After reading some top-quality book reviews around the blogosphere, I thought I'd branch out a bit today with a little review of a book - or rather a class of book - I became interested in recently. The tome in question is Combat History of Heavy Anti-Tank Unit 653, by Karlheinz Munch. I got this as a gift but it's available on Amazon for just over £10, depending on seller. It's one of a number of books that have come out recently on the subject of the organisation and history of German units in World War II. After a wave in the 90s and 00s of first-hand memoirs, written by veterans seeking to get their experiences on paper and pass them on to the next generation, there have recently been a number of thoroughly-researched, more technical and less personal histories of the minutiae of some German army units. It's into this category that this book falls.
It opens with a personal diary from an NCO in the unit's early days as a Sturmgeschütz unit, as he describes the tedious preparations for war in 1940/41, then with telling brevity the vicious fighting in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa. Entries told something of the heavy combat as well as tedious regimental life - delousing, maintenance, and so forth - until I became really interested in this real, gritty, unadorned history of the largest-scale invasion of the war. Until after the entry for 20 November 1941, the next line simply reads 'Unteroffizer Skodell's diary ends here'. I looked at the page - I'm on 13 of about 370 - and it already feels like I've read a whole book. It's going to be crammed ...
The book is jam-packed to the rafters with high-quality photos, and in the vein of Unteroffizer Skodell's diary, they record not just the Bundesarchiv propaganda shots of enormous Jagdtigers and things, but also shots evidently from personal collections, of maintenance, relaxing, writing letters and other things you don't often see. The book is a veritable stew of different parts of history and it'd spoil it if I carried on listing them like this, but suffice it to say the obvious TO&Es are covered very thoroughly, including lists of commanders' names, war diaries, regimental paperwork, letters to Berlin on the performance of some of the tanks in Heavy Anti-Tank Unit 653, diagrams from training manuals, and a section of colour plates.
It's very heavy-going, and not recommended for traditional reading as such - more as a reference book for dipping in and out of. Apart from a general chronological theme, there isn't much rhyme or reason to its layout, but that's part of the charm. Sit down, let it fall open, and read a letter from the unit to General Hartmann in the Speer Ministry. It's so detailed that if you happened to be interested in this particular unit, you'd be sorted - but it's better to look at it as a microcosm of unit life on the Eastern Front. And the number and scope of the photos are unparalleled. It'd be good to see something similar about the Red Army in this style.
Overall: 4/5. Excellent detail and scope, a unique collection of interesting photos, but perhaps a little heavy-going for the casual reader.
Anyway! On to the main point of the post. My regular readers will remember my fluff magnum opus - Codex Palladia. This was a background book which detailed every last bit of information you could want on the Palladian Guard. It is inspired by the German Army Handbook of 1918 - when I say 'inspired', I mean most of the headings are taken from the real-world book and written up in the style of the Departmento Munitorium manuals.
I was going to do the same for this book for my 9th Battalion army, and then later for the current 2nd Battalion unit. Now, I pride myself on writing in the propaganda-style of the 40K universe. An example from a battle report:
With both squads of 2. Platoon mashed by bolter fire and fleeing the battlefield and my Salamander destroyed, I had nothing else on the field except my commander Capt Nero, and because of his Impetuous rule he had no choice but to assault the enemy captain. My demolisher scored a lucky hit and killed a scout unit, while Commissar-Lieut. von Russ killed a skimmer with a plasma pistol shot through the sheerest good luck and nothing else. Apart from the tank and 4 men, the entire army was wiped out and I just managed to contest enough of the objective to scrape a win.
With both squads of 2. Platoon cut up by bolter fire in minutes and the company Salamander destroyed, Capt. Nero led a counter-attack, personally assaulting the heretic captain. The Pioneering Light used its heavy flamers to burn an infiltrating scout unit with righteous flame. Commissar-Lieut. von Russ destroyed an enemy skimmer with a single shot from a blessed plasma pistol. Despite suffering heavy casualties, the Guard carried the field thanks to its good order and morale.
You get the idea. Propaganda, basically - a bit like the Uplifting Primer. So, I decided to do this next fluff project in much more measured, human tones, like in the Unit 653 History. A low-level report on a company's history would not get looked at by the zealous batallion staffers, and would probably be a bit less propagandry. Although that 'zealous' style is good, and reflects the desperate propaganda-disinformation ethos of the Imperium, you do pay the price of a bit of realism and 'on the ground' feel. So the next project will be far more realistic and paint a better picture of life in a Palladian infantry battalion. Watch this space ...
Thanks for trawling through a bit of a wordy post. As promised last time, I'll be finishing off my Sentinel Squadron now. As soon as I've clicked 'post', I'll press play on Das Boot and do another three hours of modelling-instead-of-work, and I'll have the built articles for you at the weekend.