Soldiers of Destruction by Charles W. Sydnor is a scholarly examination of the 3rd ϟϟ-Panzerdivision Totenkopf, perhaps the most controversial of all the ϟϟ divisions. Charles Sydnor does an excellent job of tracing the origins of Totenkopf from its origins in the concentration camp system to crack fighting unit.

Perhaps the one personality who permeated the division was Theodor Eicke, the first commander of Totenkopf and its major personality whose influence was felt even after his death in combat in 1943. Eicke's struggles with Himmler and the Wehrmacht to gain respect and much needed supplies as well as the various machinations within Nazi Germany's hierarchy are well detailed. Eicke was to the Totenkopf what Sepp Dietrich was to the 1st ϟϟ-Panzerdivision Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and Paul Hausser to the 2nd ϟϟ-Panzerdivision Das Reich: a father figure revered and respected by his men, but also feared (Eicke often punished his men by sending them to the camps as inmates but made sure his men had enough rations and winter clothing in Russia).

The Totenkopf Division fought primarily on the Eastern Front and gained a reputation as steadfast in defense. While the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and Das Reich divisions were the spearheads of the Waffen-ϟϟ and took the forefront in the attack, it was the Totenkopf that held the line in Russia and gained respect from notable army generals such as Erich von Manstein and Maximilian Von Weichs.

The final fate of the Totenkopf was in many ways a Goetterdammerung: Totenkopf managed to surrender to the Americans in Austria, but its members were handed over to the Soviets supposedly because it did almost all of its fighting in the East, a fate not shared by the LϟϟAH and Das Reich because they fought extensively on the Western Front. Few Totenkopf members survived Soviet captivity.

The subject matter of this book is not for everyone. The ϟϟ-Division Totenkopf personified Himmler's absolute ideal of the ϟϟ. It could be argued that they were the most politically indoctrinated of all the ϟϟ divisions. They were brutally efficient soldiers who were indifferent to hardship. Defeat was an unacceptable option for Totenkopf soldiers in combat. It is no wonder that on several occasions the division fought until almost total decimation. Victory of annihilation was the order of the day.

Numerically outnumbered almost 6 to 1 on the Eastern Front, the Totenkopf soldiers of the ϟϟ managed to rout entire Soviet armies. They were constantly thrust into the most dangerous of situations on the front. Even today the United States Marine Corps and the U.S. Army mimic some of the combat tactics developed and perfected by ϟϟ divisions like the Totenkopf on the Eastern Front.


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ϟϟ-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke,
commander of the 'Totenkopf' (1892-1943)