Yet another English book on the French Waffen-SS

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by fantassin, May 27, 2010.

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  1. [​IMG]

    This 224 pages book, to be published in August 2010 by Pen & Sword is being written by Tony Le Tissier MBE.

    It looks like there is quite a lot of interest on the French volunteers of the Waffen-SS on the British side of the Channel; this is the third book on the subject by a Brit author after "For Europe" (a mammoth of a book which received very good reviews and is seen by many as a definitive work on the subject) and "Hitlers Gauls" (the exact opposite).

    As for this soon to be published book, I am quite curious to see what new info the author expect to bring to the party in only 224 pages. Unless of course it's a picture rich book...but unpublished pictures on this subject are extremly rare.

    Any idea on why such a renewal of interest in the UK on such a unit ?

    Summary of the book:

    In May 1945, as the triumphant Red Army crushed the last pockets of German resistance in central Berlin, French soldiers fought back. They were the last surviving members of SS Charlemagne, the Waffen SS division made up of French volunteers. They were among the final defenders of the city and of Hitler s bunker.

    Their extraordinary story gives a compelling insight into the dreadful climax of the Battle for Berlin and into the conflicts of loyalty faced by the French in the Second World War. Yet, whatever their motivation, the performance of these soldiers as they confronted the Soviet onslaught was unwavering, and their fate after the German defeat was grim.

    Once captured, they were shot out of hand by their French compatriots or imprisoned. SS Charlemagne is a gripping, fluently written study of one of the most revealing side stories of the war.

    About the author:

    Tony Le Tissier served 22 years in the British army, retiring in 1977 to work for the British Military Government in Berlin, his role including that of being the last British Governor of Spandau Allied Prison until its closure following the death of Rudolf Hess. After the unification of Germany in 1991, he elected to stay in Berlin working independently as a historian, writer, lecturer, and battlefields guide. His previous works include The Battle of Berlin, 1945, Berlin Then and Now, and Farewell to Spandau.
  2. I don't know for sure, but I can guess that it's largely to do with wondering exactly how many Brits would have joined up if we'd been in a similar situation.
  3. I suppose the idea of the French collaborating with the Germans for European supremacy, Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Europa is a concept that we still have grave concerns about.
  4. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Le Tissier is one of the best historians of the Battle for Berlin from the German side, so he knows his stuff. But IIRC, the Charlemange "Division" that went into Berlin was actually less than a battalion in strength, and given their casualties, there can't be many eyewitness accounts to be sourced.
  5. Wasn't Le Tissier ex RMP? That aside, I'd always been led to believe that the last standing defenders had been Danes?
  6. IIRC, roughly 400 members of the leftovers of the Charlemagne chose to go to Berlin and fight there.

    The commitment of those die-hards shows in the number of tanks they are supposed to have destroyed with hand-held weapons and by the awards they received.

    From another website:

    The 400 volunteers of the Charlemagne were among the very last defenders of Berlin with remnants of the Nordland division.

    These 400 volunteers officially destroyed 62 Russian tanks with Panzerfäuste in 1 week (92 tanks according to several books).

    At least 20 Eiserne Kreuze and 3 Ritterkreuze were earnt by French volunteers in Berlin.

    - Hauptstuf Fenet (RK)
    - Uscha Vaulot (destroyed 8 tanks) (RK)
    - Oscha Appolot (destroyed 6 tanks) (RK)
  7. What happened to them? I did read somewhere a while back (can't remember where), that some of the French SS were shot on the orders of Le Clerc.
  8. I am no specialist on the subject but the fate of those renegades was a diverse as their reasons to join in the first place. Some were given a chance to clear their name by joining a penal unit which was sent to Indochina to fight the Vietcong, others slipped through the net and never had to pay for their deeds, other spent time in prison (most of the sentences were quite lenient) and by the mid-fifties latest, they were all free.

    Some wrote about their experience and they've always had a small following of extreme-right daydreamers who never were able to see beyond the beautiful SS regalia and medals and conveniently forgot all about the countless atrocities of the SS.

    As we speak, there are several websites dedicated to the Charlemagne for example...of course, only for historical reasons....

