But what would happen if the Russians attacked the bridgehead with armor?
How would the Germans oppose them? Tanks and heavy equipment could have been brought across only with the greatest difficulty in barges or over emergency bridges. That was why an interesting new secret weapon was employed here for the first timeunderwater tanks, also known as diving tanks. They were to cross the river under water, just like submarines. Then, on the far bank, they were to go into action as ordinary tanks, smashing enemy positions along the river and intercepting any counter-attacks.
In the sector of 18th Panzer Division fifty batteries of all calibers opened fire at 0315 in order to clear the way to the other bank for the diving tanks.
[General Nehring, the divisional commander, has since described this as "a magnificent spectacle, but rather pointless since the Russians had been clever enough to withdraw their troops from the border area, leaving behind only weak frontier detachments, which subsequently fought very bravely."]
At 0445 hours Sergeant Wierschin advanced into the Bug with diving tank No. 1. The infantrymen watched him in amazement. The water closed over the tank. "Playing at U-boats!" Only the slim steel tube which supplied fresh air to the crews and engine showed above the surface, indicating Wierschin's progress under water. There were also the exhaust bubbles, but these were quickly obliterated by the current.
Tank after tankthe whole of 1st Battalion, 18th Panzer Regiment, under the battalion commander, Manfred Graf Strachwitzdived into the river.
And now the first ones were crawling up the far bank like mysterious amphibians. A soft plop and the rubber caps were blown off the gun muzzles. The gun-loaders let the air out of the bicycle inner tubes round the turrets. Turret hatches were flung open and the skippers wriggled out. An arm thrust into the air three times: the signal "Tanks forward."
Eighty tanks had crossed the frontier river under water. Eighty tanks were moving into action.
Their presence was more than welcome in the bridgehead. Enemy armored scout-cars were approaching. At once came the firing orders for the leading tanks: "Turretone o'clock armor-piercing800 yardsgroup of armored scout-cars fire at will." The monsters fired. Several armored scout-cars were burning. The rest retreated hurriedly. The armored spearheads of Army Group Centre moved on in the direction of Minsk and Smolensk.
South of Brest too, at Koden, following the successful assault on the bridge, the surprise attack of XXIV Panzer Corps, under General Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg, had gone according to schedule. The tanks crossed the bridge, which had been captured intact. Advanced units of Lieutenant-General Model's 3rd Panzer Division crossed on rapidly built emergency bridges. The skippers stood in the turrets, scanning the landscape for the rearguards of the retreating Soviet frontier troops, overrunning the first anti-tank-gun positions, waving the first prisoners to the rear, moving nearer and nearer to their objective for the day Kobrin on the Mukhavets.
On the morning of June 22, 1941 German troops cross a damaged bridge over the River Bug.
North of Brest, near Drohiczyn, where Engineers Battalion 178 lay close to the Bug in the area of 292nd Infantry Division, in order to build a pontoon bridge as soon as possible for the heavy equipment of the divisions of IX Corps, everything went also according to plan. The reinforced 507th and 509th Infantry Regimentswith the 508th farther to the right raced across the Bug in rubber dinghies and assault craft under heavy artillery cover. Within half an hour the Soviet pickets on the far bank were wiped out and a bridgehead was established. At the first artillery salvo the sappers had leaped to their feet and moved their first pontoons into the water. For a quarter of an hour the Russians fired from the far bank with machine-guns and rifles; then they fell silent. By 0900 exactly the bridge was finishedthe first within the area of the Fourth Army. The heavy equipment rumbled over the swaying pontoons. The 78th Infantry Division was already lined up in close order to cross the river.
Of all the coups planned against the frontier bridges along the five-hundred-mile-long Bug not one went wrong. Similarly all the envisaged bridge-building operations across the frontier river succeeded, with the sole exception of one within the area of 62nd Infantry Division, which, belonging to the Sixth Army, was already part of the northern wing of Army Group South.