The Rzhev 'Meat Grinder'
4th August 1942: German infantry fend off a Soviet attack led by KV1 tanks
During 1942 and into early 1943 the Eastern Front saw the Wehrmacht and the Red Army engaged in a series of bitter and costly battles for possession of a city on the river Volga, with hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. This city was over a 1000 kilometres from Stalingrad.
After the failure to capture Moscow in late 1941 the Germans had fallen back to a line west of the city. They managed to hold onto a large salient around the city of Rzhev. The Soviets launched a series of offensives to retake it in 1942. The Germans responded with counter-offensives and it became a costly battle of attrition with little movement in the overall front line.
There are large gaps in the documented casualties - but estimates put the overall joint numbers at between 2-3 million (itself a huge range of uncertainty) killed, missing and wounded over the course of the 18 month struggle for Rzhev.
Reiner Niemann1 had been in the line for 83 days as a private with the 58th Regiment in the 6th Infantry Division, they had just moved to new positions near Polunino:
‘Then Ivan showed up with his 52-ton tanks with their 173 mm guns and began driving back and forth across our trenches.’
For two days it was quiet on both sides, but on the 4th of August, the fighting broke out, and it doesn’t seemed to have stopped yet. The morning around 10.00 a.m., I left our position to go back to the village, which lay some eight hundred meters off, in order to fetch some water. There was no great hurry, so I spent some four hours rummaging through houses looking for anything useful.
Then shortly before 2.00 p.m., as I was getting ready to head back, accurate artillery fire suddenly began hitting the village.