The Memoirs of a German Soldier on the Eastern Front
318 pages. 16 pages of black-and-white pictures. 8 maps. No index.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 - En route
2 - Fighting in Stalingrad
3 - A Narrow Escape
4 - A Last-Minute Reprieve
5 - Blood Red Snow Falls Not from the Sky
6 - A Temporary Lull
7 - Hunting Italian Partisans
8 - Return to the Russian Inferno
9 - Alarm at the Nikopol Bridgehead
10 - Fear and Hatred Supplant Tears
11 - Through a Bottomless Mud
12 - Deadly Intermezzo
13 - From Knight's Cross to Wooden Cross
14 - Condemned to Death
15 - Vultures Over Nemmersdorf
16 - From Poland to a Fool's Paradise
17 - Better Dead Than Siberia
Introduction (p. 9):
...I intend neither to glorify nor to judge. I will describe the reality - how I, as an ordinary soldier, personally experienced and perceived the war on the front lines in Russia from the autumn of 1942 until the bitter end, interrupted only occasionally because of injury.
This book is an authentic report, with descriptions of my own unforgettable experiences, impressions and perceptions - the perceptions of an ordinary front-line soldier, referred to, in the slang of the day, as a Landser.
This book, which the author says is based on surreptitious diaries he kept during the war, chronicles one soldier's experiences. He was trained and mostly served as a heavy machinegunner - and though he doesn't identify his unit, he eventually mentions that he is panzergrenediere.
His war story begins at Stalingrad, but his full exposure to combat does not begin until the Russian breakthrough and the subsequent German retreat. At last, he finds himself as part of a composite unit near the Don River:
A Last Minute Reprieve (p. 63):
24 November. At about midday one of the machine-guns on our right flank suddenly starts hammering away. Then we hear rifle fire. The firing becomes more intense, and next we see Russian infantry appearing through the haze. I am meeting the enemy face to face for the first time, and, apart from an undeniable curiosity, also feel an enormous amount of nervousness and excitement. The brown, huddled figures remind me of somehow of a great herd of sheep moving over a snow-covered field. As soon as the herd comes under fire from us, they hesitate for a moment, move apart from each other, and then immediately move forward again.
This book is brim-full of skirmish-level combat engagements, starting with a fascinating series of firefights on the Don River. The author confirms many of the common perceptions of the Eastern Front, while also exploding a few myths (it seems that his unit was chronically short of anti-tank weapons).
Most of the fighting is on the Eastern Front, although he briefly serves against Italian partisans and in Romania.
Alarm at the Nikopol Bridgehead (p. 174):
With support from our tanks, we are making pretty good progress. The platoons on our right are already tossing hand grenades into the Russian trenches. I've inserted a fresh magazine in my machine gun and am now storming forward with the others towards the trenches. The Russians are surprised and disorganised. Some of them start to jump out of the trenches and run towards their rear without their rifles. Two of them are still standing behind a heavy machine gun and firing. Still at full pelt, I empty my magazine at the pair of them and hit them. Then I slip on the ice on the rim of the trench and dive headlong into it.
A shining metal point glints in front of me and I feel a rip on my right cheek. I hold my machine gun in my right hand and am about to get up just as the Russian in front of me is about to run his bayonet through me. At that moment he crumples from a burst of fire...
The book lacks some of the details that wargamers seek - unit designations are few and far between, exact numbers of men aren't given, the maps serve mostly just to give a sense of where his unit was serving - but this record is rich in the sort of actual combat information that inspires skirmish wargaming.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .