25 November 2020

The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South 1944

The retreat across the Ukraine and Romania in 1944 by the crumbling Wehrmacht is not a topic which has been covered extensively in English language books. There are certainly titles which cover specific  battles, such as the Cherkassy-Korsun Pocket, but Pritt Buttar has taken on the challenge of telling the story of the final push by the Red Army to expel German forces from her soil. 

The explaining the actions of opposing forces across the vast expanse of the Eastern Front is not an easy task, but The Reckoning strikes a good balance - utilising first hand accounts from both sides to illustrate the detailed descriptions of the defensive and offensive actions across the Ukraine and Romania. While the first hand accounts add a great deal, and are often translations from German or Russian sources, it is also clear that memoirs of the Eastern Front are not as prolific as those of the Western Allies, and as such there are sections which rely more on descriptions of unit movements interspersed without a personal touch. But this is a minor issue, as Buttar has created another great book which fills a gap in the history of the Eastern Front. 

The book is a hefty 496 pages and has limited illustrations, but each chapter features numerous maps which help to tell the story. The chapter notes are extensive and the bibliogrpahy stretches to five pages, which tells you everything you need to know about the depth of research that has gone into this book. 

Table of contents:

  1. The Protagonists
  2. The Kirovograd Encirclement 
  3. Watutin and the Cherkassy-Korsun Encirclement
  4. Another Stalingrad
  5. Mud, Snow and Hill 239
  6. Kamanets-Podolski: The Encirclement of First Panzer Army
  7. Malinovsky's Offensive
  8. The Wandering Pocket
  9. The Crimean Peninsula
  10. The End of the Leash
  11. Preparing for Summer
  12. The Lviv-Sandomierz Operation
  13. The Disintegrating Axis
  14. The Approaching Endgame

Many thanks to Osprey for the review copy.

Available from:
Osprey Publishing

22 October 2020

I Somehow Survived - Eyewitness Accounts from WWII

I Somehow Survived is apparently going to be the first of a series of books by Klaus G. F├Ârg, a German author who has been collecting oral histories of men and women who lived through the war and who now reside in Bavaria. This is notable as there are a very limited number of books which cover oral histories of German veterans in English, as most books are memoirs of German veterans dedicated to one individual and their experiences alone. 

I Somehow Survived contains the stories of four men and one women who experienced the war in various ways. The majority of the book recounts the story of Georg Weiss who provides a detailed account of his experiences on the Eastern Front, including anti-partisan operations and the chaotic retreat in 1944. Sepp Heinrichsberger's story includes a shockingly honest admission to participating in the Vercors massacre in France in 1944. There are two other stories which recount experiences in Italy - one with the Herman Goring Division. And lastly, there is the story of Morlid Nirschl, a Norwegian lady who married a member of the German Kriegsmarine while her mother was in a Norwegian concentration camp for political activity and her father was in hiding from the Gestapo. "I have no objection to your marrying him,” her father told her, “I just want them to give us our country back."

Some of these stories are relatively short, and the narratives in some cases are unpolished, lack comprehensive detail and may be inaccurate in specifics, however that is inevitable as the interviewees are all now well into their 90s. These imperfections reflect the oral history nature of the content which by its very nature reflects the personal experiences of individuals. Everyone's experiences differ - and that is why a book like this is important - to provide another perspective. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to find out more about the German experience of the war, and I look forward to the rest of the series. 

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy. 

Available from:
Pen & Sword

21 September 2020

Allied Prisoners of War in China

Allied Prisoners of War in China tells the story of the men who were incarcerated at the Mukden POW camp in northeast China, which was designated for prisoners with special technical skills and high-ranking officers. 

They included troops from British and Dutch territories and Australia, but the majority were Americans who had been captured in the Philippines and taken part in the infamous Bataan Death March.

Based on extensive field research and interviews with former POWs, Yang Jing’s harrowing account of life in the Mukden camp provides detailed evidence of the crimes perpetrated by the Japanese during the Second World War, as well as a Chinese perspective on a fascinating period of history. 

Compared to the volume of work considering the imprisonment of POWs in Thailand and Burma during WW2, the camp at Mukden is little known. However, Yang Jing comprehensively details the experiences of the men held captive in the extreme coniditions of northeast China until 1945. Drawing on research from personal interviews and material in English and Chinese, this is a fascinating insight into the experiences of Allied POWs in China. 

Table of contents:

To Live or Die
The Death March
Hell Ships
The Bell Tolls at Mukden
Free Labour
A Deadly Prison Break
Secret Friendships
Resistance
The Angry Bull
A Secret Contest
The Wind Changes
Bloody Mukden
A Gathering of Generals
Liberation
The Final Stop
The Search for Sergeant Lynch
The Post-War Trials

About the Author:
In 1993, Yang Jing received an enquiry from a survivor of the Mukden POW camp. He felt compelled to tell the story of the camp and began his research, which has continued for more than 20 years and become internationally recognised. In 2003, Yang’s Mukden Nirvana was the first book about the Mukden POW camp to be published in China. He is currently director of the Mukden Allied POW Camp Research Institute at Shenyang University.

Thanks to Alain Charles Asia Publishing for the review copy

Available from:
ACA Publishing
Amazon

25 August 2020

Night of the Bayonets - The Texel Uprising and Hitler's Revenge, April–May 1945

In the final days of World War II in Europe, Georgians serving in the Wehrmacht on Texel island off the Dutch coast rose up and slaughtered their German masters. Hitler ordered the island to be retaken and fighting continued for weeks, well after the war's end.

