Hans Roth served with the anti-tank battalion of a German infantry division during the invasion of the Soviet Union, taking part in the initial invasion, the fighting around Kiev, the desperate defensive battles in the winter of 1941-42, the less familiar trench warfare on one of the quieter parts of the front in the summer of 1942 and the dramatic retreat caused by the Soviet victories around Stalingrad. The three journals published here survived because Roth left them at home in Germany while on leave. He was killed during the destruction of Army Group Centre in 1944, and any fourth journal disappeared with him.
Roth's journals provide a fascinating insight into the thought processes and views of a normal soldier in the German army on the Eastern Front. It is clear from some of his early comments that he had been convinced by the Nazi claims that the entire invasion of the Soviet Union was a pre-emptive strike designed to prevent an imminent attack on Stalin's part. The early part of the book also presents a less familiar version of the early version of the fighting - not the walk-over often portrayed, but instead a brutal battle against determined large-scale opposition.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is Roth's attitude to his Soviet opponents, who are almost portrayed as 'cheating' for fighting so hard to defend their homeland. Part of this is clearly due to frustration on his part, but there is also a tendency to distinguish between the Russian people and the Communist Party, and to assume that the former were being forced to fight by the latter (something disproved by Russian autobiographies produced after the fall of Communism, which make it clear that most Soviet troops were motivated by a desire to defend their homeland). Roth was particularly angered by the time-delayed bombs left behind in Kiev after the Russians were forced to abandon the city.
Roth's journals give a really good idea of the brutal nature of the fighting on the Eastern Front. It is also clear that the duration of the fighting came as a nasty surprise - before 1941 the Germans had only fought in short, victorious campaigns (Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, France, Yugoslavia and Greece), while their involvement in North Africa was still at an early stage.
Roth's journals are particularly valuable for two reasons. Unlike letters from the front they were never seen by the German army censors, and so Roth was free to record his real feeling as the fighting continued. Second, because of Roth's death untimely death in 1944 the journals weren't edited post-war, leaving them in their original raw state. As a result we get a rare soldier's eye version of the fighting on a day-by-day basis.
Journal I: Operation Barbarossa and the Battle for Kiev
Journal II: March to the East and the Winter of 1941-42
Journal III: Frontline Warfare and the Retreat after Stalingrad
Author: Hans Roth
Editors: Christine Alexander and Mason Kunze