Sven Hassel: A Retrospect

Sven Hassel, who died aged 95 in 2012, was one of Britain’s biggest-selling war authors, penning fourteen novels which sold over 53 million copies worldwide, 15 million of which were in the UK alone. Hassel’s novels tell a story of a number of soldiers (the author, who served as a Danish auxiliary in the Wehrmacht, being one of them) in the German army of the Second World War, fighting in a penal regiment in many theatres of battle from Italy to Russia. Hassel’s style is blunt and unornamented, with a great deal of crude humour and plenty of techincal data. The first of his novels, Legion of the Damned, was published in 1953, and the entire series were pulp staples of many a teenage boy in the 70s and 80s. His novels have been translated into 25 languages, and an unsuccessful film of his novel Wheels of Terror was made in 1987.

During his life, however, Hassel proved to be an enormously controversial figure. Despite his assertions that his novels were more or less true to history, it has been frequently pointed out that he could not have been in more than one place at the same time, as many of the time periods in his novels overlap. The most scandalous allegations, though, came from fellow Danish author Erik Haaest, who stated that not only was Hassel a member of the Danish Nazi party but that almost all of his stories were taken from Danish Waffen-SS veterans after the war. Haaest was later discredited after he was accused of denying the Holocaust and when similar allegations were made about Hassel’s war years on Danish radio, the author provided documents which later led to a retraction.

Hassel’s wife Dorthe died in 2003 and he left behind a son and a granddaughter.