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Wheels Of Terror

Chapter by chapter - Book covers - Other languages - Quotes

Introduction to Wheels Of Terror

Wheels Of Terror is surely the classic war novel. It has that explosive beginning during a heavy Allied bombing raid and the clean-up duties afterwards - the huge stone jugs of alcohol spirit around the graves to keep the burial squads drunk.

The basis of the Sven Hassel style is all here, more so than in The Legion Of The Damned, and we get to meet Tiny and the Little Legionnaire. All the trademarks are used - brothels, firing squads, tanks, gambling, drinking, retreating.

And don't forget Porta's wonderful recipe for Mashed Potatoes with Diced Pork.

Wheels Of Terror was made into a film in 1988. It is also the only Sven Hassel novel with a confirmed German translation (Austrian edition 'Die Galgen-Vogel' literally 'The Gallows Birds'). Here's some information from Terry (who owns it - lucky bastard!):-

'There's a funky photo of the author on the back of the dustjacket in which he looks very beatnik - a rather simian beard, close cropped black hair, wearing a pair of Wayfarers. It was published in '65. I guess the big teaser on the cover of the English copy of Wheels of Terror: "The book no German publisher dared print" is still accurate in that this was published in Austria. There is a dedication: "Dieses Buch ist den drei grossten Galgenvolgeln des 27. Panzerregiments, Joseph Porta, Gorilla, und dem Legionar, gewidmet", basically "This book is dedicated to the greatest Galgenvogeln (I guess "gallows-birds" is accurate) of the 27th Panzer Regiment...."

One must assume that Tiny here is Gorilla. Interestingly, a list of the titles under which the book has been published gives "Wheels of Terror" as the American title and "Paladin and Panzer" as the English title. Perhaps somewhere out there is a copy of "Paladin"! So far I can't find a translator credited. Presumably Sven would have pretty much mastered the German language during years in the Wehrmacht, so theoretically he could have done the job. Somehow, though, I doubt it. Who would want to rewrite one's own book in another language? There is a forward from the man himself - I don't think it contains any startling revelations, but it is interesting in that it is the first time I've seen any such 'words from the author' in a Sven Hassel book - besides the text itself, of course. There's not much room for all that in a paperback.

The essence of the forward is: 'two decades have passed since the end of WWII. I lived through the terror of this war.' He goes on to recount how the disappointing economic situation in Denmark led him to seek work in Germany, and then to join the Army, which seemed terrific at first, but then the war came. (I believe it's in "Liquidate Paris" that he tells this bit of personal history). He says 'I became a Fahnenjunker, later a Panzeroffizier, and saw Germany as my Fatherland. But as I came to know more, I saw that our Idealism was misused and we had been cheated, deceived and betrayed'.

He also says 'people ask me whether I could write on any Theme other that the war, and I tell them that I could, but I don't want to. I see it as my task to describe to another generation a life of only unemployment, war, and hunger.'

Wheels Of Terror chapter by chapter:

1. Nox Diaboli
Air raid. Porta drives the section in to town to help clear up. Bombed children's home. Phosphorus bombs and effects. Porta and Bauer deal with a Party member.

2. Furioso
Descriptions of Pluto, Bauer, Beier, Porta, Stege, Möller and Sven. Clear up squads. Incident with looters. Description of burial duty. Porta and Lieutenant Harder have a fight.

3. A Shot In The Night
Lieutenant-Colonel Weisshagen. Description of Sennelager. Pluto and Sven on guard duty (the film uses Porta instead of Pluto). Feldwebel Paust starts hassling in the canteen. Reading porn mags in the guard room. Guard commander Reinhardt tries to make deals with Pluto. Pluto and Sven make the rounds. Description of guard duty. Description of von Weisshagen. The famous confrontation with the Colonel. Pluto takes over as Guard Commander. Porta returns to the barracks after an evening out.

4. State Murder
Collection of prisoners for excecution. Description of guard room. Journey back to Sennelager with two prisoners (an old NCO and a Blitzmädel). Routine of execution/firing squad. Frayed nerves and lost tempers.

