SS Charlemagne was one of the most controversial units to fight in the Second World War, made up as it was of French volunteers fighting for the Germans on the Eastern Front.
The book falls roughly into two halves. The first looks at the early history of French troops serving with the Germans, the formation of SS Charlemagne and its introduction to combat on the Eastern Front. The second looks at the role the unit played in the battle for Berlin.
The delusional tone of this period with the German high command is particularly well summed up in an insane order of the day issued by the German commander of the unit in March 1945 (pages 87-88), in which he even refers to the idea of the Charlemagne taking part in some future 'liberation' of France. The same man, General Krukenberg, is one of the two main sources for the second part of the book, told in his own words and those of Captain Henri Fenet, command of the battalion involved in the fighting. The same commander then seems to have believed that the same Americans France would have had to be liberated from were going to accept the Germans as allies and come to his aid in Berlin!
The tone of the book is commendably neutral, aided by the unit not having committed any war crimes (given that the unit was fighting on German soil for most of its existence the opportunity was perhaps lacking). Le Tissier acknowledges that many of the men who joined the unit were fairly disreputable characters, and makes no exaggerated claims for the units combat abilities.
The key strength of this book is its account of the fighting in Berlin as seen by one small unit. Although the tone of this section is uncomfortably congratulatory for modern readers, this is because Le Tissier allows Krukenberg and Fenet to speak for themselves, giving this part of the book a real feel of the times. A valuable but sometimes uncomfortable read.
1 - Action
2 - Withdrawal
3 - Retreat
4 - Gotenhafen
5 - The Southern Suburbs
6 - Berlin - Neukölln
7 - Berlin - Mitte
8 - Mecklenburg
Author: Tony le Tissier
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military