Number 420 in Osprey's Men-at-Arms series deals with the nominal SS "divisions" formed from various sources during WW2, when the Waffen SS grew increasingly desperate for manpower. As the War situation deteriorated, so Himmler and his recruiting officer, SS-Ogruf Gottlob Berger abandoned their racial obsession and were forced to relax their standards in recruiting for what had been the most elitist of Nazi armed forces.
Gordon Wilkinson has gathered together a remarkable amount of material within this 48 page volume and covers each of the divisions - No.s 24 to 38 in considerable detail. The author points out that many of these divisions existed on paper only and were understrength and under equipped.
Each unit is dealt with in a standardised format:
B&W photos and illustrations of insignia for every unit.
In the centre of the book are 8 pages of excellent colour plates by Stephen Andrew, with 3 figures per page. There is a great variety of units covered, with foreign troops ranging from Italian, Norwegian to the Britisch Freikorps, while the illustrations themselves are excellent, giving plenty of details of uniforms and insignia, backed up by detailed captions.
The calibre of the units covered in this volume varied greatly. A typical example was the 35. SS- und Polizei Grenadier Division, formed in February 1945 around the Polizei Schule (Police School) in Dresden with units from other training schools grafted on. The unit was sent into action against Soviet forces as Kampfgruppe Thurm in April, south-east of Berlin. Within weeks, the unit HQ was overrun and its commander killed, while the unit itself simply disintegrated, with the lucky survivors reaching US forces to surrender - the unlucky ones met an uncertain fate at the hands of the Soviets.
Inevitably, some of the unit histories make uncomfortable reading. Among the units who collaborated with the Nazis were some of the most notorious in modern military history. 29. Waffen Grenadier Division der SS (russische Nr.1) and 36. Waffen Grenadier Division der SS were two of the most brutal units, formed from an uncontrollable rabble of military convicts and stragglers for "anti-partisan" operations. Between them, they were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians as they embarked on a campaign of rape, torture and murder during the Polish uprising.
This book is great value for money and is a veritable gold mine of information for historians interested in the death throes of the Third Reich and for modellers seeking to depict "the right unit in the right place". With the other 3 volumes, it builds up a comprehensive set. Recommended.
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Thank you to Osprey Publishing for kindly supplying the review sample.