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Fighting for the Soviet Motherland: Recollections from the Eastern Front, by Dmitriy Loza, edited and translated by James F. Gebhardt, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, $45.

Barely a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, long-hidden Soviet archives and records are finally being revealed for historical scrutiny. Memoirs and personal recollections have also come to light with greater frequency. Among the documents now in the spotlight are those related to the experiences of Soviet soldiers in World War II.

The Great Patriotic War, as the action against the German legions was known in Soviet Russia, revealed the incredible tenacity and bravery of Communist troops. But what is only just coming to light is the everyday experiences of the soldiers. Author Dmitriy Loza recounts the frightening clash of battle, the mistakes made under fire and the courageous stands made by countless soldiers. In one chapter, for example, he recalls the sacrifice of Lyuba Zemska, a female soldier who manhandled an anti-tank gun with deadly effect.

A graduate of the Saratov tank school, Loza himself saw considerable action in the Soviet tank corps, primarily in British-made Matildas and American Shermans shipped by the Allies to augment the ranks of Soviet T-34s. He recounts the story of a firefight near the city of Roslavl, when Soviet artillery raked a column of friendly Matildas, since the gunners failed to identify the unfamiliar silhouettes of the Allied tanks. In another hot battle, a Soviet tank commander who attempted to desert to German lines was finally gunned down by his own troops. Both stories provide a glimpse of mistakes and treachery within the Red Army, information that would have been censored during the Communist era.

Loza recalls numerous engagements with German forces at Stalingrad and in Hungary and against Japanese forces in Manchuria near the end of the war. He also describes a burial detail for fallen comrades in Czechoslovakia, noting that, “concerning enemy soldiers and officers who met their fate on our land, they rushed onto Soviet soil with sword in hand. And they died by the sword.”

Loza was wounded when a shell passed through his Sherman. He managed to save several members of his crew, though one of them committed suicide rather than face life as an amputee. In another engagement, his Sherman tipped on its side as it slid over icy roads. Within a few moments, the rest of his column drove past it into an ambush.

Fighting for the Soviet Motherland provides important insights into the experiences of and tactics used by front-line tank commanders. The battlefield blunders are simply and honestly recounted, as are the emotions of the soldiers. What emerges is an unvarnished recollection of one of the most crucial campaigns ever waged in military history, from the Soviet fighting man’s view. Translated and judiciously edited by James F. Gebhardt, this work will be invaluable to both the historian and military enthusiast.

Kenneth P. Czech