19 May 2019

Lake Ilmen 1942 - The Wehrmacht Front to the Red Army

In January 1942, south of Lake Ilmen, the 16th German Army clashed with the Morozov's 11th Soviet Army for possession of the strategic Russian city of Stelaia. In this battle, which has gone almost unnoticed in studies of the Eastern Front, the Blue Division (Spanish volunteers) intervened with the 250th Skier Company. The Spaniards, along with their German and Latvian comrades, endured hard fighting in extreme winter conditions. In addition to providing a strategic framework of the battle itself, including the Soviet perspective, this book also looks at the human aspect of the battle, by analysing a selection of the volunteers who fought in it.

This is an interesting book, although the subject area is not that clear from the title chosen, but the authors have created an insightful and comprehensive narrative about one specific action that the Spanish Blue Division participated in. One key point of the book are the biographies of men who were involved in this battle, and these sit well with extracts from personal accounts. The biographies include officers, and also ordinary soldiers. While the singular focus of the book is very precise, there are few English language accounts of the Blue Division's participation on the Eastern Front, so this book is worth obtaining if you want to read more about this aspect of World War Two.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

Rations and Rubble - Remembering Woolworths, The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944

For many people it seemed as though the war was all but over. Christmas was coming and there were saucepans for sale in Woolworths again. The New Cross lads had been swimming and were having their usual hot drink in the tea-bar. An ordinary Saturday lunch time turned in a split second into a living hell. A V2 rocket, forged in the German mountains with slave labour and fired under orders of vengeance, slashed through the sky faster than the speed of sound. A direct hit at the back of Woolworths killed 168 people, injuring hundreds more and spreading the rumour of death throughout South East London.

This booklet carries the stories of survivors, relatives of the victims and the defence workers who toiled for three days and nights to pull the community back from its disaster, saving lives where they could, preserving the little details which would aid identification and clearing the blood-soaked rubble.

Published in 1994 by the Deptford Local History group, this excellent book is made up of almost entirely first person accounts. Sadly, with the passing of time, many of the interviewees will have now passed on, but thankfully their recollections of the horrific loss of life on that November day in 1944 have been recorded for posterity in this book.

Available from:
I purchased my copy from a stall at Greenwich Vintage Market in London. It is out of print, but you may be able to obtain a copy from Amazon.

27 March 2019

War in the Islands: Undercover Operations in the Aegean, 1942-44

War in the Islands is a revealing anthology of true stories about a little-known episode of naval operations in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. As a young officer in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), the author (Adrian Seligman 1909-2003) formed and commanded a flotilla of caiques on undercover operations in the Greek islands between 1942-1944.

Mixed bags of volunteers drawn from all three services crewed there motorised caiques, which were commanded by young RNR officers. Their task was to carry Allied raiding parties and their supplies in and out of enemy held territory, in total secrecy and under cover of darkness - risky undertakings that required high levels of navigational and seamanship skills from the skippers.

This clandestine war is recounted by the author, 12 skippers of caiques, one of a motor launch and an RAF officer, who were actually involved in these operations. These men all served with the Levant Schooner Flotilla, the Greek Sacred Company and the Aegean Raiding Forces (SAS / SBS).

This book was published by Sutton Publishing (1997).

Available from:
Amazon.co.uk

The Grey Wolves of Eriboll

The surrender of the German U-boat fleet at the end of World War II was perhaps the principal event in the war’s endgame which signified to the British people that peace really had arrived.
This revised, updated and expanded new edition gives career details of not only the 33 commanders who accompanied their boats to Loch Eriboll but also of a further 23 previous commanders of those U-boats, including four who might be considered ‘Aces’ because of the damage they inflicted, sinking and disabling Allied shipping.

The book also features an analysis of the Allied naval operation under which the surrendering U-boats were assembled in Scotland and Northern Ireland; asks who first contacted those U-boats after the capitulation – armed British trawlers, frigates of the Allied navies or aircraft of the Royal Air Force; and discloses how U-boats spared destruction were distributed to the navies of the USA, France, USSR and the Royal Navy. Also revealed are more unpublished recollections of British and German naval personnel present at the Loch Eriboll surrenders and how 116 surviving U-boats came to be sunk in the waters of the Western Approaches in the winter of 1945/46.

The Grey Wolves of Eriboll includes a wealth of historical insights including the German Surrender Document; detailed descriptions of the construction, service careers and circumstances of each surrendered U-boat; details of the frigates that supervised the surrenders, contemporary newspaper reports and descriptions of the naval Operations Pledge, Commonwealth, Cabal, Thankful and Deadlight, each of which involved Eriboll U-boats. The mysteries surrounding Hitler’s yacht and the alleged ‘Norwegian Royal Yacht’ (which did not exist at the time) are also explored.

Available from:
Whittles Publishing

The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot's Kitbag

Reichsmarschall Goring told Hitler that it would take less than a month for his much-vaunted Luftwaffe to conquer the RAF and pave the way for the German invasion of Great Britain. His prediction was to prove disastrously wrong, but for four long months his pilots and aircrew fought for their lives in the skies above the UK. From their bases in continental Europe, the Luftwaffe s fighter pilots escorted the great bomber fleets that sought to destroy the RAF s airfields and installations, and tackled the Spitfires and Hurricanes deployed to defend Britain s towns and cities.

