15 April 2009

New & Notable - 15th April

Penalty Strike The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander 1943-45
by Alexander Pyl'cyn (Stackpole Books)
The focus of this book are the author's vivid memories of service as a company commander in a Red Army officers' penal battalion on the Eastern Front 1944-45. During this time, he and his unit participated in the 1944 Soviet summer offensive Operation 'Bagration', the Vistula-Oder operation into eastern Germany, and the final assault on Berlin.

Alexander Pyl'cyn was a platoon commander and later a commander of an officers' penal company. He was a senior lieutenant having a degraded regiment commander as a second-in-command. He and his company had to carry out the most difficult and dangerous operations in order to break through the enemy defenses. With more than 80% of the men lost his company succeeded in completing their missions. The horrors of war, the hand-to-hand fights with a desperately struggling enemy are described in this book along with a story of a strong feeling between the young officer and a hospital nurse Rita. Thanks to Alexander Rita was appointed a nurse in the penal battalion. She saved dozens of soldiers, carrying them from the battlefield under enemy fire. It was Rita who saved Alexander Pyl'cyn from death, when he was badly wounded near Berlin. She became his wife in the last months of the war.
Available from:

Hurricane Pilot: The Wartime Letters of W.O. Harry L. Gill, DFM
Edited by Brent Wilson with Barbara J. Gill (Goose Lane Editions)

Harry L. Gill was born in Devon and attended Fredericton High School. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in Moncton in 1940 at the age of 18 and was among the first to pass through the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. . After flying training he was posted to 607 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Air Force.
In February 1942, Mr. Gill’s squadron of Hurricane Fighters attacked the German warships Scharnhorst and Gniesenau during the infamous “Channel Dash”. Mr. Gill’s bravery and flying skill in that action won him a Distinguished Flying Medal. In June of 1942, he traveled with his squadron to India to shore up Commonwealth defences against the Japanese. On Jan. 17 1943, at age 20, Harry Gill was shot down and killed in action. He lies buried in Maynamati Commonwealth War Cemetery in Bangladesh.

Drawing extensively on Gill's correspondence with his parents and his siblings, this very personal account of war shows how Gill was transformed from a small-town boy to a mature fighter pilot serving in a global war on another continent. His letters depict the enthusiasm of youth, a strong sense of humour, his plans for the future, and this continuing attachment to home.

Available from:
Goose Lane Editions

Only One Returned

Only One Returned is the true story of B-17 pilot Richard Christenson’s return flight from a bombing mission over Stuttgart, Germany. Richard was assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force and flew from Alconbury, England. After landing his crippled plane in occupied France, he spent four months on the run aided by the French Resistance.

Richard passed away in 1980 so his daughter, Kay Janiszewski, wrote Only One Returned relying on a few records and her mother’s memories. The story encompasses daily life with the families that hid him, harrowing train rides to the south of France, an arduous trek over the Pyrenees Mountains in December, and his eventual return home.

An epilogue contains wartime letters from the French Resistance families who helped Richard.

Available from:
Author's website

6 April 2009

New and Notable - 6th April

Torpedo Leader
by Wing Commander Patrick Gibbs DSO, DFC and Bar (Grub Street)

Written during the war without benefit of hindsight, this is a remarkable and valuable account. A very personal story, its lucid, exciting and readable narrative describes firstly the author's frustrations as a Staff Officer in Cairo, then his triumphs and disasters as a Beaufort Flight Commander on the anti-shipping operations from Malta with 39 Squadron in 1942, during which Gibbs' contribution was immense.

Wing Commander Patrick Gibbs, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF torpedo bomber pilot and film critic for The Telegraph newspaper was born on April 2, 1915. He died on March 8, 2008, aged 92.

Read a full review on the Aircrew Book Review blog

Available from:
Grub Street (note: site works better in Internet Explorer than Firefox)

Further reading:
Times Obituary 26 March 2008

Guns Above, Steam Below
In Canada's Navy of WWII
by A.G.W. Lamont (Melrose Books)

Guns Above, Steam Below is the true story of the experiences of A.G.W. Lamont, an Engineer Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve.

His first sea-going experience was in the corvette HMCS Cobalt on the triangle run Halifax, New York, St. John's. Cobalt was one of many corvettes, fending off the U-boats while themselves experiencing Guns Above, Steam Below. The largest part of the book, however, deals with the River Class destroyer HMCS Qu'Appelle on various assignments, including the Normandy invasion of World War II.

