3 May 2015

23 Days - A Memoir of 1939

23 Days are the wartime memoirs of Antoni Jozef (Joe) Podolski, written by him some 44 years after the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939.

It records his fight against the invading Russian Army, his subsequent capture, imprisonment and brutal interrogation before being sentenced to death and spending 23 days on death row in a prison in the town of Orsha, Russia.

A reprieve condemned him to the Vorkuta Gulag in the Arctic Ural Mountains. His subsequent escape to England via Finland is described followed by details of his return to Europe through Lithuania as a member of SOE. Finally a reunion with Polish Forces in the Middle East was made possible after the Nazi invasion of Russia caused the Soviets to become an uneasy ally of Poland.

He returned to England once more and became a fighter pilot with the Polish Air Force at the tail end of hostilities, all by the ripe old age of 22.

He died in Norfolk in 1999 aged 76.

Read more about Joe's experiences, including free extracts here

Available from:

30 April 2015

Stretchers Not Available - The Wartime Story of Dr Jim Rickett

Jim Rickett was a family doctor in 1940. He was called up in 1943 and was working in Italy in early 1944 when he received an urgent posting to join the commandos. They were working with the SOE (Special Operations Executive) on the island of Vis. Occupation of the island gave control of the Adriatic and Hitler's European supply lines.

His job was to set up a hospital to deal with the wounded brought back from raids on the nearby islands under enemy occupation. He had to get out there immediately and was told the supplies from Italy would be very difficult. There were no evacuation facilities. A German attack was imminent. The island was to be held at all costs. At the outset he had nothing. He had to set up a makeshift hospital from scratch. Initially he had to operate with a kerosene lamp for light. Later they managed to get wiring from a crashed Liberator plane and set up electricity using an old diesel generator. They bartered and stole to get the unit operational. A hospital clinic on the German occupied mainland was raided to acquire an X-ray machine.

 The story is modesty told at first hand and shows the incredible initiative and resilience of the team. When a heavy influx of casualties was expected from a commando raid, Jim Rickett wired to Italy for two hundred stretchers. The unhelpful reply came back “Stretchers not – repeat not – available. To what use would they be put?” Despite the setback, they managed to get a hospital facility running and operational by working continuously for days on end. The small unit became highly effective, provided some light-hearted moments, and became the social centre of the island.

What was family doctoring like prior to the NHS? Told as a first-hand account Jim Rickett’s diary builds a cameo picture of the community under the intense stress of the 1940/41 Blitz. His GP practice was near Portsmouth which was heavily bombed. Much of his work is now unthinkable. A caesarean operation had to be done on the dining-room table. The story tells vividly of the severe bombing at the time of the “Fire Blitz” on Portsmouth in January and in April 1941. This was one of the most severe raids of the blitz. It is an incredible archive of that time.

Available from:

4 February 2015

Coastal Command's Air War Against the German U-Boat - Images of War

This book is a new addition to the Images of War series, and summarizes the story of how RAF Coastal Command overcame the German U-boat danger during the Second World War. It explores how the escalation of the U-boat war promoted the development of anti-submarine warfare, leading to victory over this menace in the Atlantic.

At the start of the war, RAF Coastal Command had virtually no real chance of either finding or sinking Germany's submarines, but within a short period of time, new methods of detecting and delivering deadly ordnance with which to sink this underwater threat were dreamt up and implemented.

It took the men of Coastal Command long hours patrolling over an often hostile sea, in all types of weather, but their diligence, perseverance and dedication won through, saving countless lives of both merchant and navy seamen out in the cold wastes of the Atlantic and contributing much to the final victory over Nazi Germany.

As expected, the book is packed with photos of both Coastal Command, but also of their targets, the U-Boats of the Kriegsmarine. It is a good introduction to the experiences of Coastal Command during this period and it would be interesting to find out about the sources of the photos included (this isn't listed in the text).

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 - The Cinderella Service
Chapter 2 - No. 19 Group Over the Bay in 1942
Chapter 3 - No. 15 Group - and Iceland, 1942
Chapter 4 - Air Headquarters Gibraltar, 1939-42
Chapter 5 - No. 15 Group, 1943
Chapter 6 - Iceland, 1943
Chapter 7 - Conflict over the Bay, 1943
Chapter 8 -  D-Day and the Final Months

Available from:
Pen and Sword

Stout Hearts - The British and Canadians in Normandy 1944

Stout Hearts is a book which offers an entirely new perspective on the British Army in Normandy. This fresh study explores the anatomy of war through the Army's operations in the summer of 1944, informing and entertaining the general non-fiction reader as well as students of military history.

There have been so many books written on Normandy that the publication of another one might appear superfluous. However most books have focused on narrating the conduct of the battle, describing the factors that influenced its outcome, or debating the relative merits of the armies and their generals. What was missing from the existing body of work on Normandy specifically and the Second World War generally is a book that explains how an army actually operates in war and what it was like for those involved, Stout Hearts fills this gap.

