Monday, April 16, 2007

800 Days on the Eastern Front by Nikolai Litvin

Definitely one of the more interesting memoirs from the Eastern Front of WWII. While there isn't as much information in terms of actual combat, at least not as much as I would have liked to read, I was quite impressed with the other stories that the author was able to talk about.

The entire book is quite short, 143 pages, and took me two days of casual reading to finish. The translator helps along in the translation by explaining Russian phrases and words which those not familiar with Russian would be a bit lost without but he also helps the narrative by giving context to the authors stories.

The author definitely had an interesting 'career' throughout the Second World War on the Eastern Front. He was involved in the fighting at Kursk, where he was wounded, as well as operation Bagration, and many other battles with the 354th Rifle Division, and an airborne guards division before that. The 354th belonged to Rokossovsky's front and the 65th Army under Batov, which was involved in many battles throughout the last year of the war.

Some of the more interesting stories were about how the author was sent to a penal company, he left his post without a written order. He was sentenced to three months and served at least one, hard to tell the exact date he was assigned to it. What was interesting about this account was that he explained penal units after a battle would receive a few days of rest, which the regular army units did not even receive. Although penal formations were sent to some of the most dangerous sectors they were treated like a regular unit and supplied like one as well, no one rifle for two men here. Eventually he was discharged on account of his actions in battle and sent to a regular unit.

Another incident had two scouts being accused of rape. They had confessed and the woman who complained about the fact that they raped her daughter and daughter-in-law was shocked to hear that their punishment would be execution. Instead she asked if there was any other way they could amend for their crimes. The only other alternative had the two scouts marry the women they raped. The daughter-in-law already had a husband and so she simply forgave her attacker, while the daughter agreed to the marriage. An interesting story, to say the least!

Other recollections include the author, while being in a penal company, running into two soldiers from the 'blocking detachment' which had to watch out for soldiers retreating without orders. When asked what he was doing, as he was retreating, he was able to convince them that without ammunition for his machine gun there was nothing more he could do, especially since the rest of his crew had already left for the rear. They let him go on his way, it was the first and last encounter he had with any soldiers from a blocking detachment.

The author candidly talks about German POWs and what happened to a few of them when they were captured. Six of them he helped execute with a friend, although as soon as he pulled the trigger he fainted, so how many he killed, if any, will never be known. Another POW proved to have been a Russian who joined the Germans years ago, he was executed. Still another German soldier was witnessed killing an old man, he was given to the local population to do with as they please.

Overall an interesting account of the Eastern Front with many stories you just won't find in a general history of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Well worth the money and I'm glad that more and more memoirs are coming out from Soviet veterans, it is about time they had a chance to tell their stories!

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