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On the Devil’s Tail: In Combat With the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1945, and With the French in Indochina 1951–54, by Paul Martelli with Vittorino dal Cengio, Helion & Co., Solihull, United Kingdom, 2015, $49.95

The wartime memoir On the Devil’s Tail was written by Paul Martelli with Vittorino dal Cengio, but the relationship between the two remains unclear and the narrative ends abruptly in what must have been 1955, without any comment or reflection. Exacerbating the tale’s opacity is the widespread use of pseudonyms and the absence of numerous dates, locations and units.

Martelli was (or perhaps is) a French citizen born in 1929 to an Italian father and German mother, and the tale charts 12 years of his life, beginning with his work for the engineering group Organisation Todt. He joined the Waffen-SS in 1944 and fought with the reserve battalion of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne in Pomerania during the final two months of the war. His brief service was followed by three years spent either in prison or on the run from authorities until his conscription into the French army for a year of garrison duty in Tunisia. He re-enlisted at age 22 and was posted to French Indochina as a corporal in 1952–54.

Only three of the seven chapters of this book will be of interest to military historians. Although presented entirely from Martelli’s point of view, the descriptions of the World War II Battles of Körlin and Kolberg and the human-wave assault at Zouk To, French Indochina, are rich, visceral and authentic. The title recalls George Robert Elford’s Devil’s Guard, the fictional neo-Nazi memoir of Indochina published in 1971. Martelli is equally as unpleasant and reluctant to provide verifiable details as Elford’s narrator but has much less combat experience about which to boast.

Rafe McGregor