15 May 2017

Blood in the Forest - The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket

Blood in the Forest tells the brutal story of the forgotten battles of the final months of the Second World War. While the eyes of the world were on Hitler's bunker, more than half a million men fought six cataclysmic battles along a front line of fields and forests in Western Latvia known as the Courland Pocket. Just an hour from the capital Riga, German forces bolstered by Latvian Legionnaires were cut off and trapped with their backs to the Baltic. The only way out was by sea: the only chance of survival to hold back the Red Army. Forced into uniform by Nazi and Soviet occupiers, Latvian fought Latvian - sometimes brother against brother. Hundreds of thousands of men died for little territorial gain in unimaginable slaughter. When the Germans capitulated, thousands of Latvians continued a war against Soviet rule from the forests for years afterwards.

An award-winning documentary journalist, the author travels through the modern landscape gathering eye-witness accounts from seventy years before piecing together for the first time in English the stories of those who survived. He meets veterans who fought in the Latvian Legion, former partisans and a refugee who fled the Soviet advance to later become President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, A survivor of the little-known concentration camp at Popervale and founder of Riga's Jewish Museum, Margers Vestermanis has never spoken about his personal experiences. Here he gives details of the SS new world order planned in Kurzeme, his escape from a death march and subsequent survival in the forests with a Soviet partisan group - and a German deserter.

With eyewitness accounts, detailed maps and expert contributions alongside rare newspaper archive, photographs from private collections and extracts from diaries translated into English from Latvian, German and Russian, the author assembles a ghastly picture of death and desperation in a tough, uncomfortable story of a nation both gripped by war and at war with itself.

This book provides a fascinating perspective on the little known battles of the Courland Pocket. The author's skilled use of interviews combined with his personal travelogue makes it one of the best books I have read in a number of years, as it successfully brings the long lasting impact of war on the Latvian people into stark focus. I look forward to reading more titles from Vincent Hunt in the future.

Author's website - www.vincenthunt.co.uk/author.html

Available from:
Casemate

12 May 2017

Dartmoor Air Crashes - Aircraft Lost in World War Two

This is a book about the consequences of the air war over Devon. Describing Dartmoor as the last wilderness in southern England, it gives details about the aircraft that crashed there during World War Two. What is surprising is the total comes to more than forty. Illustrated with photographs, it has accounts of more than two dozen accidents involving the aircraft that came down on the slopes of Dartmoor. Despite involving British, American and German forces, all cases are treated in the same ‘matter of fact’ manner. Although it was a time of war, only a few of the crashes came about because of enemy action, but with many it seems the weather played a large part.

The first chapter, ‘The Day the Battle of Britain came to Tavistock’, tells how in 1940 a top secret installation at the village of Wotter led to a German bomber being forced to crash land at Tavistock. The following chapters deal with a variety of aircraft that came to grief on the moor during the war; from one of the oldest fighters then in the RAF, a Gloster Gladiator biplane, to the loss of two of the very latest twin engine Westland Whirlwinds that crashed ‘somewhere near Princetown’. There is an account of what caused a high flying German reconnaissance plane to come swooping down to earth at Scorriton. But one of the saddest tales is about a Liberator bomber of Coastal Command returning from a long patrol over the Bay of Biscay. There is a full explanation as to why it should have come down in a field by Plasterdown as the crew struggled to make an emergency landing.

Undoubtedly some of the stories are tragic, but they are nonetheless fascinating. They show how fate can play a part in the outcome – sometimes for the better, but not always. There are tales of amazing escapes, like the one about the crew of an American Flying Fortress returning heavily damaged from a bombing raid on Lorient. Then there is the piece about what happened to Basil Browne, a nineteen year old RAF sergeant and how he happened to be on an American weather plane that crashed above Bridestowe on Christmas Day 1943. There is also an epic account of how the quarrymen at Meldon ventured out in appalling weather to look for the crew of a Wellington bomber that had crashed ‘somewhere up on the high moor’.

