World War 2 has fascinated me for a very long time. Considering how much time I’ve spent reading about it, watching documentaries, movies, and playing video games…. it’s odd that I still haven’t really made up my mind about it. WW2 doesn’t have a fixed, known place in my worldview. I wonder why that is? Is it because WW2 was just so bloody big? It was tens of millions of people involved, across three continents, and lots going on. That’s a lot to wrap your head around.
Here are a few things I’m not quite clear on:
- Who started it? The traditional view in the UK is that Hitler wanted to rule Europe so he had a crack at Poland, and France & Britain declared war because of it. But…. there’s plenty to suggest Stalin stoked the whole thing, a gigantic game of lets-you-and-him-fight so as to steal Europe from the exhausted European powers.
- Who were the bad guys? I don’t think there were any good guys in WW2  but how exactly do you weight them up? Britain carpet-bombed entire German cities deliberately spreading terror through the murder of civilians. Russia raped and pillaged throughout lands they’d previously starved and purged pre-war. Germany was spectacularly brutal on the Eastern Front and keen on reprisals in the Balkans and France too . The Japs were sadistic from Manchuria onward, and the Yanks nuked two cities and did a completely unnecessary firebombing of Tokyo that was even more murderous. No good guys.
- Who won? All of the Allies, bar USA, had their entire infrastructure demolished and populations susceptible to socialism and mass immigration immediately afterwards. Hard to say that’s victory. Stalin got half of Europe for fifty years. The US gained world supremacy and all of Britain and France’s colonies that mattered.
One thing I am clear on is that WW2 inspired great creative output in entertainment. I have a soft spot for the Sven Hassel novels, which got me interested in the Eastern Front, which is where 80% of the war was actually fought. That got me interested in Warhammer Dawn Of War: Winter Assault and more recently into Red Orchestra 2. Just look at this cheeky bastard.
Looks ace doesn’t it?
I’m so enthused by WW2 that the upcoming second edition of Balls Deep will have a cover heavily influenced by the box and poster art for Company of Heroes 2 and Inglorious Basterds. Bring it on.
Anyway, I’m rambling. I’ve been watching the Netflix series World War 2 In Colour and having a great time. The colourisation works wonders to keep things visually appealing and unlike the History Channel, it’s not all Hitler Hitler Hitler. For the first time I’m getting a broad sweep of the war and an appreciation for how all the pieces fit together. The series explains the context of the Spanish Civil War (I always wondered why the Reds and Nazis got involved picking sides) and how Franco kept the wops out of the Big One. I understand how Stalin and Hitler secretly carved up Poland before the invasion, and why Hitler went after Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow at the same time. It’s all fascinating.
Which brings me to this piece in the grand jigsaw, The Last Panther, in a series of German pseudo-memoirs of the war. Look, Wolfgang, if you really were the world’s luckiest Panther commander then I apologise for making light of everything you suffered and fought for. It’s just that…. I don’t believe you. Now, I’m sure you’re dead but I know all about Nazi Zombies so I’m not about to piss you off unnecessarily. It’s a fun book.
The story is that the Red steamroller has pushed the Germans back into their pre-Operation Barbarossa territory and is rolling them up fast. The German Army is in disordered retreat and now Faust’s division is surrounded in the Kessel Pocket. They are preparing a breakout to the West as this book begins, the plan being to surrender to the USA rather than get executed or sent to gulags by the Soviets. The book then details one long desperate push West.
I liked it because Faust writes with sufficient authenticity to allow someone like myself – who has never seen combat outside of Call of Duty – to suspend my disbelief. He’s definitely taken a page from Sven Hassel’s books in terms of lurid descriptions of battle and the various atrocities committed by the SS and NKVD behind the front-lines. That’s what makes me most suspicious of the book’s non-fiction status – I can’t imagine a traumatised soldier writing such graphic schlock. Sadly, what he doesn’t take from Hassel are his vivid characterisations. The characters in The Last Panther are all flat, often only referred to from their role, such as the Gunner, the Radioman, or the Division Commander. It’s a long way from Tiny, Porta, Legionnaire, Old Man, Heide, and Wolf from the Hassel novels. Those characters live forever.
Look, I’m not gonna stop reading these so don’t try and make me. I get that it’s all trash but there is something immersive about WW2 memoirs. If you haven’t seen it already, have a look at the tankers movie Fury starring Brad Pitt. In particular, watch the scene where they take on a King Tiger. This book is like that the whole way through. You can smell the engine oil.
If you’d rather smell fanny batter, consider my memoir series and daygame textbooks available from my product page here.
 Except Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, and Pele.
 I don’t really hold the Final Solution against them. Just wish they’d finished the job.