26 March 2014

Memoirs of a Swordfish Man

This is a book of wartime memoirs telling the story of a typical young Fleet Air Arm pilot in the Second World War. It is also a sort of epitaph to an aircraft – the famous Fairey Swordfish or, as its adoring pilots called it, “The Stringbag” – one of the only two aircraft to begin and end the War on active service.

Naval pilots during the War were all officer cadets who held the rank of Naval Airman Second Class while training. As soon as they got their wings, they became commissioned officers as either - depending on their age – a Midshipman or a Sub-Lieutenant. This book follows the life of a very ordinary Naval Airman from the moment that he first applies to be a trainee pilot, through his preliminary training at the cadet school in Gosport and his flying training first in Detroit, Michigan, USA, then at Pensacola, Florida, USA, until he finally gets his wings at Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Back in the UK for the completion of his training, our Swordfish Man learns how to drop torpedoes, and spends almost a year training Observers at Arbroath in Scotland, where he is voted “The pilot the trainee observers most like to fly with”. He then volunteers for a special night anti-submarine attacks training course, following which he is posted to a front line squadron operating under the direction of RAF Coastal Command from the Island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. Thence his squadron goes to Thorney Island in the English Channel immediately following the Normandy landings and stays there until it disbands several months later. His colleagues go on leave but he replaces a pilot from another squadron killed on active duty and finds himself on HMS Nairana making attacks on Norway and escorting convoys to and from Murmansk.

Throughout the whole of this period, the author does his best to “tell it as it was”, including an essentially honest appraisal of his own feelings as far as he can judge them.

When this second squadron also disbands, our author becomes a Batsman for a further year teaching front line squadrons to land on the deck at night as he and his forty-odd colleagues had done throughout the Murmansk convoys.

About the Author
Leslie Paine was born in Bath in Somerset and educated at the City of Bath School.

After the War, he continued his education at Oxford, reading English Language and Literature at Pembroke College. He was then awarded a bursary by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund to train as a hospital administrator and served in a number of hospitals including Addenbrookes Hospital Cambridge and the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in London. He spent thirty years as a senior hospital administrator, was awarded the OBE in 1970, became a member of the King’s Fund Council and in 1976 was elected to the Garrick Club.

Sadly Leslie Paine died in December 2013. Read his obituary in The Telegraph

Available from:
Amazon (Kindle Edition only)

24 March 2014

Friendly Foe: The Letters of Leo Schnitter, a German POW in England

In 1993 Martin Parsons was given a file of letters that had been found in a desk bought by a colleague at an auction in Norwich. These letters had not seen the light of day for over 40 years. The letters, spanning a period of 1946 to 1950, were from a German ex-prisoner of war, Leo Schnitter, to the Reverend LHM Smith of South Creake in Norfolk, England.

The Reverend Smith had befriended Leo Schnitter while he was a POW at a camp at Shipdham in Norfolk. Leo was repatriated in 1946, before the British Government agreed to allow POWs to stay in the UK after release, as long as they had work. Leo's family had been forced out of Czechoslovakia, and were living in the Russian Zone of eastern Germany. He remained there until escaping to the British Zone in 1950, eventually settling in Mannheim.

The book consists of the letters written by Leo after he returned to Germany. In this, the title is rather misleading, as the letters are actually from a 'former German POW'. They detail the experiences of his family, and their daily struggle to survive in a devastated Germany, facing shortages of food, clothing, restricted travel, and few opportunities. Many of the letters are requesting help from the Reverend, to supply items lacking in Germany. While interesting, the contents are somewhat repetitive, as often letters were delayed or lost, and this meant that a second letter would be sent - all letters received from Leo are included.

The Reverend repeatedly tried to find a way for Leo to return to England, to escape from the Russian Zone and to give him opportunities unavailable in Germany. In this he was unsuccessful, and Leo's letters stopped when he succeeded in escaping himself. Leo built a new life, and never returned to England.

Available from:

28 January 2014

The Freckleton Air Disaster - The B-24 Crash That Killed 38 Preschoolers and 23 Adults, August 23 1944

The Freckleton catastrophe of August 23, 1944, occurred when an American B-24 Liberator crashed into the small village of Freckleton in north west England. The plane was on a test flight when it encountered a rare and severe summer thunderstorm. Air traffic control at the American air base Warton recalled the bomber back to the base. When the pilot attempted to abort the landing because of poor visibility and high winds, a downdraft caught the plane and it crashed into the adjacent village of Freckleton. As the B-24 tumbled through the village, destroying three houses and a snack bar, flames erupted from wreckage and engulfed Holy Trinity grade school. Before the fire could be brought under control, the holocaust destroyed an entire generation of children in this village of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. The village would never be the same.

In a compelling account of sorrow, loss, hope and finally rebirth, the book looks at the history of the village, the establishment of the base at Warton, the crash, the funeral of the 61 victims, the official British inquest and the American investigation into the cause of the crash. The lives of the survivors, the servicemen and the villagers are followed through 2012. 

Available from:

20 November 2013

Festung Guernsey

Festung Guernsey is a series of 10 books, which provide a unique perspective on the history of the  Channel Islands Occupation. It is a study of the fortifications built by the Germans, written by the occupiers themselves.

In 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Hubner was charged with making a record of the immense fortifications. His team was drawn from the Divisionskartenstelle, the Divisional Cartographic Section, with some fourteen non-commissioned officers working across: drawing, photography, cartography, calligraphy and printing. The result is a stunning and comprehensive picture of the fortifications and a complete guide to their workings.

Festung Guernsey consists of 22 chapters and was originally published as a limited edition of 135, two-volume sets, bound in leather. The original work, being made by hand was only printed on the right hand pages, this means that the publishers have been able to provide a full translation on the left hand page, while retaining the original layout.

