Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks: The World War II Memoirs of Hero of the SovietUnion Dmitry Loza, translated and edited by James F. Gebhardt, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln,Neb., 1996, $25.
Until the Communist Party fell from power in 1989, Soviet histories generally tended to downplay or dismiss the assistance that the Soviet Union received from the United States and Britain during World War II. Since then, however, Russian scholars and veterans have been able to reappraise that foreign aid and put it in more accurate perspective. That trend has also made possible the publication of a more personal, firsthand account of fighting on the Eastern Front using an American weapon–in this case, an M4A2 Sherman medium tank.
Even discounting the novelty of the author’s imported vehicle, Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks: The World War II Memoirs of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitry Loza is a fascinating story. A veteran of service in the indigenous T-34 medium tank and the British-made Matilda, Loza begins his narrative with the acquisition of new M-4s (M-Chetyrye in Russian, contracted into the nickname of “Emcha”) in the autumn of 1943. Four tons heavier than the T-34s, with a higher center of gravity, narrower track and inferior maneuverability, the Shermans took some getting used to, but their relative roominess, superior navigational equipment and reasonably potent 76.2mm gun eventually endeared them to their Soviet crews. Stringing together a variety of colorful anecdotes into a running narrative, Loza relates his experiences with the 1st Battalion of the 233rd Tank Brigade, 5th Mechanized Corps (redesignated the 46th Guards Tank Brigade of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps in September 1944). The unit fought its way from the Ukraine through Hungary into Austria, where Loza was badly wounded in combat with a German Tiger tank on April 16, 1945. Loza returned to action when the Red Army invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria on August 9, 1945. He describes how the Sherman tankers learned to deal with a new enemy, who tried to compensate for his inferior armor (“more suited,” the author remarks, “for colonial campaigns than serious war fighting”) by sheer fanaticism–including air attacks on the advancing Soviet columns by suicide planes.
Combining technical comparisons of Soviet, American, German and Japanese armor and tactics with the human drama–and sometimes comedy–experienced by the author and his comrades, Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks is an invaluable addition to the library of anyone interested in the Eastern Front in general and in armored warfare in particular.