An artillery battery fights against cold, hunger, and encirclement by the Germans. At the same time, they battle one another for the love of the alluring medical instructor Zoya!
An artillery platoon commanded by Lieutenant Kuznetsov is being transported through the frozen night. The fire in the train-car stove goes out. Kuznetsov wakes up the orderly, Chibisov, to relight it.
Chibisov is twenty years older than Kuznetsov and had spent three months as a prisoner of the Germans. He tells the story of his capture: It was around Vyazma. The Germans surrounded his regiment, and they ran out of shells. The regimental commissar shouted, "Better dead than a prisoner of the fascist swine!" and shot himself. Others also killed themselves, but Chibisov, a man with children and a family, couldn't bring himself to do it; so he was captured.
In the early morning, the train stops by a remote station so the troops can be fed. Despite the cold, Lieutenant Drozdovsky, the battery commander, strips to the waist and washes himself with snow.
The battalion medical instructor, Zoya Yelagina, shows up, intending to check the men for lice. Zoya claims to be married, but no one believes her. Instead, they think she is sweet on Drozdovsky.
Tamara Sidelnikova as the alluring "Zoya".
Photos from the 1972 film adaptation of
"Hot Snow", directed by Gavriil Yegiazarov.
While Drozdovsky goes off to report to the battalion commander, Kuznetsov invites Zoya to stay for breakfast. Sergeant Nechayev, the gun layer of number one gun, exchanges some suggestive banter with Zoya.
Three German Messerschmitts suddenly appear in the sky. They begin strafing and bombing the train. Returning, Drozdovsky grabs a light machine gun and fires at the planes. Zoya clings to him, begging him not to do anything foolish. He tosses her off and dashes out into the open for more ammunition.
After a few passes, the enemy planes depart.
Ukhanov, commander of the first gun in the platoon, is missing. Searching for the missing man, Kuznetsov bumps into divisional commander Colonel Deyev and Lieutenant-General Bessonov, who is the commander of the army. They are not happy with Kuznetsov's report and give him 30 minutes to find Ukhanov.
They can't send you further than the front or give you anything worse than a bullet.
Kuznetzov searches for Ukhanov at the station, then in the village. He finds Ukhanov trading soap for seeds, Kuznetsov tried to berate Ukhanov, but the latter remains unperturbed and unafraid of punishment.
The men are ordered to detrain and march toward the front. And that means Stalingrad!
Some artillery is pulled by shaggy Mongolian horses, other guns by tractors. Lieutenant Davlatyan, the young commander of the second platoon, shows Kutznetsov a copy of the latest Nazi propaganda leaflet. It reads:
You have temporarily succeeded in surrounding some of the German forces at Stalingrad, which our air force has reduced to rubble. You need not rejoice! Abandon hope that you will now start to advance! We shall still give you hell down your street! We shall drive you across the Volga to feed the Siberian lice. You are powerless against our glorious undefeated army. Run while your wretched skins are still whole, Soviet cut-throats!"
Nechayev again engages in bawdy allusions, which angers the schoolboylike Davlatyan.
The men trudge on, streaming sweat which immediately freezes on their faces. Some troops--dog tired--hang their rifles and packs on the gun limbers. Drozdovsky sees this and angrily orders everyone to carry their own equipment.
Zoya accompanies number one platoon and enjoys some breezy banter with Ukhanov. He even gives her a swig of vodka from his canteen. This irritates Kuznetsov. He orders Zoya to return to the medical company.
The platoon reaches a slope leading down into a ravine. Kuznetsov and the men strain mightily to keep the first gun limber from sliding down into the horses, which are having trouble keeping their footing on the icy ground. One of the lead horses slips and falls on its belly.
When they reach the bottom of the ravine, the men see that the horse has broken its forelegs. One of the drivers--Sergunenko--is in tears. The other driver--Rubin--merely snarls and wants to whip the injured animal. Drozdovsky orders the horse be dragged to a ditch and shot. Rubin gleefully takes out his rifle, but shoots so carelessly that he merely causes the horse more pain. Ukhanov angrily snatches the rifle away from Rubin and shoots the horse cleanly, properly putting it out of its misery.
