Review: On the Roads of War
- Published: 30 April 2010 30 April 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
This is an unusual book, one that only two or three years ago I would not have dreamed of being able to read: a personal memoir by a Soviet subaltern in a Guards Cavalry Division. Personal memoirs of low-ranking WW2 Red Army soldiers are hard to come by in English – personal memoirs of Soviet anti-tank cavalrymen must be about as rare as rocking-horse poo in English if not in Russian, and in fact I think this is the only one. Great thanks go to the publisher Pen & Sword in the UK for taking on this very unusual and interesting subject matter.
Ivan Yakushin’s book can be divided in three sections – the start of the war when he lived in Leningrad, where he had to endure the siege and consequent famine in the city. This is a very interesting testimony in itself. The second section deals with his training as an artillery officer and initial posting to command a heavy mortar platoon in an infantry regiment during the defense against German operation ZITADELLE at Kursk where he is wounded. The third section begins when he is posted to 5th Guards Cavalry Division following recovery. Here he takes command of a 45mm ATG platoon (later 57mm), and enters combat during operation BAGRATION. He then fights on through Poland and to the north of Berlin.
The book contains vivid descriptions of the live in a cavalry regiment, the importance of horses, the way the Red Army dealt with disciplinary issues at the lowest level, combat, fear, and death. It is a great source of information for those wanting to find out a bit more about how the Red Army worked from the position of a lieutenant and platoon commander.
Comparing it to Sydney Jary’s famous ’18 Platoon’ makes clear that this book was not so much written with the military, but with the general reader in mind. While it is a shame that we had to wait for so long to see this book, it is of benefit that the author wrote it after the fall of the Communist regime, and after emigrating to Germany, thus sparing us the odes to the party and the important work of the commissar that make earlier Red War memoirs such a drag to read.
The book contains some pictures of Yakushin and his friends and family. It would greatly have benefited from some maps. Hence only 4 out of 5.
Anyone who seriously would like to find out something more about the working of the Red Army, and especially how its elite cavalry formations saw themselves, should get this book.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)