The Legion Of The DamnedChapter by chapter - Book covers - Other languages - Quotes
Introduction to The Legion Of The Damned
The first in the Sven Hassel series of novels was, according to Erik Haaest's hysterical "biography" of Hassel, actually written by Georg Gjedde, a staff writer at the Danish Grafisk Forlag publishing house. Many readers of Hassel take this book (if not all the others) to be directly autobiographical, with its amazing feel of oppression and doom. It seems that Gjedde did not enjoy writing it and wishes to be disassociated from the whole thing - but he does admit to having received more money for this novel than any other in his career.
By the end of The Legion Of The Damned most of the major characters are dead (Gjedde claims to have enjoyed writing that bit at least) which is probably why most the stories of surviving members of Sven's section only refer to Tiny and The Legionnaire - who aren't in this book at all (they are supposed to have joined/re-joined the French Foreign Legion after the war and to be currently living on a Legion pension in France!)
When the book was first published in 1953 it received mixed reviews veering from "Of little interest to the average reader who should certainly know by now that 'war is hell'" to "Denmark has produced a new Hemingway"! Personally I'd go for "Fucking masterpiece".
The Legion Of The Damned chapter by chapter:
1. Filthy Deserter
Description of Sven's court martial for desertion. Court appearance with Eva Schadows as witness. Sentence to 15 years hard labour.
2. They Died By Day, They Died By Night
Long description of Lengries Concentration Camp and reasons for telling story (some serious philosophy here!) Prison food. Executions.
Description of Fagen Concentration Camp. Hard labour. Chance of pardon by disposing of 225 bombs!! 68th bomb turns out to be an aerial torpedo which Sven has to drive out of town on a truck. Hospital experiments, transfer back to Lengries. Sven is pardoned and sent to serve in a penal regiment.
4. One Hundred And Thirty-Five Corpses
Description of penal battalion drill and training. More about food.
5. Spit And Polish
Penal battalion inspections. Unteroffizier Geerner finds dust in the coffee pot.
6. One Kind Of Soldier
The chaplain. Description of Sennelager. Training against tank shock. Swearing of oath. Transfer to tank regiment at Bielefeldt.
7. Our First Meeting
"Welcome" by Hauptmann Meier, commander of No5 Company. Sven is assigned to No2 Squadron under Leutnant von Barring, and then to Unteroffizier Beier, leader of No1 Section. Sven reports to Beier and interrupts a card game. Descriptions of Beier, Porta, Eicken and Steyer. The company has a little free time.
8. Curiosities Of The Balkans
Porta's sneaky trick on the Nazi railwayman. Food. Railway journey. Halt in Hungarian town of Makˇ. Porta steals a couple of geese, gets chased by a crowd of civilians and is rescued by Hinka.
9. The Glories Of The Balkans
Discovery of rail freight wagon of food and wine. Porta goes for a gambling session in Bucharest (the origin of his yellow top hat and monocle... he has also won a mistress!) Bit of philosophy from Sven on the occupation of various countries by the Germans. He also criticises Spain where he later went to live. Description of Roumania.
Sven on leave in Vienna to meet Ursula. Train journey. Trouble because of penal uniform. Strange association between a mountain and having sex!
11. The Last Days
Description of Ursula. More references to Sven being good at sex. Meeting with Stege's brother. Strange association between the weather and sex! Sven and Ursula get married. Sven is described as an Auslandsdeutscher of Danish-Austrian descent and as a good, naturalised Scandanavian. Return to unit.
12. Porta's Leave
Short story from Porta concerning his leave in Berlin and certain accusations made against his good self.
13. Destination North Africa
Travel to Naples. Equipment for North Africa. Embark on ship to Tripoli, air raid, shipwreck. Sven and Porta meet in the sea. Porta talks about religion, his adventures in a nunnery and his love of the church organ. Italian plane drops lifeboat and rations. Rescue by Italian Navy. Return to Naples, hunt for Old Un. Transfer to the Eastern Front to be incorporated in the 27th Panzer regiment.
