By Christopher Miskimon
Fourteen-year-old Willi Langbein crouched in a foxhole, four panzerfaust antitank weapons stacked next to him. Ten meters to either side was another foxhole with another teenaged soldier huddling against the chill and the fear. Next to the panzerfausts sat an MP-44 automatic rifle. Willi hoped he would have time to run back and get more weapons and ammunition once the battle started, but then a wall of tanks seemed to rise over the horizon. He tucked a panzerfaust under his shoulder in the proper firing position and fired at a tank when it was twenty meters away. It burst into flames, but another tank came past it and pivoted over a nearby foxhole, crushing the boy inside it. Willi destroyed another tank just as waves of Soviet infantry appeared. He grabbed his rifle and opened fire, but the enemy soldiers just kept coming. It was March 31, 1945.
Willi Langbein was taken from his parents when he was thirteen, given some hurried training, and sent into battle. Despite the odds, he survived the war, was helped by a British soldier, and later worked to ensure what he experienced would never be visited on other children. This memoir is a harrowing account of what he experienced as a teenager.
Save the Last Bullet: Memoir of a Boy Soldier in Hitler’s Army (Wilhelm Langbein and Heidi Langbein-Allen, Pen and Sword Books, South Yorkshire UK, 2022, 201 pp., maps, photographs, bibliography, $32.95, hardcover)