Devil's Guard

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Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford published in 1971, is the story of a former German Waffen-SS officer's string of near-constant combat that begins on World War II's eastern front and continues into the book's focus—the First Indochina War, as an officer in the French Foreign Legion. The book is presented by the author as nonfiction but considered to be untrue by military historians, and usually sold as fiction.[1] In 2006 the online bookstore AbeBooks reported that it was among the 10 novels most frequently sold to American soldiers in Iraq (the only war fiction in the top 10, in fact).[1]

Overview[edit]

The constant justification of SS measures, compared to those perpetrated by the Soviets—as well as the almost-unbelievable fighting ability of the characters—has led some critics to denounce Devil's Guard as Neo-Nazi propaganda. The book's tone offers a direct and straightforward explanation for the state of affairs along the eastern front with the narrator using the threat of Communism to justify security measures during the war. The story is told in the words of "Hans Josef Wagemueller," who fights as an officer in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. The story begins with the capitulation of Germany in 1945, while Wagemueller is fighting the Red Army and partisans near Czechoslovakia. Wagemueller escapes the Allied powers in post-war Europe by fighting his way west and using underground connections to reach France, where he joins the Foreign Legion. Wagemueller reunites with two former sergeants from his former German unit, Bernard Eisner and Erich Schulze, and is sent to French Indochina. In Indochina, Wagemueller and his comrades are incorporated into mixed Legion units that included many French territorial troops. However, under the command of French Colonel Simon Houssong, Wagmueller is put in command of an all-German battalion (around 900 troops) composed of former Nazi troops who, like Wagemueller, fled to the Legion. Their mission is to disrupt the Viet Minh in their rear supply areas, far from cities and French-controlled zones. For more than three years, the battalion runs a highly successful and brutal guerilla war against the insurgent Viet Minh across northern Indochina, Laos and southern China. In one such case, "the battalion of the Damned" escorts a supply column north through enemy-held territory by forcing Viet Minh prisoners and family members to ride in the column's trucks, tanks and jeeps to ensure safe passage. In other situations, poison, torture and natural resources are used.

Fact or Fiction?[edit]

It is debatable as to whether or not the book is exaggerated fact, or outright fiction. The book is presented by Elford as the words of Wagemueller, who lived in Nepal at the time of the book's publication. In the preamble, Elford claims to have met the man and arranged for him to dictate the events of his military life into a microphone over 18 days. It is documented that ex-SS soldiers both joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the French Indochina War [2] until approximately 1947 when France began to crack down, although the book's claim that a unit was composed solely of Germans is unsupported by evidence presented by many Legion historians, records and books (such as Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place and Street Without Joy) on the French Indochina War. Skeptics have stated that the "Nazis in Indochina" myth came from communist bloc sources during the war. Elford claims his only contribution to the book is in the capacity of an editor, changing the names of soldiers and military verbiage. Critics however, point to the fact that much of the military power possessed by the characters is anachronistic. The access to military records should also allow for the exact tracing of units in which Wagemueller and his comrades served, but the name of Wagemueller's unit in eastern Europe, the 21st Special Partisanjaeger Commando, is mentioned in only Devil's Guard. Supporters point to the fact that Elford is following Wagemueller's request that his details not be made traceable. Critics also point to the serialization of the book (it spawned two sequels, despite the fact the original ended towards the end of the war, 700 days from Dien Bien Phu in 1954 according to the narrator). Wagemueller ends up fighting for the US later in the series, after spending time in Tibet (his officers in New Caledonia).[1] Devil's Guard mentions the book The Jungle is Neutral about British commandos fighting behind Japanese lines as a source of reference for the Nazi battalion. Many of the tactics used by Wagemueller's troops were taken directly from 'The Jungle is Neutral,' as well as the tactics used by French commando Roger Vanderberghe, commander of Commando 24 of the French GCMA special forces. Specifically, Vanderberghe's use of Viet Minh 'pajama' uniforms' to walk right into Viet Minh camps to attack.

Popularity[edit]

In recent years, the demand for the book has far outstripped supply and a used copy would typically fetch EUR/USD100 (around £60) on eBay, Amazon.com or other auctioneer. Hailer Publishing began reprinting Devil's Guard and Devil's Guard III: Unconditional Warfare (1991), in 2005.

Main characters[edit]

Horst Altreiter, Bernard Eisner, Simon Houssong, Rudolf Krebitz, Karl Pfirstenhammer, Helmut Riedl, Victor Schenk, Erich Schulze, Hans Josef Wagemueller, Gia Xuey

Devil's Guard series[edit]

  • 1971 Devil's Guard[3][4]
  • 1988 Devil's Guard II : Recall to Inferno
  • 1991 Devil's Guard III: Unconditional Warfare[5]

Devil's Guard was first published as a hardbound book by Dell (using the Delacorte imprint) in 1971. This was the only DG title released in this format. It was subsequently released as a mass market paperback in originally published by New English Library in the UK in 1972. Reprinted1973,1978,1980,1981,1983,1984, 1985 It was never offered by Dell in the US. All three Devil's Guard books were reprinted by St. Petersburg, Florida's Hailer Publishing in the mid-2000s.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Sutherland, John. "Under the Covers", Telegraph, 2008.
  2. ^ Par Le Sang Versé - La Légion Étrangère En Indochine, Paul Bonnecarrere, Publisher: Fayard (1968), ASIN: B000JVBNI8
  3. ^ Amazon.com: Devil's Guard: George Robert Elford: Books
  4. ^ Hailer Publishing - great military history books back from out of print status
  5. ^ Hailer Publishing - great military history books back from out of print status