Albert Schwenn’s Memories of the Waffen-SS: An SS Cavalry Division Veteran Remembers
By Rolf Michaelis and Albert Schwenn
Hardcover, no dustjacket, 128 pages, illustrated
Publishered by Schiffer Military History May 2017
Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
Albert Schwenn was an 18-year-old recruit who joined the 8th SS Cavalry Division “Florian Geyer” in 1942. He was trained as a machine gunner and was deployed on anti-partisan duties in the Pripyat Marshes in the Ukraine. His division later engaged regular Soviet forced in the Kharkov area in 1943, where Schwenn was wounded. After his recovery he was assigned instructor duty in Warsaw, where he participated in the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the war he was imprisoned by the Soviets until 1955 for his part in the war crimes in the Pripyat Marshes.
Schwenn’s autobiographical account was originally four hundred pages of notes, which were condensed to seventy pages for this book. The text is divided into four sections – recruitment and training, action in the Ukraine and wounding at Kharkov, instructor duty and action at Warsaw, and imprisonment in Soviet Gulags after the war. There is a brief postscript, and then an additional forty pages detailing the history of the 8th SS Cavalry Division “Florian Geyer” during World War Two. The text is illustrated with personal photographs, maps, and copies of documents.
I have recently become interested in the employment of horse cavalry units in World War Two so this volume caught my eye. The cover photograph is not of Albert Schwenn but of his Regimental Commander, SS-Standartenführer Gustav Lombard. Schwenn generally describes his experiences in broad and often vague terms. The actions against regular Soviet forces around Kharkov – in which I was most interested – are brief and lacking in description and detail. The account is disjointed and confusing. While Schwenn was employed as a machine gunner in various capacities during this action, he appears to have wandered about the battlefield on foot, with no mention of the unit’s horses.
Overall I was a bit disappointed with this book. The Cavalry formations were unusual for the Second World War, and I was hoping for a discussion of what made these units unique – the horses and the advantages and disadvantages of using them in combat. There is very little of that. The descriptions of combat engagements are also brief and vague, often only a few lines which described the action in the broadest terms. This is not an immersive first-person account which puts the reader into the action, it reads as more of an outline waiting to be fleshed out.