The Forgotten Soldier: Guy Sajer

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by johno2499, Jan 27, 2010.

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  1. fantassin
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    fantassin LE

    The flaw with your logic is that you equate German with SS...

    "not more than 60 or 70, ex SS from one quote to up to 1900 germans in another"

    There were a lot of Germans in the FFL but most were young men with no previous military experience, not hardened SS like some uninformed writers would like us to believe.

    Like a former RSM of the FFL (president des sous-officiers de la Legion etrangere), Sgt-Maj Horst Roos said about his carreer just before leaving the Legion in the early 90s in several interviews, he was a young German boy in a ruined country with nowhere to go and that's why he choose the Legion. He was not a professional warrior looking for a new war to fight after WW2.
  2. Oyibo
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    Oyibo LE

    Agreed that it's a superb book - still have my obligatory copy.

    IIRC, towards the end of the war the wermacht would take people into elite units because their numbers were depleted and morale needed to be maintained - documentation fell by the wayside or was lost.

    I can also heartily recommend 'Blood Red Snow'. A chilling read (no pun intended).
  3. fantassin
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    fantassin LE

    As for France "forcing" former SS into the armed forces, maybe he got mistaken with the French SS, collaborators and miliciens that were offered either a prison term or the possibility to redeem themselves as part of a specific unit called the BILOM.

    The first move to create this unit began on the 27th of May, 1948 when French Minister of Justice Andre Marie requested from the regional directors of the French prison system information on how many prisoners might be interested in serving in Indo-China to "make amends to the nation".

    From the politicians to the military establishment the ripple effect was put in motion and soon after the decision was made to raise a demi-brigade of three battalions of political prisoners (i.e. former members of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, Kriegsmarine, French collaborationist organizations, etc, including both Germans and especially Frenchmen who had been volunteers in the German Armed Forces). On July 6th, 1948, the first battalion of this demi-brigade was formed and named "1re Bataillon d'Infanterie legere d'Outre-Mer", otherwise known as BILOM (short for "light infantry battalion for over-seas").

    BILOM units weren't originally formed to go to Indo-China. They were intended to be stationed in various French colonies such as French-Guyana and French Polynesia. It was hoped that BILOM units would free up the French Foreign Legion, which was badly needed in Indo-China. BILOM units were originally designed for occupation and policing duties and therefore were structured as light infantry with no heavy weapons. BILOM units were not a part of the FFL as is sometimes misunderstood.

    Only political prisoners were to be used to fill the ranks of this BILOM unit. Although the men chosen would be freed from the French prison and POW camp system there was no chance of amnesty. The men of the unit wouldn't be allowed to serve as officers, wouldn't be eligible for promotion, had no insignia, and they could carry no pennant or unit flag.

    In August of 1948 less than 500 men had been accepted for service in this BILOM unit. The men were transported to Frejus in France and provided with rudimentary uniforms and equipment. Here they were trained and formed into a cohesive unit. In an ironic twist of fate, some of the men training the newly formed BILOM were themselves former members of the FFI!

    Service for BILOM became a reality on December 11th, 1948 when the 1st Company of BILOM (1/BILOM) consisting of 4 officers, 20 NCO's, 148 men, and portions of BILOM HQ sailed from France to Indo-China onboard the SS Pasteur, arriving in Saigon on December 26th, 1948. From January 3rd, 1949 until March 17th, 1949, 1/BILOM fought exclusively in Cambodia. On March 18th, 1949 1/BILOM was transferred to Sud Annan near the region of Nha Trang. Throughout their service in Cambodia and at Sud Annan 1/BILOM took part in patrols, ambushes, search and destroy operations, sharp engagements, and heavy fighting, all the while taking numerous losses in combat against the Viet Minh.