At sunset, a halt is ordered in an abandoned, destroyed village. The men huddle together in the freezing wind, trying to get warm. After only a few minutes' rest, the order comes for them to get ready to march on again.
Kuznetsov and his men don't know it, but they are part of an army moving southwest by forced march to meet the German Panzer divisions that have launched a counter-offensive to relieve the army of von Paulus, which is encircled at Stalingrad.
Kuznetsov goes to report to Drozdovsky. He complains that the men are tired and hungry. Drozdovsky berates Kuznetsov and his attitudes, saying that Kuznetsov acts more like a cart driver than a platoon commander. Kuznetsov, feeling that Drozdovsky merely wants to humble him for some reason, sasses back. The two men part on bitter terms.
Georgi Zhzhonov as General Bessonov
General Bessonov and his entourage are driving alongside the column in the dark of the night. They come upon three tanks blocking the road. Bessonov gets out of the car to sort things out. The tanks are from the 45th tank regiment, and they are supposed to be attached to another army, holding the defenses out there in the front.
The commander of the tank, Lieutenant Azhermachev, says there are no more defenses. The Germans took the village; he lost contact with his superiors, so he broke out. Bessonov orders that Azhermachev be arrested and court-martialed for cowardice.
Azhermachev begs and pleads. Bessonov's commissar, Vesnin, also suggests clemency. So Bessonov agrees to give the man another chance. He orders Azhermachev to return to his place of "break out".
Azhermachev is 20 years old, the same age as Bessonov's son, Viktor. Bessonov recalls his last meeting with his son, who was then a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant.
Vesnin asks Bessonov about Viktor. Bessonov reluctantly replies that Viktor was part of the 2nd Assault Army on the Volkov front, under the command of General Vlasov (Boo! Hiss!--ed.). The army was defeated and Vlasov gave himself up to the Germans. Remnants of the 2nd Army escaped, but Viktor was not among them. Some maintain that Viktor was killed, but nothing is known for certain.
General Andrei Vlasov,
traitor in WWII.
Bessonov oders Vesnin and the others present to never repeat any of this elsewhere.
Back in early November, Bassonov was a general without an army. But then he was summoned to see Stalin.
Stalin tells Bessonov that he is to command a newly created 4th Army with the assignment of completing the rout of the Germans encircled at Stalingrad.
As they converse, Stalin asks Bessonov for his personal opinion of General Vlasov--that General Vlasov who was commander of the Volkov Front in June 1942, who abandoned his headquarters, crossed to the German side and surrendered, and in whose army the now-missing Viktor was serving. Bessonov remembers Vlasov only as a general of average ability who kept mainly to himself.
Stalin reports that Vlasov has now taken up serving with the Germans. Stalin says, "In my opinion, those who allow themselves to be taken prisoner often include politically and morally unstable elements, to some degree dissatisfied with our system."
Bessonov replies that his son was in that tragically fated army. He does not know if his son was captured or is dead, but he has no reason to suspect him of treachery.
Coup Plotter or
Victim of Slander?
Was Stalin right to shoot:
Stalin asks if Bessonov had doubts over how he (Stalin) punished certain military leaders at one time. Bessonov says he did, believing they were victims of slander.
Stalin says that some of these leaders have been rehabilitated and others were people with the potential inner rottenness of a Vlasov.
By the time Bessonov's army arrivea northwest of Stalingrad, the situation has changed. The Military Council decides to send Bessonov's army to the southwest, to meet the advancing Panzers, which are coming to aid the encircled von Paulus.
In the night, Bessonov arrives in a Cossack village where his headquarters have been set up. Chief of Staff, Major General Yatsenko, makes his report. Some troops have already reached the River Myshkova--the last obstacle preventing the Germans from reaching their encircled forces in Stalingrad.
The mechanized corps has run out of fuel and is stranded. There are some cases of frostbite among the troops.
The head of reconnaissance, Colonel Dergachov reports that things are bad among the neighboring army. It has been fighting ten German divisions for three days now and can't hold out much longer.
