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.
On the southern wing of the Army Group, where the frontier was formed by the river San, the divisions of General von Stülpnagel's Seventeenth Army found things more difficult. The bank of the San north of Przemysl ; was as flat as a pancake without woods, without ravines, without any cover for whole regiments. That was why the assault battalions of 275th Infantry Division, from Berlin, could not move out of their deployment areas until the night of 21st/22nd June. "Not a sound" was the order of the regimental commander. Weapons were packed in blankets; bayonets and gas-mask cases were wrapped round with any soft material that was handy. "Thank God for the frogs," whispered Second Lieutenant Alicke.
Their croaking drowned the creaking, rattling, and bumping of the companies making their way towards the river.
At 0315 precisely the assault detachments leaped to their feet on both sides of Radymno. The railway bridge was seized by a surprise stroke. But in front of the customs shed the Russians were already offering stubborn resistance. Second Lieutenant Alicke was killed. He was the division's first fatal casualty, the first of a long list.
The men laid him beside the customs shed. The heavy weapons rolled on by him, over 'his' bridge.
In the south the Soviet alarm system functioned with surprising speed and precision. Only the most forward pickets were taken by surprise. The 457th Infantry Regiment had to battle all day long with the Soviet Non-commissioned Officers' Training School of Vysokoye, only a mile beyond the river. The 250 NCO cadets resisted stubbornly and skillfully. Not till the afternoon was their resistance broken by artillery-fire. The 466th Infantry Regiment fared even worse. No sooner were its battalions across the river than they were attacked from the flank by advanced detachments of the Soviet 199th Reserve Division.
In the fields of Stubienka the tall grain waved in the summer wind like the sea. Into this sea the troops now plunged. Both sides were lurking, invisible. Stalking each other. Hand-grenades, pistols, and machine carbines were the weapons of the day Suddenly they would be facing one another amid the ryethe Russians and Germans. Eye to eye. Whose finger was quicker on the trigger? Whose spade would go up first? Over there a Russian machine pistol appeared from a foxhole. Would it score with its burst? Or would the hand-grenade do its work first? Only with the fall of dusk did this bloody fighting in the rye-fields come to an end. The enemy withdrew.
The sun set behind the horizon, large and red. And still from amid the grain came the voices, despairing, anguished, or softly dying away: "Stretcher! Stretcher!" The medical orderlies hurried into the fields with their stretchers. They gathered in the bloody harvest. The harvest of one day, of one regiment.
It was a big harvest.