Comrades of WarChapter by chapter - Book covers - Other languages - Quotes
Introduction to Comrades of War
Wonderful novel and a great English translation by Sverre Lyngstad who took on the job as practice for more respectable projects. He was very surprised to find, years later, that his English translation was in its 19th reprint!
Third in the series (along with The Legion Of The Damned and Wheels Of Terror) of truly realistic and gruesome Sven Hassel war books. There are a large number of novels around which were written by German veterans, but I've not yet come across any that catch the atmosphere of life under the Nazis in quite the way that Comrades Of War does. There is little fighting action for the first twelve or thirteen chapters, but the violence and oppression are there from the first nasty journey on the hospital train. Porta is also missing for most of the book which maybe gives us a fresher view of some of the other characters.
The classic chapters here are probably 'The Jew' (which Lyngstad said, "made chills run down my spine and my hair stand on end. I thought, am I ready to steep myself in this filth?") and the next chapter, 'Revenge'. Some serious tension in there. We also get to meet Aunt Dora, Pretty Paul Bielert, Lt Ohlsen and a few other regular characters.
Comrades of War chapter by chapter:
1. Auxiliary Field Hospital Train 877 East
Various chatter amongst wounded (including Tiny, Sven and the Legionnaire) on hospital train. Tiny makes plans for his stay in hospital - "His eyes shone with expectant rapture. It would be the first time in his life he'd ever been in hospital, and he imagined it as a sort of brothel with a quite extensive service for clients." The Legionnaire tells the story of his mistress in Casablanca. The train is attacked by Jabos. Talk about food. More chatter amongst the wounded. Sven thinks he has gangrene.
2. Death's Depot
Story of Chaplain von Zlavik. Time in field hospital at Cracow. Operation on Sven. Mention of Ursula (see Legion of the Damned).
3. Dictator Tiny
Army hospital in Hamburg. Tribute to Doctor Mahler. George Freytag's famous fever. Talk of recent murders of girls in Hamburg. Mouritz the religious fanatic. Tiny's references to Biblical history! First mention of Sister Emma "The Battleship". Bust up between Tiny and Emma. Tiny starts demanding beer and generally causing trouble.
4. Aunt Dora
First mention of Aunt Dora and her love of money and her pimp Ewald. Wind Force 11 is behind the central station in Hamburg. "The best way to keep your friends is to know something about them." Legionnaire starts baiting two 'respectable' women customers. Tiny 'dances' with them. Story of patrol and Tiny's skills with a knife. Story of Ewald the Pimp.
5. The Jew
Sven spends time with Gisela (one of the women the Legionnaire was baiting in Aunt Dora's). Comparison between sex and mountain climbing (see The Legion Of The Damned!!) Sven tells the story of hunting partisans in the Czech mountains. Section stops at a cabin. They bury an old man they find dead in his bed. Heide hears noises and everyone hunts around (this doesn't follow Heide's personality as introduced in Wheels Of Terror…but never mind, the new Heide is much better entertainment). Jewish KZ prisoner emerges. Heide taunts him. The Jew tells his story. Porta plays his flute and there is mad dancing. Comparison of penal systems in Russia and Germany, SS and NKVD. All present talk about their time in prison. Old Man talks about the time he tried to hang himself. Tiny and Heide have one of their famous boxing matches. Visit next morning from an SS unit. Old Man's section sent away. SS men catch the Jew and kill him. Legionnaire swears revenge. Classic SH chapter.
Waiting in ambush for SS company. Old Man tries to persuade them against taking revenge. SS reprisals start. The Legionnaire takes command. Ex-SS man in section lets slip that he was once a KZ guard. Description of various KZ practices. Revenge taken. End of story with Gisela.
7. Tiny Gets Engaged
Description of brothel. Ward inspection by Doctor Mahler and Matron. Matron has to give Tiny an enema. Strange love affair starts between Tiny and Matron. Description of Tiny's odd behaviour while in love. The happy couple then have a bust up. Terrible consequences. Story of Tiny knocking over the cleaning lady's bucket. Adventures at the whorehouse. Bust up with head-hunters. Description of head-hunter set-up and Hans Braun. Tiny is picked up. Rescue by Matron and her friends. Revenge by Tiny and the Legionnaire on Braun.
8. "Wind Force 11"
Introduction to 'Pretty Paul'. Legionnaire talks about his plans for after the war. Various events during an air raid. Rape by U-boat sailor. Schupo visit. SS patrol visit. Aunt Dora deals with them with the help of Pretty Paul (top value episode). Reference to Judge Heinrich Weslar ("still alive, in case anyone wants to pay him a visit"). A few gruesome tales of the Nazi system.
9. Bombs In The Night
Air raid on Hamburg. Tiny and friends help to clear up. They start adding names to their list for dealing with after the war. Talk about hospital (and reference to its location in Hamburg) and hospital staff and their fate after the war. This is Hamburg in 1944. Gambling in hospital basement. Tiny has a bet on whether a dog can eat a human appendix which is lying in an operating bowl. Story of Emil the artilleryman who can eat anything. Duel of strength between Tiny and Emil. Another air raid. Hamburg's serial killer strikes again. Pretty Paul takes over the investigation. Paul's adventures in a luxury underground restaurant. Continuing story of the serial killer.
