No Surrender

No Surrender is inspired by historical events, learnt during my study of warfare at a-level. World War Two was a conflict that saw new forms of warfare emerge, such as urban warfare or Rattenkrieg. It was this type of warfare that was fought in Stalingrad and for me, this was of particular interest. The leadership of Georgi Zhukov during the Battle of Stalingrad has been praised but I have not come across many stories from his point of view. So I wanted to give him a voice.

Again, this is a piece written for university.

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1. No Surrender

 

“Without your intervention, Zhukov, we cannot hold the Stalingrad front. You’ve got ten thousand  men camped over there, drinking vodka and doing nothing. Get them over the Volga.”                                                                                                                  

   “You know just as well as I do Rokossovsky, that I can do nothing unless HQ orders me. Do you think I want to leave my men sitting on the west bank? Any bloody fool can understand the situation in the city centre.”                                           

   Rokossovsky’s face slowly grew red. “You’d better get on the case then,” he snarled, globules of spittle flying from his mouth. My hand clenched into a fist, my fingers digging into my palm. By God, I wanted to hit this man, mash his face up into an unrecognizable pulp.                                                                                                                                                       

I kicked my chair back and stormed over to the telephone. My knuckles were white as I clenched the receiver in my fist. “Headquarters, this is General Zhukov. Get Stalin on the phone, this is an urgent matter. No, I don’t care if he’s busy. This matter takes goddam precedence.” I slammed the receiver back down and began pacing, my fingers rubbing my forehead. My men were doing nothing, being denied the chance to prove their courage while the rest of our Soviet forces were dying in their thousands.                                                                

The phone rang.                                                                                                          

  “Zhukov, what the hell is all this about?” Stalin’s voice was laced with irritation.                      

“Sir. I’d like to request an order from Supreme HQ to move the sixty second division across the Volga. The addition of my men will allow the city to hold out. It’s at breaking point.” There was a pause, a pause that sounded all too ominous. I began to regret my brusque outburst. I had survived his purges a few years back, but that still didn’t mean I was off his radar completely. Maybe I had just managed to tip the scales in favour of my death.                 

 “I’ll get on this. You’ll have your order by tomorrow. Zhukov, this had better save the city or you’re out. No surrender.”                                                                                                 

The order came through the day after.                                                                 

 

As I neared the west bank, I could see the great plumes of smoke that rose from the city, the flash of gunfire and flames illuminating it in an ethereal glow.  I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the tormented ruins that held appalling suffering. In a moment, I would be addressing my troops and they had to see a strong commander, one that would not break down before them.                                                                                                                  

Pushing through the crowd of bored, despondent men, I found the second in command.                                                   

“We’re moving across the Volga. Get the boats assembled and the men ready. You and I will lead the attack. Move it.”     

 

Men, bent double under the weight of armour and guns, crowded around the boats in huddles, their eyes fixed on the destroyed city across the river. Putting on a mask of indifference, I strode through them, and they parted like the red sea under Moses. As I passed, I was able to see a whole gallery of emotions on the men’s faces. Some seemed oblivious to the impeding danger, some had eyes raised heavenwards in prayer, and others had tears glistening in their eyes. Poor sods. Even if they knew how terrified I was, it wouldn’t give them any comfort.                                                                                                 

 A huge explosion from across the bank sent waves rippling down the Volga at break neck speed as a furious ball of fire slammed into a just visible cluster of houses. Smoke rose skywards in an asphyxiating plume, flashes of orange flame dancing in its middle. A scuffle of feet and murmuring rippled through the ranks around me. Ignoring them and swallowing the lump in my throat, I climbed into a boat, and soon the first load of soldiers was piling on behind me. At my signal, the boat moved off, cutting through the water, the men’s heads kept low.                                     

A shriek cleaved the air and a colossal spray of water drenched us as a gun shell slammed into the water inches away. “Keep down!” I yelled, bent over double, my face buried in my knees. Somewhere in the ranks, there was a strangled scream of fear.                                  

