Expand your understanding of the world of the Frontovik!
This page is designed primarily for the use of WW2 reenactors and living historians who are working on improving their knowledge of the Soviet Soldier and the circumstances they found themselves in during WW2. Particularly, the information in the reviews points out passages in books that describe day to day life, activities, food, equipment, fighting techniqes, field craft, etc., that would help a reenactor or living historian get a better idea of what they themselves should be trying to portray. Since our club portrays a Guards Mechanized Corps in 1944 - 45, which were heavily equipped with Lend-Lease U.S. and British equipment, rations, clothing items, etc., you will see a lot of references to those points of interest.
"Through the Maelstrom" and "Red Road from Stalingrad"
If you haven't read them, I recommend both "Through the Maelstrom" and "Red Road from Stalingrad". Both are the memoirs of infantrymen in the RKKA who fought from 1942 until wounded late in the war. "Through the Maelstrom" was written by Boris Gorbachevsky, and he mentions rations in mid-42 consisting of American stew, smoked fish, biscuits, millet, sugar and salt. This was a regular issue, and the cans of US stew were divided between 8 soldiers each. Also in 42, in prep for an attack on the Rzhev salient, his unit was issued with American boots and overcoats made from English cloth. He mentions the stew several times, and being issued US boots twice, as well as being equipped with Studebakers, Dodges, and Willys jeeps. He mentions how by Operation Bagration US lend-lease had finally made them more mobile than the germans, and the effect it had on operations. On page 315, he goes into detail about being assigned to a Forward Detachment (advance guard), being mounted in Studebaker trucks and jeeps, and armed with 15 DP, 1 maxim, 3 45mm guns, snipers, and antitank riflemen, as well as 2 radio sets and medics. They were issued dry rations for 5 days, and as much fuel and ammo as they could carry. The detachment was commanded by a Colonel Kudriavtsev, who had previously commanded a Forward Detachment. The column moved out ahead of their division on 5 July 44 and travelled on secondary roads and bypassed all resistance, reaching the Nemen river on 9 July and seized a bridgehead and held it until the division caught up to the river. He goes into many details of the operation, and this is a classic example of what an RKKA advance guard is meant to do, which is what we as a club need to be training for and what we'll be executing at events. Gorbachevsky has a great writing style, and this is one of the best personal accounts I've ever read from a low level RKKA soldier. There's alot more in the book, like details of the things they typically looted in germany to send home, what it was like in the restructuring of eastern europe immediately after the end of the war, etc. I highly recommend it. "Red Road from Stalingrad" is written by Mansur Abdulin, a mortarman, who first saw combat on the north wing of the encirclement of Stalingrad in November of 42. He fought there, Kursk, Dnepr, etc, until wounded in Ukraine and eventually mustered out of service to work in the coal mines in Siberia. He gives alot of good details on things like what you'd find in a man's meshok that was well equipped, what it was like watching mine dogs blowing up german tanks, the kinds of food and supplies they got from german aircraft drops that landed in their lines instead of in the Stalingrad perimeter when they tricked them with flare guns, etc. He talks about identification capsules and why many threw them away, and talks alot about "mascots" (good luck charms). One of the things he mentions repeatedly through the book, and Peter Kohler, you're going to appreciate this, is how they got rid of everything they didn't need when going into an attack, and loaded up on grenades, knives, and multiple loaded drums and mags for their weapons. Not one, but MANY. They stuffed their meshoks with drums and mags and left everything they didn't need behind. And throughout the chapters, you can see how they're always upgrading what they're carrying for hardware. As the units were cut down through combat from authorized strengths of 10,000+ down to a few thousand, the majority of all troops, even regular infantry units like Mansur's, were armed with primarily PPSh and SVT. Rifles were tossed to the curb. Mansur's unit was redesignated as Guards in 1943, but the situation described above was going on already in 1942. He gives some very good descriptions of trench fighting and hand-to-hand at Stalingrad, Kursk and the Dnepr, and how they resorted to fighting with anything they could get their hands on, including shovels and flare guns. On an island in the Dnepr, after swimming their from the east bank, their weapons were so jammed up with sand and they were getting slaughtered so bad, they rushed the germans empty handed and overwhelmed them so that they could get the germans weapons and then turn them on them to continue the fight. Interestingly, when he was put out of action fighting on the west bank of the Dnepr, his last round fired during the war was from an SVT. I highly recommend both of these books. I've got a couple more coming from Amazon, "Tank Rider" and "Panzer Destroyer". I'll summarize them for you after I'm done with them.
By Vasilly Krysov. 214 pages. Illustrated Vasilly Krysov was a lieutenant that commanded first KV-1 tanks, then SU-122 assault guns, then SU-85 tank destroyers, and finally T-3-85 tanks. He writes well, and the book is full of points and passages that are pertinent to our impressions as a mechanized unit. His actions began on the Southwestern Front in 1942, which became the Stalingrad Front, and he fought at Kursk, and all the way across eastern Europe and ended the war in East Prussia. Notable are several mentions of lend-lease, including jeeps, Studebaker trucks, and Spam. He fought in various mechanized brigades, and his assault gun and tank destroyer platoons were regularly attached to forward detachments (what we portray) along with motorized infantry, tank, engineer and other support troops. He has many accounts in the book of being pushed forward of the main body, beating the germans to objectives, and holding them and resisting german counterattacks until the main body of the mechanized brigade catches up to relieve them. He goes into detail of how when they went onto the defensive, how they built firing positions for the vehicles, and bunkers and trenches for themselves. They used iron stoves to heat their bunkers, and gives plenty of details of things they did on what free time they had, including games, music, food etc. There is also plenty of information on details of operations, including how they used the radio nets, call signs, combinations for flare signals, fire commands, how they coordinated with infantry and other armored units, and of course, all through the book, time after time, describing the Urrah charges of the infantry in the advance. Also he talks about mobile field kitchens, field wives, what it was like dealing with the germans, civilians, and even describes the confusion in one engagement because panther tanks were advancing with infantry shouting “Urrah”, and they held their fire until one of the panther commanders starting yelling something in German. It ended up the infantry were Banderas (pro-German Ukrainians). It is an excellent book, and Vasilly writes very well. It is a great insight into the life of a crewman in a mechanized unit during the Great Patriotic War.
