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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Wednesday 8 July 2020

Adventures in My Youth

You will be relieved to hear not mine (that wouldn't be printable) but rather Armin Scheiderbauer, a young German soldier on the eastern front in WW2.

These are the memoirs of a German infantry officer, serving in a number of standard Wehrmacht units on the eastern front. He wasn't famous, although he was decorated for bravery, and in many ways that is the strength of the book. It describes the experiences of an ordinary soldier in quite extraordinary conditions.

He was the eldest son of a Protestant minister, brought up in a religious household. He doesn't duck the challenges of living under the Nazis, but his focus was always on joining the army as soon as he left school in 1941. He describes the training and his first actions before he was sent back to Germany for officer training. 

His first command was in the spring of 1943 when the tide was turning on the eastern front. Much of the narrative describes defensive actions as his units retreated back through Poland and into Germany. It is pretty grim, particularly for officers whom both sides targeted. In early 1944, when he was recovering from a wound, he learned that of the 40 officers in the regiment at the beginning of the offensive the previous year, only three were still with the regiment.

I was particularly interested to note his frequent references to Napoleon's invasion of Russia, and of course the retreat. He was very aware of being in the same place, including when he was crossing the Beresina River. His unit even dug up a Napoleonic eagle when constructing a trench.

There are a number of interesting combat details that might be missed in higher-level accounts. The way Russian artillery ranged in using airburst shells. Also the Russian use of observation balloons, something I thought ended after the First World War.

In early 1945, the 'company' he commanded had 10 men with only 50 in the battalion. He was seriously wounded and captured. Armin was more fortunate than many because he returned from captivity in the autumn of 1947, just over six years after joining the army. So ended the adventure of his youth. He was not yet 24 years old!

It has to be said that this is not an easy read. However, if you want to understand what infantry action on the eastern front was really like, this is the book you need to read.

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