[Civil Affairs] AP4 AAR for August 10
As I listen to the skies above me, I can hear the dive of the Stuka bomber as it leaps down and drops it's load on a nearby building. I hear the crumble of bricks and what I seem to identify as screams of the inhabitants. I hear a few rounds of MG fire being blasted across the courtyard as I kick down the door to the house I am entering and slap my back towards the wall, with the doorway on my left side facing the cellar which I am supposed to cover.
It's been a dry day. The air seemed to really get into your skin and leave it feeling like sand. My hair has gotten so greasy and grown this past week that it now clings together in large lumps, which I attempt to break with my hands, only to find that the pain caused by doing so is worse than the incumbrance of leaving it be. We've been encircled for nearly two weeks now, with Bolsheviks at our every side. Every night you could hear their laughs, their gunfire, their screams, their life. You could hear them taunting us, poking us, giving us that ever so slight bit of dismay at the ever-approaching thought of them just making that final assault at us and dealing with us already. At this point, some of the men seemed to beg it to happen. I talked with Gefreiter Lauritz earlier this evening. The last of the bread we had, had gone moldy. We were already past the point of hunger's pain and nearly into the point of madness. One guy had deserted and we knew not where he went. Some debated what was the worse fate, to starve, to be killed by Bolsheviks or to be captured by them. I saw one man who's name I cannot remember. He had contemplated suicide and even got so far as to pull the trigger on himself, only to have forgotten that he had no ammunition left for his pistol.
But this was to be our break. We have gotten word from the divisional HQ. At this time today, air support was to be given to all units still trapped, and we had a chance to make a break for it. To do that, we needed to capture and hold the bridges leading into the town we were held up in until friendly units could arrive to relieve our back. The Bolsheviks had since long before held the other side of those bridges and had MG-supporting units on that side. We were, however, confident that they too would be attacking on this day. So we set the plan in motion. Me and Gefreiter Lauritz were to head down into the cellar of our HQ-building and make sure no assault was made from there, while the rest of the unit moved up along our flanks and secured the surrounding buildings. We'd abandoned our HQ building a few days prior and thus we now had to retake it. The Bolsheviks, however, had not yet occupied it for an unknown reason.
Here I now stood with Gefreiter Lauritz on the other side of the door frame, looking down at the cellar. He headed in front of me, with his G43 steady and ready to deal death to any foe inside. No sooner do we enter the cellar than we hear the shouts of Bolsheviks from the stairs leading down to the cellar from the other side. First comes a smoke grenade, then two pineapples (as we had begun calling them). I see my friend go down to a piece of shrapnel being lodged in his lower torso, and he grimaces. Yet he keeps himself as steady as ever, and now sees three enter. He shoots the first, who falls quickly to the ground with a loud thump. The second to enter sprays a round of SMG fire and finds easily the body of my friend. I have no time to react, and the smoke is tearing up my eyes as we speak. I cough, almost unable to breath from the smoke-filled room, yet the tension of the situation causes my lungs to be sent into overdrive. I want to move, yet I cannot function. I suddenly find myself having pulled the trigger, and one of the shots released goes "ping" through the bolshevik's helmet.
He's dead, I presume.
A round of fire comes my way again, but by now I am crouched over, and head to the other side of the cellar, to escape his fire. I fire in blindness yet hear no hits, no words, and no screams. I run over to where he was, and peak over the edge. I see him crouched over, also coughing. The smoke must've gotten to us all. I grab my bayonet from my boot, slip it up and hold it steady in my hand. I fall on him, and he quickly punches it out of my reach, causing me to reach for his neck with my bare palms.
I see his eyes, I see his life. His whole world, his memories, his dreams and hopes, futures, children, wives, friends, drinks and books. I see his tears flow down his cheek in front of me as he thinks of his mother. As he thinks of his little brother who was killed in our bombing raids, and as he thinks of his father who was shot by some drunken SS officer. I do not know what of that I think of him is true, but I don't care anymore. I just see. But it is him or me, one dies, and one lives. Most likely, anyway. Yet I think, who put us in that position? To who did we swear we would feel such pain? And for what?
As his life leaves him, I feel exhausted, and lay down beside him. I gasp for air myself. It has been a restless fight. I hear footsteps now, coming down the stairwell that the Bolsheviks came down earlier. Take me, stray bullet, for I deserve not to live with what I have done.
"Are you ok, William? We heard gunfire and screams! It's all clear up here, as long as we don't suffer a counterattack we should be safe."
I rise, not speaking, barely thinking. As I hold my stahlhelm in my hand I walk up those heavy stairs, yet crumble under the weight of my thoughts and sit down on the steps. The dry smoky air that so tediously previously filled my eyes and air has now seemingly vanished, with my eyes turning into pure liquid. I feel. Purely feel.
Written by: PFC Streamhill
Edited by: T/5 Dethfield and PFC Plumbley
Approved by: CoCA and Bn. S3