In Final Defense of the Reich
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 1 Nov 2010
Full Title: In Final Defense of the Reich: The Destruction of the 6th SS Mountain Division, Nord
This is an excellent book, on several levels. Not only did Rusiecki conduct meticulous research, but he wrote this tale very well.
The first three chapters introduce the reader to the 6th SS Mountain Division, describing some of the key members, and its history from the beginning of the war up until spring of 1945. As the reader gets closer to March, more detail is provided to better acquaint the reader with what is going on. The third chapter also introduces the units that are going to factor into NORD’S demise, along with their leaders. It is in this chapter that NORD begins to come apart.
From the fourth chapter onward, the reader spends a good bit of time in various headquarters, German and American, from company level all the way up to corps. By making good use of records kept, the author is able to recreate the confusion, tension, excitement and trepidation in the various commands. It is here that the reader begins to understand how in fact NORD was able to function coherently as long as it did.
By pure coincidence, when Gruppenführer Brenner’s division fell back through the Palatinate, it happened to travel right along the boundary between two corps. Normally, this would be a good place to be, as coordination of sub-units along a boundary like this can be difficult in good times. In running combat, as the corps drive into the enemy’s heartland, it gets even more confusing. Rusiecki has done a fantastic job showing not only the difficulties inherent in an operation like this, but clearly illustrating how the various units were able to work together in harmony to crush NORD.
At the same time, the author’s relationship with several veterans of NORD holds him in good stead as he is able to describe the German side of the battle all the way from the division headquarters, through the two elements of the division that separated in order to improve their chances of escape, down to the lowest rifleman. We are able to follow generals, colonels, lieutenants and privates as they slog their way through a cold, drizzly, miserable battle.
One of the good things about this work is its objectivity. Sadly, too many of the books on WWII, especially those that deal with the SS, are somewhat polarized. One side is often portrayed heroically, while the other is derided at every turn. Here, no one is demonized. Honor and courage are shown on both sides, as is fear and treachery. Nothing is held back. I expect that some will chastise Rusiecki for not showing the NORD men as slathering butchers. I would point out that NORD is probably the only division in the Waffen-SS that has been cleared of all allegations of war crimes. Two of those allegations are dealt with in this book.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in any of the divisions involved, the Waffen-SS, the end of the war, or the war in general. It is informative, engaging, and a damned good read.
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