Seven Days in January
Reviewer: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 28 Apr 2007
Full Title: Seven Days in January: With the 6th SS-Mountain Division in Operation Nordwind
This is a very informative book about the history of the 6th SS-Mountain Division Nord. Although it does discuss their time in Finland, the bulk of the book focuses on Operation Nordwind, and more specifically, the battle for Wingen-sur-Moder.
The first quarter of the book is given over to the first three years of Nord's experience, in Finland. The author draws on his own experience, as well as archival sources to relate the history before he joined the division in the summer of 1941 as an enlisted artilleryman. After graduating from an officer academy in 1943, he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, SS-Mountain Infantry Regiment 12 "Michael Gaissmair," as the battalion adjutant.
Combat in northern Karelia was nothing like that which was fought on the steppes to the south. There were none of the raging battles of maneuver, led by Panzers and SPWs. Instead, the men slogged through deep snow. There, sweeping maneuvers were conducted on skis, far behind the enemy front line. Still, the nature of combat in this area was much more positional than elsewhere on the eastern front. There was serious combat on their front. Soviet troops twice were able to sweep around Nord's flank, and strike towards the rear area. Both times, though, the thrusts were stopped, and repelled. Just this part of the book was worthwhile for me, simply for the information it provided about the fighting in northern Karelia.
The focus of the book begins after the withdrawal, with Operation Nordwind. This operation was launched on 1 January 1945, just two weeks after the "Battle of the Bulge." As the battalion adjutant, the author had a very good view of the battle. He has put together a narrative of this operation that is probably be best available. He has drawn on American resources, so that he can provide glimpses of the American view as well. It provides for a well-rounded story that is very interesting to read.
From the initial insertion, on foot, we learn of mistakes that are made. There are failures of command, and plain errors that impact greatly on the operation. The mission of the Nord men was to take the town of Wingen-sur-Moder, and the bridge there. The objective was to form a bridgehead to allow mechanized units to break out into the Alsation Plain. Although the Combat Group was successful in their mission, there was no way for higher headquarters to give them the support they needed to exploit their success.
The operation only lasted a week for the author, as he was captured by the Americans pulling out of the town. Until his capture, however, he is able to tell a riveting tale of what went on in and around Wingen. He tells of bravery and valor on both sides. He tells of the joy the men experienced at something as simple as capturing a stock of American underwear. He talks about eating captured American food stores. One of the things that really surprised these men was the difference between fighting Americans and Russians. The Americans didn't do much night fighting. The Germans were quick to take advantage of this, having become experts at night fighting while in Karelia.
Still, in the end, these men were outnumbered, and outgunned. They were ordered to withdraw. Again, it was a fighting withdrawal, and the author was captured moving through the American lines. Though the division regrouped, and fought on to the end of the war, this narrative ends with the author's capture.
This book is well written, and reflects the author's training and experience. There are only a few photos, however, due to multiple factors. There are several maps and diagrams to aid the reader in following the action. The maps that actually show Winger are detailed enough to make out individual streets and buildings that give the reader a much better view of what went on in the town.
So that none can challenge my objectivity, I must indicate that while I had nothing to do with this book, I am associated with the Aberjona Press.
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