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Nations at war
Haupt, Werner. Elite German Divisions in World War II: Waffen-SS, Fallschirmjaeger, Mountain Troops. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2001.
Introduction; photos; Abbreviations
Order of battle books, unit histories, and TOE compilations are staples of military publishing, popular with a large segment of readers, and always eagerly anticipated at Stone & Stone. The latest arrival in this genre is Werner Haupt's new book from Schiffer, translated from the German by David Johnston.
For the "elite" German divisions (no non-divisional units are covered), Haupt's book combines all three approachesOBs, TOEs, and unit histories in one volume, although the bulk of the material ends up being historical narrative rather than tabular data.
The first section of the book covers the divisions of the Gebirgstruppe, the German mountain force. This begins with pre-war creation of the units, mobilization in August 1939, and overview of participation in a range of campaigns from Poland to Norway to the Russian front and Italy. After about twelve pages of general history of the mountain divisions, Haupt moves on to enumerate the "senior command units" of the mountain troops: 20th Gebirgsarmee and eight mountain corps. For each of these larger units, Haupt provides year of formation and a list of commanders (but without dates served). He then goes on to list each of the German mountain divisions: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 188th. For each division Haupt provides anywhere from one to six pages of combat narrative and a list of division commanders. At the end of this section of the book comes the "Gebirgstruppe command list" for 10 December 1944 (with a list of units, commanders, and chiefs of staff as of that date), a list of "wearers of high-ranking decorations," and a list of mountain divisions named in OKW communiques during 1943-45.
The individual unit histories cover all the highlights but sometimes seem a little stilted and not always perfectly on the money. (For example, Haupt writes that a "mixed force of British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand troops" were defeated on Crete, which must have come as a surprise to the Canadian government.) The history of the 188th Gebirgsdivision, one of the shortest entries, looks like this:
The only Gebirgsdivision with a "high house number" was formed in October 1943 under the command of Wehrkreis XVIII (Salzburg) as the 188. Geb.Ausbildungs-D. (Mountain Training Division). From their personnel, Geb.Jag.Ers.Rgter. 137 and 139, both located in the Wehrkreis, provided the Geb.Feld-Ausbildungs-Rgter. 901 and 902 (Mountain Field Training Regiments). The Geb.Ers.AR 112 (Mountain Artillery Replacement Regiment) formed the Geb.Feldausbildungs-AR. 112 with a single battalion. The remaining division units were provided by the other units of the Ers.D. 418 (Salzburg).
The role of this, the only mountain training division, was to train the regiments, battalions and independent battalions under its command in occupied territory until they were combat ready. Soon after its formation the division was transferred to Istria in the area of the Commander-in-chief Southwest. The 188. Geb.Feld-Ausbildungs-D. was under the command of the LXXXXVI. and LXXXXVII. AK.z.b.V. and thus the commander of the Adriatic coast. After training and unit exercises, the units were employed to guard supply lines of communication and military facilities. This mission was expanded when partisans became more active in Istria after the start of the big Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front.
The division was now required to provide battle groups to track down and engage these partisan units. These missions often resulted in painful casualties, since the troops in training only remained with the division for a short time before being sent to an active unit and were thus inexperienced.
The division remained in Istria. In September 1944 it transferred to the area in and around Trieste and assumed responsibility for coastal defense there.
The division remained in that area, but as the Allies approached northern Italy it was subordinated directly to the AOK 10 of Army Group C. In February 1945 the division, which was still referred to and led as a reserve division, was sent into the front. In May 1945 the 188. Geb.Feldausbildungs-D. was forced to lay down its arms in the Trieste area.
Generalleutnant von Hosslin.
The second section of the book covers the Fallschirmjaeger, the German paratroop units, in the same fashion with pre-war notes, information on mobilization in 1939, and then an overview of operations. This material is followed by data for the "senior commands" (1st Fallschirm-Armee, I and II Fallschirmjaegerkorps, and Fallschirmjaeger-Panzerkorps "Hermann Goering"). The following pages offer division-by-division narrative histories for 7th Fliegerdivision plus 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Fallschirmjaeger Divisions. Each divisional narrative includes a list of commanders. At the end of the section comes a table of the "organization and command staff of the parachute corps during the landing on Crete, 20 May 1941" with outline OB and lists of commanders down to battalion level, plus a list of individuals with "high-ranking decorations" and a list of Para divisions "named in Wehrmacht communiques."
The third and final section of the book repeats the same sequence for Waffen-SS divisions. This amounts to quite a few more divisions (including SS panzer divisions, SS panzer-grenadier divisions, "police" divisions, and foreign volunteer SS divisions) and text, and takes up about half the book, although many of the most obscure SS formations receive no more than a brief paragraph covering their formation and activities.
Given the wealth of English-language books of this ilk (not to mention Tessin's seminal volumes), how does this stack up against some recent releases?
There is only the slightest overlap with Mitcham's recent The Panzer Legions since in that book Mitcham devotes only the briefest paragraphs to SS panzer divisions. On the other hand, Mitcham's older Hitler's Legions, while far from infallible, offers comparable material on all the divisions covered by Haupt: a bit less operational history on average, but more on TOEs and commanders. George Nafziger's The German Order of Battle: Infantry in World War II and The German Order of Battle: Panzers and Artillery in World War II tackle the same units as Elite German Divisions in World War II (plus many others), but with much more emphasis on precise TOE data and much less on unit histories. Finally, The Wehrmacht at War, 1939-1945 by Andris Kursietis remains the undisputed champ when it comes to lists of commanding officers with dates served, but otherwise doesn't provide nearly the coverage of Haupt.
So for this particular set of units Haupt's new book stacks up fairly well, but for collectors who have the other sources, Elite German Divisions in World War II will prove a bit redundant except for somewhat meatier unit histories for the main formations. For readers who don't need additional detail on commanders or TOEs, Haupt will serve well enough for these particular German divisions.
Unfortunately, Haupt offers no additional apparatus for his book: no suggestions for further reading, no footnotes, no bibliography, and no index. All this conspires to make the book a bit less usefuland a bit less scholarlythan readers might have expected from a Schiffer volume.
Also, while Haupt's unit-by-unit data seems mostly on the mark, he tends to put a peculiar spin on some of the larger geo-political events he describes in passing, such as the interval between the Polish campaign and the invasion of Norway: "After the Polish campaign the warring states stopped seeking a political solution to the hostilities. The German Reich began forming new army, navy, and air force units. Home industry was converted entirely to war production. The Allied diplomats looked for allies and found them in Germany's neighbor states."
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer Military History.
Thanks to Schiffer for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 12 August 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone