Academic journal article Military Review

800 DAYS ON THE EASTERN FRONT/RED PARTISAN: The Memoir of a Soviet Resistance Fighter on the Eastern Front

Academic journal article Military Review

800 DAYS ON THE EASTERN FRONT/RED PARTISAN: The Memoir of a Soviet Resistance Fighter on the Eastern Front

Article excerpt

800 DAYS ON THE EASTERN FRONT, Nikolai Litvin, Stuart Britton trans, and ed., University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2007, 159 pages, $24.95. RED PARTISAN: The Memoir of a Soviet Resistance Fighter on the Eastern Front, Nikolai I. Obryn'ba, Potomac Books, Dulles, VA, 2007,256 pages, $26.95.

When studying the struggle between the Soviets and the Germans on the Eastern Front, it is all too easy to get lost in the titanic size and scope of the conflict. Personal and individual experiences of the war tend to be lost in the sweep of fronts and army groups. In the Soviet case, this submersion of first-hand accounts has been exacerbated by language barriers, state censorship, and Cold War tensions. Fortunately, two recently translated Soviet memoirs, 800 Days on the Eastern Front and Red Partisan, help to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the Russian experience in the Great Patriotic War.

In 800 Days, Nikolai Litvin chronicles his service as an antitankgun crewman, machine gunner, and commander's jeep driver in such crucial clashes as the Battle of Kursk, Operation Bagration, and the capture of the German fortress city of Stettin. Litvin's lively narrative offers a fascinating window into the life of the common Soviet soldier, and his honesty and eye for detail make the book a quick and captivating read. His description of his service in a penal battalion after being convicted for failing to obtain a proper written order before transferring himself to a new unit is one of the more interesting parts of the work. The Soviets established penal battalions to punish soldiers who were guilty of crimes or offenses against military order and discipline. These units were assigned the deadliest missions, and the Red Army expected wrongdoers like Litvin to "redeem" their honor and status by blood sacrifice or conspicuous bravery on the battlefield. Given the high casualties in these units, Litvin's account is indeed rare and enlightening.

Equally rare are English-language narratives of Soviet partisans. In Red Partisan, Nikolai I. Obryn'ba recounts his fighting during the chaotic first months of the war, his time as a prisoner of the Germans, and his eventual escape and ensuing service with a band of Soviet guerrillas. …

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