Sven Hassel is a Danish author of war novels.
His novels describe the Second World War from the perspective of
penal soldiers, who (being expendable) always receive the most dangerous
assignments. Consequently, the books are extremely anti-war, violent and
hopeless. Having sold over 50 million copies worldwide, he's been called the
world's most popular war pulp writer.
Hassel writes fast-paced, grisly battle scenes that read like Hollywood,
what with all the blood, explosions and dismembered body parts. Between
assaults, he narrates the boredom and anguish of life in a war zone, often
digressing (sometimes at tedious length) into stories told by the troops or their
exploits on leave.
Usually, he manages to avoid boring the reader, and something in his style
makes one smile every now and then. (At least in the well-translated
Finnish — I haven't read them in other languages.) tWD says the English translations are "REALLY hit and miss" and recommends I. O'Hanlon's translations, published in Corgi paperback - "feels Danish, feels Forties, feels reasonably authentic."
Hassel was born as Sven Pedersen in Denmark in 1917 and moved to Germany to seek
employment at 17. Out of desperation, he enlisted in the Wehrmacht
in 1937. After participating in the invasion of Poland as a tank driver, he
deserted, but was caught and convicted. For the rest of the war, he served his
sentence in the 27th Panzer regiment, a disciplinary unit composed of
convicts (petty criminals, court-martialed soldiers and political
and was wounded seven times.
After the war, he was held as a prisoner of war by the Soviets until 1949,
beginning to write in the POW camp. When released, he was about to join the
French Foreign Legion, but instead got hitched with someone named Dorthe
Jensen, who convinced him to try out a literary career.
His first war novel appeared in 1953.
Or maybe none of that is true. One Danish journalist looked into "Hassel's"
past, and claims he
- never served in the Wehrmacht
- had his first novel ghostwritten and
- employed his wife to write the other 13.
Either this journalist is nuts, or "Hassel" is a fake — who cares?
Hassel is the narrator of the stories, with Joseph Porta (con artist,
storyteller and mess sergeant extraordinaire) and his sidekick "Tiny" (who
is everything but) taking up most of the spotlight.
The Legion of the Damned
(De Fordømtes Legion
The first Sven Hassel novel is very different from the others. It
covers a much longer span of time (from Hassel's desertion trial early in
the war to its end). In this novel, the atmosphere is darker and less humorous, like a gruesome All
Quiet on the Western Front. There's more angst and oppression and
less combat than in the sequels - in fact, I tend to think Hassel has
only written two books - one real war novel and a flimsy but enjoyable
action & adventure story set in WWII, extended over thirteen volumes with
little variation besides altering the locale.
Wheels of Terror (Døden på larvefødder, 1958) - the 1987 movie "The Misfit Brigade" is based
on this novel.
Comrades of War (Frontkammerater, 1960)
March Battalion (Marchbataillon, 1962)
Assignment Gestapo (Gestapo, 1963)
Monte Cassino, aka The Beast Regiment (Monte Cassino, 1965)
Liquidate Paris (Likvidér Paris!, 1967)
SS-General (SS-Generalen, 1969)
Reign of Hell (Kommando Reichsführer Himmler, 1971)
The Bloody Road to Death (Jeg så dem dø, 1973)
Blitzfreeze (Glemt af Gud, 1976)
Court Martial (Krigsret, 1978)
OGPU Prison (GPU-Fængslet, 1981)
The Commissar (Kommissæren, 1984)
Finnish translations of the 14 novels by Renne Nikupaavola