The fascinating true story of the French Foreign Legion's Nazi battalion
336 pages. Publisher's note, introduction, foreword.
The author, George Elford, claims that he met a man in a bar in Nepal who had a remarkable story. He spent 18 days getting that man to dictate his memoirs into a tape recorder, and claims this book is that memoir, with only a few technical terms revised, and names changed to protect identities.
The book remains popular despite being published in 1971, and was reportedly a 'top 10' among American soldiers serving in Iraq.
That's a shame, because the book is almost certainly a fraud. There's no evidence that a 'Nazi battalion' existed in the French Foreign Legion, and many details seem to be drawn from other works.
The book begins with the S.S. 21st Special Partisanjaeger Commando caught in Czechoslovakia at the close of WWII. Rather than surrender to the Soviets, they fight their way home and split up. Afraid of being prosecuted for serving in the S.S., 'Hans Josef Wagemueller' is smuggled to Switzerland by shadowy figures. Eventually, he finds safety by enlisting in the French Foreign Legion.
In French Indochina (Vietnam), the French supposedly realize that their best soldiers are ex-S.S. troops familiar with fighting Communists, and organize an all-German battalion with Hans in command.
For three years, the battalion successfully operates in Viet Minh rear areas, even raiding into China, combining military excellence with ruthlessness. They even recruit Vietnamese and Chinese scouts and nurses to supplement their force. After fighting a major battle when they accidentally collide with a major NVA unit while scouting a major supply trail, the unit is unceremoniously disbanded due to French political pressure based on Communist propaganda. Hans opts to 'retire' and enjoy French citizenship.
The book defends those who served in the S.S., at first saying that not everyone committed atrocities, then arguing that they were aware of atrocities but did not commit them, and then finally making the argument that Communists are subhuman and must be fought without scruples. 'Hans' claims to have seized hostages, poisoned enemy camps, mutilated prisoners before summarily executing them, and conducted torture.
The book does not read like a dictated memoir, but rather like military adventure-type fiction. It is a quick read.
The book led to two sequels, and another 'copy cat' series of books.
Can you wargame it? Many of the fights in the book are one-sided, as the Germans outsmart their opponents. The big battle at the end of the novel could work as a scenario or set of linked scenarios.
It is sad that this popular, well-written 'memoir' continues to be read by servicemembers. It promotes a concept of warfare totally at odds with principle, and it glorifies S.S. veterans. And it's a fake! Not recommended.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .