on 6 July 2005
This is an unusual book, one that only two or three years ago I would not have dreamed of being able to read: a personal memoir by a Soviet subaltern in a Guards Cavalry Division. Personal memoirs of low-ranking WW2 Red Army soldiers are hard to come by in English - personal memoirs of Soviet anti-tank cavalrymen must be about as rare as rocking-horse poo in English if not in Russian, and in fact I think this is the only one. Great thanks go to the publisher Pen & Sword in the UK for taking on this very unusual and interesting subject matter.
Ivan Yakushin's book can be divided in three sections - the start of the war when he lived in Leningrad, where he had to endure the siege and consequent famine in the city. This is a very interesting testimony in itself. The second section deals with his training as an artillery officer and initial posting to command a heavy mortar platoon in an infantry regiment during the defense against German operation ZITADELLE at Kursk where he is wounded. The third section begins when he is posted to 5th Guards Cavalry Division following recovery. Here he takes command of a 45mm ATG platoon (later 57mm), and enters combat during operation BAGRATION. He then fights on through Poland and to the north of Berlin.
The book contains vivid descriptions of the live in a cavalry regiment, the importance of horses, the way the Red Army dealt with disciplinary issues at the lowest level, combat, fear, and death. It is a great source of information for those wanting to find out a bit more about how the Red Army worked from the position of a lieutenant and platoon commander.
Comparing it to Sydney Jary's famous '18 Platoon' makes clear that this book was not so much written with the military, but with the general reader in mind. While it is a shame that we had to wait for so long to see this book, it is of benefit that the author wrote it after the fall of the Communist regime, and after emigrating to Germany, thus sparing us the odes to the party and the important work of the commissar that make earlier Red War memoirs such a drag to read.
The book contains some pictures of Yakushin and his friends and family. It would greatly have benefited from some maps. Hence only 4 out of 5.
Anyone who seriously would like to find out something more about the working of the Red Army, and especially how its elite cavalry formations saw themselves, should get this book.
This book was a good memoir and indeed everything I look for in such a book. Ivan Yakushin lived an interesting life during WW2, there are horrors and triumphs, the greatest when he tells how he managed to get to his home with his mother and younger brother after Barbarossa - the German invasion of Russia. His home was in Leningrad and by getting there his horrors had just begun.
Then there is a very interesting part about how he was sent from Leningrad over Lake Lagoda in winter and how many young men died from their greatest enemy at the time - to much food after starving for so many months. From there he goes to officer school and after being wounded is drafted into the Guards Cavalry. Here to book shines as well for this is the only book I have found that describes this kind of warfare in WW2 but the Russians relied heavily on horse cavalry for breakthrough missions in that mechanised age. In fact this is the only book that I have come across that is a personal memoir from that important Soviet Force and not only was he in the Guards Cavalry he was in the horsechart drawn artillery and anti tank guns.
I also found his interactions with the Germans in occupied Germany very interesting. No stories of rape and horror, just people trying to get to grips with defeat and a new life. Yakushin was a frontovik - front line combat veteran and was constantly on the move, unlike the following army and support troops they had little time to occupy themselves with rape or plundering as is clear in one passage when he tells he didn't have any plunder to send home. Without being able to tell if this was completely true or not it at least provides a different outlook of the professional Russian soldier and his conduct.
I also like how the book is set up, I like my reading to be fun, after reading two heavy books on the WW2 Campaign in Hungary and the Siege of Budapest this was such a pleasure to read. The book is not long (about 170 pages) and chapters range from 4 to 12 pages, perfect for beadtime reading. Nor is it drowned in technical detail, just the honest memories and a human interest story of a frontovik.
on 13 November 2014
This book is a joy to read. The first part about Leningrad would be enough to bring anybody's mood crashing down but his trials and tribulations as a Cavalryman are just fabulous to read.
He doesn't posture, boast or brag or use his story as a propaganda tool, this is juts honest soldiering form the Soviet perspective and I adored every page. A full five-star book.