Bessonov orders that the mechanized corps not wait for fuel. They must load the lorries and tanks that are still mobile with ammunition. All available vehicles from headquarters and the rear must be dispatched to assist in this mission.
Secondly, Bessonov orders that all the artillery be mounted for direct fire from the infantry's lines. And it must knock out tanks. Bessonov declares that the destruction of tanks is the main objective in the first stage of the upcoming battle.
Major Bozhichko, Bessonov's adjutant, reports that dinner is ready. Instead of eating, however, Bessonov says he wants to get into the car and tour the right flank. Vesnin volunteers to accompany him. Pulling Vesnin aside, Bessonov asks directly if Vesnin has been charged with keeping an eye on him (Bessonov). Vesnin assures him that it is not so.
It is past two A.M. when Colonel Deyev's division reaches the banks of the River Myshkova. Without stopping for rest, they immediately begin digging defenses like mad in the frosty, iron-hard ground.
The sounds and lights of battle on the horizon suddenly end. This indicates that the German Panzers have probably broken through and are only 1-2 hours away.
The men are dead hungry and thirsty. Kuznetsov sends Chibisov to chop a hole in the ice and get some water.
The field kitchen doesn't arrive until after 4 A.M.. The men are ravenous--they haven't eaten for 24 hours. Davlatyan and Kuznetsov angrily berate the head of the kitchen, Sergeant-Major Skorik for his tardiness. Skorik, a veteran with a Medal for Valor, is haughty and doesn't care, knowing that platoon commanders have no power over him. Kuznetsov orders Skorik to feed the men immediately. Skorik refuses, saying he has to see Drozdovsky first. A Kazhak gun-layer named Kasymov gets so mad that he threatens Skorik and his cooks with a rifle.
Skorik ignores it all and goes off to find Drozdovsky.
Eventually, the field kitchin is set up and the men are fed pea soup and a ration of vodka mixed with something like paraffin or eau-de-cologne.
Zoya joins Davlatyan, Kuznetsov, Nechayev, and Ukhanov in a dugout to eat. Nechayev shows Zoya a photo album which was found on the body of a dead female S.S. officer. It has photos of a pretty German woman in her uniform, in a swimming suit, home with family, etc., etc. Nechayev says he tore out some other photos--photos of debauched scenes reminiscent of Sappho.
Davlatyan is disgusted by Nechayev's talk, particularly in front of Zoya. Zoya says she has more experience than any of them and needs no protection.
Kuznetsov, Davlatyan, and Zoya are summoned to see Drozdovsky. He first of all complains to Kuznetsov that the communications trenched between the guns have been carelessly dug.
Drozdovsky then informs the group that a division reconnaissance patrol has been sent out and should be returning soon. The troops should be on the lookout for them and be careful not to shoot at them.
Drozdovsky dismisses everyone except Zoya. He casts jealous aspersions on her, claiming that she spends too much time with Kuznetsov's platoon. Drozdovsky and Zoya have known each other for six weeks now, but they must keep their affair a secret.
Drozdovsky demands that Zoya prove she loves him by having sex with him right now. They've already done it once before, but she doesn't want to do it now. Drozdovsky storms out furious.
Drozdovsky fumes to himself over Zoya, calling her foolish and summoning up all sorts of negative images about her so as to convince himself that their relationship is over.
He finally gets up to the observation post. There he is told by Sergant-Major Golovanov that Bessonov arrived five minutes ago. Angry, Drozdovsky wants to know why he wasn't informed of this five minutes ago. Golovanov says he called the dugout, but the medical instructor told him that Drozdovsky was not there. In a colossal blunder, Golovanov refers to Zoya as Drozdovsky's wife. Drozdovsky demands to know who's spreading such rumors. But first he has to hurry over to Bessonov, Deyev, and Vesnin.
In a bluster, Drozdovsky declares number one battery is ready and that the men are prepared to die. Bessonov says that he would rather hear "hold out" instead of "die".
