by: Darren Baker [ ]
Originally published on:
Casemate Publishing recently sent me a selection of books from a series released by Amber Books. This series of books looks at the German soldier in World War Two, and due to the reputation and mystique, it focuses heavily on the Waffen SS. The main benefit of these books is that it means you the reader get to decide what elements you wish to delve into.
I have been sent four books by Casemate Publishing from this series, they are as follows;
Personal Accounts of the Waffen-SS at War - ISBN : 9781782743699
Written by Gordon Williamson
No military organisation has fought as well against such overwhelming odds as the Waffen-SS, but few have earned such an infamous reputation in the process. Hitler's elite proved itself in some of the most savage actions of World War II: the battle of Kharkov, the defence of the Demyansk Pocket and the Normandy landings. Certain units, however, also perpetrated atrocities against innocent civilians, while others were closely associated with the concentration camps. Personal Accounts of the Waffen-SS is the story of the men who wore the SS runes - told in their own words. Speaking candidly about their wartime service, former Waffen-SS soldiers of all ranks and nationalities talk about their training, indoctrination, combat on the Eastern Front, their commanders and political masters and the question of atrocities. Were they inhuman monsters or skilled soldiers? Personal Accounts of the Waffen-SS provides the answer. Illustrated with 150 rare black-and-white photographs, not only does Personal Accounts of the Waffen-SS address one of the most fascinating organisations within the Third Reich, but unlike much history it manages to offer personal accounts from inside the Waffen-SS. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of World War II and the Third Reich.
Battles of the Waffen-SS - ISBN : 9781782743705
Written by Gordon Williamson
No military organisation has fought as well against such overwhelming odds as the Waffen-SS, but few have earned such an infamous reputation in the process. Waffen-SS soldiers embraced the concept of hardness, which meant that they showed no pity towards Germany's enemies. They were soldiers of destruction par excellence. Battles of the Waffen-SS is a detailed summary of the Waffen-SS's greatest battles between 1939 and 1945. Featured are how Das Reich Division conquered Yugoslavia almost single handedly, how the dreaded Totenkopf Division held for 73 days against impossible odds in the Demyansk Pocket, how the foreign volunteer units halted the Red Army at Narva for six months, and much more. With the aid of 120 rarely seen photographs and 10 full-page maps, Battles of the Waffen-SS tells the full, dramatic story of the Waffen-SS in action: the stunning victories, the savagery of the Eastern Front, the atrocities both on and off the battlefield, and the grim battles of attrition fought in the final two years of the war. This is the story of Hitler's Praetorian Guard at war.
The German Soldier in World War II - ISBN : 9781782743712
Written by Russell and Stephen Hart
No one can get past the German soldier. - Adolf Hitler For the first three years of World War II the German Army was a fearsome offensive organisation, capable of subduing countries in a matter of weeks. Even as the war neared its end, individual German soldiers earned great respect from their Allied opponents for their defensive capabilities and their willingness to fight hard to the end. The German Soldier in World War II uses rare and previously unseen photographs to show the reader what life was like for the German soldier in the frontline during World War II. Whether a tank crewman, panzergrenadier, motorcyclist or artilleryman, every German soldier had their own viewpoint in combat and the photographs in this book reflect that, showing how they fought together, often overcoming unpromising odds or better-equipped enemies. The book includes images of the Waffen-SS in action, and depicts combat from both the Western and Eastern fronts. The German Soldier in World War II is a graphic portrait of the life of the private soldier in the army of the Third Reich, containing first-hand accounts from German Army veterans who served in the war. This book is for anyone interested in the history of World War II and the Third Reich.
Weapons and Fighting Tactics of the Waffen-SS - ISBN : 9781782743125
Written by Russell and Stephen Hart
The divisions of the Waffen-SS were the elite of Hitler's armed forces in World War II, but what is often forgotten is that their military achievements were due in no small measure to the hardware they deployed. Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Waffen-SS examines in detail the military equipment used by Hitler's elite. Included are all the most important types of small arms, anti-tank weapons, armoured personnel carriers and tanks employed by the ‘death's head' soldiers between 1939 and 1945. The book explains how the weapons were used, including accounts of SS panzer aces, such as Michael Wittmann, in action. As many of the elite divisions of the SS were armoured formations, the book has detailed chapters on German tanks, such as the Panzer V ‘Panther', Panzer VI ‘Tiger' and Tiger II ‘King Tiger'. Panzer tactics, such as the Panzerkeil (‘armoured wedge') are also explored. Illustrated with photographs and detailed artworks, Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Waffen-SS is a complete record of the deployment and use of the weaponry in the service of the Waffen-SS in World War II.
