By Catherine Merridale
They died in giant numbers, 8 million women and men pushed ahead in suicidal fees, shattered by way of German shells and tanks. They have been the warriors of the crimson military, an exhausted mass of recruits who faced Europe's such a lot deadly battling strength and through 1945 had defeated it. For sixty years, their reports have been suppressed, changed via patriotic propaganda. we all know how the warriors died, yet approximately not anything approximately how they lived, how they observed the area, or why they fought. during this formidable, revelatory historical past, Catherine Merridale uncovers the harrowing tale of who those squaddies have been, and the way they lived and died through the conflict.
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Extra resources for Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
They would see and handle new machines; learn to shoot, learn to drive, to strip parts out of heavy guns and tanks. They would also become adepts in black-market trade and personal survival. As conquerors in the bourgeois world they would use its fine china for their meat, drink its sweet Tokay wine till they passed out, force their masculine bodies on its women. By the war’s end, they would have gained a sense of their own worth. But even as they entered villages like Valeriya’s, so like their own lost peacetime homes, they would have sensed the extent of their transformation, the distance each had travelled since their first call-up.
Those millions of conscript Soviet troops, for us, the beneficiaries of their victory, seem characterless. We do not know, for instance, where they came from, let alone what they believed in or the reasons why they fought. We do not know, either, how the experience of this war changed them, how its inhuman violence shaped their own sense of life and death. We do not know how soldiers talked together, what lessons, jokes or folk wisdom they shared. And we have no idea what refuges they kept within their minds, what homes they dreamed of, whom and how they loved.
They liked the plain rhythms and the gentle pace, the homespun Russian language and the patriotic theme. They also seemed to enjoy the euphemistic treatment of warfare, for they would help perpetuate it. For decades, well into the 1990s, the war veterans talked and wrote like a breed apart. They knew the way they liked their war to be – or rather, how to make memory safe, to defuse the shared horror – and they built civilian lives by keeping to the agreed script. Their favourite authors were war writers, but no Soviet book on the war ever mentioned panic, self-mutilation, cowardice or rape.
Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 by Catherine Merridale