19 October 2016

Sheldrake - Memories of a WWII Gunner

Richard Hughes was an artillery officer with the British Army in World War II. He was sent to Europe twice. The first assignment in 1940 was short lived, as he joined the hopelessly ill equipped and overwhelmed Allied forces in France. The superior German army pushed them back to the English Channel at Dunkirk, and Hughes was one of some 300,000 troops miraculously rescued from the beach by a flotilla of small boats.

In 1944 he returned to France as apart of the Allied invasion, this time as a Major commanding a battery of field guns with 497 Battery, 133 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. The contrast is apparent. Now they were a well equipped, superbly trained and coldly efficient force. Supporting the Monmouthshire Regiment as they advanced across North West Europe, Hughes was involved in numerous battles right through Europe to reach Hamburg, at the final surrender of Germany in May 1945.

He received a Military Cross and was Mentioned in Despatches during his service. The title 'Sheldrake' comes from the code word used by artillery officers when communicating via wireless.

Table of contents:

Part 1 - A Fortnight in France
Chapter 1 - The Beginning
Chapter 2 - A Fortnight in France
Chapter 3 - England - 1940-44

Part 2 - The Second Front
Chapter 4 - The Landings
Chapter 5 - Hill 112
Chapter 6 - Battle for Le Logis
Chapter 7 - The Incident on Hill 210
Chapter 8 - The Battle for Leffard
Chapter 9 - Necy - Tiger Corner
Chapter 10 - Sweep Through France
Chapter 11 - Belgium
Chapter 12 - Voorheide
Chapter 13 - The Battle for s'Hertogenbosch
Chapter 14 - Assault Crossing of the Wessem Canal
Chapter 15 - On the Maas
Chapter 16 - The Ardennes
Chapter 17 - 'Operation Vertiable' Reichswald Forest; Weeze
Chapter 18 - Crossing the Rhine
Chapter 19 - 'Operation Eclipse' Final Push Through Germany
Chapter 20 - Postscript

Appendix 1 - Military Cross and the King's Letter
Appendix 2 - Mention in Despatches
Appendix 3 -  497 Field Battery, Royal Artillery
Appendix 4 - 25 Pounder Field Gun

Available from:
Pen and Sword

Les Parisiennes - How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation

Paris in the 1940s was a place of fear, power, aggression, courage, deprivation, and secrets. During the occupation, the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower and danger lurked on every corner. While Parisian men were either fighting at the front or captured and forced to work in German factories, the women of Paris were left behind where they would come face to face with the German conquerors on a daily basis, as waitresses, shop assistants, or wives and mothers, increasingly desperate to find food to feed their families as hunger became part of everyday life. 

By looking at collaborators to resisters, actresses and prostitutes, as well as teachers and writers, including American women and Nazi wives, spies, mothers, mistresses, fashion and jewellery designers – Anne Sebba shows that women made life-and-death decisions every day, and, in an atmosphere where sex became currency, often did whatever they needed to survive. She considers the experiences of both native Parisian women and those living in Paris temporarily: American women and Nazi wives, spies, mothers, mistresses, and fashion and jewellery designers. Some like the heiress Béatrice Camondo or novelist Irène Némirovsky, converted to Catholicism; others like lesbian racing driver Violette Morris embraced the Nazi philosophy; only a handful, like Coco Chanel, retreated to the Ritz with a German lover.

Sebba also explores the aftershock of the Second World War in the postwar period. How did women who survived to see the Liberation of Paris come to terms with their actions and those of others? Les Parisiennes is the first in-depth account of the everyday lives of women and young girls in Paris  during the period of enemy occupation.

Read more about Anne Sebba.

Available from:
St Martin's Press

4 October 2016

The Liberation of Europe 1944-1945 - The Photographers who Captured History from D-Day to Berlin

The Second World War presented a huge range of challenges to press photography both in terms of its execution and getting the results in print. Life on the home front was the main subject until the invasion of France changed everything in 1944.

