8 December 2011

Neither Sharks Nor Wolves - The Men of Nazi Germany's U-boat Arm 1939-1945

Although countless books have been written about the U-boat war in the Atlantic, precious few facts have come to light about the men who served in the submarines that wrought such havoc on Allied ships. Eager to get beyond the stereotypes perpetuated in movies and novels and find out who these elusive sailors really were, archivist Timothy Mulligan started searching official records.

Eventually he went straight to the source, conducting a survey of more than a thousand U-boat officers and enlisted men and interviewing a number of them personally. The result is this character study of the German submarine force that challenges traditional and revisionist views of the service.

Mulligan found striking similarities in the men's geographic and social origins, education, and previous occupations, particularly within the specialised engineering and radio branches of the submarine force. The information he gathered establishes quantifiable patterns in age, length of service and experience, as well as the organisation's overall recruitment policies and training standards. The numbers and losses of U-boat personnel are also fully examined.

Beyond these objective characteristics, this study lists such subjective factors as morale, treatment of enemy ship survivors and the relationship of the submariners to the Nazi regime, confirming a serious crisis in morale in late 1943. Mulligan concludes that the U-boat arm quickly evolved from a handpicked elite to a more representative sample of the German navy at large but continued to be treated as an elite force.

Available from:
Casemate (UK)
Naval Institute Press

6 December 2011

The Casualties Were Small - Wartime Poetry and Diaries of a Lincolnshire Seaside Villager May Hill

May Hill began to keep a Diary not long after the outbreak of the Second World War. The strategically important East Coast area of Lincolnshire around Skegness had been transformed from a bustling holiday centre to an armed encampment. Butlins became ‘HMS Royal Arthur’ a huge Royal Navy training centre, RAF air bases sprang up throughout ‘Bomber County’ and soldiers were billeted in the villages including May’s Chapel St Leonards.

May’s son Ron volunteered for the RAF and May started to express her thoughts and prayers in verse. The poem “The Casualties Were Small” reveals her worst fears as his exposure to danger increased even before being posted abroad.

As the War continued, May maintained her eloquent record of family and village life as well as the events of the War itself – including the sad loss of three nephews and an early hint of victory with the ‘D-Day’ landings.

The selection of Diary entries in this compilation was chosen to include those which reveal the specific experiences and events which inspired over twenty poems. May’s own writing is supported by additional explanatory notes and illustrated by over thirty photographs from the collections of the family and others from her village

Detailed information and diary entries can be read on the May Hill's Diary blog.

Available from:
Ambridge Books

Terror in the Arctic - A True Story from Foreign Occupied Norway in World War II

Terror in the Arctic is an autobiography set in World War II in Kirkenes, a small mining town in the north east of Norway, strategically important because of its proximity to the border with Russia. The story follows Bjarnhild Tulloch, who was 5 when the war started, as she tried to make sense of the change to her family life. As the war escalated, conflicts in her family deepened. Her oldest sister fell in love with a German officer and bore his children.

The tale mixes the bleak and horrific with humour and humanity, tragedy with daring and heroism, as well as funny and sometimes hilarious episodes. It covers a part of World War II little known to international readers, perhaps most notably the forcible evacuation of civilians from northern Norway by the retreating German Army.

Through it all, children learned the basics of survival and continued to play outside while listening for air raid warnings. They smuggled food parcels to the Russian prisoners and got little toys in return.

As Kirkenes was bombed to destruction, Bjarnhild and her family fled to the countryside. On her tenth birthday, in the path of the oncoming Russian Army, they escaped across a fjord in a rowing boat with a Russian plan in pursuit. They sat out the final battle, sheltering in a dug-out in a nearby hillside, until they were liberated by the Russian Army.

A tale that will strike resonance with a lot of people today and reveal the bleak conditions imposed on many people during the Second World War, Terror in the Arctic will appeal to fans of autobiography and Second World War history.

Available from:
Troubador Publishing

11 November 2011

Rossano - Valley in Flames - An adventure of the Italian Resistance

In July 1942, Major Gordon Lett was taken prisoner at the fall of Tobruk. After fourteen months in the notorious prison camps at Bari and Chieti, he escaped at the Armistice of September 1943 from the camp at Veano and took to the mountains above the Cisa Pass. Rather than return to England, he founded and led an entirely non-political band of highly-successful partisans, the Battaglione Internazionale.

The group fought and harassed the Brigate Nere and the Germans along the Magra valley from North of Pontremoli to La Spezia for 18 months. They were so influential to the success of the Allied advance that permanent lines of communication with the Allies were established, supplies dropped by air and, later, SAS troops sent in to assist the Brigade. 500 Allied troops escaped to safety via Rossano.

In the first few months of peace, Lett became a liaison officer of No 1 Special Force, SOE and twice crossed the lines. He was the first Allied officer to enter La Spezia in April 1945, together with the partisans. He was awarded the DSO for his services and received the Medaglia Argento al valor militaire from the Italian government. Today there is still a strong bond between many of those mentioned in the book and the Lett family. This edition of the work includes a foreword by Freya Stark.

Available from:
Pen & Sword Books

Mudville Heights: Memoirs of the US Navy Anti-submarine Squadrons at RAF Dunkeswell, Devon During WW2

The Battle for the Atlantic proved to be one of the most important strategies of WW2. U-boats were sinking allied shipping at an alarming rate and with such appalling loss of life. In order to combat those losses RAF Coastal Command began to set up and operate a number of anti-submarine squadrons, and for once the tables began to turn on the German Navy.

