Mortar Gunner on the Eastern Front Vol I: From the Moscow Winter Offensive to Operation Zitadelle, Dr Hans Heinz Rehfeldt

Mortar Gunner on the Eastern Front Vol I: From the Moscow Winter Offensive to Operation Zitadelle, Dr Hans Heinz Rehfeldt

Dr Hans Heinz Rehfeldt was a German soldier who served as mortar crew with the Grossdeutschland regiment and division from the winter of 1941 to the end of the war, surviving some of the most brutal battles of the Second World War. Despite there being strict rules against it he produced a diary throughout that period, which has since been published in German in two volumes. This is the translation of volume 1, covering the period from the author’s arrival outside Moscow in the winter of 1941 to the failure of Operation Citadel in 1943.

One potential problem is that the author acknowledges having modified the diaries somewhat in 2001-2, in theory to make the text more coherent, and to check some of the technical details, but it does also open up the possibility that some aspects of the German war effort have been sanitised. Some comments were clearly added after the war. I’d also feel less concerned if the introduction hadn’t been written by an enthusiastic student of the Waffen SS who felt the need to claim that the Grossdeutschland war crimes all took place before the author joined.

However there is no doubt that Dr Rehfeldt’s diaries do reflect the brutality and horror of war on the Eastern Front. For large periods the account is fairly dry, but every so often we reach a day that made a much bigger impact on him, and we get a switch from short factual entries to longer, more descriptive ones. The most impactful of these describes the authors experience as the target of a prolonged heavy artillery barrage, and we get a good feel for the hopelessness the author felt at the time.

The book covers a period in which the Germans were generally on the defensive, starting with the bitter cold of the battles around Moscow, and including the division’s role in restoring the southern part of the line after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad and the failure at Kursk. However the author also took part in the successful advance towards Stalingrad, when it looked to him as if the war was won. As a result we get both sides of his experiences – the apparently endless defensive battles and the periods of rapid advances, and the moods that accompanied them.

One of the most impressive aspects of this book is the collection of wartime photographs, most of which feature the author, or are directly connected to him. Its unusual to get this many pictures that closely tied to the author of a book like this, and again it helps paint a picture of what life was like on the Eastern Front.

Chapters
1941
1 – The Winter Offensive South of Moscow
2 – Retreat in the Bitterest Cold
3 – Cold, Retreat, Hunger
4 – The Retreat of Wackernagel Company from Tula
5 – The Defensive Struggle at the Oka Bridgehead

1942
6 – Ivan Attacks
7 – A Soldier’s Luck
8 – Fighting in the Woods around Gorodok-Yagadnaya
9 – Relief from Neuruppin: Withdrawn from the Front
10 – Grossdeutschland Becomes an Infantry Division (mot.)
11 – The Front Rolls Forward across the Olym and Tim
12 – Bridgehead over the Don

1943
13 – Defending East of Kharkov
14 – The Calm before the Storm
15 – Operation Zitadelle
16 – In the Karachev Woods: Grossdeutschland – the Fire Brigade

Author: Dr Hans Heinz Rehfeldt
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: Greenhill Books
Year: 2019


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