800 Days on the Eastern Front
A Russian Soldier Remembers World War II
Nikolai Litvin Translated and edited by Stuart Britton
During his 800 days of war, Nikolai Litvin fought at the front lines in the ferocious tank battles at Kursk, was wounded three times, and witnessed unspeakable brutalities against prisoners and civilians. But he survived to pen this brief but powerful memoir of his wartime experiences.
Barely out of his teens, Litvin served for three years in the Red Army on the killing fields of the Eastern Front. His memoir presents an unadorned, candid narrative of the common soldier's lot in Stalin's army. Unlike the memoirs of Russian officers—usually preoccupied with large military operations and political concerns—this narrative offers a true ground-level view of World War II's deadliest theater. It puts a begrimed human face on the enormous toll of casualties and provides a rare perspective on battles that were instrumental in the defeat of the German army.
“Mr. Litvin’s memoir is a vivid reminder, for those of us understandably transfixed by D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, of the brutal fighting that was taking place on the other side of Europe in the final phase of World War II. . . . Litvin’s memoir, although hardly a pacifist tract, is in its most intense passages a personal record of war’s horror.”
—Wall Street Journal
“With rare exception, only since the dissolution of the Soviet Union a decade and a half ago have Western audiences begun to enjoy access to the war stories in English of Red Army soldiers or sailors. Nikolai Litvin’s memoir is an important new contribution to this growing but still too short list. . . . Litvin’s account is gripping in its intensity and rich with the details of life at the front line. . . . Litvin’s The authenticity of Litvin’s account burns through this light fog. This book belongs in the library of every serious student of the Eastern Front.”
—International History ReviewSee all reviews...
“A quick and captivating read. . . . Litvin . . . reminds us that while war can bring out such admirable traits as resourcefulness, courage, and selfless sacrifice, it can also lead good, honorable, and ordinary men to explore the darker recesses of the human soul. . . . Anyone interested in World War II on the Eastern Front or in the human dynamics of warfare should read this book.”
“A useful addition to the English-language literature on the Great Patriotic War in part because of its detailed description of various combat operations, but mainly because of the insight it gives into the mentality of the typical Red Army solder: tough, resourceful, and remarkably free of self-pity even under the most appalling circumstances.”
—New Zealand Slavonic Journal
“The best memoir to date of a Red Army soldier in World War II. It’s also rare in terms of the amount of detail it contains, the accuracy of that detail, and its unabashed candor. Britton skillfully complements Litvin’s account by providing essential context and additional valuable information.”
—David M. Glantz, author of Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941–1943
“Absorbing and thought-provoking, Litvin’s story reveals the perseverance, resourcefulness, and astonishing toughness of the typical Red Army soldier, and is a must-read for anyone interested in the Eastern Front or soldiers experiences in World War II.”
—Reina Pennington, author of Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II CombatSee fewer reviews...
Litvin's varied roles, ranging from antitank gunner at Kursk to heavy machine gunner in a penal battalion to staff driver for the 352nd Rifle Division, offer unique perspectives on the Red Army in World War II as it fought from the Ukraine deep into the German heartland. Litvin documents such significant battles as Operation Kutuzov, Operation Bagration, and the German counterattack on the Narev, while also providing unique personal observations on fording the Dnepr River under enemy fire, the rape of German women by Russian troops, and literally seeing his life pass before his eyes as he watched a Stuka's bomb fall directly on his position. And, because part of his duties involved chauffeuring Red Army generals, he also presents revealing glimpses into their personalities and behaviors.
Originally written in 1962, with events still fresh in his mind, Litvin's memoir lay unpublished and unseen until translator Stuart Britton and a Russian colleague approached him about publishing it in English. Britton interviewed Litvin to flesh out the details of his original recollection and annotated the resulting work to provide historical context for the campaigns and battles in which he participated. Remarkably free of Soviet-era propaganda, this gem of a memoir provides a view of the war never seen by western readers, including photographs from Litvin's personal collection.
An invaluable historical document, as well as a remarkable testament of survival, Litvin's memoir offers unique and penetrating insights into the Soviet wartime experience unavailable in any other source.