Book review: Blood Red Snow by Günter K.Koschorrek

While Second World War German machine-gunner Günter K.Koschorrek fought a desperate battle against the Russians on the Eastern Front, he was secretly making a diary of his horrific experiences.

And the real-life dramas of the hellhole that was Stalingrad, recorded on scraps of paper and handed over to his mother on his trips home through injury, form the basis of a coruscating warts-and-all memoir.

Koschorrek, who witnessed death and destruction on an almost daily basis, gives a brutal and detailed account of the fighting in Stalingrad and the frozen retreat of the German Army.

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From his excitement at the first encounter with the enemy in the Russian Steppe to the horror and confusion of street fighting and the techniques used by his unit for dealing with squalor and death, this is a gripping story.

Many books, Koschorrek declares, either glorify war by recounting acts of heroism or produce malicious obituaries that persuade readers to regard soldiers as bloodthirsty murderers.

Blood Red Snow is different ... written in its original diary form, the book relates the everyday reality of war on the frontlines in Russia from the autumn of 1942 until the bitter end.

After training as a heavy machine gunner, a particularly lethal, rapid-fire weapon mounted on a gun carriage, Koschorrek headed out to the Eastern Front and started making illicit notes, which he hid in the lining of his uniform.

Much of the war was spent in filthy foxholes in the Russian soil whether in the boiling hot summer sun, knee-deep in rain-sodden mud or in ground frozen by fierce winter blizzards.

Day after day, the German soldiers worried about their survival and killed their enemies in order to avoid being killed themselves.

They endured showers of fizzing red-hot bullets, the grisly sight of shredded enemy corpses and the piercing screams of the wounded and dying.

After the war, Koschorrek’s diary went missing and it was not until some forty years later when he was reunited in America with his daughter from his first marriage that it came to light and became Blood Red Snow.

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Koschorrek, who is retired and still lives in Germany, dedicates his remarkable book to the huge numbers on both sides who did not survive.

Searingly honest and violently graphic, this is war in all its inglorious reality...

(Frontline Books, paperback, £13.99)