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.