Monday, 29 August 2016

Book Review: Hitler's Home Guard: Volkssturmmann: Western Front, 1944-45

Hitler's Home Guard: Volkssturmmann: Western Front, 1944-45Hitler's Home Guard: Volkssturmmann: Western Front, 1944-45 by David Yelton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I have written seven books for Osprey Publishing so I can't really be called an unbiased reviewer. On the other hand, I don't know the author or artist and WW2 is a bit out of my specialty. I read this as research for a novel I'm writing.
This is a look at a little-covered aspect of the war, Germany's desperate formation of a militia to supplement the exhausted and depleted Wehrmacht. These teenagers, old men, and men taken from essential services were given little training, insufficient weapons, and were sent against the full force of the Allied assaults in late 1944 and early 1945. No prizes for figuring out what happened.
The author goes through the formation of the Volkssturm, and how individuals were recruited and trained, using a fictional character in a real unit as an example. Other reviewers have criticized using a fictional character, but given the paucity of sources for the Volkssturm I didn't see this as a problem. One limitation, however, is that it only covers the Western Front. The author notes that the Volkssturm on the Eastern Front were better armed and motivated, and I was hoping that a second book would be written about their story. Since it's been 10 years since this book's publication I guess that's not going to happen.
Another missed opportunity is that the Volksgewehr, a series of cheap gun designs introduced late in the war, are not really described. There isn't much written on these guns and it would have been appropriate to add something here.
Despite these shortcomings, I found this book a gripping read. It goes into detail about the civilian experience and the terror these half-soldiers must have felt when a helmet was plunked on their head, a rifle thrust into their hands, and they were sent against thundering columns of tanks. A large section is dedicated to the process of surrendering, internment, and repatriation. That was the main war experience for a lot of these guys!
All in all, a good overview of a little-known aspect of the war.

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