Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GIRL WITH A SNIPER RIFLE: AN EASTERN FRONT MEMOIR by Yulia Zhukova (@penswordbooks) An ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances #WWII

Hi all:

I bring you a book I mentioned a while back, and here it is, finally.

Girl With A Sniper Rifle: An Eastern Front Memoir by Yulia Zhukova

Girl With A Sniper Rifle: An Eastern Front Memoir by Yulia Zhukova

In this vivid first-hand account we gain unique access to the inner workings of Stalin’s Central Women’s Sniper School, near Podolsk in Western Russia.

Luliia was a dedicated member of the Komsomol (the Soviet communist youth organization) and her parents worked for the NKVD. She started at the sniper school and eventually became a valued member of her battalion during operations against Prussia.

She persevered through eight months of training before leaving for the Front on 24th November 1944 just days after qualifying. Joining the third Belorussian Front her battalion endured rounds of German mortar as well as loudspeaker announcements beckoning them to come over to the German side.

Luliia recounts how they would be in the field for days, regularly facing the enemy in terrifying one-on-one encounters. She sets down the euphoria of her first hit and starting her “battle count” but her reflection on how it was also the ending of a life.

These feelings fade as she recounts the barbarous actions of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. She recalls how the women were once nearly overrun by Germans at their house when other Red Army formations had moved off and failed to tell them. She also details a nine-day standoff they endured encircled by Germans in Landsberg.

Regularly suffering ill-health, she took a shrapnel injury to her knee and had to be operated on without an anaesthetic. She would eventually see the end of the war in Köngsberg.

Like her famous counterpart Pavlichenko, she gained recognition but struggled to come to terms with war service. Haunted by flashbacks she burned the letters she sent home from the Front. She later discovered that of the 1885 graduates of her sniper school only 250 had died in the war.

In this powerful first-hand account, we come up close to the machinations of the NKVD (the secret police) as well as the gruelling toll of war and the breathtaking bravery of this female sniper.

Additional material includes notes by John Walter and an introduction by Martin Pegler.

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.amazon.es/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Girl-With-a-Sniper-Rifle-Hardback/p/15806

 

About the author:

Luliia Konstantinovna Zhukova spent her early years in Uralsk but her parents moved from city to city through their work for the secret police, the NKVD. Despite suffering from ill-health in her youth she eventually enlisted and trained to be a sniper. After the war she finished her studies at Moscow University Pedagogical Institute and worked as a Komsomol secretary in Moscow. She then became a school director of a school and worked for the Communist Party.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me an early hardback copy of this non-fiction title that I freely chose to review.

I reviewed The Sniper Encyclopedia a while back and I became fascinated by the data about female snipers, so I was happy to have this opportunity to review a personal account by one of them.

As the description explains, Luliia (or Yulia, depending on the spelling) Zhukova was one of many girls who fought during WWII as part of the USSR forces. She wrote this book in her 90s (she was 92 when the original version was published), and it is clear from her introduction that she was somewhat reluctant to write a memoir, as she, like many others, thought that only people who’d led extraordinary lives should write such accounts. But she changed her mind as she realised that all lives reflect their historical era, and she also felt that the young generations should have access to different, personal, and alternative accounts to the official narrative of the war in her country (that is not particularly enamoured by). This reflects a major turning point for her, because as we learn when we progress through the book, for many years she wished to bury all memories of that period, suffered terrible nightmares, and made a concerted effort to get rid of any reminders (including burning correspondence, documents, pictures, etc.). Despite all that, there are a handful of photographs, some from her time as a soldier, some from the seventies, when she started attending reunions of veterans of the war, and some more recent, of her with her daughter and granddaughter, which help put a face to the story, and also to some of the other people she mentions. There is also an insert talking about the weapons, and an appendix at the end listing the graduates of the Central Women’s Sniping School who were awarded the Order of Glory 2nd and 3rd class.

Although she does not consider herself extraordinary in any way, she was a determined young woman, and a brave and eager one, as she has always suffered from ill health but that did not prevent her from enrolling into a course to become a sniper, even before she was 18, and then going to war, despite that going against the wishes of her mother and her step-father. Luliia does not describe her life before the war in a lot of detail, but there is enough to give a good understanding of what kind of family she grew up in (she was an only child, so her parents would have been even more reluctant), and it provides us with some understanding of the dynamics of the era (her step-father had been imprisoned once even though he held an official position).

