Friday, September 12, 2008


Houterman, J. N. Eastern Troops in Zeeland, The Netherlands, 1943-1945: Hitler's Osttruppen in the West. Bayside, NY: Axis Europa, 1997.

ISBN 1-891227-00-9
101 pages

Publisher's Forward [sic]; Acknowledgments; Foreword; Introduction; maps; photos; tables; Glossary; Comparative Rank & Casualty Tables; Selected Sources.

Appendices: Command Staff of the Eastern Legions - Turk Battalions; Personality Profile - Major Georg Tietjen.

Tony Munoz continues to unearth information about obscure Axis combat formations. This particular volume was written in Dutch by J. N. Houterman and originally published in The Netherlands. The author and the publisher have jointly translated the work into English for the Axis Europa edition.

It was not long after the invasion of the USSR that the first Soviet citizens volunteered for service with the Germans. As the war dragged on these came partly from unliquidated anti-Bolsheviks, partly from nationalistic minorities, and mostly from captured Soviet soldiers desperate for any avenue of escape from the wretched conditions of their POW camps. Used originally in an unofficial manner for labor and police duties, these troops were gradually armed, formally organized into infantry units, and employed in combat. The Wehrmacht was increasingly compelled by manpower limitations, the soaring casualty rate on the Russian Front, and the questionable reliability of these expanding Eastern units to transfer them to the West in exchange for German formations. According to Walter Dunn in Kursk, this ratio eventually reached three Ost battalions sent west for each German battalion dispatched east. Given that rate of exchange, it's little wonder that the maps of France, Belgium, and The Netherlands by 1944 were dotted with non-German formations from the Soviet Union.

Houterman outlines the origin of the Eastern troops and charts their institutionalization within the Wehrmacht with Nazi-inspired racially and geographically distinctive nomenclature of Osttruppen, Ost-Bataillone, Turk-Bataillone, Ostlegionen, Wlasow-Armee, etc. and the accompanying segregation of volunteers into the appropriate units, all under the bureaucratic oversight of the Inspekteur der Osttruppen. By his reckoning, at the beginning of 1944 there were already 72 Osttruppen battalions in the West, numbering some 60,000 men.

Of those, eight battalions were serving in The Netherlands in June 1944, of which four were stationed in Zeeland: Ost-Bataillon 600, Ost-Bataillon 628, Armenisches Infanterie-Bataillon 809, and Armenisches Infanterie-Bataillon 812. Those are the center of this book.

The TOE of each of these units is described along with a unit history amounting to about a page for each. There is then the twenty-page translation of a diary of a Russian officer who served with the 628th, describing its movements and combat from November 1943 through his capture in September 1944. Another twenty pages are devoted to stories told by Dutch civilians from Zeeland who remember the Eastern troops in their midst; these range from stories of friendship to fights over local girls to singing competitions. Three more pages describe other Ost units elsewhere in the Netherlands, including the Indian Legion (formed from Indian troops captured while in British service in Africa). The first appendix is a translation of a document from the "Command Staff of the Eastern Legions" setting forth "Deployment and treatment of Turk battalions". (The identical appendix is then repeated for some reason, this time in a horizontal format.) The second appendix is a two-page biography of the German commander of the 628th Battalion. The book concludes with a selection of images of Eastern troops, although the author cautions that they were not actually photographed in Zeeland.

Houterman's material is somewhat disjointed and occasionally betrays its origins in another language, and the overall layout of the book does little to impose organization on the text (chapters, headings, and sub-headings tend to flow together), but this is at least a small step forward in Axis Europa's effort to establish itself as a serious, professional publisher within what is after all a very small niche of an already specialized area. Eastern Troops in Zeeland may not be quite ready for prime time, but judged within its niche it must be considered a success.

So when can we have the story of the 803rd North Caucasian Battalion on Texel Island?

Available from online booksellers and local bookshops or directly from Axis Europa.

No comments: