“For the Motherland! For Stalin! A Red Army Officer’s Memoir of the Eastern Front” by Boris Bogachev (Hurst and Company, 424 pages, $29.95)
As the World War Two generation slowly fades into blessed memory, we are seeing a last surge of memoirs by the combatants who fought in that conflict. Many of these books are being published posthumously.
Most of the WWII memoirs available in the USA were written by our own veterans. Now and then a memoir written by a German, Japanese or Soviet veteran will get issued here in translation. These books can provide valuable and unusual perspectives.
Memoirs written by Red Army veterans were subjected to rigorous censorship. Negative assessments of strategies, casualties, or other aspects of the Soviet war effort were prohibited. Following the dismantling of the Soviet Union readers in the West were finally able to read some accounts that have not been sanitized in the name of ideology.
Boris Bogachev didn’t start writing his memoir “For the Motherland! For Stalin! A Red Army Officer’s Memoir of the Eastern Front” until he had retired after a long military career. Then by curious happenstance, Bogachev, who died in 2015, was able to access formerly classified historical archives as the Soviet Union disintegrated.
Records he obtained make this book even more interesting.
In June of 1941, Bogachev was living with his family in the city of Odessa when the Germans invaded the USSR. He was 16. The family evacuated the city for the safety of the countryside. The author writes: “I decided to volunteer for the army. And wholeheartedly too — it had always been my dream to become a regular officer like my father.”
He had to wait to enlist until December when he turned 17. Then he began his training to become a junior lieutenant who would be the platoon commander of an anti-tank artillery unit. He was quickly sent into action.
Things were not going well: “by that time our country was on the edge of catastrophe. The Germans had shot the daylights out of our professional army. In the second half of 1941, they had captured four million of our soldiers and officers.” These honest statements would have been censored in the Soviet era. This memoir is candid and often brutally frank.
While the author’s loyalty to the Soviet dictator Stalin was unwavering he explains how Stalin’s Order No. 227: “Not a Step Back” made it problematic for troops to maneuver. The regime was starving for victories. This order made it impossible to retreat. Soldiers who were observed moving back from the battle lines could be shot by observers in the rear.
Bogachev describes being wounded three times and eluding execution on three other occasions. Later on, he was put in charge of a sapper platoon. They would go into battles riding atop tanks. Unsurprisingly, the survival rate for his sappers was poor.
On several occasions, the author’s heroism should have earned him important medals. After the fall of the USSR, he was able to examine the military archives to find out why those coveted medals had not been awarded. Maria Bogacheva has translated her father’s memoir into English. Her translation of this powerful story is clear, concise and compellingly readable.
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