This paperback version consists of 10 separate volumes, each consisting of 1,2 or 3 chapters and replicates the page numbering of the original edition. 

The titles published so far are:

  • Part 1 chapters 3.1 & 3.2 
    St Martins Point to St Sampsons

  • Part 2 chapters 3.3, 3.4 & 3.5
    Bordeaux Harbour -  Fort Doyle - Le Houmet
  • Part 3 chapters 3.6, 4.1 & 4.2
    Grandes Rocques - Fort Richmond - Fort Sausmarez
  • Part 4 - chapters 4.3, 4.4 & 4.5
    Rocquaine - Torteval - Corbiere
  • Part 5 - chapters 4.6, 4.7 & 4.8
    Pointe de la Moye - Icart - Fort George
Available from:

14 November 2013

Alderney At War

On 23 June 1940, one week before the German invaders arrived and with just a few hours notice, the island of Alderney was evacuated of all but a handful of its 1,450 inhabitants. During its occupation Alderney became an island fortress and slave labour camp. Alderney at War offers the fullest account ever published of events on the island during the war, as well as an examination of the circumstances leading up to the evacuation and the subsequent fate of the refugees. Brian Bonnard draws on both German and British official records and on the fascinating eye-witness accounts of former Russian, French and islander prisoners, as well as personal diaries and photographs taken by members of the occupying forces. "Alderney at War" is a factual record of this remarkable episode in British history, which is sure to enthrall residents and visitors to the Channel Islands, but its comprehensive coverage of those grim years guarantees it a place alongside any Second World War History.

Table of contents (note - this is from a previous edition published by Sutton)

Prologue: Alderney at Peace, spring 1939

Alderney Evacuated
  • War Begins
  • The Evacuation
  • Exile Begins
  • The Alderney 'Domesday Book'
  • Commerical Alderney
  • Before the Enemy Comes
Alderney Occupied
  • Swastika over Alderney
  • Silence Descends
  • Slave Island
  • Prisoner in Alderney
  • The Slave Workers
  • The Captors
  • The Defences
  • The Enemy under Attack
  • Capitulation
Alderney Relieved
  • The Devastation
  • The Graves
  • The Legacy
  • The Islanders Return
  • The Return Legislation
  • The Settlers
Epilogue: Fifty Years On

Available from:
The History Press

25 October 2013

Mined Where You Walk - The German Occupation of Sark: 1940-45

Mined Where You Walk, by Richard Le Tissier, is one of a number of books I've purchased which provide a detailed overview of the German Occupation of the Channel Isles.

This title focuses on the small island of Sark. Sark in 1940 was a community of fewer than 500 persons. The then Dame of Sark, Mrs Sybil Hathaway, declared her intention to remain in the island and urged others to do likewise. In the event, very few left.

Prior to the Occupation, the Germans had bombed both Guernsey and Jersey causing many casualties. Such hostility, designed to put fear into the hearts of the islanders, did not occur in Sark. Indeed, when initial representatives of the occupiers arrived in Sark from Guernsey, they were welcomed and shared lunch with the Dame. During the war years, there was one German soldier for every two Sarkees; this small community in a confined space had to find ways to co-exist.

Richard Le Tissier recounts how the islanders and their occupiers fared during those years. He relates newsworthy incidents, such as the Commando raids, information on the deportees, and the murder of a German doctor on the island; as well as everyday life for the islanders - who pulled together for survival and in order to raise their spirits.

The author has produced a very well researched title, which provides a comprehensive account of the occupation of Sark, including information on all aspects of life of both the civilian inhabitants, and the occupying forces. If you have an interest in the Occupation of the Channel Islands, I would recommend this book.

The contents of book are:
  • Prelude to Occupation
  • Early Occupation
  • The Screw Tightens
  • Glimpses of the War
  • Another Grim Year
  • Hope on the Horizon
  • The German Garrison
  • A Cold and Hungry Winter
  • Friends of Sark
  • Appendix
Available from:
Seaflower Books

23 October 2013

Fortress Jersey

The Fortress Jersey series were written by D.C. Holmes in the 1970s. Long out of print, I've obtained copies from Ebay, but they can be found on Amazon as well. 

Each of the books is around 70 pages long, and features a large number of photos from Holmes' personal collection relating to the German forces occupying Jersey. They do not contain an extensive amount of text, but the information they contain does provide a comprehensive overview of the topic, including information on specific units, ships, etc. I have detailed the contents for each below.

Fortress Jersey - Part 1 - The German Army in Jersey
  • Infantry
  • 319 Infantry Division
  • MG. Btl 16
  • Ost Btl 643
  • Panzer Abt 213
  • Reichs Arbeit Dienst
  • Artillery
  • Liberation
  • Strength of the German Garrison Jersey November 1944
Available from:

Fortress Jersey - Part 2 - The German Navy in Jersey

  • Naval Command
  • Merchant Shipping
  • Hafenschutzflottille, Gruppe Jersey
  • 2 Vorpostenbootsflottille (2 VP)
  • 46 Hilfminensuchflottille (46 MSF)
  • 24 Minensuchflottille or the 24th Mine Sweeper Flotilla (24 MSF)
  • Marine Artillerie Section 604 (3/MAA 604)
  • Strength of the Kriegsmarine in Jersey November 1944
Available from:

Fortress Jersey - Part 3 - The German Airforce in Jersey

  • Arrival of the Luftwaffe
  • Flak over Jersey (details the Flak Batteries on Jersey)
  • Brief description of Luftwaffe operated guns in Jersey
Available from:

It appears that there were two more publications planned - Part 4 - The Red Cross; and Part 5 - Civilian Life. As far as I can tell, neither were published.