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Guns Against the Reich: Memoirs of an Artillery Officer on the Eastern Front Hardcover – 18 Feb 2010
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About the Author
Petr Alexeevich Mikhin trained as a schoolteacher before the Second World War and served as an artillery man throughout the conflict. He fought the German army in the battles for Stalingrad, Kursk, Ukraine, Moldova, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and late in the war he was transferred to the Far East to fight the Japanese army in China. He was wounded three times and suffered shell shock, and he finished the war as a highly decorated officer with the rank of a captain. After the war he returned to teaching mathematics in civil and military schools, and he retired as a lieutenant colonel. Petr Mikhin is the author of numerous short stories and three books, all of them based on his extraordinary wartime experiences.
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It's just a little TOO incredible to be...well...credible.
Interestingly enough, Mikhin was ordered/forced to go on multiple scouting missions with the goal of capturing a German prisoner for interrogation. Usually this was done by trained scouts, but here we encounter multiple failed operations by scouts and a commander's decision to send out artillery observers in their place! Their eventual success is telling of Mikhin's ingenuity, as well as that of the men he operated with. An operation I have yet to encounter from the point of view of a Red Army soldier was that of Popov's Mobile Group in 1943. This was the scratch unit ordered to exploit Soviet success post-Stalingrad and eventually it set the stage for Manstein's famous 'backhand blow' outside Kharkov. Mikhin was part of that unit. For all the talk of Manstein's genius, seeing the position Popov's group was in, their difficulties and what was expected of them, it is evident that their eventual failure was sown in Red Army hubris, thinking that the Germans could not rebuke them as easily as before. Another revealing encounter with the enemy featured the author accompanying a battalion commander and his unit into an attack through dense fog. During their silent advance the entire battalion, some seventy men, were accidentally pivoted and walked parallel to the German trenches instead of toward them. The battalion commander stubbornly refused to acknowledge what happened and only with the dissipation of the fog by rain did he realize his mistake. Unfortunately, the end result was a decimation of the battalion by the Germans as they were caught in the open and subjected to deadly flanking fire. Finally, without a doubt the most interesting episode in the memoir was the author's destruction and ensuing capture of almost 1,000 Germans and Soviet Hiwis in Moldavia. A lone battery of four howitzers with 26 men was sent to cut off a German force, at least over a thousand strong, escaping the Iasi-Kishinev encirclement. The ensuing action by the author and his men cost them 24 lives and almost all of their ammunition; one by one they were wounded, again and again, and eventually killed by enemy mortar fire. Nevertheless, the Germans, without knowing the true condition of their Red Army opponents, began to surrender. As the sole unharmed Soviet soldier ran to gather up the prisoners, the author even while wounded moved from one howitzer to the next, zeroing it in on the Germans, to keep up the ruse that the battery was still operational as they waited for reinforcements. Overall, a very descriptive, sincere account of an artilleryman at war. Highly recommended for those interested in WWII, the Eastern Front, and/or the Red Army.
This quote sums up why so few accounts of low level combat from the Russian perspective have made it into print in English. Few in the Russian front lines survived long enough to gain the perspective necessary to make valid observations. This officer survived as he was the forward observer for the artillery and so he saw combat first hand, but was often set back from it, running the indirect fire part of the battle.
Although there is some Russian jingoism embedded in the writing, it comes across as honest and straightforward. The tactical snippets are many. The German 82mm mortar was their best weapon for killing infantry. The front lines were often confused, just lines on a map, with units too spread out to keep a continuous front. Camouflage was an obsession of Mikhin, perhaps was related to his survival.
Russia was able to win as the American lend lease sent 400,000 trucks and jeeps. Without this, they could not have resupplied their armies. German lost as they did not have enough trucks to support their divisions on the Eastern front. However, after that broad generalisation, this book helps give a good idea of how the Russians won in the company and battalion level battles that all major wars are decided by. The books is a worthwhile addition to Eastern Front literature.
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