The line had to be stabilized. It was Heinrici who was given the toughest sector to hold. On January 26, 1942, he was placed in command of the remnants of the Fourth Army, which holding the ground directly facing Moscow, was the kingpin of the German line. Any major withdrawal in its part would jeopardize the armies on either flank and might trigger a rout.
Heinrici took over on a bitterly cold day; the temperature stood at minus 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Water froze inside the boilers of locomotives, machine guns would not fire; trenches and foxholes could not be dug because the ground was like iron. Heinrici's ill-equipped soldiers were fighting in waist-deep snow, with icicles hanging from their nostrils and eyelashes. "I was told to hold out until the big attack that this time would sure take Moscow," he later recalled. "Yet all around me my men were dying - and not only from Russians bullets. Many of them froze to death."
Outside Moscow Heinrice developed a technique for which he became famous. When he knew a Russian a attack was imminent in a particular sector, he would order his troops to retreat the night before to new position one or two miles back. The Russians artillery barrages would land on a deserted front line. As Heinrici put it: "It was like hitting an empty bag. The Russians attack would lose its speed because my men, unharmed, would be ready. The my troops on sectors that had not been attacked would close in and reoccupy the original front lines." The trick was to know when the Russians were preparing for an attack. [...]
It was not always possible to emply these methods, and when he did, Heinrici had to use great caution - Hitler had imprisoned and even shot generals for defying his no-withdrawal order. "While we could hardly move a sentry from the window to the door without his permission," Heinrici was later record, "some of us, where we could, found ways to evade his more suicidal orders."
C. R. The last battle. 1966.Pages 73-74