Stout Hearts is essential reading for those who wish to understand the ‘mechanics’ of battle. How does an Army care for its wounded? How do combat engineers cross obstacles? How do tanks fight? How do Air and Naval Forces support the Army? But to understand what makes an Army ‘tick’ you must also understand its people. Therefore explanations of tactics and techniques are not only well illustrated with excellent photographs and high quality maps but also effectively combined with relevant accounts from the combatants themselves. These dramatic stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things are the strength of the book, bringing the campaign to life and entertaining the reader.

Ben Kite provides the reader with an excellent insight into the details of how each separate part of the British and Canadian Armies in Normandy worked. I have read many books on this campaign, and this really does offer something new to the reader - an excellent combination of first hand accounts and operational details.

The table of contents shows the breadth of coverage:

Introduction and Campaign Overview
'Closing With The Enemy' - The Infantry
'Neptune's Trident' - Naval Support
'First In, Last Out' - Engineers
'Queen of the Battlefield' - Artillery
'By Air to Battle' - Air Power and Air Support
'Knowledge Gives Strength to Arms' - Intelligence and Reconnaissance
'Penetrating the Fog' - Command and Control
'Faithful in Adversity' - Medical Services
'Grim Summer' - Life in Normandy 1944
'From Mud, Through Blood To The Green Fields Beyond' - Armour
'Our Greatest Generation'

A Order of Battle for 21st Army Group
B Allied Naval Forces in Operation Neptune
C Allied Air Forces
D Divisional Organisation
E Tanks - Armour, Speed and Weight
F Tanks and Anti-Tank Guns - Performance Against Armour
G Mortar and Artillery Capabilities
H VIII Corps Fire Plan for Operation Bluecoat
I 51st Highland Division Intelligence Summary No. 200
J 5th Camerons Operation Order No. 3 for Operation Totalize

Bibliography (12 pages!)

Available from:

31 January 2015

HMS Beverley - A "Town Afloat" and The Town Ashore 1940-1943

HMS Beverley - A "Town Afloat" and The Town Ashore 1940-1943 is a unique account of a "town" class destroyer and the East Yorkshire town she was named after.

When, in 1940, the Royal Navy accepted fifty aging American warships, Councillor Burden, the Mayor of Beverley, wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty requesting him to name one of the ships after the town. He agreed, and from that day on the people of Beverley adopted the ship and took a considerable interest in her exploits.

This book connects the activities of the ship at sea with life in the East Yorkshire market town during the Second World War. HMS Beverley helped to develop links between the town and Beverely, Massachusetts, and also Merthyr Tydfil, which adopted the ship following Warship Week in 1941. It follows the history of the ship until her fateful sinking in April 1943 while on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic.

The author, Geoffrey Blewett spent many years tracing members of the crew and their families in order to write an accurate account of the ship and the town in wartime.

Available from:

20 January 2015

An Extraordinary Italian Imprisonment: The Brutal Truth of Campo 21, 1942-1943

This book tells the little-known story of prisoner of war camp PG 21, at Chieti, Italy, between August 1942 and September 1943. The camp was grossly overcrowded, with little running water, no proper sanitation, and no heating in winter. Conditions (food/clothing) for POWs in Camp PG 21 were so bad that they were debated in the House of Commons.

The prisoners suffered under a violently pro-Fascist regime. The first Commandant personally beat up one recaptured escaper. A pilot was murdered by an Italian guard following his escape attempt. Tunnels were dug, and the prisoners were even prepared to swim through human sewage to try and get out. Morale in the camp remained remarkably high. Two England cricket internationals staged a full scale cricket match, and theatre and music also thrived.

After the Italian Armistice, in September 1943, the British Commander refused to allow the ex-prisoners to leave camp. Germans took over the camp, and most prisoners were transported to Germany. Some managed to hide, and more than half of these subsequently escaped. After the war, a number of the Camp staff were arrested for war crimes.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

18 January 2015

Fire and Ice: The Nazis' Scorched Earth Campaign in Norway

When Hitler ordered the north of Nazi-occupied Norway to be destroyed in a scorched earth retreat in 1944, everything of potential use to the Soviet enemy was destroyed. Harbours, bridges and towns were dynamited and every building torched. Fifty thousand people were forcibly evacuated – thousands more fled to hide in caves in sub-zero temperatures.

High above the Arctic Circle, the author crosses the region gathering scorched earth stories: of refugees starving on remote islands, fathers shot dead just days before the war ended, grandparents driven mad by relentless bombing, towns burned to the ground. He explores what remains of the Lyngen Line mountain bunkers in the Norwegian Alps, where the Allies feared a last stand by fanatical Nazis – and where starved Soviet prisoners of war too weak to work were dumped in death camps, some driven to cannibalism. With extracts from the Nuremberg trials of the generals who devastated northern Norway and modern reflections on the mental scars that have passed down generations, this is a journey into the heart of a brutal conflict set in a landscape of intense natural beauty.

Available from:
The History Press