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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.
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.
The battles presented are gritty and important and the later part of the conflict in former Yugoslavia is paticularily interisting, but in the book we find Mikhin doing front line duties in the Rzhev meat grinder battles, then going off to the Stalingrad offensive, then on to the edge of the Kursk battles - you will find Mikhin in the center of things.
Surprisingly for an artillery officer he is often at the forefront of the battles, commanding direct fire with howitzers against the Germans. One also gets quite a feel for the enormous losses the Soviets suffered and Mikhin writes well enough for the reader to feel some of those deaths rather than them being a list of statistics.
Being a front line officer Mikhin is exposed to constant front line action for years on end without almost any reprive. In this I found his experience is similar to Evgeni Bessnov's in TANK RIDER: Into the Reich with the Red Army. I recommend both as the do compliment each other, even if I consider Mikhin's book a little better.
Mikhin also goes to describe what happens behind the lines and of political intrigue and callous commanders.
In all a good read and a big piece of the Eastern Front Puzzle seen from the Soviet side.
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