The Volks-Grenadier Divisions were created late in the Second World War in a desperate attempt to make the best use of the limited manpower still available for the German Army. Detailed records from these divisions are rare, but the author was fortunate to come into possession of the records of Füsilier Company 272, part of the 272nd Volks-Grenadier Division. An original plan to write a history of that company has expanded into a wider history of the entire division, tracing its experiences from its formation, through the bitter fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, and on to the retreat to the Rhine, the brief defence of that river, the Allied capture of the Ruhr industrial zone and the final chaotic retreat into central Germany.
We start with a useful account of the development of the Volks-Grenadier Divisions, an overview of their equipment and a look at the daily life of the soldiers - their food, living conditions etc. Next we move onto a linage of the company, which can be traced back to the formation of the 2nd Battalion, Infantry Regiment 396 in 1939. In 1943 this became Fusilier Battalion 272 in the 272nd Division. This division was caught up in the German defeat in France, and late in 1944 its survivors were used to provide the core of the new 272nd Volks-Grenadier Division. The old Fusilier Battalion was used to form the basis of a new 200-strong Fusilier Company, although this only included sixteen of the 1939 originals.
The examination of the personnel of the new company goes into great depth, and includes brief biographies of the main NCOs.
The combat history doesn't just cover the 272nd Division, but also covers relevant action by other units, such as the failed attacks on Bergstein that preceded the 272nd's own attempt to retake the town.
The company suffered a remarkably high loss rate during its short existence. Between early November and mid December it suffered 75 casualties (out of only 200 men), and one platoon was reduced to a single man! Soon afterwards a failed counterattack reduced the company to only 51 combat troops. The division as a whole was almost destroyed in the Hürtgen Forest fighting, and was rarely above half of its authorised strength after that, and lacked experienced leaders.
It is nice to read a balanced account of a German combat unit, portraying its failures as well as its successes, and acknowledging the skill of its opponents.
There is a remarkable photo section, with a large number of portraits of members of the company, and pictures from the actual fighting discussed in the text.
We end with a rare account of the final stages of the war as seen from the German side of the action. The division was involved in the short-lived defence of the Rhine, took part in a rather short-lived defence of a 'fortress' town, and was then split, with the largest part captured in the Ruhr pocket and the smaller part heading east into central Germany before finally being forced to surrender.
This book provides one often neglected answer to the question of why the Germany soldier continued to fight even when it was clear that the war was lost. Many of the soldiers of November 1944 had been killed, captured or wounded by the start of 1945, and the company suffered over 200% casualties. Most of the German soldiers of March 1945 were actually different men to the soldiers of November 1944.
This is an excellent unit history, combined a detailed look at one 200 strong company with a wider divisional history, looking at a type of unit that is rare covered in any great detail.
1 - The Story of a Suitcase
2 - The Volks-Grenadier Division
3 - Origins and Lineage of Füsilier Company 272
4 - Of Mortal Coil - the Men of Füsilier Company 272
5 - Arrival in the Hürtgen Forest
6 - The Battle of Bergstein
7 - Fight for Control of the Kall River Gorge: The Assault on 'Castle Hill'
8 - Two Divisions Collide at Kesternich
9 - The Defense of Kesternich
10 - The Interlude of January 1945
11 - The Americans Drive on the Dams
12 - Withdrawal Beyond the Roer
13 - The Retreat to the Rhine
14 - The Battle for Hönninghen
15 - Last Stand on the Wied Defense Line
16 - From the Hürtgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich
Author: Douglas E. Nash