Once Luliia gets to sniper school, her life changes drastically. The narration comes to life with stories of comradery, of life in a group of women, of living away from home for the first time, having to wear strange uniforms, having to follow a harsh discipline, missing her mother but becoming much more independent and proud of her achievements. By the time she goes to war, Luliia has grown up, although nothing has quite prepared all of them for what is to come.

The author acknowledges that she might misremember things (and recounts her memory of her first kill and compares it to the account of another woman in her regiment, and there are significant differences), and she does not always recall all dates and locations, but she is excellent at recreating the atmosphere, the smells, the bodily sensations, the fear, the anxiety, and the brief moments of joy (having a bath after days in the trenches, sleeping in a proper bed, receiving any kind of good news…). This is not a list of battles and skirmishes, but a personal account of what it felt to be there, especially as a woman, and the instances of what nowadays would be classed as harassment (almost a way of life) but also of kindness and support. She got separated from the rest of her regiment and ended up joining a male unit, with the difficulties you can imagine. So, although she is not well-known, her experiences deserve to be told, read, and remembered.

There are many moments that give one pause when reading the book, and not because the author goes out of her way to overdramatise things. If anything, her style is matter-of-fact and understated. Often, what is not said is as poignant as what she does say. There are no complaints and the only bitterness she expresses is towards accounts of the war that she feels have robbed those who took part in it of their pride, making them feel ashamed, and some being abused and harassed because of it (to the point where she mentions some veterans who took their own lives because of it). Her opinions will not be to everybody’s taste, but when she mentions an incident when a veteran attended a school and a youth asked him why they had fought so hard in the war and told him that if they hadn’t, Germany would have conquered them and now they would have as good a life as the Germans did, her upset is understandable. We might agree or not with the politics that brought the conflict into being, but the people who got caught in it and put their lives at risk deserve respect.

She shares a poem from Nikolai Berezovsky’s “The Last Front Line Veteran” that I found quite moving and thought I’d share with you:

When out last front-line veteran

Shuts his eyes and lies in peace,

Doubtless, at that moment

We’ll all feel a great unease.

The heart of every Russian

Will be struck by a strange malaise.

If the sun’s out brightly shining,

It will yield to a darkening haze.

We’ll feel an untimely shudder,

We’ll sense a feverish glow,

And the maple in mother’s garden

Will suddenly bow down low.

I think this is an important book that I recommend to those interested in WWII, especially in personal accounts, and more particularly those looking for Eastern Front memoirs. Also, to historians or readers eager to learn more about women’s involvement in WWII, and, in general, to anybody keen to read a memoir from an era we should never forget.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, smile, and keep safe!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

THE SNIPER ENCYCLOPAEDIA: AN A–Z GUIDE TO WORLD SNIPING by John Walter (@penswordbooks). A must for researchers and a fascinating book for anybody interested in the topic #referencebook #militaria

Hi all:

I’m coming a bit left field with this book. I’m not a big fan of firearms, although I’ve used them in some of my books (no personal experience beyond a BB-gun my dad used to have when I was younger), but I was fascinated by this book.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter
The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia is an indispensable alphabetical, topic-by-topic guide to a fascinating subject.

This is a comprehensive work that covers virtually any aspect of sniping. The work contains personal details of hundreds of snipers, including not only the best-known — world renowned gurus such as Vasiliy Zaytsev and Chris Kyle — but also many crack shots overlooked by history. Among them are some of more than a thousand Red Army snipers — men and a surprising number of women, who amassed sufficient kills to be awarded the Medal for Courage and, later, the Order of Glory. Some of the best-known victims of snipers are identified, and the veracity of the most popular myths is explored.

The book pays special attention to the history and development of the many specialist sniper rifles — some more successful than others — that have served the world’s armies since the American Wars of the nineteenth century to today’s technology-based conflicts. Attention, too, is paid to the progress made with ammunition — without which, of course, precision shooting would be impossible. The development of aids and accessories, from camouflage clothing to laser rangefinders, is also considered.

Finally, The Sniper Encyclopaedia examines significant locations and specific campaigns — the way marksman have influenced the course of the individual battles and places which have played a crucial part in the history of sniping, from individual sites to sniper schools and training grounds. The book contains authors’ biographies, a critical assessment of the many books and memoirs on the world of the sniper, and a guide to research techniques.

