Book Review – Helmut Pabst, The Outermost Frontier (London: William Kimber, 1986)

The Outermost Frontier is a transcription of series of letters sent by Helmut Pabst during his service in the 129th Infantry Division on the Eastern Front from the start of Operation Barbarossa to his death on 6th September 1943.

Pabst was born in 1911 and before the war was a law student.[1] He started the war as a signaller in the artillery support company in 427th Infantry Regiment but was promoted to Lieutenant in March 1943.[2]

Symbol of the German 129th Infantry Division

His division served as part of Army Group Centre and saw action at Bialystok, Smolensk and Vyazma. The following year, it took part in the action near Rzhev, where it remained from November 1941 to early March 1943. After the retreat from Rzhev, the division fought in Bryansk, Mogilev and Vitebsk.[3]

This correspondence is fascinating as Pabst is explicit about the war of annihilation on the Eastern Front.[4] He alludes to the regular looting of Russian civilians that he and his unit carry out where they steal clothes, crops, milk, hay and wagons.[5] Pabst comments ‘willingly or unwilling, the country feeds us’ as he and his colleagues ‘were obliged to live off the land’.[7] He also writes that in February 1942 orders were given that ‘no more prisoners are being taken in the front line’.[8] Finally, he mentions that the German army’s struggle against partisans was ‘outside any convention of war’.[9]

However, he is no Nazi and his only reference to the cause of the war is a need ‘to push on with all our energy’ with the campaign and that Germany needed to ‘accept as inescapable a call which was demanded of the soldiers of 1914.’[10] If anything he is skeptical about propaganda writing that it played ‘curious tricks on one, it coils like roots and branches around one’s feet.’[11]

This is a valuable account as Pabst is honest, reflective and frank about his experience and it does not vanish the horror of the German war effort in the East.



[1] Helmut Pabst, The Outermost Frontier (London: William Kimber, 1986), p.5.

[2] Ibid., pp.57, 153.

[3] Samuel W. Mitcham, German Order of Battle: 1st-290th Infantry Divisions in WWII (Stackpole Books, 2007), pp.181-182.

[4]  Pabst, p.5.

[5] Ibid., pp.19, 39, 189, 193.

[7] Ibid., pp.39, 193.

[8] Ibid., p.51.

[9] Ibid., pp.81, 189, 51, 193.

[10] Ibid., pp.29, 159.

[11] Ibid., p.196.