Sven Hassel - The Legion of the Damned


"After the fall of Kharkov the 27th Regiment was withdrawn and sent to Dnepropetrovsk, where we were allotted the armoured train 'Leipzig'. As soon as we were installed, we and another armoured train went to Kharol, 100 kilometres west of Poltava, where we did some firing practice to get acquainted with our new guns. We five were allotted a coach: The Old Man was coach commander and Porta was in charge of the eight machine guns and three automatic cannon; Stege was in charge of No. 1 Turret and I of No. 2 Turret with its 12-cm long barrelled gun, one of which Stege also had. Pluto was in charge of the radio and communications. For crew we were given twenty-five recruits who had four weeks' training. The youngest was sixteen, the eldest sixty-two. They made a pitiful sight.

We went up toward the front where we shot a village to smithereens and engaged Russian artillery with out automatic arms. After that we went southeast. Day and night we thundered along the hundreds of kilometres of track, stopping only to take in water and oil, or to wait in a siding to let past a train coming from the opposite direction. We were able to stretch out and sleep in our coach and had a wonderful time. War, we thought, was not really so bad if only you could sleep your sleep out every now and again. It was the continual lack of sleep to which we had been subjected that made it all so intolerable and our nerves raw…"