Photographers from The Times were part of a talented group who were there to capture the momentous events taking place from the moment the troops stepped ashore, as the Allies fought their way from the D-Day beaches all the way to Berlin. They captured thousands of images of the fighting and its aftermath: bombed-out towns, tanks and the inevitable human death toll, but also troops moving through a scarred landscape, the civilian population in joy and fear, and the daily activities of the soldiers themselves. They were on hand to witness the surrender of German commanders and some of their subsequent suicides, and also when King George VI made history as the first monarch since Henry V to confer knighthoods on the battlefield.

It is an extraordinary archive, yet very few of the images were published, either at the time or since. Mark Barnes, a librarian at The Times, has painstakingly reconstructed the archive over a period of many years, piecing together the journeys these pioneering photographers, masters of their craft, made across Europe.

The Liberation of Europe is a considerable volume, containing 400 images, many of which have been rarely seen, but the key strength is the work Mark Barnes has put in to ensure the captions are intelligent, accurate, and interesting - not an easy task when often the information was scant. This is an excellent addition to the photographic history of the Second World War, and if you have an interest in the NW Europe campaign of 1944-45, I would strongly recommend it.

Available from:

29 September 2016

Canada and the Liberation of the Netherlands, May 1945

Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 marked the beginning of five years of
terror for the Dutch people. They faced oppression and death with remarkable stoicism, but nothing could save them from the Hunger Winter of 1944-5, when more than 30,000 people died of starvation.

In this time of unimaginable despair, Canada came to the rescue, playing the largest role in liberating the Netherlands and ending the Nazi reign of terror. The Canadians gave the Dutch freedom - and food - and out of such dark times an eternal friendship was forged.

Told through interviews with Dutch survivors and Canadian veterans, Canada and the Liberation of the Netherlands, May 1945 delves into this little known chapter of history.

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 - Darkness
Chapter 2 - A Ray of Hope
Chapter 3 - Battle of the Scheldt - October 1 - November 8, 1944
Chapter 4 -  Winter on the Maas - November 9, 1944 - February 7, 1945
Chapter 5 - The Rhineland Campaign - February 8 - March 11, 1945
Chapter 6 - The Final Phase - March 12 - May 4, 1945
Chapter 7 - De Bevrijding - May 5, 1945
Chapter 8 - Between Friends

Available from:
Dundurn Books

30 August 2016

G.I. Limey - A Welsh American's Second World War

GI Limey is a rags to riches tale of triumph over adversary, a real-life Boy’s Own adventure, laced with friendships forged in the heat of battle that only a soldier can truly understand. It in no way glorifies war with its shockingly honest description of combat, at times brutal to read, you are left in no doubt how death and destruction can haunt a soldier for the rest of their life.
Born in 1923 Clifford Guard’s childhood, in the south Wales town of Swansea, was filled with struggle, hardship and heartbreak as the Great Depression began to bite. He sees death from the beginning, as his infant sister dies in the workhouse having contracted diphtheria, before his younger disabled brother is taken into care and his parents divorce. On leaving school at 14, barely able to read or write, he seeks a way out of the squalor through running away to sea.
His eyes are opened to the world as he visits far off places in Canada, Africa, South America and Australia. When war breaks out he participates in the perilous Atlantic convoys before leaving his ship in New York, on hearing of the blitzing of his home town, to take the shortest route closer to the action through joining the American Army. In basic training Limey, as Clifford becomes known to one and all, meets Henry ‘The Greek’ Kallas and Ralph ‘Trixie’ Trinkley; together they become a band of brothers watching each other’s back and sharing lighter moments through the course of the war together.
After landing on Omaha beach, following D Day, they spend the next eleven months at the forefront of some of most fearsome fighting of the war as the German Army is beaten back across northern Europe and into its Homeland. Gripping first hand accounts of disabling tanks, house to house fighting, civilian suicide, facing fire from fanatical Hitler Youths, every aspect of the death, destruction and slaughter of war is recalled, not least the shock of liberating a death camp and uncovering appalling crimes against humanity.
Following the joy of the German surrender, celebrated alongside Russian women tank drivers on the banks of the Elbe River, Limey shows his humanity by helping feed the starving villages while serving in the Army of Occupation.
Following his release he settles in the United States and chases the American Dream but is to be forever haunted by all the killing he had both witnessed and carried out. Determined to turn things around he goes back to school and becomes a psychologist in order to better understand what we now recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Having raised a family and enjoyed a successful career he retires back to his Swansea home. Last summer that one-time snotty-nosed kid, with a sock hanging out a hole in his shoe, was summoned to meet the Queen in Buckingham Palace to talk about his exploits.
Despite being 90-years-old Limey, who still has nightmares about the war, has one final mission… to share his story with the world in order to help ensure today’s servicemen and women are better supported following combat.
Available from: 