Suddenly, the German forces--hordes of them--are seen approaching on the horizon. German planes appear overhead to begin a bombardment. Bessonov's entourage insists that he get back to their observation post. Bessonov's parting words to Drozdovsky are: "Not one step back! Knock out their tanks. Hold out and forget about death."
Battles are not fought to feed the worms.
A bombardment of the gun positions begins. Kuznetsov realizes that the gun sights might get damaged by shrapnel, so he and Ukhanov dash out to bring them in.
A scout from the division recon patrol, for which Bessonov is urgently waiting, shows up. He's seriously wounded and suffering from shell shock. Refusing medical treatment, he demands to be put in contact with the divisional commander. Kuznetsov phones Drozdovsky, who orders that the scout be brought to him immediately. Drozdovsky also reports that tanks are approaching and that Kuznetsov should get ready for action.
Tanks approach. Kuznetsov waits patiently for the right moment. Davlatyan, however, opens fire with his gun too soon. The tanks take aim and almost immediately wipe out Davlatyan's platoon and its gun.
The battle rages amid deafening explosions and the choking, acrid fumes of TNT.
Yevstigneyev, the elderly gun layer, is temporarily blinded by dirt. Blood seeps from his ears--no doubt his eardrums have been ruptured by the cannon's loud booming.
Suddenly, three German tanks loom up on the right at nearly point blank range. Kuznetsov orders the men to swing the gun around, but they can't turn it far enough to get a good shot. If Davlatyan's unit doesn't open fire, Kuznetsov's position is doomed.
Kuznetsov races to Davlatyan's platoon. Everywhere there are contorted, dead bodies. Kuznetsov shouts, "Man the gun!", and a few wounded soldiers stir, including Kasymov. He shoves away Zoya, who is trying to bandage him.
Kuznetsov orders Zoya to load the gun while he aims. It is difficult to turn the crank on the sight, as it is smeared with Kaymov's blood. The tanks are only 50 meters away. Kuznetsov pulls the trigger.
Just as Kuznetsov fires at the tank, his position is hit. Kuznetsov is momentarily stunned. He flashes back to his home in Moscow.
When Kuznetsov regains his senses, he sees that he has destroyed two tanks. In a frenzy, he starts loading and firing at other tanks. His position is hit with another shell. Zoya clings to Kuznetsov fearfully. She begs Kuznetsov to shoot and kill her if case she is wounded in the breast or stomach.
The last tank shell damaged the gun, making it useless. Now the only operating gun is Ukhanov's. The Germans are making a do-or-die push on the left flank for the bridge. Kuznetsov hurries over to join Ukhanov.
As Kuznetsov starts running toward Ukhanov's gun, Drozdovsky suddenly shows up. He orders Kuznetsov to stop, accusing him of deserting his gun. Drozdovsky doesn't believe Kuznetsov's assertion that the gun is damaged until he tries it himself. Drozdovsky is also surprised to find out that it was Kuznetsov who disabled the two tanks directly in front of their position.
There is a German self-propelled mount lurking behind the tanks. It is doing damage to the Soviet positions. Drozdovsky hands two anti-tank grenades to Sergunenko and gives him the insane suicide mission of crawling past the tanks and placing the grenades beneath the self-propelled mount.
Nazi Self-Propelled Mount
Sergunenko crawls to within a few meters of the mount, then stands up and charges at it. He is killed by machine gun fire almost immediately. Drozdovsky says Sergunenko died because he "lost his nerve". This enrages Kuznetsov, who challenges Drozdovsky to take another grenade and try it himself. Drozdovsky sputters angrily at this insubordination.
Kuznetsov runs over to Ukhanov's gun. Ukhanov shouts that they need more shells. Kuznetsov orders the men to fetch shells from the positions of the destroyed guns.
The Germans' main thrust is aimed at the junction between Bessonov's army and his neighbor on the right, which was beginning to yield to the onslaught. The right flank division of Bessonov's army, under the command of Colonel Deyev, is in a very grave position.
At noon, the Germans capture the southern part of the village. By the end of the day, German tanks break through to the northern bank of the river and capture several streets in the northern half of the village. A Soviet tank division, commanded by Khokhlov is brought in, but it fails to check the enemy's advance.
