Friday, October 4, 2019

Mortar Gunner on the Eastern Front: The Memoir of Dr. Hans Rehfeldt. Volume 1: From Moscow Winter Offensive to Operation Zitadelle by Hans Heinz Rehfeldt

Hans Rehfeldt, a mortarman in the Grossdeutschland Regiment, then division, uses his wartime diaries as a foundation for this 'memoir.'  Most of the text reads like diary entries but there are a few instances of foreshadowing that make it evident the author has made additions to the text.  Having read quite a few WWII memoirs (mainly German and Soviet) this volume is best for those with an intimate knowledge of the Eastern Front.  Many of the entries focus on mundane activities but there are also more than enough examples of the type of fighting the Wehrmacht encountered on the Eastern Front. 

Rehfeldt participated in some of the most well-known and bloodiest engagements that occurred during the Soviet-German encounter.  He first found himself fighting outside Tula in the winter of 1941, the city was Guderian's target and one step too far for his Panzer Group.  Rehfeldt documents the fighting he experienced in the lead up to the Soviet counteroffensive in December of 1941 and the ensuing retreat in terrible winter conditions.  By early 1942, the author is continually suffering from wounds sustained from frostbite and his battalion is eventually disbanded due to the heavy casualties it sustained.  After recovering, Rehfeldt participates in battles on the Don and outside Rzhev as well as in the retaking of Kharkov and then the Kursk offensive. 

There is no lack of action, and some of the included maps created by Rehfeldt himself will help readers understand some of the situations he found himself in.  The photos (dozens of them) included are also a nice addition.  Where the book suffers is from a lack of maps that would help track the progress and movements of the author's battalion/regiment/division.  Without these maps much of the actions the author is involved in become hard to track or contextualize.  An additional weakness is a lack of self-reflection, something many memoirs contain but which authors undoubtedly don't have time for when keeping a diary at the front and when they constantly find themselves in the midst of battle.  Otherwise, this is a fairly detailed and informative account of a soldier who found himself on the Eastern Front.

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