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Mortar Gunner on the Eastern Front (Hardback)

The Memoir of Dr Hans Rehfeldt - Volume I: From the Moscow Winter Offensive to Operation Zitadelle

Military > Greenhill Books > Greenhill: WWII Military > Memoirs WWII > Battles & Campaigns > Russia & the Eastern Front

By Hans Heinz Rehfeldt
Greenhill Books
Pages: 352
Illustrations: 100
ISBN: 9781784383619
Published: 16th April 2019
Last Released: 25th January 2021


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A visceral account from contemporaneous diaries of a soldier who frequently came close to death but somehow survived.

Following his Abitur (A-levels) in 1940, Rehfeldt volunteered for the Panzer Arm but was trained on the heavy mortar and heavy MG with Grossdeutschland Division.

He was on the Front from 1941 fighting for the city of Tula, south of Moscow. Battling in freezing conditions, at its lowest -52℃, the descriptions of the privations are vivid and terrifying. With no winter clothes they resorted to using those taken from Soviet corpses.

In 1942, fighting near Oriel, however, his batallion suffered heavy losses and was disbanded. Ill with frostbitten legs, Rehfeldt was treated in hospital and once recovered was dispatched to the Front.

Following various battles (Werch, Bolchov) his batallion again suffered heavy losses and it merged. In agony from severe frostbite to his legs, Rehfeldt defied the odds and astonished his surgeon when he walked again. He was promoted from Gunner to Trained Private Soldier in 1942, and to Corporal for bravery in the field in 1943.

He was awarded numerous honours including the Wound Badge and the Infantry Assault Badge.

On 3 May 1945 he was captured by US Forces and held as PoW for one month in a camp at Waschow before internment in Holstein from where he was released in July 1945 after agreeing to work on the land. In December 1945 he began studying veterinary medicine: his future career.

This astonishing account of a man who kept bouncing back from near death is a testament to the author’s determination and sheer strength of spirit.

It is a remarkably detailed account of the daily life of a soldier who was thrown into combat almost as soon as he arrived on the front in November 1941.

Read the full review here

WW2 Today

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.

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History of War

Video review feature on Let's Talk About Military History

YouTube, Let's Talk About Military History

Hans Rehfeldt was 18 when he was despatched to Russia in October 1941 with the Grossdeustschland Division, and this is the first of two books which recount his experiences from the not often told perspective of a mortar team, and is based entirely on the diary which he illegally kept throughout the war. It begins with his optimistic departure for the front, but he soon became embroiled in the chaotic retreat from Moscow and, having suffered terribly in horrendous winter conditions, was one of only a small handful from his regiment to emerge unscathed and fit for service. During the following year, the rebuilt Division participated in the advance to the River Don, defended Kharkov after the defeat at Stalingrad, and the book closes with their part in the Battle of Kursk and the subsequent Russian offensive in the summer of 1943. Accompanied by Rehfeldt's large collection of personal photographs and sketched maps, this is a superbly told and detailed account, and in view of the actions in which he was involved, it is nothing short of a miracle that both Rehfeldt and his diary survived to tell it.

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Pegasus Archive

It’s interesting to read how he explains and processes his time in the army.

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Traces of War

This is a fairly detailed and informative account of a soldier who found himself on the Eastern Front.

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Kunikovs Reviews

A second fascinating chronicle of life on the Eastern front for a mortar gunner diring WW2.

Books Monthly

The book includes many interesting photos, most by the author himself and different from most ‘ general’ pictures we are used to. In addition he had maps drawn up in his diary and those too are depicted, showing where the action took place, on a tactical level !
In addition to being very informative, the book is also exciting and one continues reading…. Hope to get Volume II as well one of these days !

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Flyin' and Ridin' Blog, Francois A. Dumas

I'm posting this review as I near the end of volume one. It's been brilliant, and continues to be exciting, informative and highly compelling. I'm really looking forward to the second instalment!

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A Question Of Scale, Seb Palmer

The diary is extremely clear and exciting. If one wants to understand the suffering of a Wehrmacht soldier in that winter of 1941/42 he must read the diaries like this, and not be satisfied with the great texts that frame the movements of armies on a map... The feeling at the end of the book is of impatience for the publication of the second volume by Greenhill Books. As far as I'm concerned I can't wait!

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Old Barbed Wire Blog

This book is written in one of my favourite styles, that of a diary and is as if someone gave you their diary to read warts and all. With that said there is none of the ‘sauerkraut for dinner again’ about this diary. The story if you wish starts with a nine day rail journey from the training camp to the front in Russia. Along with the text there is a nice mix of black and white period photographs which I believe were mostly or all taken by Dr Hans Heinz Rehfeldt. The entries then follow his life at the front and cover how he felt about the world going on around him during those dark days.

The text in this book written in this style takes away the nationality of the soldier to a good degree, you stop looking at it as a German soldier as part of a mortar unit and start to read it as one man’s war and his emotions in relation to that. The entries start as a fresh faced and trained soldier leaving for the front and as time progresses so the mood of his entries change. The eagerness to be at the foe changes to one of what is going to come along next and how will we deal with it.

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As featured 'On The Shelf'

Wargames Illustrated, April 2019

Having studied and evaluated the Great War diary accounts of Ernst Junger and considering them to be the benchmark for any wartime diary, I have to say that this book by Hans Rehfelt absolutely matches the quality of Junger. It is a marvellously crafted account of his time on the Eastern Front in WW2 and carefully avoids the banal and focuses on the detail of the action in which he is involved. He gives a host of photographs; not generalised but specific to him, his unit and the context of the places in which he fought. The real glory of this book is the numerous hand drawn sketch maps that really add so much to the narrative. Cannot wait for volume II.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
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