There is a whole chapter devoted to Harrowbeer, the only operational air station on Dartmoor. Built early in the war, the airfield was home to a number of fighter squadrons. There are details about the aircraft and pilots who came down on the moor whilst flying from the airfield. It concludes with an explanation as to why the President of the United States should have paid a flying visit to Yelverton.

At the end of the book there is a list of the casualties. Some of them survived to fly again, but sadly many did not. What is amazing were their ages, the oldest was only 27. They came from all walks of life and from all over the globe. The majority of RAF crews were volunteers coming from as far away as New Zealand and Canada.

Available from:
Amazon

7 March 2017

Survivors of Stalingrad - Eyewitness Accounts from the Sixth Army 1942-43

In November 1942 – in a devastating counter-attack from outside the city – Soviet forces smashed the German siege and encircled Stalingrad, trapping some 290,000 soldiers of the 6th Army inside. For almost three months, during the harshest part of the Russian winter, the German troops endured atrocious conditions. Freezing cold and reliant on dwindling food supplies from Luftwaffe air drops, thousands died from starvation, frostbite or infection if not from the fighting itself.

This important work reconstructs the grim fate of the 6th Army in full for the first time by examining the little-known story of the field hospitals and central dressing stations. Reinhold Busch trawled through hundreds of previously unpublished reports, interviews, diaries and newspaper accounts to reveal the experiences of soldiers of all ranks, from simple soldiers to generals.

The book includes first-hand accounts of soldiers who were wounded or fell ill and were flown out of the encirclement; as well as those who fought to the bitter end and were taken prisoner by the Soviets. They reflect on the severity of the fighting, and reveal the slowly ebbing hopes for survival. Together they provide an illuminating and tragic portrait of the appalling events at Stalingrad.

Highly recommended for the depth and range of first hand accounts it includes, this title was originally published in German in 2012 as Der Untergang der 6. Armee

Available from:
Pen & Sword
 

28 February 2017

The Battle for Heraklion - Crete 1941 - The Campaign Revealed Through Axis and Allied Accounts

Crete, 20 May 1941: the first campaign-sized airborne assault is launched. Many books have been written about this famous invasion, with the emphasis mainly on the battles for Maleme and Chania.

The Battle for Heraklion - an epic struggle - remained largely forgotten and widely unstudied. Yet the desperate fight for Heraklion had everything: street-fighting in the town; heroic attacks against well-fortified positions and medieval walls; heavy losses on all sides; and tragic stories involving famous German aristocratic families like the von Blüchers and members of the Bismarck family.

This book highlights personal stories and accounts - and the author’s access to records from all three sides allowed accounts to be placed in their correct place and time. Finally, the history of the battle is written with the added perspective of extensive Greek accounts and sources. In contrast, earlier books were based solely on British and German sources - totally ignoring the Greek side. Many of these accounts are from people who were fighting directly against each other - and some reveal what the enemies were discussing and thinking while they were shooting at or attacking each other. Some accounts are so accurate and detailed that we can even identify who killed whom. In addition, long-lost stories behind both well known and previously unpublished pictures are revealed.

For the first time, 75 year-old mysteries are solved: what were the names of the paratroopers in the planes seen crashing in famous pictures? What was the fate of soldiers seen in pictures taken just before the battle? The author has studied the battlefield in every detail - thus giving the reader the opportunity to understand actions and incidents by examining what happened on the actual field of battle. For example, how was it possible for a whole platoon to be trapped and annihilated, as in the fate of Wolfgang Graf von Blücher? Such a question is not easily answered even by people with a military background. How was it possible for the paratroopers to fail in their attempt to occupy the town?

