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SS-Totenkopf: The History of the 'Death's Head' Division, 1940–45 (Waffen-SS Divisional Histories) Paperback – Illustrated, March 1, 2015
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About the Author
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In the author's introduction, he begins in the 1920s with Hitler, Rohm and others trying to initiate and grow the Nazi Party and extends the coverage to describe the key events into the 1930s until Rohm is assassinated and Hitler becomes chancellor in 1933. Himmler has a bigger role as he becomes the head of the SS. The Dachau camp opens and the camp system expands which introduces Eicke and the SS camp guards which will eventually evolve into Himmler's SS Divisions with Totenkopf a prime example. Since Eicke played such an important role, the author gives him due coverage concerning his ideology, training practices and political indoctrination. Eicke believed that if you wanted to win the war you had to be more brutal and nastier than the enemy; there was no room for morals.
The historical commentary continues with a summary of the key engagements the SSTK was in and includes Poland 1939, France 1940, the drive toward Leningrad in 1941 culminating at the Demyansk Pocket, Kharkov 1943, Kursk, Mius and Merla River campaigns, Krivoi Rog in Dec 1943, Rumania in April 1944, Grodno, Warsaw, Budapest and finally its surrender to the US 3rd Army in April 1945 and the subsequent handing off to the Soviets.
In addition to the division's war history, there is also coverage of prewar recruitment and training, political indoctrination, discipline and punishments. There is also coverage on uniforms, SS insignia, Death Head insignia, arm eagle insignia, camouflage, boots and accessories. There is not much depth here buts its interesting if your reading about it for the first time. There is an extensive Appendix that includes bios of a dozen key people, and a section on Fire Power that includes the range from pistols to Tigers. There is also a summary listing of SSTK's war service. There is a table of panzer inventory on an almost daily basis up to July 16th. It gives the quantity and type of tank and gun. The SSTK started with 174 panzers and by July 16, it was down to 93 total working panzers. A table of ranks is also provided.
In addition to the concise history, Mr Mann provides 116 fine photos. There are good pictures of Hitler, Himmler, Eicke, Manstein, Hoepner, Dietrich, Priess, Seela, Mackensen and others. There are many photos of soldiers in the field and other battlefield scenes. There are a few maps which were OK.
Mr Mann intended this book to be a summary. He even suggests that if further reading is desired that Sydnor's book be read among any other book on his reading list. I didn't find any major errors, despite the confusion of when Totenkopf started receiving Panthers or that the division was fighting on the Psel River not near Prokhorovka. That's an issue that can be found in other books as well. Sydnor also brings up the topic, mentioning Totenkopf Panthers being deployed on July 12th.
If your looking for an introduction to the history of the SS Totenkopf Division with an adequate summary of it and its notorious commander as well as a bounty of good photos, this is a good low cost alternative that should be considered.
The purpose of _SS-Totenkopf_ is to provide an overview of the development, formation and behaviors of the SSTK, as well as provide some good pictures to gawk at. It is not supposed to be an exhaustive chronical, so it naturally lacks some of the details of other works on the subjects. So yes, if you want a more thorough examination of the topic, Syndor's _Soldiers of Destruction_ is the way to go -- but if you really couldn't care less what Eich said to so-n-so on such-n-such about the supply of heavy artillery in 1941, then this book isn't such a bad way to go.
What I find a bit unsettling about the criticisms here though, are the ones that complain that Mann has exaggerated or overstated the record of Nazi indoctrination and atrocity that is associated with the SSTK. I find this to be not only innaccurate, but actually somewhat apologist. Once frequently finds among historical enthusiasts of the Waffen-SS a tendancy to take the old SS veteran's oft-repeated statement of "we were soldiers, just like any other" at face value...though in fact, it is often not true at all, and especially not for the SS Totenkopf Div.
In actual fact, the SSTK were deeply indoctrinated by the their fanatical Nazi commander, Theodor Eich, for the explicit purpose of being merciless guardians of the concentration camp system, which they were founded to support. Time after time, their record in combat reveals that this practiced cold-bloodedness resulted in astonishing willingness to commit war crimes and massacres against POWs and civilians (to such a degree that during the invasion and occupation of Poland, the Wehrmacht commanding generals tried to have them removed from the field on account of their atrocious behavior toward civilian Jews and Poles). Indeed, a considerable number of SSTK served in the murderous Einsatzgruppen, and were revolved freely through the Nazi concentration camp system even while that mechanism became a vast killing machine directed at Hitler's racial enemies. This is not mere conjecture on the part of Mann, but established fact, expounded upon in great detail by none other than Charles Syndor's _Soldiers of Destruction_ itself, a book which many of the critics here recommend as an alternative read to this one!
In short, if you are looking for a brief overview of the SSTK, with some decent pictures of the division in action, I would take the criticisms here with a grain of salt, and give Mann's book a chance.