Hitler's French Volunteers

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  • Author:
    Christophe Leguerandais
    This book looks at a subject rarely covered in the UK; those non-Germans who volunteered to serve the Nazis in a combat role in World War Two. The British experience of this is comparatively limited: the majority of volunteers served on the Eastern Front; and of those British men who volunteered to serve the Nazis , there was only the small and rather pathetic British Free Corps (which only ever reached the size of a large platoon). That said, other nations provided significant numbers of combat troops to fight on the side of the Germans.

    The author, Christophe Leguerandais, has written numerous articles on the subject and, according to his biography has gathered “hundreds of rare photographs and documents”. This is evident in the book in two ways. Firstly, the pictures used are quite superb and the accompanying captions are detailed and informative. Leguerandais’ attention to detail in the captions is excellent and he is able to bring the pictures to life with some first-rate information on his subjects. Indeed, these captions are where much of the information in the book is presented and is a significant element of the book.

    Secondly, the author writes in the manner of short articles about the various ways in which French men and women could serve in the German Armed Forces (with the connivance of the Vichy French government). I knew that Frenchmen had fought in the SS on the Eastern Front but was surprised to learn that they had fought in the Army, Navy and Air Force as well and had also served in Italy and North Africa. This approach of writing short article-style chapters is the weakness of the book; each section focusses on one aspect of service (eg the Navy) and is not particularly well connected to the others and the organisational changes in the various structures are not particularly well explained. A simple timeline linking the various organisations chronologically would have made a significant difference.

    I was also slightly frustrated by the afterword. So many French fought for the Germans, even in the final defence of Berlin, but the description of what happened to them after the war is described in a single paragraph. Given the number of volunteers and how they were treated after the war, this would have been worth a whole chapter in itself.

    This is a good book but ultimately I was a touch disappointed by it. It is quite a niche subject in its own way and this is quite a lightweight examination of the subject. For those of you who are new to the subject this will certainly whet your appetite but otherwise this is a touch expensive for what it is.

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