The answers to questions like these became very clear when the author walked through the battlefields - following the accounts of the people from all sides who had fought there and which describe the same incidents. The author’s extensive research is vividly presented via detailed maps and photographs, both from the era of the battle and today; even battlefield archaeology plays a role in revealing what really happened on the battlefield. The author’s approach addresses two different types of readers: those who are largely unfamiliar with the battle - hence the emphasis on personal stories, accounts and pictures - and the researcher who wants a reliable source of first-hand material and perhaps a different point of view, such as is offered by Greek accounts and sources (and by the writer’s detailed analysis of the battle).

This fresh account of one of the Second World War’s most memorable battles is given added authority by the writer’s military background, together with his deep knowledge of the battlefield and his access to Greek accounts and sources.

Available from:
Casemate
 

1 February 2017

Churchill's Last Wartime Secret - The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed from History

It's been a State secret for more than 70 years: The official line in the UK has always been that it never happened - but this new work challenges the assertion that no German force set foot on British soil during World War Two (the Channel Islands excepted), on active military service.

Churchill's Last Wartime Secret reveals the remarkable story of a mid-war seaborne enemy raid on an Isle of Wight radar station. It describes the purpose and scope of the attack, the composition of the raiding German force and how it was immediately, and understandably, 'hushed-up' by Winston Churchill's wartime administration, in order to safeguard public morale. Circumventing the almost complete lack of official British archival documentation, the author relies on compelling and previously undisclosed first-hand evidence from Germany to underpin the book's narrative and claims; thus distinguishing it from other tales of rumoured seaborne enemy assaults on British soil during the 1939-45 conflict. After examining the outcome and repercussions of this astonishing incident, what emerges is an event of major symbolic significance in the annals of wartime history.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about this book online - personally, I am still not convinced by the argument put forward by the author, but I suggest that if it sounds interesting to you, then you should make up your own mind!

Available from:
Pen & Sword

8 December 2016

Returning WW2 photos to families - can you help?

This is a slightly different post than normal, as it isn't about a book. But I do need some help!

Last year I purchased a group of photos from an auction site. They were all photos of men who served in the Second World War, labelled with their names. This is very unusual, as most photos I've purchased from flea markets and auctions don't have a name, so I was pleased to obtain these as I thought I'd be able to do some research on them.

Once I received them, I started examining them. It became clear to me that they had been labelled together, presumably for an exhibition. It also became clear that these photos should have been returned to their owners once the exhibition was completed, and that didn't happen.

So, I thought that I'd try and return them.

I deduced that the photos all seemed to be from the same area - Fleetwood in Lancashire, England. I did some searches of the names and did find a couple of leads, including a dramatic story relating to one of them men. I sent a few emails to contacts I found. I didn't get any replies.

So I tried another approach, and posted to a couple of Forums - WW2 Talk and Rootschat. From these posts, things started to progress. I was contacted by Diane Everett, an ex-resident of Fleetwood who now lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Diane is a member of the Fleetwoods Past Facebook group, and she posted a request to that group. This elicited a number of responses, and three photos were returned to family members.

At the same time I contacted Fleetwood Weekly News. They kindly put out two stories, which resulted in a number of responses and four more photographs were claimed by families.

An exciting response was received from David Swarbrick. One of the photos was of his father, Fred, and he was still alive. Living in Fleetwood, Mr Swarbrick served with the Army in India during the war. The Fleetwood paper later did a feature which included a photo of Mr Swarbrick with the returned photograph, which was fantastic.

Fred Swarbrick with the returned photo of himself taken during the Second World War, Fleetwood 2015
(photo courtesy of David Swarbrick)

Thanks to a recent post by Diane to Fleetwoods Past, I've recently been able to return another photo to the son of Stephen Ligo. His father served in the Army during the war, and was posted to Egypt at the end of the conflict.

In total, 8 photos have been returned to the families of the men. I would like to particularly thank Diane who has been instrumental in returning many of the photos so far.

So why am I posting this now? 

Because I still have 15 photos which are waiting for family members to claim them, and I am running out of leads. If anyone recognises any of the following men, please do get in contact. I would be very happy to reunite these with the families of the men - and perhaps even return them to the men in the photo themselves.