This series of books are all soft backed offerings, the cover is a glossy stiff card that should do a reasonable job of protecting the contents. Each of the titles in the selection I have has 192 pages; the paper is a matt finish that does a surprisingly good job of displaying the black and white photographs. Each of the books is supplied with a good index at the front and an appendix at the rear.
Personal Accounts of the Waffen-SS at War
Of the four titles I read through, I found this one to be the most absorbing. To read the actual words of men who had served with various SS units and performed different roles was an eye opener. I know that whenever the SS is mentioned atrocities are close to being mentioned as well; now I know that various crimes were committed by the SS, but don’t be fooled the Allies executed and imprisoned a good number of our own for crimes against the civilian population. Now a turkey does not vote for Christmas and so the SS soldiers here do not mention having taken part in any crimes, but to their credit they do know of crimes committed by the SS and the Allies, they also know what punishments were handed out on their side.
An area of the book I found of particular interest covered what the soldiers of the SS thought about the Russians, Canadians, Americans and British; there opinions are interesting and surprising. Another aspect of the book that I appreciated was how the soldiers from all fronts were spoken to, and this has resulted in a large sphere of experience being presented from across the conflict. When I started to read this book I was not sure quite what to expect from the memories of the SS soldiers, would it be all defensive or bravado? I got the impression for the most part that these were men fighting a war to the best of their ability and trying to stay alive.
Battles of the Waffen-SS
This second offering looking at the battles covers the following;
The Battle of Kharkov
The Battle of Kursk
The Cherkassy Pocket
The Defence of Narva
Normandy and Arnhem
The Ardennes Offensive
Operation Spring Awakening
Order of Battle of the Waffen SS
A book of 192 can never hope to cover the above listed battles in detail, but the book does provide a sound outline to the scope of conflict. I was very pleased to see that no effort had been made to gloss over the actions of some SS units as regards committing war crimes, the murder of American POWS during the Ardennes offensive is covered and no excuses made.
Reading through this title disappointed in some ways; it does a far job of giving a taste of the battles that the SS were involved in, but it could never hope to provide the depth of detail and information required by readers of this type of subject matter. I feel as if this title should have been broken up into individual elements, at a push battles in the East and West. As an example of this I have a particular interest in the Ardennes offensive, reading the contents of the book covering this arena of battle I felt as if I was being given the bare bones and no meat. This is not so much a criticism of the writer, but more a criticism of limitations forced on the writer by the available number of pages.
The German Soldier in World War II
With this title things look up again as the role of the infantry, tanker and artillery man is laid bare. The German infantry man regardless of where they served or with who was the muscle of the German Army, as the book stats “it may not be as sexy as a tank commander or Stuka pilot, but the army needs us. The role of the German soldier was well formed regardless of where they served, basic training was harsh and punishment even harsher; having read through this even I felt the punishments were draconian compared to the offence. The start of the book covers the basic training of the German soldier and then moves onto the various arms that make an Army, from infantry to Waffen SS to Special Forces such as the paratrooper’ this does take up the best part of half of the book.
The second half of this title looks at the German soldier in areas of conflict from France 1940 through the Eastern Front and North Africa and finishing with North West Europe. This is another particularly good area of the book due to a common theme I am starting to see, the content is heavily supplemented with the word of the men who fought there and in a number of cases died there. My reasoning for liking this approach is very simple, text written by an observer cannot help having an opinion written through it, the sections here written by the soldier or from their letters has the ability to make the reader see a soldier rather than a friend or foe. If you want a book that puts you in touch with the soldiers behind the figures and armour we make, this book is a winner.
Weapons and Fighting Tactics of the Waffen-SS
This particular title is likely the one with the greatest appeal to the modeller generally and the fans of dioramas in particular. The sections are broken down as follows;
Infantry Support Weapons
Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft Weapons
Armoured Cars and Half Tracks
Light and Medium Tanks
Panther and Tiger Tank
SP Guns and Tank Destroyers
The sections on the various weapon types are a blessing for the modeller as it does help with what, when, whom and where. There are a number of line drawings and cutaways which will also prove helpful in some cases. I am a little bemused by the titles use of the word ‘tactics’ as I found very little covering just that.
The photographs in this book and all of the books covered here are very good black and white offerings. One thing Germans had that tended to be a world leader was their cameras or more accurately their lenses, that higher quality does seem to have paid off with the pictures in these titles.
As a series of books selling for £19.99 each I like them a lot, the ability to pick and choose which titles appeal and which do not and still have a good reference section is a very high plus mark for this series. The titles which have been written from the letters and words of the men who fought and in some cases died holds great appeal and I would go so far as to say worth buying for that aspect alone. As I have said not all aspects of the titles appeal to me and one of these seems to be trying to cover too broad a scope for the page count, but they do still appeal.