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In Final Defense of the Reich

ISBN: 978-1-59114-744-2
Review Date:

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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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
21 Jul 2011 05:57:58 AM

The reviewer writes: "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."

As a somewhat related thought: in contravention of the Law of Land Warfare, Hitler dragooned men of two occupied territories into SS divisions in Estonia and Latvia. (These two were among the countries divided up by Hitler and Stalin under the provisions of the secret addendums to the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, under the euphemism of "spheres of influence". These European countries - free parliamentary democracies until their annexation and incorporation into the USSR - would disappear off the map for more than half a century as a result).

The following is an interesting footnote in respect to the note about NORD above.

The soliders of the Baltic Waffen SS divisions were not pro-Hitler, but men with an anti-Soviet attitude, due to the brutalization of the Baltic States by Stalin in the 1939-1941 period (and because of loss of relatives to Soviet atrocities), mixed together with draftees who had no real choice.

"Position of the US Displaced Persons Commission".

In 13 April 1950, a message from the US High Commission in Germany (HICOG), signed by John J. McCloy to the Secretary of State, clarified the US position on the "Baltic Legions: "they were not to be seen as "movements", "volunteer", or "SS." In short, they had not been given the training, indoctrination, and induction normally given to SS members.[20] Subsequently the US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that:
The Baltic Waffen SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States."

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