23 October 2009

Corvettes Canada: Convoy Veterans of WWII Tell Their True Stories

In Corvettes Canada, Mac Johnston re-creates life aboard corvettes through the worlds of the veterans themselves. Within a framework of the basic events of the war, this book is essentially the product of the memories of more than 250 men, collected by correspondence in a project that got underway with an initial personalized letter to several hundred corvette veterans in 1990. Hundreds of additional letters followed as more veterans were identified. The letter count rose to 1,400 and then 1,900 to flesh out the corvette story.

From the fall of 1940 until May 1945, Corvettes Canada follows these small warships as they shepherd convoys of merchant ships carrying weapons, food, oil, raw materials and manufactured goods from North America to the United Kingdom. On the return trip, the escorts bring back the empty vessels for reloading.

As told in the worlds of the veterans, the routines of life aboard a corvette are punctuated by sudden burst of fierce action--the life-and-death moments for warships, merchant ships and German submarines. This was but one enemy--the other was the North Atlantic itself, a powerful force that brought severe cold, icy storms and fierce gales.

In addition to the famous Newfie-Derry Run on the North Atlantic, corvettes also saw duty in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the triangle run to New York and Boston, in the Caribbean, in the Mediterranean and in the English Channel, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

Published by Wiley. Preview at Google books.

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Naked Heart - A Soldier's Journey to the Front

Naked Heart: A Soldier’s Journey to the Front is a powerful statement about the dark and vainglorious side of combat as experienced in World War II by a young private, Harold Pagliaro. His true story is a gripping, authentic account of men’s behavior in the face of death on the battlefield.

Pagliaro is sent to the Vosges front in France in 1944, as a solo replacement in a reconnaissance unit, isolated from the men he trained with. Facing death moment to moment, without friends or a sense of belonging, he sees firsthand how the reality of battle distorts men with fear. They look for relief in pathetic shows of false courage or the exercise of arbitrary power. Throughout Naked Heart, Pagliaro’s army life and war experiences connect closely with his personal life: unfulfilled love, friends, family—in particular a younger brother.

Shocked by a lack of truth revealed in letters he sent home from the war, Pagliaro gathered his memories into a book. He committed himself to relate the true story behind the letters’ white-washed surface. His straightforward, informal style blends fact, feeling, and perspective.

There are a number of positive reviews on Amazon.

Available from:
Truman State University Press

Two Soldiers, Two Lost Fronts - German War Diaries of the Stalingrad and North Africa Campaigns

This book is built around two recently discovered war diaries—one by a member of the 23rd Panzer Division which served under Manstein in Russia, and the other by a member of Rommel’s AfrikaKorps. Together, along with detailed timelines and brief overviews, they comprise a fascinating “ground level” look at the German side of World War II.

The assignment of keeping the first diary was given to a soldier in the 2nd Battalion, 201st Panzer Regiment by a commanding officers and the author never saw fit to include his own name. This diary covers the period from April 1942 to March 1943, the momentous year when the tide of battle turned in the East. It first details the unit’s combat in the great German victory at Charkov, then the advance to the Caucasus, and finally the brutal winter of 1942–43.

The second diary’s author was a soldier named Rolf Krengel. It starts with the beginning of the war and ends shortly after the occupation. Serving primarily in North Africa, Krengel recounts with keen insight and flashes of humour the day-to-day challenges of the AfrikaKorps. During one of the swirling battles in the desert, Krengel found himself sharing a tent with Rommel at a forward outpost. The Field Marshal read parts of the diary with interest and signed it. Evacuated due to illness, Krengel then records service in Berlin beneath the relentless Allied bomber streams and other occurrences on the German homefront.

Neither of the diarists was famous, nor of especially high rank. However, these are the brutally honest accounts written at the time by men of the Wehrmacht who participated in two of history’s most crucial campaigns.

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18 October 2009

Soldiers of Misfortune - lvoirien Tirailleurs of World War II

This is a study of the African veterans of a European war. It is a story of men from the Cote d'Ivoire, many of whom had seldom traveled more than a few miles from their villages, who served France as tirailleurs (riflemen) during World War II.

Thousands of them took part in the doomed attempt to hold back the armies of the Third Relch in 1940; many were to spend the rest of the war as prisoners in Germany or Occupied France.

Others more fortunate came under the authority of Vichy France, and were deployed in the Defense of the “Motherland” and its overseas possessions against the threat posed by the Allies. By 1943, the tirailleur regiments had passed into the service of de Gaulle's free French and under Allied command, played a significant role in the liberation of Europe.

In describing these complex events, Dr. Lawler draws upon archives in both France and the Cote d'Ivoire. She also carried out an extensive series of interviews with Ivoirien veterans principally, but not exclusively, from the Korhogo region. The vividness of their testimony gives this study a special character. They talk freely not only of their wartime exploits, but also of their experiences after repatriation.

