Through the Maelstrom
A Red Army Soldier's War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945
The monumental battles of World War II's Eastern Front—Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk—are etched into the historical record. But there is another, hidden history of that war that has too often been ignored in official accounts.
Boris Gorbachevsky was a junior officer in the 31st Army who first saw front-line duty as a rifleman in the 30th Army. Through the Maelstrom recounts his three harrowing years on some of the war's grimmest but forgotten battlefields: the campaign for Rzhev, the bloody struggle to retake Belorussia, and the bitter final fighting in East Prussia. As he traces his experiences from his initial training, through the maelstrom, to final victory, he provides one of the richest and most detailed memoirs of life and warfare on the Eastern Front.
“A work that not only brings to life the daily experiences of a Soviet soldier on the Eastern Front, but also provides a window into Soviet society during the struggle to defend the Motherland. Masterful. and balanced . . . A must-read for scholars of the Eastern Front and those interested in the role of the Communist Party in the Red Army during World War II.”
“While no memoir can satisfy everyone, this one goes a long way towards answering the questions most historians would pose if given the chance to interview a veteran of the fighting in the east. . . . [This is] one of the best memoirs available because it addresses so many issues. . . . The descriptions of the various battles, of which the battle for Rzhev forms the bulk of the book, are worthy of being read by both specialists and the general readers.”
—Journal of Military HistorySee all reviews...
“There are numerous works which examine the Second World War but few have the candour, emotion, and sincerity of Boris Gorbachevsky’s unique account. His lively and vivid memoir provides us with a range of accounts of Red Army practices and operations, largely unknown to historians of the war. The author describes what it was like, for example, to be part of a human-wave assault against German forces and to be treated by the Red Army’s combat medical services after being wounded. . . . This is an important and engrossing book and is a moving testament to the millions of soldiers who fought and died on the Eastern Front during the Great Patriotic War.”
—New Zealand Slavonic Journal
“Gorbachevsky’s memoir reveals much abut the life of a soldier in the Red Army during World War II. He provides us with a keen understanding of the trials and tribulations endured by Red army soldiers from the ground up. . . . For too long, German accounts have dominated this literature and, sadly, shaped Western popular perceptions of the Russian soldier who appears as a tough individual but often driven by primitive emotions. Gorbachevsky now gives us real men, actually youths, forced into the cauldron of war fighting to save their country from annihilation.”
“A compelling account that rings with authenticity . . . Gorbachevsky reminds us that the Soviet soldier was not just an abstraction, part of the brown mass. Rather, he was an individual acted upon by the great forces of history, who also sought to influence his situation, whether through escape or by meting out revenge to his tormentors. . . . In the end, Gorbachevsky suggests, all he and other soldiers can do is attempt to cut through the myth and cliches and give an honest account of what happened. This he has done in admirable fashion.”
“This extraordinary memoir represents a veritable final testament to the countless millions of Soviet soldiers who fought and often perished in cruel anonymity. Gorbachevsky describes the tactical fighting in which he took part and the personalities and command styles of his superior commanders, all with a tailor’s keen eye for preserving detail and refreshing candor regarding the real conditions that Red Army soldiers endured. . . . A superb literary work that is far more accurate and comprehensive than Guy Sajer’s bestselling memoir, The Forgotten Soldier.”
—David Glantz, author of Zhukov’s Greatest Defeat: The Red Army’s Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942See fewer reviews...
Gorbachevsky's panoramic account takes us from infantry specialist school to the front lines to rear services areas and his whirlwind romances in wartime Moscow. He recalls the shriek of Katiusha rockets flying overhead toward the enemy and the unforgettable howl of Stukas divebombing Soviet tanks. And he conveys horrors of brutal fighting not recorded previously in English, including his own participation in a human wave assault that decimated his regiment at Rzhev, with piles of corpses growing the closer they got to the German trenches.
Gorbachevsky also records the sufferings of the starving citizens of Leningrad, the savage execution of a Russian scout who turned in false information, the killing of an innocent German trying to welcome the Soviet troops, and a chilling campfire discussion by four Russian soldiers as they compared notes about the women they'd raped. His memoir brims with rich descriptions of daily army life, the challenges of maintaining morale, and relationships between soldiers. It also includes candid exposés of the many problems the Red Army faced: the influence of political officers, the stubbornness of senior commanders, the attrition through desertions, and the initial months of occupation in postwar Germany.
Through the Maelstrom features the swiftly moving narrative and rich dialogue associated with the grand style of great Russian literature. Ultimately, it provides a fitting and final testament to soldiers who fought and died in anonymity.