"Panzer Killers Anti-tank Warfare on the Eastern Front"
By Artem Drabkin. 213 pages. Illustrated Artem Drabkin has compiled several histories of combat on the Eastern Front from the Soviet perspective, and I have a few of them. This one is excellent, just like the others. It is a compilation of first-hand accounts from veterans of the war that were anti-tank troops, ranging all the way from anti-tank riflemen all the way up to crewmen of SU-152 assault guns. As usual, there are several mentions in the book of lend-lease, including Willys Jeeps, Studebaker trucks, Dodge ¾ ton trucks, Sherman tanks, spam, canned American sausages (as in Vienna sausages), canned sliced ham, pea soup with American sausage, watching American films, and overcoats made from British wool. I don’t recall a single mention of a soviet built truck in the book. All mentions of vehicles are of Willy’s Jeeps towing the 45mm antitank guns, Dodge ¾ ton and Studebaker trucks towing ZIS-3 guns, and Studebakers being used to transport ammunition and every other purpose. The book is full of excellent references for things such as what the soldiers ate, the clothing they were issued, how they divided up rations (they all refer to the rations being divided up, and with one of the group turned away from the rest so he can’t see the portion, being asked “who” and the soldier saying the name of the soldier to get that portion) etc. It also talks about how they bathed in banyas and steamed their clothes over boiling water to kill vermin and clean them. For weapons, it gives lots of details about what type of ammunition was carried for different antitank guns, how many magazines they were issued for subguns, what types of pistols they carried, and how they dug the antitank guns in and tactics they used against German armor. For instance, they talk about concentrating all guns in a platoon on a single German tank until it’s destroyed and then concentrating all fire on the next victim, firing at the tracks on tigers and other heavies until they break one track, so the tank will slew around on the other track to expose the thinner side and rear armor, etc. The kinds of details some of these men go into is like this passage from Vladimir Matveevich Zimakov, “I was in an anti-tank rifle company. Together with my team member Malyshev, a tall Siberian who was born in 1925, we had a Simonov PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle. At first we carried it assembled, but then the company commander permitted us to remove the gun barrel and carry the components separately. Just imagine, the weapon weighed 22 kilograms, while the forty clips of five-round cartridges weighed another 28 kilograms. In addition, I had a Nagant revolver (the No. 1 of the team was armed with a Nagant, while the No. 2 had a submachine gun), while Malyshev was armed with a PPSh submachine gun and three drums of ammunition for it. In addition, we lugged the rest of our gear, our rations and a change of underclothes”. It’s hard to get a much clearer idea of what it was like for these two guys trudging across the Ukraine together with all this weight, day in and day out, with the usual issues of never enough food, sleeping in the open in whatever weather, without bathing for weeks or months, and of course dealing with combat on top of all the other privation. There’s a lot of WW2 Russian soldier slang explained in the book, for instance, “freshly baked” meant right out of school or training, “shoppers” were gangs coming through the replacement depots or field hospitals rounding up replacements for losses at the front, a “bullfrog” was the German ‘bouncing betty’ mine that shot up into the air and exploded after stepping on it, and there are a lot of other terms and common sayings as well. A couple of them are the 45mm antitank gun being called “farewell Motherland” and the slogan of their crews being “the barrel is long, but the life is short”. Another common saying was “if you’re going to die, at least do so with music”, meaning you might as well go out with a bang, which in the case of the soldier that mentioned it, was that they kept two cases of antitank grenades with them at their ZIS-3 anti-tank gun, so if they were over-run, they could go down fighting the tanks to the bitter end. There is also a lot of day to day information on what their life was like, things such as talking about receiving their daily 100 gram ration of vodka, officers and rear personnel stealing their rations of vodka. Being issued uniforms that had repaired bullet holes and tears in them that were taken from dead and wounded soldiers, some local levies being sent into combat without being issued any uniforms at all. One soldier tells that all they had to eat for three months straight was boiled corn meal and spam, and the only way they could supplement was crawling out into no-man’s-land at night to dig up unharvested potatoes and pick greens around them. There is even a mention of our beloved Kazatin in the book, of the 163rd Guards Destroyer Anti-Tank Artillery Regiment having lost many of its guns and crews fighting German tanks at Vinnitsa and Kazatin. It is mis-spelled as Kazakin in the book. I did my research, and there is no ‘Kazakin’, only “Kazatin”. A ‘Kazakin’ is a Ukrainian and Russian men’s and women’s clothing accessory from the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is so much interesting information and fascinating stories in this book that it’s hard to put down. Definitely worth buying for your 20th Guards Mech Corps reference library