From the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, to the banks of the Dnieper River, This Memoir presents the author's experiences and observations as a 19-year-old frontline infantryman in the Soviet Red Army. The hatred and violence that had erupted on the Eastern Front was generated largely by Hitler's declared intention of annihilating the Soviet Union. Aware of the odds against survival, Abdulin's main goal was to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible. This saga commences with his first shot on the Don Front in November, 1942.
As the Soviet infantry advanced toward Stalingrad, trained dogs carrying 18 lb explosive charges were sent out to destroy enemy tanks. In the heat of battle, a wounded comrade was seen to cut off his dangling leg. Another, with both arms blown off, yelled for a smoke. But Stalin's Order 227 - No Retreat - created a firm bond between the comrades who knew that the alternative was death. In the trenches, living conditions were deplorable. At minus 40 degrees, many soldiers suffocated from toxic fumes in the shell craters where they slept. Snow-covered manure pits were warmer and safer. Hunger, cold, constant lack of sleep, and continuous hard work took their toll. Worse by far were the infestations of lice, which were regarded as enemy No. 1; the Germans were enemy No. 2.
Having no food for 10 days turned the comrades into walking skeletons. They lived on boiled horse fodder that often gave them intense pain while defecating. For good luck, each comrade carried a mascot, and loss of the mascot was seen as an omen of death. Soldiers who stole watches from dead Germans seemed to get killed in battle. Cowards also seemed to perish. On the outskirts of Stalingrad, thousands of wounded Germans were frozen to death on an abandoned runway, and the corpses of Soviet prisoners were stacked in the fields. The German Army capitulation at Stalingrad brought only temporary relief to the comrades. Their louse-infested uniforms were replaced.
Cited by Stalin for exceptional bravery in combat, Abdulin's regiment was rewarded with promotion to the elite 'Guards' rank of the Soviet armed forces. They moved on to the Voronezh Front and the battle of Kursk. Starting at Pokhorovka in July, they were engaged constantly against elite Nazi Divisions. Soviet manpower losses were very heavy. The reinforcements were deeply shocked to see the countless burned out tanks and decomposing bodies on the battlefield. In numerous villages, the streets were like trenches turned into communal graves. When a distillery was captured in a village on the front, half a battalion got themselves dead drunk. As the drunken soldiers collapsed on the ground, they were incinerated by Nazi flame throwers. Abdulin expresses dismay and sorrow at this senseless loss of life.
The Germans completely scorched the earth as they retreated. Foodstuffs were destroyed; entire villages were razed to the ground. Everywhere, women, children, and old people lay massacred in the streets. The war devoured people mercilessly. Abdulin sobbed violently with anger and rage, and promised to avenge the massacred people at the first possible instant. The fighting became more desperate and more intense as the soldiers sacrificed themselves for the Motherland.
Reinforcements arrived every night, but the following day every unit was again undermanned. By November 1943, a bridgehead had been established across the Dnieper River in order to continue the Ukrainian offensive. It was there that Abdulin fired his last shot. He was seriously wounded, and evacuated to hospital. During his recovery, a close comrade regretted there wasn't a writer to describe what really happened. Abdulin's Memoir tells the story here. It is the priceless testimony of a simple soldier who faced death almost every day of his frontline existence, and who survived the pivotal battles of WWII on the Eastern Front. With 165 text pages, 5 sketch maps, 33 photographic illustrations, and 3 appendixes, this work is an excellent read - informative, compassionate, essentially personal, and highly recommended.