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.
The German troops were beginning to realize that this was not an opponent to be trifled with. These men were not only brave but also full of guile. They were masters at camouflage and ambush. They were first-rate riflemen. Fighting from an ambush had always been the great strength of the Russian infantry. Forward pickets, overrun and wounded, would wait for the first German wave to pass over them. Then they would resume fighting. Snipers would remain in their foxholes with their excellent automatic rifles with telescopic sights, waiting for their quarry. They would pick off the drivers of supply vehicles, officers, and orderlies on motor-cycles.
The 126th Infantry Division, from Rhine-Westphalia, fighting alongside the men from Schleswig-Holstein, also learned a bitter lesson from the tough Soviet frontier troops. The 2nd Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, suffered heavy losses. Parts of a Soviet machine-gun picket had hidden themselves in a cornfield and allowed the first wave of the attack to pass by. In the afternoon, when Captain Lohmar unsuspectingly led his battalion from reserve positions to the front, the Russians in the crops suddenly opened up. Among those killed was the battalion commander, among the seriously wounded was his adjutant. It took an entire company three hours to flush the four Russians out of the field. They were still firing when the Germans had got within ten feet of them, and had to be silenced with hand-grenades.