Charles Whiting was one of the leading figures of the British paperback industry and its 1970s boom in novels drenched in violence and sex. His best-known books were published under the name Leo Kessler and featured the Assault Regiment Wotan, Hitler’s hand-picked SS battle group, described by Kessler as “the elite unit of the German Wehrmacht, to be thrown into any battle as a last desperate measure to redress the balance”.
The stars of the books were savage teenage veterans whose sole loyalties were to their comrades, commander and weapons. They fought ferociously against overwhelming odds for a cause already long lost, and the action was graphic and violent.
The Wotan series helped launch Futura Books in 1974, and Whiting’s books sold 2 million copies in 10 years. The series was picked up by Century for publication in hardcover in the mid-1980s and, later still, continued by Severn House, to give more than 40 titles in that series alone.
Whiting, however, created many others: the Black Cossacks, the Sea Wolves, Submarine, Stormtroop, SS Stuka Squadron, Punishment Battalion 333 – each series covering a new aspect of the second world war, with heroes (and anti-heroes) among the foot soldiers rather than the top brass.
Whiting’s 70 odd non-fiction books covered individual battles, German espionage, war leaders – particularly General George Patton and SS Colonel Jochen Peiper – and the war on the home front. He also wrote studies of Audie Murphy (American Hero: The Life and Death of Audie Murphy, 2000) and Ernest Hemingway (Papa Goes to War, 1990), a demolition job on the writer’s war record.
Born in York, Whiting was the son of a fitter, and educated at Nunthorpe grammar school. In 1943, he lied about his age (he was 16) in order to volunteer for service. With the 52nd Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment he saw action in Belgium, Holland and Germany, rising to the rank of sergeant. Demobbed in 1947 and married in 1948, he briefly attended Cologne University, then Leeds (1949-53) and Saarbrücken (1955-56).
Whiting wrote his first novel, The Frat Wagon (1953), while still at Leeds, and followed it with Lest I Fall (1956), which won the Sir George Dowty award at the Cheltenham literature festival. After two further novels, he put his literary career on hold, working in a variety of fields in Britain, the US and Germany. He taught at Maryland and Bradford universities before returning to Germany with a post at Trier in 1958. He also lectured at Saarbrücken and Bielefeld before returning to Britain in 1973.
During this time, he had been a German correspondent for Education Forum and the Times Literary Supplement. In 1967, he began producing a number of non-fiction books for New York publisher Ian Ballantine and, even at the height of his output of novels, still found time to pen non-fiction titles.
Once back in England, Whiting proved to be phenomenally prolific, his first seven books appearing in six months, including the first two titles featuring the SS Battalion Wotan. Over the next 33 years, he produced 165 novels, using the additional pen names Richard Douglas, Duncan Harding, Ian Harding, John Kerrigan, Klaus Konrad, KN Kostov and Duncan Stirling. Cumulative sales of his books reached more than 3 million copies in the UK alone.
– Charles Henry Whiting, writer and historian, born December 18 1926; died July 24 2007