Anyone who likes history, and in particular military history, knows there is a seemingly inifinite supply of books on WWII. Mostly written by worthy academic types, these often huge tomes strive to analyse, understand and ultimately explain something which is, as time goes by, increasingly inexplicable. This book, however, is different. ‘In Deadly Combat’ is a memoir of a German Officer who spent most of the War on the Eastern Front. And he survived.
Gottlob Bidermann was a Staff Officer in the Wehrmacht – the German Army. He wasn’t a Nazi, just a young foot soldier who rose through ranks. We follow his experiences as he enters the front in the Ukraine and then heads towards Sevastapol.
This photo shows the Germans at the most extreme southern extent of the Eastern Front somewhere in the Caucasus. From this point on it was backwards all the way.
After several years he ends up just south of Leningrad, at first helping maintain the seige and then ending up desperately fighting a rearguard action as the German Army slowly retreats. He ends the war being captured along with thousands of others and spent several years in the Gulags of Siberia.
The Eastern Front – Biderman went from the bottom all the way to the top
Bidermann’s antitank crew numbered 12 men when it entered the war in 1941. Of those only 3 survived, and Bidermann was the only one who did not suffer serious wounds and injuries.
What is most surprising about this book is the straightforward way in which it describes the war – perhaps we have got used to the melodrama, horror and grand scale that most books on WWII portray; but this is more of a diary and although it does not attempt to gloss over the death and destruction, it doesn’t dwell on it or glorify it.
The degeneration of the German war machine is detailed graphically, once mighty armoured columns reduced to horse-drawn carts.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the book is that Bidermann claims to have never seen POWs being ill treated. It is widely accepted that being a POW under German control on the Eastern Front was tantamount to a death sentence however here Bidermann (presumably reminiscing) denies ever having seen ill treatment of captured Russian soldiers by German soldiers – although there is plenty of evidence to show this did happen his comments do support the idea that the ordinary German soldier was not as indoctrinated into the Nazi ideal as many believe.