Bessonov and Vesnin get into a car to travel the 10 kilometers to Deyev's observation post.
When they arrive, Bassonov and Vesnin see just how dire the situation is. Soviet T-34 tanks and Katyusha mortar rockets battle with the enemy. Bessonov hopes that Khokhlov's tanks can hold out until a new tank and mechanized corps arrives.
The T-34 Tank
Shells start flying in from the west, meaning that the Germans are starting to encircle the position.
Bessonov orders that Khokhlov's tanks must counterattack and drive the Germans off the bridgehead. The regiment must continue fighting to the last shell and the last cartridge. More explicitly, Bassonov declares, "I allow no right of withdrawal....The present lines must be held to the last man. For everyone without exception, there can be only one objective reason for leaving the positions--death."
Deyev's observation post comes under direct enemy fire.
All this time, Soviet artillery has been firing at the bridge, trying to knock it out. But as soon as the Soviets damage it, German sappers fix it. Bassonov wants the bridge completely destroyed. Deyev orders two Katyusha trucks to move up among the tanks for direct fire on the bridge.
Ukhanov's gun, the only one remaining in the battery on the south bank of the river, has turned around 180 degrees to fire at the German tanks.
The two Katyusha trucks manage to put the bridge on fire, stranding about a dozen German tanks on the far side. The Katyusha trucks themselves are destroyed.
The entire division is in danger of being encircled. Lieutenant-Colonel Kuryshev, the chief of reconnaissance, is worried that the Germans might cut off their communications and--worse yet--capture Bessonov and his entourage. Bessonov plans to stay put, however. He wants an informed German captured.
The infantry regiment commanded by Cherepanov, two artillery batteries, and Khokhlov's tanks are fighting in complete encirclement. Deyev asks Bessonov for permission to take some tommy-gunners, break through to Cherepanov, analyze the situation, and take a decision on the spot. Admiring Deyev's courage and tenacity, Bessonov nonetheless denies the request.
Much to everyone's surprise, Colonel Osin, the counterintelligence chief, arrives and asks to speak to Vesnin.
Anatoly Kuznetsov as Commissar Vesnin
and Igor Ledogorov as Colonel Osin,
head of counterintelligence.
Osin steps behind a curtain with Vesnin. In polite, respectful terms, referring to instructions from the Front Military Council member Golubkov, Osin implies that Bessonov and Vesnin should immediately withdraw to the army observation post. Vesnin says that this is nonsense and beyond Osin's competence.
Osin then says there is something else to consider. He makes reference to the Volkov Front and General Vlasov. Vesnin is stunned that Osin thinks it possible that Bessonov would turn traitor and go over to the Germans.
Osin hands Vesnin a German propaganda pamphlet that clearly shows a photo of Bessonov's son, Viktor, thin and wounded, but alive, sitting in a German hospital and flanked by two smiling Germans. The text of the pamphlet trumpets the fact that the son of a Soviet general was pleasantly surprised by the care and concern the Germans have shown to him and other Soviet prisoners. Supposedly, Viktor has come to see the Soviet claims of German atrocities as completely untrue. Also, the pamphlet says, Viktor recognized the Germans as a "highly civilized and humane nation, who want to establish freedom in Russia after the overthrow of Bolshevism."
Even Osin concedes that the text of the pamphlet is probably a complete fiction. Still, he says, anything can happen in war.
Osin says the information in the pamphlet is to be kept secret and asks Vesnin to give it back to him. Instead, Vesnin slips the pamphlet into his pocket and sternly suggests that Osin leave immediately.
While Osin was meeting with Vesnin, Osin's adjutant, Kasyankin, was pumping Bessonov's adjutant, Bozichko, for information about Bessonov--his behavior, drinking habits, relations with Vesnin, etc. Bozichko parries these inquiries with ridiculous question of his own such as: "Have you ever worn a chamber pot on your head instead of a helmet?"