Whilst much has been written on the titanic struggle for supremacy fought throughout the summer of 1940 and of the men and machines of both sides, little attention has been paid to what the pilots wore and carried with them in the air.

All the objects that a Luftwaffe fighter pilot was issued with during the Battle of Britain are explored in this book in high-definition colour photographs, showing everything from the differing uniforms, to headgear, personal weapons, gloves, goggles, parachute packs and the essential life jacket. Each item is fully described and its purpose and use explained.

Congratulations to Mark Hillier - this is a great reference book. Showcasing items from personal collections, providing detailed information on the specific items worn, carried and used by Luftwaffe personnel during the summer of 1940 - the coverage is exhaustive and this should be on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in Luftwaffe uniforms and equipment. I hope that this type of book could be considered for other periods of the Second World War, as this could be a great series in the future.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

12 November 2018

Alarmstart East - The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945

Patrick Eriksson has been an associate member of the German Fighter Pilot Veteran's Association since 1974. This membership gave him the opportunity to record the experiences of members of the Luftwaffe first-hand, before it was too late. This volume, the second in the Alarmstart series, provides detailed coverage of the experience of Luftwaffe fighter pilots on the Eastern Front from 1941-45 in their own words.

The campaign in the East is broken down into sections (detailed below), which contain accounts of personal experiences, including opinions of Russian pilots, planes and tactics. The list of German veterans whose experiences are recounted stretches over three pages, and includes men who served in many different Jagdgeschwader. The extensive notes on each chapter, and the six pages of bibliography, websites and archive references are evidence of the research that has gone into this book. 

The author assumes a degree of knowledge of the Luftwaffe and their structure, and the lengthy chapter on the Victory Claims Debate might not be to everyone's interest, however if you have a passion for finding out more on the Luftwaffe experience on the Eastern Front - this book should definitely be worth considering. It also has some unique additional information which added another aspect to the coverage, such as details of the ships damaged by the Russian airforce in Libau harbour, during the evacuation of Kurland in December 1944.

Table of contents:
  • Training to be a Fighter Pilot
  • Character of the Russian War
  • Air War on an Epic Scale - Statistics
  • Operation Barbarossa and the Russian Winter Offensive (22 June 1941 - February 1942)
  • 1942: New Offensives by the Wehrmacht; Stalingrad
  • 1943: Year of Decision, the Tide Turns; Kuban and Kursk
  • Endless Retreats; the Bagration Debacle (January - August 1944)
  • Late 1944 - 1945: The End of the Campaign in the East
  • The Startkladde of 7/JG 51: Understanding German Fighter Tactics and High Claims in the East
  • The Victory Claims Debate
  • Conclusions 
Available from:
Amberley Publishing



10 November 2018

Panzers in the Defence of Festung Posen 1945

Panzers in Defence of Poznan 1945 by Maciej Karalus and Jarosław Jerzak is the first book published in English to describe the bitter battle for Festung Poznań in 1945. That Polish city, occupied by the Nazis since almost the very beginning of the Second World War in 1939, was declared a fortress (Festung) on January 20 1945, and for the whole month it saw heavy fighting between Wehrmacht and Waffen SS troops and the Red Army advancing directly towards Berlin.

Among the garrison of the fortress a special part was played by a small heavy Panzer unit which possessed just 1 Tiger tank, 2 Panthers, 1 Panzer IV and a handful of Sturmgeschütze. Despite the difficulty and sparsity of sources, the authors were able to acquire an impressive wealth of information and memoirs, as well as rich iconography.

Before Poland was able to regain her full political autonomy in 1990, the fighting in Poznań was described only by Zbigniew Szumowski and Stanisław Okęcki. These, however, were poor compilations, only marginally touching upon the participation of German Wehrmacht. These authors looked upon this subject through the lenses of Soviet documentations and historiographical propaganda of their times. Sadly, they could not or would not make use of the documents in German archives. Their cardinal mistake was to overestimate the strength of the forces at play (especially on the German side), and the glorification of the Soviet victory, foregoing an honest analysis of the losses of human life as well as equipment on both sides.

This is the first book in English that allows the reader to follow the street fighting in Poznań through the eyes of the Wehrmacht soldiers, documenting the story of the German armoured forces engaged in the battles for the city.

This is a well produced book,  with some interesting images (mostly after the battle photos) and includes footnotes and useful appendixes. The first hand accounts from German participants (including civilians) are of note, and are one of the highlights. But this is really a book for those with a specific interest in the battles of 1945 on the Eastern Front. The authors have thoroughly researched the actions of this battle, but this also limits the scope of the book to this specific action - which is perfect if you already understand the bigger picture, but rather restricted if you do not. The other slight shortcoming is the translation. The German accounts in particular suffer from translation from German to Polish, then to English and as a result are sometimes stilted and literal in the language used. But despite these small points, it is good to see books like this being made available to an English speaking audience and I hope to see more in the future.

Available from:
Casemate Publishing