Lamont provides a brief history of the ship with the aid of photographs and diagrams. Extracts from the memoirs of some of his ship-mates are used to recall life on board and he describes many of the crew in detail, and with great affection. Lamont also recalls his own experiences in the 'Steam Below' spaces of the ship where the men were oblivious to what was happening, either on-deck or in the sea below, and were subject to extreme heat and noise - including the noise of outgoing and incoming shell fire, depth charges and torpedoes exploding nearby. He then recounts his experiences of the events that took place during his career.

After several trips across the Atlantic, Qu'Appelle was assigned as the lead ship of four to be positioned at the west entrance of the English Channel during the Normandy invasion. Their orders were to prevent U-boats from getting at the enormous number of vessels in the invasion fleet. About a month later, Qu'Appelle was also leader of the four Canadian River Class destroyers engaged with their 'Guns Above' in the Battle of the Black Stones, launched against a group of U-boats and heavily armed escorts as they left port in Brest. In October 1944, when their presence was no longer required in the Channel, Qu'Appelle and three other ships, including HMCS Skeena were sent to patrol an area near Iceland. A vicious storm blew up and the shore authorities advised the ships to anchor until it had passed. This proved successful for all but one, HMCS Skeena. Lamont gives a most gripping and moving description of the wild and tragic events that followed as Skeena's anchor dragged and she was driven relentlessly onto the rocks near Reykjavik, causing the loss of a number of her crew.

Available from:
Melrose Books

Mogens Høirup
An Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Man
by Howard and Hanne Kulin

Moved by a deep sense of justice, in early 1944 Jutland history teacher Mogens Høirup became a leader of the local Danish resistance movement. Subsequently captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo, Høirup survived and horrors of Neuengamme Concentration Camp and returned home at the end of the war.

Through original communications and family photos, An Extrordinary Story of an Ordinary Man, written by Mogens Høirup’s daughter and son-in-law, provides rare insight into this “quiet hero” of the Danish Resistance. Gripping and tender, his story and words are as meaningful today as they were more than a half century ago.

Available from:
Hellgate Press

Rumours: A Memoir of a British POW in WWII

Charles "Chas" Mayhead served during the Second World War with the Royal Army Service Corps. Sent to the Middle East, in 1942 he was separated from his company in the desert and was captured by the Germans.

He was held captive in North Africa, then shipped across the Mediterranean to Italy. Held for a short while in a camp near Naples, he was then transported to Northern Italy to keep him away from the invading Allies. One of the camps Chas was held at was Campo Concentramento P.G.53 at Sforzacosta. Later, in 1943, he escaped from another camp and managed to hide out for two months near Novara. As the Germans entered the area, he made for Switzerland, across the Alps, but was recaptured just outside the Swiss border.

Transported to Innsbruck in cattle trucks, then by passenger train (after being placed in chains) to Germany, he ended up after one week of travel at Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel near Hannover. In 1945 he escaped yet again when the prisoners from Fallingbostel were marched further into Germany to escape the invading Allies (again!) near the end of the war.

Available from:
Pleasure Boat Studio
Amazon UK (the site contains extracts from the book - it is cheaper to buy it direct from the publisher than via Amazon)

Further reading:
Fallingbostel Military Museum - Stalag XIB

2 April 2009

We Remember D Day

Frank and Joan Shaw compiled a small number of books in the 1990s, all compiled from personal recollections of momentous occasions during the Second World War.

We Remember D Day contains the stories of over 130 men and women, from many of the Britsh regiments that landed on Gold and Sword Beaches on the 6th June 1944. Members of the 6th Airborne Division, VAD Nurses, RAF pilots, Royal Navy sailors, US Army soldiers, Resistance fighters, and many more individuals provided their memories for this book. It was produced so all profits would go to Normandy veterans (the Normandy Veterans Association and the Royal British Legion).

A slight criticsm is that some of the stories are a bit on the short side, however they all include information on the individuals arm of service (in most cases regiment or ship), so this helps to put them into context. There are a large number of period photos, and 'then and now' photos of the contributors which bring a human face to the stories. This is an excellent book to read alongside one of the numerous overviews of D Day that have been published, although it is now out of print.

Believed to be out of print.