Lawler allows them to speak for themselves. They express their hatred of forced labor and military conscription, which were features of the colonial system, yet at the same time reveal a pride in having come to the defense of France. They describe their role in the nationalist struggle, as foot soldiers of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but also convey their sense of having become a lost generation. They recognize that their experiences as French soldiers had become sadly irrelevant in a new nation in quest of its history.

Available from:
Ohio University Press

Few Returned: Diary of Twenty-eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter, 1942-43

After World War II more than one hundred books appeared that dealt with the experience of the Italian army in Russia, and particularly the terrible winter retreat of 1942-1943. Few Returned (I piu' non ritornano) is the only one of these that is still regularly reissued in Italy.

Eugenio Corti, who was a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant at the time, found himself, together with 30,000 Italians and a smaller contingent of Germans, encircled on the banks of the River Don by enemy forces who far outnumbered them. To break out of this encirclement, these men undertook a desperate march across the snow, with constant engagements and in temperatures ranging from -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Whereas supplies were air-dropped to the Germans, the predicament of the Italians was far more difficult: lacking gasoline, they were compelled to abandon their vehicles and to proceed without heavy arms, equipment, ammunition, or provisions. Even the wounded had to be abandoned, though it was well known that the soldiers of the Red Army"enraged by the brutality of the German invasion"killed all the enemy wounded who fell into their hands. After twenty-eight days of encirclement, only 4,000 of the 30,000 Italians made it out of the pocket.

Eugenio Corti began writing his diary at a military hospital immediately after being repatriated from the Russian front. When in September 1943 Italy found itself cut in two by the Armistice, Corti, loyal to his officer's oath, joined up with what remained of the Italian army in the south and with those few troops participated in driving the Germans off Italian soil, fighting at the side of the British Eighth and the American Fifth Armies.

Published by the University of Missouri Press.

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Diary of a Red Devil - By Glider to Arnhem with the 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers

Diary of A Red Devil relates the war time experiences of a young man, Albert Blockwell from the north-east of England, who in February 1940 was called up for service with the Army. Initially conscripted into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and trained as a vehicle mechanic, he was then posted in March 1940 to a pre-war Territorial unit - The 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, then a home defence unit based near London. His diary is a most interesting account of a young vehicle mechanic who also had to learn to be a infantry soldier. Albert remained with this unit for all his war-time service, later going to the Shetland Islands when the 7th KOSB were part of OSDEF (Orkney and Shetlands Defence Force).

Then in late 1943 much to their surprise the unit was posted to Lincolnshire to become the third infantry unit in the 1st Airlanding Brigade then in the process of returning from Italy with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division. Swapping their glengarries for red berets Albert and his comrades had to adapt to their new way of getting to war by glider. The diary continues with a down to earth account of the highs and lows of the next few months.

In September 1944 Albert flew to Holland on Operation Market-Garden and his account (written in PoW camp) describes the savage nine days fighting at Arnhem from the slit trench level. Taken prisoner on the last day his account then describes the spartan life in PoW camp without pulling any punches.

Sadly Albert died in 2001 but his diary survived and his daughter Maggie Clifton together with help from two published 'Arnhem' authors have edited a unique account of the fighting at Arnhem from the frontline soldier's perspective.

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Forgotten Voices of D-Day

6 June 1944 is one of the most momentous days in history: the day Allied forces crossed the Channel and began fighting their way into Nazi-occupied Northwest Europe. Preceded by airborne units and covered by air and naval bombardment, the Normandy landings were the most ambitious combined airborne and amphibious assault ever attempted. Their success marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

Drawing on thousands of hours of eyewitness testimony recorded by the Imperial War Museum, Forgotten Voices of D-Day tells the compelling story of this turning point in the Second World War in the words of those who were there. We hear from paratroopers and commandos, glider pilots and landing craft crewmen, airmen and naval personnel. We learn first-hand of what it was like as men waited to go in, as they neared the beaches and drop zones, as they landed and met the enemy. Accounts range from memories of the daring capture of ‘Pegasus’ bridge by British glider-borne troops to recollections of brutal fighting as the assault forces stormed the beaches. Shedding fresh light too on the American contribution, they include the memories of British personnel caught up in the terrible events at Omaha Beach where United States forces suffered over 2,000 casualties.

Published by Ebury Press.

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Sharpshooter - Memories of Armoured Warfare 1939-45

J L Cloudsley-Thompson served in an armoured regiment, the 4th County of London Yeomanry (The Sharpshooters) from 1941 to 1944.

He discovered that a battlefield bore little resemblance to the parade grounds and training areas at home; and he pulls no punches in describing the frustrations of fighting against an enemy whose tanks, for the most part, were better armed and armoured than our own. He graphically describes tank battles in the deserts of North Africa and his experiences in Normandy where his Cromwell was knocked-out by a Tiger from a squadron commanded by German ‘ace’ Michael Wittmann near Villers-Bocage.