14 August 2016

The Noise of Battle - The British Army and the Last Breakthrough Battle West of the Rhine, February-March 1945

Half of the book is a detailed description, mainly told in the words of participants, of three battles fought over four days in the Rhineland south of Goch between 27 February and March 2 1945. The battles were between 3rd Division supported by 6 Guards Armoured Brigade, and 8. Fallschirmjäger Division. For the first time the combined actions of over 50,000 men during 96 hours have been analysed from the ground up in an unprecedented attempt to provide understanding of a significant military event. 3 Scots Guards said of Winnekendonk, "It is suggested that this will surely rank as one of the finest small scale tank/infantry battles ever executed and well worthy of more close study." The fighting was bloody and heroic, and some controversial aspects are explained for the first time.

The other half of the book is an analysis of the units and people involved in the two divisions and their supporting armour and aviation. An answer is provided as to why only two months before the end of hostilities, 21 Army Group could manage only quite slow and costly progress. The answer comes from the analysis, and is tested through comparison with the contemporary Canadian Operation Blockbuster, and with two battles in the Hitler Line. Evidence is provided that there is no truth to recent claims that Montgomery's generalship was efficient and saved lives. Instead, it is shown that the military hierarchy, including Churchill, ignored the all-arms operational methodology under unitary command which Sir John Monash had developed to bring victory in 1918. In the Second World War, by contrast, the Royal Armoured Corps and 2 TAF never integrated with the infantry and artillery, and were never suitably equipped, being bound to the cultic pursuit of mobility. General Elles required that the Infantry Tank be immune to all German anti-tank guns, and his Matilda II was a major reason for the deliverance from Dunkirk and for the success of Operation Compass in North Africa. Compared with the Hundred Days of 1918, the author suggests that the British Armed forces in 1945 were relatively less efficient in all respects except that of killing German civilians in area bombing. This book's fully documented and researched conclusions provide a new and controversial interpretation of 21 Army Group.

Available from:

9 August 2016

Retreat and Rearguard - Dunkirk 1940

The miraculous salvation of the vast majority of the beleaguered and out-manoeuvred British Expeditionary Force and a large number of French troops from northern France in late May and early June 1940 remains a source of fascination to laymen and military historians. An ideal subject for Jerry Murland's Retreat and Rearguard series, Dunkirk 1940 covers the dramatic actions during the desperate fighting withdrawal from the Dyle Line to the evacuation points of Dunkirk, Boulogne, Calais and Dieppe.

As well as drawing together several lesser known accounts describing the engagements at Cassel, Arras and the Bergues-Furnes Canal, the author has unearthed numerous previously unpublished sources describing the myriad of rearguard actions that the BEF undertook during their retreat to the Channel coast.

It is through these personal accounts of the fighting that the true nature of those dark days of 1940 are revealed. In relating those often heroic battles and tragedies such as the Le Paradis Massacre and the defence of St Venant, Retreat and Rearguard - Dunkirk 1940 catches the atmosphere of desperate defiance that typified this never-to-be-forgotten period.

Available from:
Pen and Sword