Vesnin goes to Bessonov, who informs him that the reserve tank and mechanized corps they have been waiting for is finally approaching. Bessonov asks Vesnin to go out to meet the tank corps in the concentration area and coordinate operations.
Vesnin hitches a ride with Osin and Kasyankin, who start to drive through the northwest sector, which they believe is still relatively safe. However, as they reach the outskirts of the village, German tanks approach in front of them. The tanks destroy the lead car. The car with Vesnin and Osin is blast off the road and sent tumbling down a slope.
A German patrol starts down the slope to make sure everyone in the car is dead. Vesnin, Osin, and Major Titkov (head of the escort) fire back. Kasyankin, his leg dislocated, wails like a baby and is useless. A machine gun burst slices through Vesnin's throat, killing him.
Osin says they must get Vesnin out, even if he is dead. He and Titkov grab the body and make a dash for it.
Near the end of the day, the sole remaining gun in the battery on the south bank finally runs out of shells. Only four men are left alive--Kuznetsov, Ukhanov, Chibisov, and Nechayev.
Night falls. Kuznetsov and Ukhanov go to survey the other gun positions. In the distance they see a German burial detail picking up bodies. Ukhanov is all for ambushing and killing them. Kuznetsov says there's no point to it, besides they're low on ammunition.
They find a crate of unused shells and lug it back to their gun.
Boris Tokarev as Lieutenant Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov and Ukhanov return to their gun position. Chibisov reports that Zoya and Rubin are in the dugout with Nechayev. He also says there are German snipers in some nearby houses. To test this, Ukhanov ignites his cigarette lighter. Sure enough, a bullet comes whizzing toward them.
In the dugout, Zoya gives Kuznetsov a note written by Davlatyan, who is among the wounded. In the note, Davlatyan calls himself a failure. He asks that when the time comes, Kuznetsov write to his mother and girlfriend.
Zoya goes out to tend to the wounded. Kuznetsov goes with her.
Ukhanov, Nechayev, and Rubin engage in a clash of personalities, demonstrating their different ways of dealing with personal tragedies and the horrors of war.
While walking toward the wounded with Kuznetsov, Zoya tells him that in the retreat from Kharkov, she had had to leave the wounded behind. It was horrible, and she does not want to do that again. Kuznetsov promises that no one will be left behind this time.
Recalling the time when she and Kuznetsov were manning the gun together, Zoya says she felt that he was protecting her, that perhaps he even likes her.
Internally, Kuznetsov is revolted by the thought of Zoya kissing Drozdovsky.
Just then, flares light up the sky and shooting begins. Kuznetsov tells Zoya to get to Drozdovsky's dugout right away. Kuznetsov rushes to Ukhanov and the others. He shouts, "Man the gun!" They have only seven shells.
A scout from the missing recon patrol emerges from the darkness and comes running up to the gun position. He shouts out that he's Russian, but Chibisov, fearful, shoots him anyway.
Zoya comes to tend the scout's wound. He says there are two more scouts with a high-ranking German prisoner in a crater about 500 meters away. They're all wounded and badly frostbitten.
Drozdovsky shows up, barking commands and demanding to know what's going on. Kuznetsov says that Drozdovsky is late again.
Kuznetsov decides to go out after the scouts and prisoner along with Ukhanov, and Chibisov. Unfortunately, Chibisov is coming unglued. It takes a combination of firm command and gentle cajoling to get a tommy-gun into Chibisov's frozen fingers.
Drozdovsky says he'll follow Kuznetsov's group with a couple of signalers.
Kuznetsov's group crawls out into the frozen no-man's-land of dead tanks and frozen corpses. They come across the German burial squad. Chibisov, lacking restraint, opens fire and is wounded by the return fire. Ukhanov takes Chibisov's tommy-gun and orders him back to the gun position.
They find the crater they're looking for. At the bottom of the crater, one scout and the German prisoner are lying frozen, locked in a warmth-saving embrace. Kuznetsov prys the two apart. They're both alive, but the Soviet scout is in bad shape--frozen and with a wounded leg.
