The Soviet Infantryman on the Eastern Front

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Simon Forty
ISBN
9781636243634
E-Book ISBN
9781636243641
Other Publication Information
128 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 150 photographs plus maps
Paperback or Digital versions are available
MSRP
$28.95
Product / Stock #
9781636243634
Company: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Book Cover

Having just reviewed the previous book in the Casemate Illustrated Series (No. 37 – The German Infantryman on the Eastern Front), I expected this book to follow the same format. While the outline of the book and its chapters are the same, the content differs vastly, and in a good way, especially for modelers. This book has a lot more focus on the Soviet Infantryman through re-enactor photographs focusing on uniforms and weapons, and more personal Soviet infantrymen accounts.

From the book’s conclusion,

The Western view of the Soviet infantryman and Red Army is colored by the Cold War. As the Soviet Union moved from valued ally to likely adversary, the Eastern Front battles were dissected by the German generals who had fought them. They pushed their own agendas and tended to undervalue their opponents, blaming the German defeat on hordes, poor strategy from the top, and almost anything other than the prowess of the Red Army.

In fact, the story of the Eastern Front was very similar to that of the West, albeit on a greater scale. Initial crushing victories were not enough to know the Soviets out. The Red Army learned how to fight a modern war, as did the Western Allies. It took them time, and that time was won by the sacrifice of millions of Soviet soldiers, many of them infantry. These men – and women, for the Red Army, employed many – were not simply cannon fodder. They were committed, patriotic, young people who fought for their country and their cause. Politicized by communism, they believed their leaders’ rhetoric and – scared, sometimes fatalistic, but often with great courage – they finally stopped the Germans before they could deliver the knockout blow.

The Soviet Infantryman on the Eastern Front is a concise, well-written book that summarizes the Eastern Front campaigns from Germany’s invasion in 1941 through their defeat in May 1945. This well-researched and illustrated book is composed of seven chapters (six of which are color-coded for easier reference):

  • Timeline of Events
  • Introduction (Reddish-Brown)
  • The Soldier (Blue)
  • Transport and Services (Green)
  • Strategy and Tactics (Brown)
  • Life in the Field (Purple)
  • Conclusion (Reddish-Brown)
  • Further Reading
  • Index

Each chapter is further broken down into subsections that keep the reader engaged and wanting to learn more. For example, the chapter on The Soldier is 20 pages longer than its companion piece on the German Infantryman. It is further broken down into the following sections, richly replete with wartime photographs, color re-enactor photographs, and uniform details:

  • The Red Army Soldier
  • Training
  • Women Soldiers
  • Penal Units
  • Political Officers and the NKVD
  • Partisans
  • Red Army Uniforms and Equipment (20 pages of the book’s 128 pages)
  • Branch of Service Colors in 1940
  • Headgear
  • Uniform
  • Footwear
  • Waist Belts
  • Overcoats and Winter Clothing
  • Camouflage Clothing
  • Equipment
  • Rifle Division Manpower 1939-45
  • Basic Rifle Division Weapons
  • Mine Warfare
  • Machine Guns
  • Submachine Guns
  • Rifles
  • Grenades
  • Mortars
  • Artillery

There are also callouts in each chapter, again using The Soldier chapter as an example:

  • The Soldier’s Oath
  • A Polyglot Army
  • Red Army Record Book of 1942
  • Hitler’s Directives for the Treatment of Political Commissars
  • Red Army Ranks After 1940
  • 1938 Medical Bag Contents

The book is a collection of black and white photographs, color photos of re-enactors, art, and diagrams to highlight the chapters. It is a boon for figure painters, modelers, and builders of vignettes and dioramas for the ground war on the Eastern Front. There are numerous great photographs for motivation and show Soviet infantry in the field. Of particular interest to modelers are the uniform variations, kit contents, and layouts, camouflage uniforms, typical equipment assembly layouts, and lots of color photographs.

This book shows the Soviet military in its ascendency in the East from its initial defeats through to the turning points at Stalingrad and Kursk as the Soviets learned how to fight German might. Like the Germans, the Russians relied on horses, their railroad, and Lend-Lease vehicles to transport their units and supplies to the point of success (the Soviets gave priority to successful units and operations, not reinforcing failure), and being better equipped for winter operations. The Russians learned a lot from their experiences fighting Finland, especially after the massive officer purges that preceded that campaign. The Soviets were able to absorb massive and incredible losses, “Between 1941 and 1945, such as the number of combatants permanently lost – killed, missing, captured, and sick – that the ‘army at the front had gone through 488 percent of its average monthly strength…in other words it had been rebuilt five times’ (Schechter, 2019).” The basic Soviet soldier was motivated by love of Mother Russia, and hatred of the enemy, and the cost for failure was high. In a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin, “There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors.”

The author Simon Forty did a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged with the cooperative use of the written word, historical photographs, period propaganda art, soldier art and re-enactor photos to get their message to the reader. This results in a comprehensive and concise understanding of four years on the Eastern Front.

A paragraph in the Conclusion sums it up thusly:

The Red Army grew in stature after its winter 1941-42 counterattack successes and the later victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, just as the Western allies did after victory in North Africa. The Red Army’s plentiful artillery, workmanlike weaponry, and the remarkable durability and tenacity of their infantry ground down its opponents. Once the floodgates opened, the Soviet forces rapidly advanced and showed amongst other things that their logistics support and transport – the latter significantly helped by Lend-Lease – were much better than their enemy’s.

At the last, the Soviet soldiers took their revenge on the German people and their allies as they pushed over their borders. They had been taught to hate, but many of them didn’t need to be. They had seen for themselves what the invaders had done: the massacres, the extermination camps, and the maltreatment of POWs. Those who endured the backlash often used the excess of the Red Army as camouflage for their involvement in the Nazi regime. The rapes and pillaging of the Soviets can never be condoned, but it can be understood.

The last paragraph is interesting, terrifying, and foreshadowed earlier in the book. Some of the Soviet Infantrymen were amazed at seeing how “peasants” outside the USSR lived in such opulence compared to their own experiences. Looting became so prevalent that the Soviets codified the practice in December 1944, “once a month generals could send home parcels weighing 16kg, officers 10kg, and soldiers 5kg, as long as they had permission of a superior.”

This is a great book to understand more about Soviet soldiers, particularly Infantrymen, and less about the campaigns (a lot were referenced through US Army publications, both during and after the war). This book goes a long way to help Western readers understand the vast scale and ferocity of the fighting on the Eastern Front.

Profuse thanks to Casemate Publishers and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.

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