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Engrossing Account of Combat on the Eastern Front
on 3 March 2002
Firstly, before launching yourself into this excellent book please take the time to read the introduction by Dennis Showalter as it will help explain the style of writing to be found in this book. The book was originally written for the survivors of Bidermann's regiment and division, not for the general public. Bearing this in mind you will have a better understanding and feeling for the author's account of his experience of fighting on the Eastern Front during WW2. At times you might find the narrative old fashioned and even cliched but this is definitely not the case, it has to be taken in context of when and why this book was first written.
This is a great story, on par if not better than Guy Sajer's 'Forgotten Soldier'. This is a combination of a combat history of the 132nd Infantry Division and the author's role and experiences in the fighting on the Eastern Front. The author, Gottlob Herbert Bidermann, won two Iron Crosses, the Crimea Shield, the Close Combat Badge, the German Cross in Gold, the Gold Wound Badge (wounded five times), the Honour Roll Clasp and the Tank Destruction Badge. What is remarkable is that the author survived five years of combat on the Russian Front fighting in Crimea, Leningrad and later in the Courland Pocket. I found his stories about his early years fighting with an anti-tank section using the Pak 37 "doorknocker" very interesting, I had always believed these weapons to be next to useless on the Russian Front however I was surprised.
You can trace the change in the author from a novice who still cared about human beings, even his enemy to one whom has been brutalised by warfare to a point past indifference to death and destruction. I have taken the liberty to include below a short section of the text from the first chapter to give you an idea of the author's style of writing:
"The NCO was grasping one of the wheels of the Maxim carriage, his sightless eyes peering forward at the ammunition belt where it fed into the chamber of the weapon. Another held his rifle clenched in cold fists, his head resting against the ground as if asleep, the olive-colored helmet secured tightly under his chin.
Hartmann slipped past me and slowly approached two other figures lying closely together, side by side. One of the figures had draped an arm across the other in a last embrace, as if attempting to comfort a dying comrade. As Hartmann neared, a cloud of flies rose in protest, breaking the deadly silence and I moved forward to join him in surveying the ghastly scene.
Moving silently among the carnage, Hartmann suddenly turned and slipped past me without speaking, heading in the direction from which we had come. Carefully avoiding the eyes of the dead, I quickly followed him.
In this abode of death, only the trees, still and quiet, appeared to be survivors and witnesses to the struggle that had occurred, hidden within this wooded glade".
I found this book to be a very fascinating account of the fighting conducted on the Eastern Front from the perspective of a young German soldier. It offers some very interesting insights into combat and its affect on men who in the end just tried to survive against immense odds. There is a number of absorbing black and white photographs supplied from private sources that give the book a human touch. The only real problem that readers may find with this book is the lack of maps detailing the movements and combats of the 132nd Infantry Division. Overall this is the sort of book that should be in the library of every serious reader or student of the war on the Russian Front during World War Two.