But where is the second scout? Kuznetsov sends Rubin out to search around the crater. He finds no scout, but he comes upon Drozdovsky, who's wandering around lost. Rubin leads him to the crater. Accompanying Drozdovsky are two signalers and--surprise--Zoya!
Kuznetsov is angry to see Zoya there.
Drozdovsky demands to know where the other scout is. He says they cannot leave until they find him. Kuznetsov thinks that idea is insane. He reminds Drozdovsky that they are only 200 meters from the German lines and that it will be light soon. He goes on to make a few disparaging remarks about Drozdovsky's inability to find the crater without Rubin's help. The two get into a heated argument.
Kuznetsov then checks himself. He's says everyone else should go back to the Soviet lines while he and Rubin stay to search for the missing scout. Ukhanov leans over to Drozdovsky and whispers a few choice insults in his ear. Then he adds the advice that Drozdovsky should use his brains instead of his arse. This sends Drozdovsky into a rage. Zoya steps in and tries to calm everyone down. Drozdovsky sneers contemptuously, "I hate interference from front-line tarts!" He nastily tells Zoya to go comfort Kuznetsov, and, he continues, "But let your boyfriends know that you won't be sleeping with any of them!"
Drozdovsky orders the signalers to take the German prisoner and follow him. He then disappears into the dark. Kuznetsov tells the signalers to ignore Drozdovsky's order and take the wounded scout instead. They do this, and Ukhanov takes charge of the German. Kuznetsov tells Zoya to go with Ukhanov.
Kuznetsov and Rubin, frozen and barely able to keep awake creep out to look around for the missing scout. Suddenly, they hear shooting a short distance away. The Germans have opened fire on Drozdovsky's group and pinned them down in a small hollow.
Ordering Rubin to take cover and draw away some of the Germans' fire, Kuznetsov dashes to the hollow. There, to his horror he discovers that Zoya has been wounded--she took a tommy-gun burst to the belly. Drozdovsky is also wounded, but not seriously.
Using Kuznetsov's greatcoat as a makeshift stretcher, they carry Zoya back to their gun position...but Zoya is dead.
Anguished, Kuznetsov tries to get Drozdovsky to tell him what happened. Instead of answering, Drozdovsky, who is shell-shocked, lashes out against Kuznetsov with a frenzy of depression and jealousy.
Nikolai Yeremenko as Lieutenant Drozdovsky.
Drozdovsky then turns his rage on the captive German, saying that it was all because of the German that Zoya died. He starts to take out his pistol to shoot the defenseless prisoner, but the others restrain him.
Drozdovsky goes off to have his wound treated. Ukhanov offers to take Rubin and convey the German prisoner to divisional headquarters.
Kuznetsov goes to the shelter where the wounded are gathered. He speaks with Davlatyan, who is so glad to see him. Davlatyan--so young and innocent--speaks with regret that he got knocked out of battle so quickly--after only four shots. While feeling kinship with Davlatyan, Kuznetsov also feels that the events of the last 24 hours have created a gulf of experience and feeling between the two of them. Kuznetsov is too tired to give more than the vaguest answers to Davlatyan's questions about the battle.
Chibisov, also among the wounded, plaintively begs forgiveness from Kuznetsov and even kisses Kuznetsov's sleeve. Kuznetsov pushes him away.
As Kuznetsov walks through the communications trench toward the gun position, he breaks down and sobs, overcome with exhaustion, the emotional strain of the day, and Zoya's senseless death.
During the night, Bessonov was relieved to hear that a small corridor was driven through to join up with Major Cherepanov's encircled regiment. However, Bessonov is troubled by the fact that he has had no word from Vesnin.
After midnight, the Germans halt their attack. Bessonov tries to puzzle out why they stopped--are they exhausted or planning a second attack? And when should Bessonov begin his counterattack?
Communication has been lost with Front Headquarters.
In the early morning, Deyev happily announces that some artillerymen (Ukhanov and Rubin) have delivered the missing scout and a German information prisoner.
Bessonov joins the divisional reconnaissance chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Kuryshev, who is interrogating the captured prison, a Major Erich Dietz of the 6th Panzer division, who was captured yesterday at dawn.