14. Three Girls
Old Un gives his philosophy on war. Hans Breuer joins the company. Description of dodges to get out of war. Issue of rations (Porta/rum). Porta and Meier incident, lots of abuse. Unteroffizier Fleischmann helps out. Meeting with 3 girls from KZ and their escape in the armoured train.
15. In Church
Visit to church in Pinsk. Porta plays the organ.
16. Before The Attack
Hans Breuer gets his foot squashed. 27th Regiment in Smolensk. Old woman pisses in the street. Talk of revenge on Meier. Preparation for action.
17. The Spectacle
Guiding tanks in the dark. Preparation for battle. Discussion of battle. Description of battle. Description of Russian winter cold.
Some political discussion and statement on interpretation of writings. Comparison of Hitler and Stalin. Sven and Fleischmann are taken prisoner. Harsh treatment in captivity, escape attempt, train journey East, various adventures in captivity. Discussion of sabotage in p.o.w. factories. Sven and Fleischmann plan to escape. Strange inconsistency as Sven escapes and heads for rendezvous with Fleischmann.... Then Fleischmann is not mentioned again (till Company Commander right at the end of the book). Sven's adventures during escape back to the German lines.
19. The Swine Meier
Death of Hans Breuer. Stories of Meier and his brutality. Mine clearing duty. Meier's fate.
20. Sleep Your Fill Boys
Rest billet in Russian village. Porta tries to sleep. Big feast at the latrine. Orders to take tanks out onto the plain and dig in. Description of hole digging, inspection by the CO. Discussion of collaboration by Russian civilians.
21. 988th Reserve Battalion
Going on leave. Cancelled due to major Russian break through. Fighting at Volkov. First mention of Stalin the Cat. Christmas 1942. Guard duty in no-man's-land. Russians intercept letters from home. Porta disappears.
22. Death Rolls Up
Various promotions. Porta is a private at this stage (Stabsgefreiter). Stalin becomes Obergefreiter. April 1943. Completely uncensored letter from Ursula's father explaining her death. Sven's reaction. Tanks battles (presumably this is Kursk - "the greatest tank battle of the war"). More philosophy.
23. Separate Peace
Talk of peace and revolution. Move to new positions opposite very peaceful Russians on the River Donetz. Enormous feast. Porta tries to kill an elusive cat. Old Un's dental work on Porta... and Porta's revenge.
24. The Proud Fate
The chaplain. 27th Regiment bombed by Stukas. Attack on women soldiers. Retreat. More about the chaplain and his fate at the hands of Sven and Porta.
25. The Armoured Train
Looking after recruits. Allocation to armoured train. Sven's nurse friend Asta. Armoured train action.
Armoured car action. Sven and Stege wounded. Journey on hospital train. Time in hospital.
27. Wishing You A Long Illness
December 1943. Margaret and Barbara the nurses. Death of Stege - two versions of his death given by the Old Un. Sven leaves hospital to return to unit.
28. The War Continues According To Plan
Sven returns to unit which is in bad shape. Sven has to describe his stay in hospital (and the nurses) in great detail to the others. Very depressing chapter!!
29. Soviet Propaganda At The Front
Christmas 1943. Russian propaganda and its effects. Film shown in the trenches of food and women. Russian pranks (returning p.o.w.s etc). Story of Russian women's regiment. Von Barring takes to drink.
30. Retreat From Kiev
Conflict between Wehrmacht and SS. Front line fighting as infantry. Sven attacks tanks. Graphic description of front-line action. Fetching food through artillery bombardment. Fighting underground in tunnels. Death of Pluto. Covering retreat. Booby traps in trenches.
31. 'There's A Man Lying Out On The Wire'
Death of Porta. Sven ends up back in hospital. Short mention of Sven's involvement in the plot against Hitler. Meeting with mad Alpine Obergefreiter. April 1944.
32. Company Commander
Death of Barbara. Sven reaches rank of Oberleutnant. Old Un's death and burial. Roll-call of dead friends (including the missing Fleischmann!!)
33. Von Barring
Von Barring's madness. Sven's pact with Hinka.
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Selected quotes from The Legion Of The Damned