“ Author: Sven Hassel „
'Burning,looting,raping,murdering,Hitler,s Penal Regiment advanced on the centre of Warsaw leaving in their wake a bloody trail of death and destruction.' As a boy making Airfix spitfires and reading 'Commando' books while hearing my grandfather's stories became fascinated with the Second World War.It is a period of history branded on the national psyche from 'Dads Army' to the 'Dunkirk Spirit'. I used to see Sven Hassel paperbacks on stands at the local supermarket with their gory covers but my Dad would never let me read them.Then a few years back,these books long since forgotten along with all things wartime,I was nosing about for something to read and found 'The Bloody Road to Death' by Sven Hassel hidden in a corner of the bookcase and started to read. Written between around 1957 and the early 1980's they are a series of 14 books beginning with 'The Legion of the Damned' that follow the progress of Porta,Tiny,Hiede,The Legionairre and the author amongst others through most of the sectors where the German Army fought during the war though the majority are set on the Eastern Front where from 1941 until 1945,locked in a titanic struggle with the Soviet Union,the darkest and most violent conflict in human history was played out. From the outset the Wehrmacht was encouraged to take no prisoners and the Red Army soon replied in the same fashion,the whole conflict decended into a brutal death struggle where no rules or reason prevailed.The Red Army,while aware of intended German aggresion,were ordered by Stalin not to provoke Germany and subsequently when the attack,Operation Barbarossa,was launched in June 1941 were caught unprepared,crushed by Germany's Blitzkrieg tactics,apart from the defense of Moscow in late 1941 were totally outclassed and out manouvered until late 1942/early 1943 at Stalingrad where they began to hold the Nazis back.At the crucial battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943 the Red Army effectively put paid to Hitler's hopes of winning the war and started to push back the Nazis all the way to Berlin,this despite the giving of equipment and munitions from the USA delivered by British and Canadian ships was accomplished without the Americans who 'won the war!!'.Thats not to downplay what America did but due to the flood of American TV and Hollywood films it can be easy to forget that the world is not an American creation or that there were other nations,especially the Soviet Union,who fought longer and sacrificed so much more than the U.S.Take no offence at this simplistic statement because WWII history like all history is not simple nor clear cut. As members of 27th Panzer Division,a disciplinary unit where disgraced soldiers could hope to earn Hitler's forgiveness and thereby become good 'National Socialists' again are expected to perform acts of suicidal bravery often thrown into situatoins where their not expected to achieve their tasks let alone survive,the author and his companions fought at the bloodiest and thickest end of the fighting soon developing as brutal an attitude towards both the enemy and each other as that which is shown towards them by their countrymen and the regime.I have read all the books now and due to inconsistancies in later books believe that,the later ones at least,are somewhat exaggerated but the first books have a genuine quality which if even loosely based in truth make for fightening reading. Being the dregs of the city slums their excesses are kept in check by the 'Old Man' their sergeant and section leader who before the war was a carpenter also the only married man amongst them and acts as some kind of morale centre both as leader and father figure while remaining the only authority they respect but even he from time to time cannot stop their bloody revenge killings against officers or NCO's from their own side.I t can soon upon reading one of these books be seen that the section,about ten of them,with which they fight is the only thing in the whole war unto which they are loyal.Along with the Old Man the main characters include Tiny,a giant from Hamburg who basically is the muscle for Porta a small time crook from Berlin who can get anything for anyone and wears a yellow top hat into battle - Tiny wears a grey bowler.The Legionairre,though German was a long time soldier in the French Foriegn Legion and feels French while being a devout Muslim.Hiede is a fanatical Nazi who lives by the soldiers handbook and constantly fights with the others who despise all Nazis and the regime.Sven,the author,fights alongside the rest just trying to stay alive,it is this little gruop and a few characters that appear and reappear who form the central cast list for all 14 books.Revealing their disillusion with the cause for which they fight they sometimes befriend the enemy,kill their countrymen and stay drunk not interested whether the war is won or lost.Treated like animals they kill with sometimes with glee and others with disgust but somehow mqanage to retain a speck of humanity somewhere. Translated from Danish,Swedish and French the books often have a strange grammatical style and some expressions are left in German which leave you wondering what they mean but overall the style is easy to read.The descriptions of the fighting and the scene of battle or the aftermath air-raids are very graphic with no attempt to shield the reader from the brutal horrors of warfare.The terror and at times absurdities of the Nazi system of government and vice-like repression of both the German population and the horrific treatment of the unfortunate people in occupied territory give an uncomfortable insight into Nazi rule and while taking a anti-Nazi stance the books cannot hide the author's disgust at the acts committed by humans from all sides concerned towards each other in these situation s and have an overall regret for all that happened. These books make for fascinating reading giving,in the case of the author,a Danish volunteers perspective and German outlook to the second world war which is refreshing while making fast paced and exciting action packed stories which also make better horror stories than any of the top Horror writers produce.The needless death and destruction and wanton murder committed during the second world war are neither glossed over or glorified by the author which tends to add credence to the fact that he was there and lived these events. I'm not aware if these books are still being published as I bought mine from second hand shops and car boot sales but if you come across them pick it up and read it you'll gain a new insight on an often glorified piece of history. Legion of the Damned March Battalion Wheels of Terror Comrades of War SS General Blitzfreeze Assignment Gestaop Reign of Hell The Bloody Road to Death Monte Cassino Liquidate Paris Court Martial The Commissar OGPU Prison List is not in order of publication.