MEDiA: Book Review – Das Reich, Max Hastings

First published way back in 1981, the title of this book is, I feel, a trifle misleading, inasmuch as a good deal of it is as much about SOE, British/Allied special forces, and French Resistance, operating behind the lines, as it is about northward march of the infamous Das Reich!

One criticism I have, which has several interconnected strands, has to do with the class to which Max Hastings himself and a good number of the public school educated British ‘cast’ of his subject belong. The slightly dewy-eyed self-love of all such elites is both rather unctuous and not a little odious. When Hastings rhapsodises over numerous rugger loving toffs, playing at war, even when it’s very real and may well cost their own and others lives, it’s hard not to wince a bit.

A secondary point arising from all this is the possible overstatement of British/Allied efforts, and a concurrent downplaying of the French natives’ own efforts. But rather than going over all this here, I’d urge the interested reader to simply get hold of Das Reich, and decide for themselves. Hastings summarises the complexity of such things very well.

The titular or headline story traces how Das Reich, pulled out of their role on the Ostfront, start out resting and refitting deep in Southwestern France, at Montauban. Initially, and rather inappropriately, they are tasked with fighting insurgents – with dire consequences – before finally heading for Normandy, in the aftermath of D-Day, to fulfil their proper role.

As already alluded to above, Das Reich also relates how the aforementioned insurgents, with help from Allied agents, seeks to impede the 2nd SS Pz Div’s northward journey. Thanks in particular to allegedly anti-maquis actions Das Reich carried out at Tulle and Oradour Sur Glane (with which latter subject The World At War TV series so memorably commences), there’s a frisson of horror in the story. Although, as Hastings points out, such barbarity was routine in Russia, where Das Reich learned the Nazi ways of war. Nor, indeed, are the Allies blameless; Hastings asks, rhetorically, can the area-bombers of Dresden really claim moral superiority over the SS butchers?

I found Das Reich a fascinating and exciting, well-researched and well-written, and – despite Hastings slightly patrician establishment vibes – pretty well-balanced account, of a very interesting episode in the campaigns of Normandy and beyond. Definitely recommended reading.

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