    The 2/BILOM arrived alongside 1/BILOM at Sud Annan on May 17th, 1949. Consisting of 2 officers, 6 NCO's, and 57 men, 2/BILOM had left France on the SS Compiegne and arrived in Saigon on May 8th. 29 more men of 2/BILOM arrived for service later in June. Of special note is the first military award for valor which was presented to men of BILOM in the form of the French croix de guerre on June 20th, 1949.

    After many months of dedicated service to France under harsh and relatively unforgiving circumstances in southeast Asia, the former Axis POWs of WWII found themselves accepted into the regular units of the French forces in Indo-China as the newly designated 1 and 2 Companies of the "1re Compagnia de Marche du Sud Annam" otherwise known as 1/CMSA and 2/CMSA. The men of BILOM would go on to be integrated into other French units and would serve with France until their forces were finally pulled out from Indo-China in 1954.
  4. ex_colonial
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    ex_colonial LE

    As I said "fantassin", I am recalling this guys words after nearly 50 years!
    The guy I met was proud of his SS background, saying they were the best fighting troops he had experience of, followed by the FFL! He didn't rate the rest of the French forces much, especially the top brass which he reckoned cost them Indo China. He was scathing about the qualities of the Americans and reckoned it was only the sheer weight of numbers & artillery etc, of the Russians that allowed them, the Russians, their victories! He was muted about the British, probably because of me! He had had fought against the Congolese Army in Katanga and it was only when these were supported by Indian & Ethiopian UN troops that his mercenaries gave way!
    His experiences in Madagascar were revealing, apparently in the late 40's there was some very heavy, bitter fighting against the French, which I must admit apart from his references I had not heard about. His unit lost quite a few men there.
    I wish I had made more careful notes at the time but I was only there to pick him up & pass him on to Special Branch.
  5. shinyarrse
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    shinyarrse Swinger

    I first read The Forgotten Soldier about 25 years ago... just found that the library here has two copies, so will be reading it again this week.
  6. codbutt
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    codbutt War Hero

    Yes ,I read that too - a right toe curler!!
  7. TalaveraTom
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    TalaveraTom LE

    The Americans prepared for the "Cold War" by enlisting the aide of Ex SS soldiers who fought the Russians during Barbarossa. So terrified were the Yanks of the Communist threat after the war, that they offered them pardons and new lives for their knowledge of the Russians and their tactics in battle, particularly on their own soil. Read the above in an article some years ago, which stated it was a realistic option for the Yanks to invade mainland Russia to remove the RED threat. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable could clarify if this is true?
  8. shellbackmac
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    shellbackmac Swinger

    Was totally unaware of the rareness and subsequent prices being asked for copies of 'Devils Guard' until seeing the ARRSE topic on it a while back. Being a horder of books I was convinced it was still in my posession and after rummaging through a few boxes in the loft I found it again, New English Library paperback edition, quite good nick only slightly despoiled with my name and age(!) in the front cover.

    That got me thinking that around the time of buying and reading it (1983/4) I remember a Leo Kessler Foreign Legion adventure being passed around that I thought then was a poor mans version of Devils Guard. googled it and ended up buying for memories sake 'Schirmers Headhunters' which is, as I recalled, along exactly the same lines, a unit of former SS in French Indo China - a follow on from Kessler is about the FFL in Algeria which I also picked up for pence from Amazon.

    George Rober Elford also published something about an Afghan fighter against the Soviets in the mid '80s but that has definitely been lent out or stolen.
  9. Andy_S
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    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    For those who have not read 'Devils Guard'
    The book is utter rubbish. It is pure fiction, the writer gets everything down to small unit tactics wrong and -worst of all - it is not even compellingly written. Seriously, Sven Hassel writes better war porn: At least his books have memorable characters. I wouldn't recommend anyone spending ANY money on this, not to mention the ridiculous prices being asked.

    'Forgotten Soldier,' OTOH, is a very good book, and on the basis of the book itself, and the many online sources relating to the controversy, I'd imagine the author served on the Eastern Front in some shape or form.
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