5. Porta As Pope
Gambling, drinking, chatting. Porta relates the tale of his time as padre for the Russians. Mahogany trees. More philosophy from Sven about war.

6. Tiny And The Legionnaire
Working at the tank factory. Pluto's pub crawl. Penal battalion philosophy. Porta's chat-up technique. First mentions of Tiny and the Legionnaire. They trade insults (excellent stuff from the Legionnaire). Fight between Tiny and the Legionnaire. Tiny is not in the penal regiment at this stage.

7. Love Scene
Sven meets Ilse. More stories of Sven's ability with the ladies.

8. Return To The Eastern Front
Return to front line positions in the Ukraine. Captain von Barring meets the company as they arrive. Explanation of why they are back at the front (Tiny, the Legionnaire, Porta's raping activity, Pluto's tank driving escapade). March up to the front line with Tiny complaining and von Barring putting him down. Tiny confronts Pluto. Nasty bust-up with Porta and the Old Un. Gambling in dug-out. Song about girl who is made love to electrically in a factory!!

9. At 11.30am The Germans Will Be Blown Sky High
Legionnaire, Sven and Porta are sent out to listen to the Russians. Tap into Russian phone wires. Ready for attack. Trench fighting.

10. The Field Brothel
Porta arranges a game of "Arse Slap". Lots of attacks on Tiny (still hated at this time). Bauer finds out about field brothel - excellent comments from Porta!! Legionnaire decides to tag along to study for his dream of opening a whore-box in Morocco. Tiny is also invited along. Porta studies porn mags on the way to the brothel. Official procedures for entering brothel. Porta has 2 quarts of vodka with him (for disinfectant!) Tiny goes wild!! Lots of fun. MPs turn up and try to throw everyone out. Tiny remains behind to fight alone. He is finally overcome but doesn't give away the names of his companions. He is finally accepted by 5 Company.

11. Close Combat In Tanks
(This chapter has appeared in a recent anthology of war stories.) Fighting in tanks. Trying to identify sounds of tanks (arguement between Porta and Pluto). Ivan attacks. Pluto, Porta, Tiny, Sven and the Old Un are apparently in a Tiger. Old Un gets a head wound so Tiny takes over command of tank!! Stalin the cat is on board too. Tank is hit and abandoned. Section attack tanks on foot using magnetic mines. Chaotic battle of Cherkassy.

12. Knives, Bayonets and Spades
Winter. Talk about new recruits. Talk of being taken prisoner and sent to Kolyma. Attempt to break out of the trap (Cherkassy). Close combat attack on village. Tiny uses Cossack sabre.

13. Cherkassy
Wounds, winter cold, close combat at Novo-Buda. Porta has his flame-thrower and sniper's rifle. Porta, Pluto and the Legionnaire spend time sniping at Russians ("Thirty-seven Hell travellers!") Pluto ignores surrendering Russians and shoots them down. Attrocities.

14. Rest Camp
Conversation about what will a happen after the war. Talk of Morroccan tarts, Old Un gives long talk about war. We hear about Pluto's lucky bullet from France. Description of waiting. More philosophising about war.

15. The Sneaking Death
Officer baiting (Lt Weber). Close combat. Talk about shooting prisoners. German prisoners tortured by Russians. Tiny is described as "Tiny from Bremen" (though he regularly describes his childhood in Hamburg in the rest of the books). Revenge by No1 Section. Commissar taken prisoner and turns out to be of German origin. He is given the treatment by Porta, Tiny and the Legionnaire. More winter fighting. Religious Möller killed. T34s attack. Pluto has one ear torn off.

16. Mashed Potatoes With Diced Pork
Patrol in forest. Porta gives his recipe for Pork and Mash. Read this chapter here.

17. Leave In Berlin
More about Sven's experience with the ladies (the Jewish girl Helena Strasser in this case). Sven's eventual return journey from Berlin to the front. Meeting with the completely mad MT officer at Nogilev. Sven describes his leave to the section.

