During the Second World War the Waffen SS recruited a large number of foreign soldiers, some from Germany's allies, but a surprisingly large number from conquered states, some from neutral countries and even a handful from the UK. At first recruitment was limited by the SS's crackpot racial theories, but as the fighting turned against the Germans these were almost entirely abandoned, and recruits were accepted (or constripted) from almost every corner of the Nazi empire and beyond (Poland being the most notable exception).
The book is split into two sections. The first is organised by country, and looks at the number of volunteers, their motivation, the units they were assigned to and their fates. The second is organised by unit, starting with a division by division history of those units that had significant numbers of foreign troops, then moving onto the smaller brigades (many of which were later expanded into divisions).
One thing I always look at in a book of this type is its attitude to its subject – some become rather took keen on the SS, and an early reference to the SS lowering its racial standards briefly worried me, but the tone is generally well balanced, with no attempt to shy away from the various atrocities committed by so many of these units. The author also avoids exaggerating their combat performance, acknowledging that many of the units performed very badly in battle. In fact the track record of these units was so poor that it is actually worth noting when one of them wasn't accused of war crimes!
This format works quite nicely. There is some repetition when discussing recruits from Yugoslavia, as the country is examined in its various parts, but generally it allows the author to examine the different motives and experiences of recruits from each country without repeating too much detail of their combat record, before then bringing the combat material together in one place.
Towards the end of the Second World War the German armed forced has a tendency to create lots of new understrength divisions, instead of bringing existing units up to strength. This is seen here, where in the last few months of the war a whole series of new SS 'divisions' were formed from smaller units of foreign volunteers. Very few of these units ever reached a significant size, and their small size also greatly limited their combat effectiveness.
The overall impression one gets here is of a lot of wasted effort. A handful of these units fought well, but often only late in 1944 or in 1945, by which time the war was lost. Other formations were effective but brutal anti-partisan units, but most were either too small, too ill disciplined or otherwise ineffective.
This is a useful single volume account of the foreign legions that served in the SS, providing a handy reference work that brings together material more often found scattered across individual divisional histoires or buried within a wider history of the Waffen SS.
1 - Western Europe
2 - Eastern Europe
3 - The Foreign SS Divisions
4 - The Foreign SS Brigades
Author: Chris Bishop