Fix bookmarks! Pens ready! Alright chaps, read!
Alexander Pyl'cyn's story is a little different to that of most, in that he had committed no crime ("crime" in the Soviet armed forces was pretty much anything from desertion to leaving the toilet seat up). Rather, he was commissioned into a Penal Battalion as a trustworthy officer. The 8 Independent Penal Battalion was also unique in that it was made up of officers from the Red Army, Navy and Air Force. Pyl'cyn was very young at the time and found himself in command of men older, previously higher ranked (when sentenced to time in a Penal unit, rank was removed and everyone became a "Shtraf") and often more experienced than himself. Fortunately for Pyl'cyn, he had a good head on his shoulders, balls of steel, and was a likable, natural leader who got his men in behind him.
Just in case you wish to sneak up and surprise the book from behind, here is a picture to assist in identifying your target. It also shows a couple of examples of the completely unbiased, totally "slice of life" photo's this book contains.
The translation from Russian at times makes for some unwieldy, cack-handed sentences, but it's not really a problem. The pictures are great. There are about two dozen, and I think pretty much all the combat photo's are staged in a classic over-the-top Soviet manner. All the Soviet soldiers are clean and well-presented, striking heroic poses or kicking back after a hard day at the front line like they're on holiday. There's not a dead body, bit of mud, or a missing button to be seen. This highlights the strict control that was exerted at this time in history, and makes this open account even more valuable. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Soviet military in World War Two, or to anyone with an interest in the human stories of the men at the sharp end of this conflict.
Next time, it's a very different book. I'll give you a clue - "Himmel!"