    In that context, the execution of a dozen French SS POWs in Bad Reichenhall in May 1945 by members of the French 2nd Amd Div is particularly unfortunate since it has allowed the French neo-nazis and all the SS admirers to put the blame on Leclerc and use this incident as a smoke screen behind which to hide.
  9. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Interesting to hear about the penal unit - shades of "Devils's Guard!" Did this penal unit actually exist per se, or was it part of the FFL? There are all kinds of rumours about such dodgy units, but the Indochine theater is not well covered in English.

    IIRC, "Guy Sajer" the well-known author and cartoonist, an Alsation* who served in GrossDeutschland, served a few years in the French military after WWII to clear his name, but I don't think he went to Indonchine. (Although at least one of his former GD comrades was present at in the FFL paratroops who dropped at Dien Bien Phu. According to Windrush's account, this NCO was a very formidable soldier indeed.)

    RE: LeClerc
    I don't find much to blame in his actions. Due process may have been lacking, but in war, traitors are shot. Moreover, I would also assume that by that stage of the war, Das Reich's "atrocity" (right-thinking people)/"anti-partisan action" (SS luvvers) at Oradour would have been known to the French military.

    *ie an Alsation from Alsace, not a woof-woofer
  10. It took me a good 25 minutes to clean up the Google translation, so I hope you’ll enjoy this one…about the penal unit, it was called the BILOM and here is its story.

    The Bataillon d’Infanterie Legere d’Outre Mer (BILOM).

    In 1948 in France, the lack of political will on the war in Indochina, the difficulties associated with the long protracted fight, and the fact that this war was becoming increasingly demanding in manpower and equipment while a ruined France remained to be rebuilt while being prey to many social conflicts was creating huge problem.
    The Communist Party and a large part of "the intelligentsia" openly fought against the"dirty war in Indochina".
    Since the expeditionary force was composed entirely of active duty military and volunteers and even though those who left after their first tour aspired to return, the need for a new generation of soldiers was evident, but so soon after WW2 few French felt concerned about this war, being engrossed by the difficulties of everyday life.

    In 1948, the defense minister decided to use some of the thousands of inmates who were languishing in prisons for collaboration with Germany; those prisoners had made the wrong choice during the war years, they volunteered for the Eastern Front, pledged cooperation with the Germans but escaped the savage 1945 purge only to be sentenced to long prison terms. The defense minister thought that some
    of these men had already paid enough, and that they could be offered a possibility of redemption. Above all, it was felt better to have them killed rather than other young French soldiers.

    On May 27, Andre Marie, Minister of Justice sent a circular letter to the prison administration related to a number of inmates likely to go to Indochina. This caused different reactions: some refused to serve the French republic since it had allied with the Soviets during WW2, others instead wished to resume the fight against the hated ideology, but for the most part, they wanted to show their patriotism or just get out of prison, and nearly 4,000 volunteers put their names forward, knowing that the duration of their commitment to Indochina (three, four or five years) would depend on the length of the sentence remaining to be served. If they had been sentenced to more than fifteen years or were above the age of forty years they could not volunteer.

    General Revers envisaged the creation of half a brigade of three battalions, or 2,500 men who constitute a significant immediate reinforcement for Indochina, but in order not to provoke public opinion, and especially the Communist Party, he decided to proceed in stages: he created the BILOM (Bataillon d’Infanterie Legere d’Outre Mer or Light Infantry Battalion for Overseas duties) made up of 708 other ranks led by by 23 officers and 109 NCOs taken from the Colonial Infantry. He ordered the establishment of the unit in Frejus, and August 1st two combat companies and a small Staff were created. The note states that volunteers had one month to sign their enlistment.

    Major Clausse was appointed to head the BILOM,
    Captain Tap, took command of the 1st Company, and managed to gather 811 volunteers.

    The first posting were expected from November 1, but the prison administration and the Board of Pardons proceeded with a slowness that borders on bad faith: the first detachment arrived with 43 volunteers in Frejus on October 21, the second (70 men) on November 15 and 80 in late November. The constitution of the unit was thus severely delayed. The BILOM had no flag, no insignia, no permission was granted.

    The first company boarded the liner Pasteur on 1 December 1948, the second company was still in the making, but little progress was made, and the idea of Demi Brigade thus had to be abandoned. The battalion strength was undermined. The boarding of the liner was of course disturbed by protesters from the PC (Communist Party) and the CGT (Communist Trade Union).

