[Picture of Sven Hassel]I have not thought about Sven Hassel for years — probably since the early to mid 1970s if I’m honest. Yet he popped up in a conversation I was having recently with a client at lunch.

He’d also read Sven Hassel books way back then.

We were talking about language, and I said the only reason I knew how to swear in Russian was because of a book I’d read when I was a boy — and he asked if it was Sven Hassel.  I was amazed; who’s ever heard of Sven Hassel?

It made me think though, that Sven’s books were pretty significant in my development.  Let me try to explain.

Sven wrote his books in the first person. A narrative style. They were about the Second World War, but they were from the German / Losing side. Now that’s a twist.

Just how much of a twist can only be understood once you realise that for anyone growing up in the 1960s, there was a lot of TV shows and films about WWII — often John Wayne stuff.  Hollywood or at least very American-centric.  It used to drive my father nuts:

“You’d think they’d won the war all by themselves!” he would roar at the screen.

There were TV shows like “The World at War” running every week, and boys read “Commando” comics and had “Action man” soldier figures. We watched “Hogan’s Heroes“,  “The Great Escape“, “Where Eagles Dare“, “Colditz“, “Dad’s Army” and later “‘Allo, ‘Allo“. Every November, we bought poppies from men outside The British Legion.

When I think about it now, the war was only 15 or so years before I was born, so it was all still fresh, and of course, the Americans were still at it with Vietnam — which meant we were still getting war films and TV shows, such as “M*A*S*H“. Vietnam was what linked WW2 with the cold war to my mind.

On top of all that is the fact that I grew up in an extremely Jewish neighbourhood. Can you imagine? Goodness me, I knew so many people who refused to buy BASF cassette tapes because BASF made the Zyklon-B gas that killed millions of Jews in the NAZI extermination camps.

The ONLY thing in memory that was not from the Allied perspective was Sven Hassel.  And you know, when I think about it, I have no idea how his stuff was allowed to be translated into English, published and printed in paperbacks for schoolboys to buy with pocket-money from local newsagent shops (such as John Menzies).

Not only were the characters fighting against the Allies (Britain, Russian, USA, France etc), but they were criminals!  They were in a penal regiment — and it was pretty violent too.

I was a lad, so I understood the gang, the team mentality.  I loved “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Dirty Dozen“, so I understood and liked Sven’s crew — Tiny or Little John (a giant of a man), The Little Legionnaire — who always said things like  “Allah be Praised”.  He was ex-Foreign legion, a small but lethal wee man.  Porta was one of those amazing people who could always make money, always had a connection, knew people, could get things even though they were rationed or scarce. There was also a wise old fellow, “The Old Man“.

All through my life I have seen these characters; they are actually archetypes.  That is the truth in Sven Hassel, he describes real groups of men very well indeed.  The books hit the spot in that respect — these chaps were true and real, and the characters they encountered — as well as the situations and how they reacted to them — were believable, and tragically plausible.

[Picture of the book cover for Sven hassel's legion of the  damned]I think I read about ten of these books during the summer holidays, one after the other,  starting with Legion of the Damned.  It balanced out the war for me; from them I understood that war was bad, that these were guys just like the Brits on the telly or the Yanks in the movies. They were forced into killing other people who were just like them.

The things I can recall about them too was that it was the first time I had come across war stories about tanks, the first time I had encountered big long German words, such as Obergruppenfuehrer, and the first time I had read anything so graphically violent.

Sven Hassel was the Quentin Tarantino of his day.

I think that as a result of Sven Hassel books, I have forgiven the German people.  I also think I gained an insight into my father’s war; Sven’s stuff seemed much more authentic than the Hollywood stuff.  I learned that humour is necessary, and very close to tragedy, that people are levelled out in wartime — when wealth and cleverness mean nothing. And that when you might be dead tomorrow, you live more in the moment. I learned of the bonds between men that make the difference, and I learned that society’s laws, cultural differences, nationality, religion, morality and even army regulations are luxuries, and that sometimes pack society rules apply.

Oh, and I learned to swear in Russian.


4 Responses to “SVEN HASSEL”

  1. YDoUBlog? Says:

    Dear davedevine:

    My name is Leora Trub and I am a student in the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). I am conducting a study of the reasons that people blog and what benefits it brings, which at this point are still largely unexplored in research studies. I am therefore reaching out to you as a blogger who can help deepen our understanding of this phenomenon. I believe that your voice is an important one to be heard and hope you will enjoy participating in the study. I have developed an online questionnaire that asks about specific aspects of blogging as well as asking about feelings about yourself and others in your life. The survey is a mix of numerical scales and opportunities to reflect in an open-ended format about the role of blogging in your life, and how it has changed over time.

    You are eligible to participate if you are at least 21 years of age and have been maintaining an English-language personal blog for at least six months that you update or visit at least twice a week (on average). Your participation involves completing a confidential online questionnaire. The data will be downloaded onto a secure server to which only I have access. No identifying information, such as your names or address, will be collected. If you desire, you may choose not to share your blog name, in which case I will not access your blog for any reason after this point. If you do share your blog name, it will NOT be connected to your responses in the survey. Additionally, you will be given the opportunity to be identified by a code name in research reports and to have your blog description changed slightly so it cannot be identified.

    The survey takes approximately 45 minutes to complete and participation is completely voluntary. Three participants who complete the survey will be randomly selected by a lottery to receive a $75 cash prize.

    There are no foreseeable risks to participation in the study. Although some of the questions are personal in nature, participation in the study provides an opportunity to think about the role that your blog plays in your life.

    If you have any questions about this research, you can contact me at (732) 407-7928 or, or my advisors Dr. Arietta Slade at (212) 650-5658 or and Dr. Tracey Revenson at (212) 817-8709 or

    The study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Graduate School of the City University of New York and meets of their guidelines as well as all state and federal guidelines for research with human participants. If you have any concerns about the project at any time, you can contact Ms. Kay Powell, Institutional Review Board at the Graduate School of the City University of New York (212) 817-7525 or

    In order to participate in this study, I need to send you an invitation through survey monkey. If you are interested, please send an email to from the email address to which you would like the invitation sent. I hope that you will decide to participate and also that you will share it with others if you decide you would like to. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.


    Leora Trub, M.A.
    Doctoral student in Clinical Psychology
    Graduate School of the City University of New York
    365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4309

    • davedevine Says:

      @Leora Trub

      It only took a minute to google your name and I found out that you are seriously Jewish, and I can only conclude that the REAL reason you contacted me was because of this particular post.

      Well, the reason I blog is in the byline: I’m sharing things I like. My blogs are fun for me, they keep my wits and writing skills (such as they are) sharp, and offer my friends and family a slightly fuller picture of me than a formal CV or biography would provide.

      I also get a lot of comments and interaction that I really enjoy along with the fluctuations of the stats. All-in-all, its a great hobby that I would recommend to anyone.

  2. Mark Says:

    I know it’s a few years since you wrote this, but I’d just like to say what a great piece of writing this was. I too hadn’t thought about Sven Hassel for years (except for explaining why I knew how to swear in Russian!)

    The BBC news web site was just discussing the lack of age classifications for book purchases, and mentioned Hassel books as ones that maybe kids should be viewing – looks like neither of us thought that way in our youth!

  3. Leonard Oronsaye Says:

    Man! Is this real, people out there talking about Sven Hassel. Man I ‘m a 52 year old nigerian man and way back in the 70s as a teenager I read virtually all his books that hit the bøok shelf here in Nigeria then. Like you rightly said , we started reading books about the german version of the ww2 story. Man this is great. Is Sven Hassel still alive?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: