942 an entire Russian cavalry corps with sixty-four tanks drove into the flank of the assembly area south of the Aksay River and achieved a penetration. But during the night the German tanks were unloaded close to the enemy. Some of them were detrained outside of the railroad station and prepared for the counterthrust. On 6 December the bulk of the division with 160 tanks attacked the enemy's flank near Pokhlebin, cut oft his retreat, and pushed him against the steep banks of the unfordable Aksay. The Russians suffered a crushing defeat from which only small remnants of the corps and six tanks were able to escape.
II. The Commitment of Furlough Battalions
A few weeks later when the Russians broke through along the Don, the Germans attempted to establish a new front along the Donets River. The situation was serious. The forces available were weak because several armies put in the field by Germany's allies had suddenly collapsed. Every German unit, every German soldier was urgently needed to strengthen the front.
Upon returning from furlough members of units enclosed in the Stalingrad pocket were stopped at. Kamensk Shakhtinski on the Donets, assembled, organized into a battalion, and immediately committed along the Donets east of the city. A young first lieutenant was appointed battalion commander and noncommissioned officers commanded the companies. The men came from various units and arms. They did not know their leaders who in turn did not know their men. Equipped with rifles and only a few machine guns, they were to defend a six-mile sector along the river.
The Russians soon spotted this weak sector and, covered by tanks and artillery, crossed the Donets with greatly superior forces and attacked the battalion. They broke through the thinly manned front at various points and advanced swiftly toward the south. The infantry division to which the battalion was attached was involved in heavy defensive battles and could not provide any help. But mobile reserves of the 6th Panzer
Division which held the sector adjacent to the east moved up quickly and attacked the enemy from the rear. Within a few hours the hostile force was destroyed and its remnants captured or shattered. After a few more hours the furlough battalion which had suffered heavy casualties was reassembled. It was immediately disbanded and the men were assigned to their basic arms within the panzer division, where their capacities could again be fully utilized. Every individual member of the furlough battalion was a battle-tested front-line soldier. But hastily assembled in an improvised unit, without the essential heavy weapons, these men could not be utilized in accordance with their abilities. The battalion was doomed in this unequal battle.
The formation of furlough battalions was an unavoidable expedient in critical situations, but it really meant the improper expenditure of good combat soldiers. For this reason furlough battalions had to be dissolved as quickly as possible and the men returned to their original units.
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