Friday, 22 March 2013

The Eyes of the Division - Helmut Gunther

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Canadian Army Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: The Eyes of the Division

Author: Helmut Gunther
Publisher: J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc (
ISBN: 1-927332-00-9
Pages: 252
Photographs: 68 b/w and 11 maps
          Helmut Gunther became a Untersturmfuhrer  (Second Lieutenant) in the Recce Bn of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division in 1944 following his recovery from wounds received during operations on the Eastern Front. His book commences with his unit being stationed in Vire, France on the 6th June and the commencement of the invasion of Normandy. The memoire traces the units operations as it engages British and American forces across the breadth of France to the region of Metz where he is once again wounded and hospitalized until the end of the war. What follows is an account of the treatment that German POWs received from the victorious Allies as each side struggles to come to grips with the challenges of postwar Germany.

This narrative focuses exclusively at the tactical level. Gunther relates his and his comrades experiences from the perspective of the small unit. One clearly begins to see the confusion relating to an army engaged in continuous defensive operations. He relates the frustrations and challenges through a lens of cynical humour and resignation universal to soldiers everywhere. One of the real strengths of this book is that the reader begins to appreciate the German soldier as a human being suffering the same fatigue, fear and uncertainties as soldiers anywhere. Additionally, I was also struck by the resilience in adversity and the maintenance of professionalism even as the front collapsed.

Gunther relates a number of anecdotes throughout the book that provide insight into the morale, resilience and dedication of the German soldier. Stories such as some of the ‘snatch and grab’ missions, leaving a unit calling card on the doorway of US Regimental HQ during a deep recce operation and utilizing ‘unorthodox’ means to acquire logistics support from the German system all provide depth to the narrative. His comments and observations relating to the incarceration of the German soldiers following the cessation of hostilities are very enlightening and concerning. Additionally, the demobilization documents provided by the author are interesting in that he is precluded from any professional employment due to his being a member of a Waffen-SS unit. He relates that this, in fact, was never an issue when it came to post war work.

The writing style of the author is somewhat choppy and broken. He is not a professional author. He provides personally produced local maps that provide some assistance in tracking the unit location. It is, at times, difficult to follow the narrative as he is relating his stories from snippets of diary correspondence that he kept throughout the war. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. It was refreshingly candid and free from heavy moralizing one way or the other. It is the recollections of a soldier of his experiences and those of his immediate peers and the methods by which they coped under conditions that would challenge the strongest of characters.

JJFPub has a tradition of quality books and this product is no exception. Once again they have provided an outstanding source for the military historian looking for the ‘human’ experience.

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