The uprising had it origins in the bloody history of Georgia in the twentieth century, a history that saw the country move from German occupation, to three short years of independence, to Soviet rule after it was conquered by the Red Army in 1921. A bloody rebellion against the Soviets took place in 1924, but it remained under Russian Soviet rule. Thousands of Georgians served in the Soviet forces during World War II and among those who were captured, given the choice of “starve or fight”, some took up the German offer to don Wehrmacht uniforms.

The loyalty of the Georgians was always in doubt, as Hitler himself suspected, and once deployed to the Netherlands, the Georgian soldiers made contact with the local Communist resistance. When the opportunity arose, the Georgians took the decision to rise up and slaughter the Germans, seizing control of the island. In just a few hours, they massacred some 400 German officers using knives and bayonets to avoid raising the alarm. An enraged Hitler learned about the mutiny and ordered the Germans to fight back, showing no mercy to either the Georgians or the Dutch civilians who hid them. It was not until 20 May, 12 days after the war had ended, that Canadian forces landed on the island and finally put an end to the slaughter.

This is the first comprehensive look in English about this little known incident. The complex relationships between the Germans, Georgians and local Dutch inhabitants - including those associated with the Communist party, makes for fascinating reading. The section which relates to the post war commemoration, and how this has changed over time adds considerably to our understanding of the mutiny, and how it has been portreyed, in the Netherlands and notably in Georgia itself. 

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy. 

Available from:
Pen & Sword

17 August 2020

Lucky Me - A Memoir of HMS Bicester in the Second World War

Lucky Me is the memoir of Leonard R. Barton, who served on HMS Bicester throughout the Second World War. HMS Bicester was a Hunt Class Escort Destroyer, which participated in a number of notable actions in the Mediterranean during the war, all of which are detailed in this very well written recollection. 

I found that the details provided really helped to build a picture of the experiences of a Royal Navy sailor in the Med, including the constant attacks from the Luftwaffe and Italian airforce, losses of colleagues during attacks, visits to the ports in North Africa and Gibraltar, and later operations such as the landings in Sicilly and Italy. One extremely important chapter covers in great detail the explosion in Bari harbour in 1943, and the subsequent aftermath that crewmen suffered due to exposure from mustard gas. 

The chapter titles give a good idea of the content, and I would highly recommend a copy of this book to anyone with an interest of firsthand accounts of the naval war in the Med. 

Contents:

  • Lucky Me
  • HMS Pembroke, Chatham
  • After Pedestal
  • Operation Torch
  • Back in the Med
  • Back Home
  • Bari - The Second Pearl Harbour
  • The Unseen Enemy
  • After Bari
  • At Bombay

Available from:
Unfortunately I cannot find the publisher details online, so I assume the book is now out of print. Copies may be available on Amazon.

21 July 2020

An American Uprising in Second World War England - Mutiny in the Dutchy

On the evening of Sunday 26th September 1943, the market town of Launceston in Cornwall, England was rocked by the sound of gunfire. The violence that flared was not due to enemy action, but was actually due to an incident between men serving with the US Army. The episode was considered mutinous and soon came to trial, arousing questions over the Anglo-American relations, and drawing attention to the strained relations amongst the men of segregated US Army of the time. For the two groups who came into conflict that night were members of a white US Military Police detachment and men of the black 581st Ordnance Ammunition Company.

For a brief period, national newspapers in both the UK and USA featured headlines on the supposed 'mutiny', much to the displeasure of the US Army, who wanted to downplay the events, and particularly draw attention away from the focus on their segregated Army. Soon the story was inevitably replaced by the news of D Day and the invasion of France, and the incident was forgotten.

Only a few local people in Launceston recalled the events, and the event slipped into obscurity.  
However, Kate Werran grew up with stories of the incident, and was spurred on to find out the truth. She has gone to great lengths to investigate what happened that night, using details from wartime cabinet documents, secret government surveys, opinion polls, diaries, letters and newspapers as well as personal accounts from the few who recall what happened. The three day trial of the fourteen GIs accused of mutiny is described in great detail, including the discrepancies in statements and dubious questioning of witnesses, and this combined provides a fascinating book which sheds new light onto this little known aspect of the Second World War.

While Kate Werran has done a highly commendable job of bringing this story to a wider audience, this was sadly not an isolated incident. Therefore the true extent of conflict within the US Army during the Second World War is a story that still needs to be told.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for the review copy.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

1 June 2020

Dunkirk Evacuation Operation Dynamo - Nine Days That Saved An Army

A timely new title from Frontline Books series 'Images of War', Dunkirk Evacuation Operation Dynamo is a detailed  collection of photographs compiled by John Grehan and Alexander Nicoll.

Understandably, the number of photos taken by British and French servicemen during the evacuation are limited - as they had other things to preoccupy themselves with. However, the triumphant German troops spent considerable time, and camera film, documenting the destruction and detritus of war left by the retreating troops. Many of the images in the book come from this source. The authors have done a good job of explaining the locations of the photos, names of the wrecked ships that failed to return to England, and the context of the period.

In addition, there are photos from British sources, including a number of images taken by Sub-Lieutenant John Rutherford Crosby, a member of the crew of the minesweeper, and converted Clyde paddle steamer, HMS Oriole. Some of his photos are well known - such as those showing lines of men waiting for rescue from the beaches - others less so, but rarely are they credited to him, and all were taken with his own personal little camera.

While some photos in this book will be familiar and often used, many will have been seldom seen, and this book provides a very good visual representation of the evacuation of Dunkirk and the surrounding area.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy.

Available from:
Pen & Sword