In response to a question from Bessonov, Dietz says that his division arrived ten days ago, having been sent here all the way from France. Dietz then rails against the scouts who captured him, trussing him up like a pig and making his suffer the freezing cold and numerous other indignities. He calls them fanatics and says that all Russian soldiers are fiends from hell. He seems most put out by the fact that the artillerymen took away his cigarettes.
Dietz then engages in some philosophizing about war. Man is cruel by nature, he says. And in war, each side kills in the name of what it thinks is right. He continues, "No one is right in war. There is only the blood-thirsty instinct of sadism."
Bessonov replies, "I am repelled by the idea of asserting one's personality through cruelty, but I am in favor of using violence against evil, and in this I see the essence of good."
The interrogation is interrupted by Bozhichko. He reports that Major Titkov has arrived with bad news: Vesnin is dead.
Bessonov returns to the shelter and listens to Major Titkov's report on Vesnin's death. Titkov hands Vesnin's medals and papers to Bessonov, who feels a great loss.
Communication is reestablished with Front Headquarters. The Front Commander relays good news: other Soviet units are outflanking and striking at the rear of the Germans.
Bessonov suggests that now is the time for him to launch his counterattack.
The Front Commander is also greatly saddened by Vesnin's death.
After this conversation, Bessonov sadly ponders more on Vesnin's death. Despite his grief, he knows that "the ruthless, soul-searing blows of eternity do not put an end to wars or to suffering, do not release the living from the obligation to live."
Bozhichko, looking through Vesnin's papers, finds the German propaganda pamphlet about Bessonov's son. He does not tell Bessonov about it, however; he puts it in with all of Vesnin's belongings to be sent on to headquarters.
Bessonov begins the counterattack. After forty minutes, the Germans are swept off the bridgeheads, the Soviets capture the crossings, reach the south bank of the river, and start outflanking the enemy. On the south side, remnants of Soviet units that were encircled yesterday and that, by any reckoning, could not have survived, come to life and join the battle.
In the observation post, Bozhichko points out to Bessonov that a field kitchen is crossing a bridge to the south side. It stops by an artillery unit. Bozhichko remindes Bessonov that it is Drozdovsky's unit, the one they visited before the battle, and the one whose lads found and delivered the German prisoner.
Bessonov smiles, thinking that the unit's bravery must have been a result of fine leadership on the part of Drozdovsky.
Bessonov decides to visit Drozdovsky's unit immediately. He tells Bozhicko to bring along decorations.
When the counterattack began, Kuznetsov, Ukhankov, Nechyaev, and Rubin sprung to action. Without waiting for orders, Kuznetsov fired off their last seven shells in half an hour. Then he ordered the crew to take their submachine guns and station themselves in the trenches to meet the withdrawing German infantry. This they did, despite the fact that they were hungry and shivering in the freezing cold.
Then, like an impossible apparition, Skorik shows up with his field kitchen. Although there are only four left in the battery, Skorik drops off rations for the whole battery--bread, rusks, and vodka.
Ukhanov pours out vodka for the men. Kuznetsov drinks, hoping to warm up. He remembers--like a dream--that Zoya is buried in the ground right behind him.
Bessonov and his entourage arrive. With tears in his eyes, Bessonov expresses his gratitude to the group, and gives all four of them the Order of the Red Banner.
Bessonov starts to leave. Just then Drozdovsky runs up and salutes. Bessonov hugs him and gives him a medal, too. This causes Rubin to let out a masterful stream of vulgarities. Ukhanov tells him to calm down and says, "Our orders are to go on living."
The men decide to "wash their medals". They drop them into a mess tin of vodka and drink from it. They watch as, in the distance, the confused and broken-looking Drozdovsky, his shoulders drooping, staggers away weakly as if drunk.
As the cold wind blows, Kuznetsov looks sadly at Zoya's burial mound, with her medical bag perched atop it. He begins to cough and choke, and tosses aside the mess tin of vodka. He gets up and tells the others, "I'll be back in a minute. I'll just take a walk around the battery."