This is a memoir of a young German soldier who started as a landser—infantry man—manning a heavy machine gun and then became a platoon leader. He began his service in the Crimea in a battle group that defeated the Russians and pushed them out of Sevastapool Castle. They were later moved up to join the army besieging Leningrad. They battled the Russian groups trying to break the siege. Later as the Russians pushed the Germans south, out of Russia, they were surrounded and trapped in what was called the Courland pocket. Against overwhelming odds, they resisted all attempts by the Russians to smash their pocket. They held out till the end of the war, when they were finally ordered to surrender. The author was taken prisoner and was one of the few to survive the gulags.
This memoir is considered one of the best. This memoir gives a good perspective on the skill of the German soldiers and why the Wehrmacht was so effective. Small teams of heavy out-numbered German soldiers were able to maintain their position by being unflinching under fire. In the beginning, the soldiers are affected by seeing death and being killing machines. In one early battle when they are mowing down wave after wave of Russian soldiers, one of the heavy machine gunners becomes overwhelmed by it all and cries out “I can’t keep killing!”. This must have been alarming to his mates who were doing all they could to stay alive. After a year or two though, the soldiers are inured to it and seem simply proud of their skills at repelling these attacks.
My thoughts? It is a good book. If one is interested in German war memoirs, this is one to read. However, I felt kind of traumatized by the end. Killing, killing, killing. Ug. The writer does not glorify this but that is what his life was about at this time.