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A moving, personal account from a war which was the epitome of hell itself.
on 18 February 2013
I had never heard of Jude Law before I watched the film `Enemy at the Gates' which tells the fictionalised tale of a Russian sniper during the Battle of Stalingrad. I vividly recall how those Russian troops were sent into battle with one rifle for every two soldiers. True or not, that portrayal was never far from the reality of the day and I mention it only to draw the reader into one of the fiercest and costliest times of WW2 - the Eastern front fought between Russia and Germany.
This is a captivating work from Albrecht Wacker in which he reveals the memoirs of a German soldier - and sniper, who was awarded the Knights Cross for his service. Many readers will possibly think an `Iron Cross' is an Iron Cross but the Knights Cross was only awarded to those who already held the Iron Cross and was made to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. No German soldier became any less brave just because his country was beaten and this is the story of one of the bravest.
As with all good books, this finely crafted work begins right at the beginning where we find accounts of the differences between the hardened soldiers and the newest recruits on the eve of battle. Even the biggest and hardest of men have been known to lose control of either their stomach or their breakfast before a battle and yet, in this work it is explained in such a way that we might begin to understand such matters.
With consummate skill, as the book progresses, we are drawn into one man's part in a huge conflict and the subsequent retreat for those who were lucky enough to escape either death or Soviet imprisonment. I use the words `consummate skill' because we are given the benefit of reliving this simple soldier's life from the day on which he arrived as a raw recruit right through to his eventual survival. Throughout the work there is no triumphalism or defeatism aimed at either one side of the conflict or the other. In short, it is an account of what happened to one man movingly told - exactly as it happened with exaggeration, false modesty or unnecessary anti-Russian sentiments.
Right at the end of the work, we are treated to a poem found in a document which was written by an unknown poet - probably a dead soldier. In many ways that poem explains how true professional soldiers feel after their wars are over. In some ways it almost explains Post Traumatic Stress. For the subject of this book, it also explained why he was required to do what he did but, please, do not read that poem until you get to it or you will miss the enjoyment of the splendid way in which the book is concluded.
A few relevant historic black and white photographs appears together about midway through the work and one of these shows Sepp Allerberger wearing both his Iron Crosses.