The 20mm cannon of Ulrich’s armored car caused much more disruption to the Red Army’s armored spearhead than he could have possibly imagined at the time.
Somewhat recklessly, the Commissar had pushed his tanks to the limits of their range, once he had found an undefended section of the front and a clear road. This was in accordance with his orders, but ambition and a perceived opportunity to strike deeply into the German heartland drove him to disregard dangers that might otherwise have restrained him. So, when he finally laagered around the abandoned German farmhouse, his tanks barely had enough fuel to keep their engines running long enough to assume a defensive formation.
Now, thanks to a single undetected enemy, two of his precious fuel trucks were blazing away. The third, and last, had absorbed enough splinters to leak its precious cargo uselessly into the snow.
The Commissar could, and did indeed, ignore the human losses, a mere (from his point of view) fifteen men killed and slightly more injured, but he couldn’t ignore the loss of fuel.
So, while his troopers rather ineffectively scrubbed the blood off of his command tank with handfuls of snow, he withdrew into the farmhouse to consider his options. As usual, his dear friend and faithful companion, Colonel Valery Sonofavich, was there to offer advice and commiserate over this latest misfortune.
It didn’t take long for the Commissar to reach a decision on his next move and he held a meeting with his tank platoon leaders shortly before noon.
“Lieutenant Savkin, take two scout tanks, three T-34s, and enough infantry for security and push as far North on the road to Bad Frostberg as you can. If you run into organized resistance–which I seriously doubt--withdraw out of range and report to me on the nature of the resistance. Your mission is to scout forward and determine the strength of Bad Frostberg’s defenses, but your primary concern is to clear that road. Do you understand?”
“Yes Comrade Commissar!” Savkin replied, snapping to attention.
“The rest of you, attend to maintenance and as soon as fuel arrives, I intend to take Bad Frostberg. This town contains not only a road North to the sea, but also a railway line running West to East. In other words, when we take this town, we can prevent reinforcements the enemy's armies in East Prussia and, at the same time, force a way towards the Baltic! We are the most advanced spearhead of the entire Front and I intend that we will be the first tanks of the heroic Red Army to dip our tracks into the Baltic!”
The platoon commanders clapped and cheered at this announcement. Bottles of vodka and glasses appeared, as the Commissar had fully expected their response. The idea of splitting the German defense in half, trapping a German Army in East Prussia and inflicting fatal damage to the army they faced was well worth a few bottles of vodka.
“In the meantime, see to your tanks, we have to be prepared to push them to the limits! The entire campaign depends on our twenty tanks and our ability to take Bad Frostberg! Do anything, sacrifice anything to achieve our objective!”
This too was met with toasts and cheers.
Valery, always slightly skeptical, but inherently loyal, waited for the farmhouse to clear of officers before speaking his mind.
“You of course realize that we don’t have the tanks or infantry to fight through a determined defense of Bad Frostberg?”
The Commissar sat back. The chairs in the farmhouse were typically uncomfortable except for the one plush leather chair of the long-gone owner, which the Commissar had appropriated. So, he was, after spending so many years in the turret of a T-34, immensely comfortable and relaxed.
“Ah, you see Valery, the defense of Bad Frostberg is the least of our problems.”
Valery arched an eyebrow, this was certainly news to him, considering that they had a total of twenty tanks and a few light T-70s–Valery always saw things in terms of numbers and capability.
“Comrade Commisar?” He questioned.
“It’s simple Valery. The men’s blood is up. They realize the Nazis are finished and are anxious to put an end to them. They’ll hurtle themselves at anything in their way at the moment. They haven’t reached the stage where they’ll be reluctant to risk their lives, because everyone knows that the war won’t be over until Berlin falls and this is just a step towards that.”
“Fine”, Valery responded, “an excellent analysis, but what exactly is our true problem, aside form too few tanks, not enough infantry, no artillery support and no fuel?”
The Commissar leaned forward, the leather of the chair squeaking. “Our true problem is discipline.”
“Discipline?” Valery laughed. “Discipline?” Valery’s basic idea of discipline was how many bullets he had in his pistol.
“Once these boys get loose”, the Commissar explained, “and find that the Germans are running and leaving their women behind and that there’s a bottle of schnapps or two in every cupboard, and there’s plenty loot just laying there for the taking, we won’t have an Army–we’ll have an armed mob ready to shoot any officer who dares to assert discipline. Once the Army realizes that the war is won and that everything they ever imagined in their best dreams is theirs for the taking, we’ll be lucky to squeeze a kilometer of advance in a week out of them!”
Valery considered this unsettling argument for a moment.
“We’re in Germany, Valery! We’ve actually made it here, we’re alive and we’re winning! We’re in their land, breaking down the doors of the people who have looted an entire continent! Can you imagine what riches and pleasures the average soldier will find in this conquered land? Pleasures that he could only have dreamed of just a few months ago?”
Colonel Sonofavich took a stiff shot of vodka. The men had certainly behaved badly enough in Poland, a much, much poorer country and, indeed, not even an enemy of the Soviet Union. The Commissar’s statement gave rise in him an annoyingly vivid imagination. Normally, Valery’s imagination had always been limited by those things in his immediate eyesight and the Commissar had just painted a vision comparable to his seeing the Virgin Mary in Red Square.
“Trust me on this”, the Commissar said finally, “Pray for a hard fight between here and the Baltic, something to keep the men occupied. And keep your pistol loaded and ready anytime you see the men getting bored or having "fun"......”
Death is lighter than a Feather, Duty is heavier than a Mountain....