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.
In the area of General von Manstein's LVI Panzer Corps, in the wooded country north of the Memel, there was not much room for large-scale operations. That was why only the 8th Panzer Division and 290th Infantry Division were earmarked for the first thrust across the frontier. The forward line of pillboxes had to be pierced. And it had to be pierced quickly. The corps was scheduled to drive 50 miles right through the enemy on the first day, without stopping, without regard to anything else, with the object of capturing intact by a surprise stroke the big road viaduct across the Dubysa valley at Ariogala. If they failed in this the corps would be stuck in a deep and narrow river valley, and the enemy would have time to re-form. But most important of all, any idea of a surprise stroke against the important centre of Daugavpils (Dvinsk) would have to be dropped.
The companies of 290th Infantry Division suffered heavy casualties even while crossing the frontier streamabove all in officers. Second Lieutenant Weinrowski of the 7th Company, 501st Infantry Regiment, was probably the first soldier killed by the bullets of Soviet frontier guards up in the north during the first minute of this war. The burst came from a pillbox camouflaged as a farm cart. But the Russian frontier troops were unable to halt the German attack. The llth Company of 501st Regiment led the assault ahead of the spearheads of 8th Panzer Division, clearing tree-trunk obstacles under Russian fire, sweeping through the wood, past a small village. First Lieutenant Hinkmann, the company commander, was killed.
Second Lieutenant Silzer ran forward. "The company will take orders from me!" They reached the Mituva, a small river. They captured the bridge and, as instructed, established a bridgehead.
Presently General Brandenberger's 8th Panzer Division drove up. General von Manstein, the GOC, was accompanying the division in his command tank. "Keep going!" he urged them. "Keep going!" Never mind about your flanks. Never mind about cover. The Ariogala viaduct must be captured. And Daugavpils must be taken by surprise.
Manstein, a bold but coolly calculating strategist, knew very well that this gamble of a war called Operation Barbarossa could be won only if the Germans succeeded in knocking the Russians out during the very first weeks of the attack. He knew what Clausewitz knew before him: this vast country could not be conquered and occupied. At best it might be possible, by risky surprise strokes, by swift and hard blows at the military and political heart of the country, to overthrow the regime, to deprive the country of its leadership, and thus to paralyze its vast military potential. That was the only way in which it might be doneperhaps. Otherwise the war would be lost that very summer.
At 1900 a signal was received at 8th Panzer Division headquarters from its advanced units: " Ariogala viaduct taken." Manstein nodded. All he said was: "Keep going."
The tanks were moving forward. The grenadiers were riding through clouds of hot dust. Keep going. Manstein was executing an armored thrust such as no military tactician would have thought possible. Would his corps succeed in taking Daugavpils by surprise? Would he be able to drive straight through strongly held enemy territory for a distance of 230 miles and yet take the bridges across the Daugava by a surprise stroke?
That this tank war by the Baltic was not going to be a light-hearted adventure, no easy Blitzkrieg against an inferior enemy, was painfully clear after the first forty-eight hours.
The Russians, too, had tanksand what tanks!
The XLI Panzer Corps, operating on the left wing of Fourth Panzer Group, was the first to make this discovery.(In the next couple of days.)
Hitler Moves East by Paul Carell