SS-WIKING: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 13 Mar 2007
While this is a history of SS-Wiking, it is in fact a very brief history. The author has divided this study up into eight sections.
He begins with the foundation of the unit. Part of the basis for this division dealt with the recruiting problems that plagued the SS in the early days. Most of the Germanic volunteers from outside Germany were assigned to this division. The countries represented include Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Of course, by war's end, other nations were represented, these were the main sources of men in the beginning.
Another key factor in this division was its commander, Felix Steiner. He had served in the Army, but had ideas that were not acceptable by the Army hierarchy. Thus, when he was put in charge of training the SS-Verfügungstruppe, he was able to implement some of his ideas, which would contribute to the performance of SS men in battle later. When given command of Wiking, he brought his same attitudes with him. This gave him the opportunity to infuse the whole division with his spirit, which segues nicely into the second section, Training.
One of the things Steiner wanted to avoid was the bloody battles of attrition he remembered from the First World War. He worked to develop the men athletically, and to foster competitive spirit in them. Sports took priority over close order drill. Combat training focused on light, mobile tactics.
The third chapter follows the SS-VT to war. In addition to the combat experienced by the regiments of the SS-VT, the book does go into discussion of the atrocities of the Einsatzgruppen, and Wiking's association with them. In addition to relating combat, this chapter also discusses problems encountered by Wiking, including the enemy, boobytraps, climate, lack of supplies, and higher command issues.
Wiking had proven itself a force to be reckoned with, which led to some unexpected problems. Command had come to rely on the division to solve their problems, which led to heavy employment of the unit. This led to fatigue both in the men and their equipment.
The fifth chapter begins with Kursk, and ends with the encirclement at Korsun/Cherkassy. The sixth chapter starts with this encirclement. While that experience would easily fill a couple of books itself, the author does manage to give a hint of what went on there. The final combat chapter takes the division through the end of the war. From Bialystok to Warsaw, Budapest to to Vienna, Wiking was in the thick of it.
The last chapter is a collection of short biographies of major figures in Wiking. Six men are presented here. There is also an appendix which shows the division’s lineage, the commanders, rank comparisons, and an outline of the division’s war service. Also, there is a breakdown of the division’s Order of Battle circa May 1944, as well as a listing of all the Waffen-SS divisions.
Every time you turn a page, you will find at least one photograph, and/or one of the 10 maps that illustrate this book. Many of the photos are combat shots, and are quite interesting.
This isn’t a bad book, per se, but I was disappointed. While it does talk about the history of WIKING, from before it was actually formed, all the way to the end, it is far from intimate. Somehow, I expected more information from a divisional history.
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945