As a lieutenant, the author in December 1943 was assigned to lead a platoon in a Red Army "Officer Penal Battalion". He describes the organization, training, equipment of his battalion, and the personalities he recalls, in great and fascinating detail. Essentially, Officer Penal Battalions were shock troops used to infiltrate through or breach holes in German defensive lines. The "Officer Prisoners" fought to redeem their honor and freedom after being arrested and convicted of crimes against the State. If the officer prisoners survived and fought with honor, they were often freed and reinstated to officer status, depending on the personality and quirks of the commander of the army to which the penal battalion was attached. The author was not a convicted offender; he was part of the cadre assigned to lead this unit into combat. As a platoon leader, his deputy in one battle was a lieutenant colonel who had commanded an infantry regiment with distinction before running afoul of the State. He freely admits his unit sometimes captured, interrogated, and executed German prisoners of war, because when operating behind enemy lines in his words, "What else could we do?" This is a harsh book on the nature of close in infantry combat and the soldiers who wage it. Mercy is an alien concept when you are outnumbered and slugging it out with pistol, submachine gun, grenades, and entrenching tool against German soldiers at night inside an enemy trench. Readers interested in Soviet accounts of the infantryman's war during the last years of WWII will find this one of the best books on the subject. The author tells a candid story, one chock full of fascinating details and chilling memories, quite well. Heroism, cowardice, and luck fill the pages. This book is so well written, one can almost smell the cordite and hear the sounds of the advancing German assault guns as the author and his comrades fight like lions to repulse counterattack after counterattack in the Narev Bridgehead, October 1944.