*** Update 12th January 2017 ***

The photo of Alan Hardern has now been returned to his family!


*** Update 16th February 2017 ***

The photo of Frank Fielding has now now been returned to his family!
 
******************************




Here are the photos. If any additional information is known about the men I have include it below. 

Bill Parkinson - RAF Dental Corps

Gordon Ward - Army

Charles Thompson - Army
1925 - 2013


Ralph Leadbetter - Army

Alan Hardern - Parachute Regiment

RETURNED TO FAMILY
January 2017

Bill Hudson - Duke of Lancaster's Regiment

Cedric Spivey - Royal Engineers

Cyril Paley - RAF
1915-2011
Shot down and escaped from Switzerland

Frank Fielding - Royal Artillery

RETURNED TO FAMILY

January 2017

Harold Colley - RAF

John Dickinson,
C Troop - 350/137th Field Regiment,

Royal Artillery

Leonard Moon - Merchant Navy

Richard Snape - RAF

Teddy Dickson - Royal Artillery

Ronald Stansfield - Army


If anyone recognises these men as family members, or can provide any information, please either contact me or leave a comment below - thank you!


Thanks to:
Diane Everett
Peter Moran
Fleetwood Weekly News / Blackpool Gazette
David Swarbrick and all the Families who have been in contact
WW2talk
Rootschat
Fleetwoods Past

6 December 2016

Sketches of a Black Cat

Howard Miner never expected to contract the first documented case of the mumps in Guadalcanal history.

As a Navy Black Cat, he took his share of chances during the ten-hour, night long flights in darkened PBYs painted entirely black, searching the seas for enemy ships and downed fliers ~ the original stealth aircrafts. But wartime was unpredictable, and whether landing on an exotic tropical isle where the women he saw from the air turned out to be topless, or dropping wing tanks containing a strange new substance called “Napalm,” this was clearly a very different world than he had known as a college student in Indiana.

Sketches of a Black Cat follows Ron Milner's father’s journey through Corpus Christie and San Diego training facilities to the Solomon Islands for two tours of duty as a seaplane pilot in the South Pacific. Through his eyes, artwork, and first hand accounts, we are treated to a behind the scenes look at the idiosyncrasies of the military ~ the humor, the friendships made, the cultures discovered, and the very real dangers that characterized life during our struggle in the war with Japan.

The Black Cat Squadrons flew at night without lights in lumbering PBY Catalinas. The Cats operated out of the limelight as well, lacking the notoriety and glamour of the Navy’s fighters and bombers. These amphibious planes were used for most anything the Navy could dream up for them, from patrol and torpedo bombing to rescue and attack plane escort. PBYs played crucial roles in many pivotal moments during the war including the Battle of Midway and the search for the Bismark. They could also be found packed stem to stern with cases of beer, sometimes with a piano under one wing and a refrigerator under the other. Their missions were long, frequently 10-12 hours, and time between missions provided an opportunity for rest, Navy mischief, and in Howard Milner’s case, sketching.

Ron first saw his father's artwork as a young boy. One day his father casually slipped open a file cabinet, withdrew an old tattered folder, and pulled from it wonderful sketches and watercolors of planes, soldiers, and jungles ~ exciting images for a kid. After Howard Milners death a few years ago, his family were going through his things and discovered not only his artwork, but many boxes of writing, photographs, first hand accounts, and memorabilia, much of it almost seventy years old and virtually unknown to the family.

Sketches of a Black Cat is a unique portrayal of the War, using the collection of artwork, photos, and other materials to handsomely complement the storyline. It is at heart, a memoir ~ casual, first person, and more like a novel than historical text. Ron Milner's father’s story digs into the details and the life and times of the Cats.

Hear Ron Miner discuss the life and experiences of his father Howard Miner, a Black Cat during WWII:



Available from:
Amazon