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.es/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Hardback/p/16001

About the author:

John Walter, born in Glasgow in 1951, is among the world’s most prolific writers on small arms—author of seventy books, translated into more than a dozen languages. Walter has worked with edged weapons, bladed tools, firearms, railway locomotives, warships, scientific instruments and even heraldry. Among his published works have been several studies of the Luger pistol; four editions of Rifles of the World; The Airgun Book; The Rifle Story and The Handgun Story; Guns of the Elite and its current successor, Guns of the Elite Forces; The German Rifle; and The Greenhill Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Let me be clear about this: I know next to nothing about weapons in general, and I only know about snipers and their weapons of choice what I’ve picked up in TV series and documentaries, movies, and books. So this is not an expert’s review, rather the opposite.

You’ll probably ask why I was interested in this boo. Partly, because I’ve watched movies and news items about snipers (both modern and historical), and it’s impossible not to recall certain events and think about the people and the weapons behind them. Also, because I’m a writer, and I know how important it is to have reliable sources to research topics we want to write about. I’m also a translator, and after dedicating a fair amount of my time to working on books by other writers, I’ve discovered how complicated it can be to find the right word or term to refer to an object or device you know little about, and how complex it can get to describe an action that might come natural to an expert on the field, but is anything but for somebody totally new to it. Of course, you also have to think that not all readers are going to be experts either. How do you explain something that you don’t understand yourself? After trying to make sure a fight scene in a petrol tanker sounded accurate without having any idea what it looks like inside, I can tell you it’s not easy.

So, beyond my personal curiosity, (and yes, I must confess I’ve always wondered about the kind of training and personality required for somebody to be able to focus on such a task and not think… well, you know what I mean), I thought this sounded like a great resource for researchers and writers, and the reviews from people who knew about the subject reassured me that it wouldn’t disappoint.

And it didn’t. The book is fascinating and, as you can imagine, packed with information. The author explains his methodology, and clearly states that although he has tried to include as much information as possible, the sheer numbers of people and weapons made it necessary to scale down the size of the project. The availability of data was another difficulty. The book refers mostly to USA, UK, German and Russian snipers, and mostly those in the military (Simo Häyhä, a Finnish sniper credited with somewhere between 505 and 542 kills, depending on the sources, and who proved to be a nightmare for the Russians, who called him ‘the White Ghost’, is also included, and his memoir, called The White Sniper, sounds fascinating, I must say) and/or security forces, and Walter explains that in some cases (for example when having to choose weapons and manufacturers), his personal taste has played a part. He has also included more detailed entries about snipers whose biographies have been published, as people can easily access more information. (There have been, and are, many snippers in the armies of other countries, but their details are not available to outside researchers).

The author includes a page on bibliography and sources, dividing it into general studies, genealogical details, weapons and equipment, and tactics and training. Those include online resources and books that will delight people keen on digging deeper into the topic.

The encyclopaedia is, of course, organized in alphabetic order and full of illustrations, mostly photographs, but also drawings with details of sights and weapons. There are also lists of snipers, some about specific conflicts (WWI, for example), or even battles (Leningrad snipers is one of those), but also lists of male and female top snipers (they are both Russians, as it seems the Russian army uses snipers far more than any others). As an outsider it is a bit strange to think of what these numbers actually mean (the top male “scorer” has over 700 “scores”) and reading this book one’s mind boggles at times. I was fascinated, at the same time, by the female snippers, their pictures, and their stories. Among them, one that will stay with me is the story of Nataliya, or Natasha, Kovshova who fought during WWII and died with Mariya Polivanova after being badly injured, by pulling the pin of a grenade and taking some of the enemies with them. They were made Heroes of the Soviet Union posthumously and, although it seems there have been some questions as to what exactly happened, the basic facts are correct.

As I said, there is especial attention given to snipers who have written books about their experiences or have had books written about them, and that makes this encyclopaedia interesting to those trying to explore or find personal accounts on the topic, as it provides biographical information and also information about the content of the book, if available in English. As the back cover summarises, this book includes: 750 standard entries, 100 extended features and ‘top 20’ lists, over 400 biographies and 200 illustrations, and I recommend it to anybody who wants to gain a solid basis in the knowledge about sniping, the people involved and their weapons. Another great book by Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Rosie, the team of Pen & Sword and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling! 🙂

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security