10. The Sex Killer
Discovery of evidence in George's rucksack. Attempts at bringing 'justice'. Excellent scenes of the dilemma of how to deal with George the murderer. Visit from the Kripo.
11. The Leave Train
End of stay in hospital. Aunt Dora and the Legionnaire and Tiny and Matron say their farewells. Dora tries to get the Legionnaire to desert but he won't have any of it. Various farewells and incidents. Ewald the pimp is drafted. Talk of schemes to get out of frontline fighting. East Prussian soldier imitates Hitler. Tiny collects cigarette butts to re-use. Tiny talks about his childhood in reform school and his eight brothers and sisters (this becomes eleven in Assignment Gestapo) and his drunken father.
12. The Roller Conveyor
Description of supply lines. Tiny goes looting. Various incidents on the roller conveyor (the mad colonel who shoots himself, the driver on his way to Cologne). Attack by 'Rattas' Russian planes. First mention of Lieutenant Ohlsen. Talk about volunteers from Axis countries. Tiny mistakes a group of Red Cross nurses for a travelling brothel !! Raid by headhunters. Criticism of God. Everybody taken into custody as traitors or deserters! Executions take place (including Ewald and the Cologne truck driver). Last minute reprieve for our heroes.
13. Back At The Front
Reporting back for duty. Bust up with First Sergeant Barth. Tiny acts the idiot to wind-up 'Iron Herbert' Barth. Back to the front line and Joseph Porta. Old Man explains the death of Müller. Ohlsen takes over from Harder who has been killed. Mission behind Russian lines to pick up prisoners for interrogation. Tiny gets upset when he gets the blame for not capturing any prisoners. He runs off to the Russian trenches. More bust-ups with Heide. Letters arrive, including one for Tiny who has a rather emotional reaction.
14. Behind Enemy Lines
Preparation for patrol behind Russian lines. Discovery of T34s. Tanks start up and move towards German lines. Frantic race back.
15. The Partisans
Survivors try to make their way back to safety (an S.H. trademark). Porta and Tiny find stores (including a cat). Careful division of supplies by Tiny and Lt Ohlsen. March through forest and swamp. Discovery of Ivans with a truck. Mad drive through forest. Story of Russian girl held prisoner by partisans. Tiny finds the girl and reacts in typical fashion. Girl, Maria, wants revenge against partisans. More talk of what will happen after the war. Porta explains his plans to open a brothel. Meeting with MPs (who are deserters). MPs 'escape' and are found hanged in the forest. Tense moments with the Old Man (who knows what has really happened). Death of Maria.
Ohlsen goes on leave for the first time in three years. Goes to Berlin. Finds his house boarded up but wife and child safe at her father's house. Bust-up with his wife, Inge. His son, Gunni, has been sent to a Nazi home. Ohlsen visits the Nazi camp but can't see his son.
17. An Evening Party At The SS
Ohlsen goes to an SS party at Wannsee. Lots of nasty characters in attendance. Description of huge feast. Ohlsen baits the SS by calling them the 'arsch arsch'. Lots of drunken debauchery. Mysterious suicide of SS Major.
18. A Casual Affair
Ohlsen almost goes to the Gestapo. First mention of Barcelona Blom. Ohlsen walks in the rain thinking of old comrades. He meets a woman whose sweetheart was at the front. Seduction scene. Back to the leave train. Scams to get extra leave.
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Comrades of War in other languages
Selected quotes from Comrades of War
"When I say, 'Fetch beer!' you'll put your pennies together and pick up beer for Tiny. If I only get enough beer I'll be silky as a kitten. But if I'm out of beer" - he made a long pause and looked around him ominously - "may God Almighty have mercy on you!"
"The best way to keep your friends is to know something about them."
"After the war, I'll show you Lili's Saloon, the best birdcage in all Hamburg. One of the girls can do everything - just like a fakir girl. She's said to have studied whoring at the Punjab pagoda in Raipur."
This thump was very important. It showed you were on easy terms with the bottle. You shouldn't just set down a bottle, as a housewife does after she's poured out a few drops of vinegar on the headcheese. You plunk down the bottle, as if saying: "Look, that's where you stand, Comrade Green! Damn it all, you and I can boast of a few things neither God nor the devil knows." A servant girl places a bottle. The snotnoses who want to show off pound the bottle on the table, whereas men from the port and the front, from the large trucks and the factories, put the bottle down with precisely this thump, which signifies that they come from the shipyard with its plates and steel. These are the sort who grin at what others gape at, and the bottle says, "Hello, you old sot!"
"Hello girls, here I am again. Hot as hell. My balls are boiling. I love you. Let's get something to drink in a hurry, and then we'll go to the bunks according to good custom when decent people meet."
"His eyes shone with expectant rapture. It would be the first time in his life he'd ever been in hospital, and he imagined it as a sort of brothel with a quite extensive service for clients."