History of War

HITLER'S FOREIGN LEGIONS

Berlin is burning. After more than five years of war, the Nazis’ much-vaunted ‘thousand-year Reich’ is finally coming to an end. But the agony isn’t over quite yet. As the Soviet Red Army inexorably advances into the heart of the city, a few thousand surviving defenders desperately fight on.

One of them – an officer – tries to get a better view of what is happening by climbing up a telegraph pole. Precariously hanging on with one hand while holding his binoculars with the other, he doesn’t see the Soviet marksman who shoots him. His men rush to his aid, but he’s already dead.

As a sign of respect, and despite the chaos around them, they bury him in Plötsensee Cemetery, in a makeshift coffin made from old ammunition crates. The name on the grave marker reads “Per Sørensen” – the dead officer wasn’t German, but hailed from the small parish of Essenbaek in Denmark.

A few days later, it’s all over. Hitler is dead, the guns are finally silent. Among a column of dejected prisoners of war, a drunken Soviet soldier grabs a man out of the line, screaming into his face, “SS!, SS!”. The guards pull him away, only for him to turn back and shoot the prisoner in the head. The column marches on, leaving the corpse where it fell.

This man wasn’t German either; he was French, and his name was Roger Albert-Brunet, a native of Dauphine and a recipient of the Iron Cross First Class.

“AS FOR THE FRENCH, BELGIAN WALLOONS AND SPANISH, THEY WERE ALLOWED TO JOIN THE GERMAN ARMY BUT NOT THE WAFFEN-SS – THEY WEREN’T ‘ARYAN’ ENOUGH”

What were a Dane and a Frenchmen doing defending Berlin at the war’s end? The truth is one of the most fascinating stories of World War II, and one of the least known.

Genesis of the foreign SS legions

When Hitler sent the Wehrmacht to invade and occupy Scandinavia and western Europe in 1940, a new force went with the army, small in number but huge in symbolism: the Waffen, or ‘Armed’ SS. These men weren’t regular soldiers exactly, but were part of something quite different, a military wing of the Nazi Party itself.

Established at first to protect Hitler and other senior Nazis from physical attack during the often-violent street politics of the 1920s and

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from History of War

History of War7 min read
The Grand Captain
Mounted French knights thundered towards the Spanish position at Cerignola on 21 April 1503, but had to reign in their horses when they reached an unseen ditch bristling with sharpened stakes. As the French gendarmes paused dumbfounded before the dit
History of War2 min read
Cartoons From Korea
War cartoons have a distinguished history in the British Army. During WWI Bruce Bairnsfather delighted his fellow troops with his satirical depictions of life in the trenches for the Bystander magazine, particularly the curmudgeonly soldier ‘Old Bill
History of War5 min read
Battle At The Embassy
The peace and goodwill of Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration, were shattered on 30 January 1968 when Communist forces launched their surprise offensive in 13 cities across South Vietnam. Sudden and ferocious, the onslaught spread rapidly