There follows a gripping account of the escape he and his crew made back to British lines, which included an alarming encounter with a French butcher. He does not shrink from describing the ghastly results from direct hits by anti-tank guns or land mines, nor the fearsome casualties suffered by wildlife, farm animals and domestic pets. On the lighter side, he and his men found and cared for a baby desert fox-cub until, as he puts it, ‘she decamped into the desert during a heavy barrage, having decided that she was now old enough to look after herself in her native environment.’

This book will inevitably become one of that body of war reminiscences distinguished by their uncompromising commitment to telling it as it was, not as the propagandists would have it.

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Arcturus Press

Your Loyal and Loving Son - The Letters of Tank Gunner Karl Fuchs, 1933–1941

These are the compelling letters of Karl Fuchs, an ordinary German soldier who was completely convinced of the righteousness of his cause and who wrote them free of the recriminations and hindsight arising from the bitterness of defeat. Combining enthusiastic expressions of loyalty to the F├╝hrer and the Fatherland with messages of love for his family and requests for necessities from home, they provide a personal look at a youth typical of his time, one whose fervent and naive nationalism was of the very sort that later fanned the flames of the Holocaust.

Throughout Your Loyal and Loving Son, young Fuchs remains an idealist, confident in his concept of duty. Yet his letters clearly support the general assertion that many Germans who backed the Third Reich did so neither out of opportunistic self-interest nor nihilistic delight in destruction, but instead in the hope for a better future. Killed on the Eastern Front, Fuchs did not live to see his son, the infant to whom he wrote and who as an adult compiled these letters for publication. With an introduction and annotations by eminent historian Dennis Showalter, this collection will help make those early war years more comprehensible to contemporary readers.

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Potomac Books

Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers - Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich

They were foot soldiers and officers. They served in the regular army and the Waffen-SS. And, remarkably, they were also Jewish, at least as defined by Hitler’s infamous race laws. Pursuing the thread he first unraveled in Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg takes a closer look at the experiences of Wehrmacht soldiers who were classified as Jewish. In this long-awaited companion volume, he presents interviews with twenty-one of these men, whose stories are both fascinating and disturbing.

As many as 150,000 Jews and partial-Jews (or Mischlinge) served, often with distinction, in the German military during World War II. The men interviewed for this volume portray a wide range of experiences—some came from military families, some had been raised Christian—revealing in vivid detail how they fought for a government that robbed them of their rights and sent their relatives to extermination camps. Yet most continued to serve, since resistance would have cost them their lives and they mistakenly hoped that by their service they could protect themselves and their families. The interviews recount the nature and extent of their dilemma, the divided loyalties under which many toiled during the Nazi years and afterward, and their sobering reflections on religion and the Holocaust, including what they knew about it at the time.

Rigg relates each individual’s experiences following the establishment of Hitler’s race laws, shifting between vivid scenes of combat and the increasingly threatening situation on the home front for these men and their family members. Their stories reveal the constant tension in their lives: how some tried to hide their identities, and how a few were even “Aryanized” as part of Hitler’s effort to retain reliable soldiers—including Field Marshal Erhard Milch, three-star general Helmut Wilberg, and naval commander Bernhard Rogge.

Chilling, compelling, almost beyond belief, these stories depict crises of conscience under the most stressful circumstances. Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers deepens our understanding of the complex intersection of Nazi race laws and German military service both before and during World War II.

Published by The University Press of Kansas.

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Looking Backwards Over Burma

In this memoir, Dennis Spencer recalls his experiences as an observer/navigator in the two-man crew of a Bristol Beaufighter ~ the twin-engined, long-range, heavy fighter aircraft that served with such distinction in a variety of roles during World War II ~ in which he clocked up over 200 operational hours whilst on active service with 211 Squadron, of 224 Group, Third Tactical Air Force, South East Asia Air Command.

Alongside his flying partner, pilot Geoff Vardigans, Dennis undertook 52 hazardous sorties over Japanese-occupied territory in Burma and Siam (now Myanmar and Thailand) during 1944.

In Beaufighters armed with under-wing rocket projectiles in addition to their usual cannons, the aircrews of 211 Squadron were given the task of seeking out and attacking enemy road, rail and waterborne transport of all kinds, which required them to fly long distances at low level over hostile territory, often for many hours at a stretch, with little hope of escape or rescue in the event of mechanical failure, pilot fatigue or being shot down – all of which were distinct possibilities.

About the only thing in their favour was the Beaufighter’s remarkably silent approach at a low level, enabling surprise attacks to be achieved and earning the aircraft its macabre nickname "Whispering Death".

Flying long-range missions at low level, over hilly jungle terrain, presented numerous challenges to both pilot and navigator and Dennis does well to describe the mixture of excitement and anxiety he experienced on operations, with much of his time spent facing backwards, in the Beaufighter’s swivelling navigator’s seat, keeping a watchful eye for enemy fighters – hence the doubly apposite title of his memoir.

Available from:
Woodfield Publishing