The Waffen-SS in Normandy (June 1944, The Caen sector)

The Waffen-SS in Normandy (June 1944, The Caen sector)

Author
Yves Beffetaut
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
The troops of the Waffen-SS have long been perceived as the archetypal super-soldier; well-trained, well-equipped and superbly disciplined; all experienced fighting men ready to take the lead in their ruthless advance into battle. It has, however, been argued that by the time of the D-Day landings in June 1944 this depiction was far from true and the Waffen-SS units in France were not as ferocious as their reputation suggested.

In all, the Waffen SS fielded six divisions during the Battle of Normandy as well as two heavy tank battalions. None of these units melded into the single homogeneous entity so beloved by Hitler and Himmler; instead they arrived at the front in a disordered fashion and were thrown into battle piece meal as soon they got there, with no inkling of battle plans or objectives. As there was a lack of German Infantry Divisions at the front line, the Waffen-SS units were given defensive roles which were contrary to their training. They were never able to launch an effective counter-offensive from these defensive positions.

Some units bore little resemblance to the formations they had had in 1939, having undergone repeated re-formations and reorganisation and with some receiving a large number of young, poorly-trained recruits. Nevertheless, when the allies came up against them in the Caen Sector in the days following D-Day, they put up a formidable defence.

This book in the illustrated series by Casemate examines the condition, leadership and equipment of the wehrmacht after-SS units deployed, including the vastly inexperienced 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend), who, incidentally, were the first unit to arrive in the sector on June 7.

The book then discusses their performance during the fierce fighting of June 1944 when they held back the Allied advance on Caen, including Operation Epsom (attempted breakthrough by VIII Corps under Lt-Gen Richard O'Connor scheduled to begin on June 23). The battles between the Waffen-SS and the Allies in Normandy were some of the most ferocious contests of the campaign, but a the end of June, the city remained in the hands of the occupying Nazis.

Extensively illustrated with black and white photos, tank profiles, maps and accompanied by biographies of the key German personnel, this book gives a clear and understandable account of events, challenging some of the popular myths about the Waffen-SS. For the modeller, there are some excellent colour drawings of various vehicles used in the campaign, including SdKfz 250; Panzer IV Ausf. H & J; Panther Ausf. A; StuG IV.

I found this book an intriguing read, hard to put down and quite thought-provoking. Despite the fact that the Waffen-SS were intended to be an elite force, the book shows a more worldly image of the young men, especially those in 12 SS Panzer Division. Crimes were committed by the Waffen-SS in and around Caen,and that is dealt with in the book without glorifying events. As a fighting force with little or no experience, these units excelled and held up the Allies for many weeks.

This is a book that will suit both historian and modeller alike.
Highly recommended, 4 out of 5

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