18. The Partisan
First mention of Julius Heide (as hated orderly room sergeant who has condemned a drunken Russian farmer by putting in report that he is a dangerous partisan). Farmer's daughter comes to ask after him. Talk of trying to rescue the farmer. Old Un explains reasons why this is a bad idea. Heide turns up in the canteen (with a "Nagan machine-pistol"?) He is dealt with by Porta, Tiny etc.

19. Tiny Receives Absolution
Porta starts discussion about "life-lines" and Tiny becomes very interested. Heide and a couple of others plan to kill Porta and his friends. Porta hears about the plan and deals with it. Tiny gets back to the subject of his life-line. The Legionnaire explains about Allah's Garden. Tiny receives his punishment for past sins. Ivan attacks. More issues with SS man and Heide. Pluto, Sven and Heide patrol through forest. Heide runs away and is accused of cowardice by Pluto. Long escape through swamp. Encounter with NKVD. Prisoners released. Porta tries the uniform on. Tiny does a dance with two nagaikas. Crossing back to German lines. Porta falls out with a Sergeant-Major from among the freed prisoners. He is dealt with.

20. What Do You Want To Eat?
Resting behind the lines. Tiny checks Pluto's life-line and finds it to be even shorter than his own. Section told they can have whatever they want to eat and place their orders. Peters tells his tale. Porta has a go at priests. Talk of settling accounts after the war. Pluto is killed.

21. Childbirth
Section issued with Tiger tanks. Preparation for battle. Tiny has a fight with a Pioneer sergeant. Description of readying tanks. Tank battle (Peters loses both legs). Porta's tank driving skills!! Retreat with various adventures. Abandon tank, new tanks, more battles. Surrounded by Ivan infantry who don't realise that these are German tanks (a variation of this scene is included in the film). More battles. Retreat through columns of refugees. Attack by Jabos using napalm. Porta, Tiny and Legionnaire play dice. Discovery of woman in labour. Old Un takes control. Labour and delivery (very entertaining). Continued retreat in tank.

22. The Refugees
Further retreat. Discovery of Luftwaffe personnel who refuse to move on. Legionnaire takes action. Refugees climb up on the tank and won't get off... even to pass through a narrow tunnel. Old Un refuses to give orders and Porta takes over. Signs of headhunter activity (hangings/executions). Encounter with Gendarmes. Various adventures. Entrenchment with infantry (section still in tanks). Russian attack.

23. Long Live Death
Tiny finds a bowler hat. In trenches. Slanging matches with Russians. Visit from Corps commander to front line. Inspection. Billet in abandoned villas. Tiny discovers "a couple of tarts". Sven catches a lung wound. Flight.

Wheels Of Terror book covers

(Click links to view)
English cover for Wheels Of Terror (Corgi)
American cover for Wheels Of Terror (Bantam)
Finnish cover for Kuolema telaketjuilla
French cover for Les Panzers De La Mort
Spanish cover for Los Panzers de la Muerte (Paza & Janés Editores, S.A.)
English cover for Wheels Of Terror
French cover for Les Panzers de la Mort
American cover for Wheels Of Terror
English cover for Wheels Of Terror
Dutch cover for Pantsers des doods
Italian cover for Germania kaputt

Wheels Of Terror in other languages

Danish:Døden på LarvefødderFrench:Les panzers de la mort
Finnish:Kuolema telaketjuillaNorwegian:Døden på larveføtter
Swedish:Döden på larvfötterDutch:Pantsers des doods
Spanish:Los Panzers de la MuerteRomanian:Blindatele mortii
Italian:Germania kaputtGerman:Die Galgen-Vogel

Selected quotes from Wheels Of Terror

" the sacred, knobbly mace of Saint Elizabeth!" (and many more similar lines)

Unteroffizier Gerner:
"You all resemble pimps born of syphilitic harlots and delivered with forceps."

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