    Upon arrival in Saigon, General Alessandri confirmed that the volunteers were now, for him, nothing else but French soldiers. "Fight well, that’s all that counts for me" and then sent the company to Cambodia. It kept its title of 1 BILOM. The Coy participated in the security Ops in the sector of Kompong Trach: clearing operations, protection of convoys, and many sporadic fighting. It was during one of two that suffered its first losses: Second Lieutenant Parisot Bernécourt was killed, as well as Sergeant Baratte, and several men were wounded.

    The Tap Company, now a well oiled machine and fully operational was assigned in March to southern Annam and settled in Ba Ngoi in the area of Nha Trang. It was put in charge of several small isolated posts, and trained and led Moi partisans, participating in many combat operations against the Vietcong.

    The second company formed in Frejus, embarked for Indochina on April 6th, and joined Ba Ngoi on June 20. On the same day, the first Croix de Guerre TOE were awarded to 1Lt Ritzinger, Sergeant Christian and a dozen men.

    On July 29, 1949, the BILOM was disbanded, and from its units, two " Compagnie de Marche du Sud Annam” were created under Captain Tap a Ba Ngoi, and Captain Bégué in Khan Hoa province. After six months, it was evident to everybody that BILOM volunteers were fully fledged combat soldiers that could be trusted to any job but still their legal status remained unchanged and there was still no question of amnesty or pardon. Captain Tap took it upon himself to appoint corporals, promotions that normally were prohibited by the special statute of BILOM.

    Several BILOM members were then posted out of the unit to reinforce local partisan units since it now had established it fighting reputation and had shown itself to be trustworthy
    BILOM men were then to be found in all of southern Annam, often isolated in the jungle with a handful of partisans. Many BILOM volunteers were KIA or WIA but none deserted or were ever accused of cowardice. On the other hand, they never met with the glory they expected when they joined.

    In October 1950, several of them were appointed as officers for their competence and their exemplary conduct, yet they remained considered as convicts! Lieutenant Ritzinger alerted the authorities on this issue but his calls remained fruitless. He was KIA on March 10, 1951 in a remote Moi plateau (Plei Djama), and as if his death had awakened some consciousness, decisions were finally taken.

    Some BILOM members were rehabilitated but without consistency; there was no blanket pardon, some cases were rejected, and others were accepted in the most random of way. Some returned to civilian life without having asked to, still as convicts, others fought in Algeria, where some were killed, others remained in the army…

    Today, nothing remains of their adventure but a plaque on a wall in the Frejus Troupes de Marine remembrance museum.It bears the names of the dead of the BILOM.
    Source : Raymond Muelle . Le Bataillon des Réprouvés . Historama
    Spécial Inochine 1994
  11. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Fascinating, and thanks for the info. Wonder if there are any survivors today?

    I think they were fighting Viet Minh, not Viet Cong, though!
  12. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Wasn't the Viet Cong title and Charlie etc invented by the U.S. Army to give him a term that would resonate with U.S. troops

    Very god info I was about to mention Sajer being invited to put some time in the French Army to redeem himself

    Also wasn't the first awardee of the Knights Cross to a foreignWaffen SS soldier awarded to a Charelmange soldier?

    IIRC there was aprogramme on T.V. (Possible Nzis a warning from history) and they intervied a French SS soldier he had one arm and an eye missing but had no regrets and would do it all again

    How did the Russians treat captured "foreign" SS soldiers ?
  13. Yes, you are right but I chose the "Cong" version because I thought on an English speaking website people would not be familiar with the Viet Minh, a term very common in "guerre d'Indochine" litterature but virtualy absent from "Vietnam War" material...

    A book was written in French on the BILOM by Raymond Muelle, himself a decorated Indochina veteran. It was published twice, once as the "Bataillon des reprouves" and then as "Bataillon des damnes". It still can be found for about 15-20 euros.
  14. No the 3 French RK (Appolot, Fenet, Vaulot, the 4th was to a German offr of the Charlemagne) were amongst the latest (29 April 1945 IIRC) not the earliest.

    As for the treatments by the Russians, according to interviews conducted by Forbes for his "For Europe" book, the French volunteers were always amazed how well they were treated once POWs and away from the first lines and combat troops. That made them realize how much they had fallen prey to Nazi propaganda and/or pre-war French political propaganda.
  15. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    When Leclerc was questioning these prisoners he asked them why they were wearing German uniforms. The reply was, "Why are you wearing an American uniform?" which was probably not very wise considering the circumstances.
    He then had them shot.
    Photo of the questioning below.