DAS REICH by Max Hastings


March Of The Second SS Panzer Division Through France
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On D-Day the Das Reich, or 2nd Panzer Division, was at Montauban in southern France, 450 miles--and, supposedly, a few days--from the Normandy battlefront. Why, instead, "the Das Reich Division trickled into the rear battlefields piecemeal," some ten to 25 days later, is the spine on which Hastings (Yoni, Bomber Command) hangs an array of disclosures, insights, and reflections. The book is not narrative history--the actual march of the Das Reich begins a third of the way through, and is then told in snatches; and the interests it addresses--sometimes, profoundly--are not those of the ordinary WW II buff. First, Hastings focuses on the French Section of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE)--operating out of London and via agents in France--which, with little support from SHAEF (and that, at Churchill's insistence), supplied the Resistance forces with the wherewithal (equipment, training, money) to prevent the Das Reich from moving north by train and impede the column's progress by road. But the Germans also decided, to the surprise of the Allies, to fight the local resistants (Hitler would give no ground); and so delayed themselves. Few resistants, in turn, "understood fire discipline": they wasted ammunition and, under German counterattack, quickly took flight. (All the more remarkable, thinks Hastings, their accomplishments.) Uninvolved civilians, mostly apathetic or openly unsympathetic, then suffered German reprisals: notoriously, the killing of hostages after the Tulle insurrection, the unprovoked massacre at Oradour. Here, Hastings' findings are stark. "Painful though it may be for humanitarians to accept, a policy of unlimited repression can be formidably effective"; further immediate resistance was discouraged. And to the SS officers, hardened on the Russian front, "It was nothing"--as a veteran of Oradour put it long afterward. Hastings also has highly interesting, almost self-contained chapters on the inter-Allied Jedburgh teams and the "private army" Special Air Service (SAS)--briefly involved at different points on the Das Reich march. What the book lacks in unity, indeed, it makes up in diversity and penetration. The ideal reader, though, would be familiar with the setting or the special branches.
Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
ISBN: 003057059X
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1982


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