“Shut up kid,” I muttered, trying to hold myself together.                                       

There was another whine and the boat beside us was flung skywards, the men flown like dolls into the air. They fell like rain, littering the waters. A body floated past us, the man’s chest ripped open. Floods of nausea rolled over me and I willed the boat to move faster.                                                                                                                                             

 We came to the pier, still shielding ourselves from the gunfire that had now reached a furious intensity as we became the German’s new target. Covering fire was provided by other recruits lining the way.                                                                     

As the lad next to me scrambled up, a bullet caught him square in the chest and he was flung backwards, on top of another trying to scramble out. I couldn’t stand here and be shot down; I had a duty to my country. I had to save it.                             

“To the railway,” I roared, leading the way.                                                          

 Soldiers spilled out of the maze of roads, colliding with my division as we worked our way through the labyrinth of streets. Not caring whose orders they were under, I ordered them to join my own troops, many having fallen to fire.  Bodies were kicked and battered underfoot, many already rotting under the intense heat of the sun. Clouds of dust added to the smoke that layered the air, and my ears were splitting with the sounds of choking, screaming and gunfire.                                      

It was hell. A living, breathing, gorging hell.                                                                

The man next to me spun away, his arm slashed open by a flying piece of shrapnel. Another one closed the gap. My heart was hammering, my hands were shaking but hell was I going to yield now.                                                                                                                   

Mamayev Kurgan’s shadow fell over us, heralding our arrival into the southern quarter and the railway. We emerged from the shelter of crumbling buildings to be exposed to an onslaught of fire from a row of German tanks and infantry. I dived sideways, praying my men would have the instinct to do the same. Some did with lightning speed; others were brutally slaughtered like animals. Blood began to coat the ground and the bodies began to pile up. Gorge rose in my throat and it took all my control not to retch.                                    

 Peeking out from behind the mound of rubble that provided shelter, I squinted through the smoke, trying to make out shapes in the choking fog. Shadows flickered here and there and my rationality became confused. I felt like I was trapped in a game of survival .                    

 Time. I needed time to think. Up till now I had relied on instinct but now I had to think of a tactic, one that worked with this form of urban warfare. The city could be used to my advantage.                                                                                                 

Around me machine guns rattled, men screamed in horrific pain and blasts shook the ground. The iron tang of blood hung in the air and my throat and eyes were burning. The hand I raised to wipe my head was shaking violently.                           

“Sir!” a voice yelled into my ear. Turning my head, I could see the terrified face of a young soldier nearby, lying behind a mound of bricks. “Orders?”                                                   

The Germans were advancing, and depending on our strength, they could push through into the city. An idea leapt into my brain and I scanned the buildings around me. Some were ruined, but others still stood, remnants of a once proud civilisation. If they were strong and allowed access to the top floors, we could make a stand.                                        

 “Take three parties and determine the strong buildings in this area that overlook the enemy’ forces. They have to be within range.”                                                                                

The soldier nodded frantically, shouting to the men on his left. With a series of hand movements and bellows, I managed to acquire my own group. Together, we sprinted down the road, our numbers decreasing under the hailstorm of bullets.          

“Sir!” a man beside me punched my arm and pointed further down. Two buildings remained. Cracks ran around their bases but other than that, they still looked strong enough for our purpose.                                                                                             

  “In!” Pushing my body to the limits, I raced towards an opening, the ground speeding dizzily underneath me. Crashing through the door, I sprinted up the stairs to the top floor, surveying the space critically. It was perfect, providing enough cover and a perfect range.          

Strategic position secured, we set to bringing out the big guns, the bad boys. The men locked them into position on our targets and whilst the walls around us shook from the explosions, the gunners pulled the triggers.                                             

Tanks exploded, men disappeared in a cloud of bullets as we unleashed the fury of hell. Other units, finding secure locations, added to the melee until the sky was black and whining with a million bringers of death.                                      

The Germans, unable to proceed in the face of such an apocalyptic fury, faltered, their bodies forming a wall over which the rest of the troops stumbled, beautifully easy targets. One by one we picked them off until a handful remained. Realising the futility of their situation, they turned and sprinted.                                                                                                        

 A huge cheer arose from our troops but I was unable to join in with them. Bruised, battered and mentally exhausted, I knew we had only held off the advance. Tomorrow, it would begin all over again.

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