Strikes on U-boats out in the North Atlantic and Bay of Biscay continued for nigh on 3 years, but despite the tables being turned, tons of merchant ships still fell prey to U-boats and the RAF seemed destined to battle on alone, then in 1943 the USAAF set up a land based anti-sub unit at St.Eval, Cornwall which was operated for several months with B-24 Liberators, before switching to a new airfield at Dunkeswell in Devon on 6th August.

Despite the success of the USAAF, Dunkeswell was destined for change once again when in September squadrons of the US Navy Fleet Air Wing Seven began to arrive, and would remain here until the end of WW2 flying the Navy version of the B-24 Liberator the PB4Y-1 .

On arrival it was soon realised that conditions on the base were far from adequate, with roads and paths around the living quarters just a sea of `mud` the men had to wear knee high boots just to trek across to the wash rooms, and it was those conditions combined with harsh winter elements that prompted someone to nick-name the base "Mudville Heights" and from then on, as one crew member put it "The name just kinda stuck!".

In this new book, the author tells the fascinating story of Dunkeswell as an airfield in WW2, with first hand accounts from the men who served there. Stories of a dedicated bunch of young Naval Aviators destined to fight it out with the dreaded U-boat menace above the icy depths of the North Atlantic & Bay of Biscay, flying their PB4Y-1 Liberators laden with high octane fuel and high explosives, through appalling weather and hostile conditions, enduring patrols of anything up to 16 hours in order to bring freedom to our nation.

Available from:

6 November 2011

Come Back To Portofino - Through Italy with the 6th South African Armoured Division

Using archival sources and private documents recently unearthed, Come Back to Portofino chronicles the journey taken by volunteers in the 6th South African Armoured Division. From training camps in Egypt through to the summer of 1945 the ‘Div’ left its mark on towns and villages across Italy. From Monte Cassino to the outskirts of Venice and the River Po, the
campaign lasted exactly twelve months.

During the advance through Rome up to Florence, it was a case of constant movement and violent contact with the enemy. Experiences which left an enduring impression on returned soldiers included the periods of rest at Siena and Lucca as well as the four miserable winter months in the northern Apennines. Overall, the casualty rate was surprisingly low considering the ideal ambush country and mountain defences which had to be overcome. In the rifle companies however, the rate of attrition was high and replacements were few. Among the South Africans who are buried in Italy, there are those who died in vehicle accidents, from drowning and falling out of windows or from suicide. For the ordinary soldier the most important part of everyday life was contact with home or foraging for food and wine, and even enjoying the company of signorine when operations permitted.

Nevertheless, it was not one long happy camping trip as was often portrayed in the press. The
cast is made up of the famous regiments and ordinary South Africans who participated in these
epic events.

Authored by James Bourhill, this new title adds a rarely heard perspective to the campaign in Italy.

Available from:

25 October 2011

Aus Meiner Sicht (From My View) - The Memoirs of Werner Mork - A Private's Life in the Wehrmacht during World War II

This is a very interesting memoir which I came across by chance. It covers Werner Mork's service during WWII in the German Wehrmacht and is available to download free of charge.

Mork served as a driver in North Africa in 1942, in the Tobruk area. Hospitalised for a period in Germany, he was then posted to Corsica and was involved in the battles in Italy - Ortona, Anzio and Monte Cassino. Transferred to the Eastern Front, he later experienced the Russian invasion of Silesia, and was ultimately captured in Czechoslovakia.

I haven't had chance to read the book in detail, but a quick glance through indicates it is worthy of attention. The chapters available are:

  • Driving Supply Trucks in Africa - 1942
  • Driving Supply Trucks in Africa - 1942- Part II
  • Driving Supply Trucks in Africa - 1942- Part III
  • Recuperation in Halberstadt - 1943
  • Mork on Corsica - 1943
  • The Battle of Ortona - 1943
  • The American Landing at Anzio / Nettuno - 1944
  • The Battle of Monte Cassino - 1944 - Part I
  • The Battle of Monte Cassino - 1944 - Part II
  • The War on the Eastern Front - 1945
  • The War on the Eastern Front - 1945 - Part II
  • The War on the Eastern Front - 1945 - Part III
  • Aftermath: P.O.W.

Available from:
The book can be downloaded free of charge on Daniel Setzer's page (he translated the text).
Other selections from memoirs in the original German text can be found on the website of the German Historical Museum.

14 October 2011

A Ship With No Name

This is the story of rescue operations in the English Channel just before, during, and after the D-Day invasion aboard an ocean-going tug, "a ship with no name."

The memoir, written by the executive officer of ATR-3, tells compelling stories of the invasion, the operations of the ship, and the long trek across the Atlantic back to the US. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the involvement of the author in the attempt to rescue men after the sinking of the troopship SS Leopoldville. In one of the lesser known incidents of the war, the Leopoldville was torpedoed by the U-486 off Cherbourg on Christmas Eve 1944, and over 750 soldiers were lost. The narrative also describes the experience of working under extreme pressure and performing to the utmost to pull blown up LSTs or Destroyers to safety from Utah and Omaha Beaches.

The author, Richard Hersey, began his navy career as an apprentice seaman and retired as Commander. He served on the USS Mizar and ATR-3 during World War II and the USS Okanagan during the Korean War. He's still married to the bride he met in New York City after the ship-with-no-name sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1945.

Available from:

You Up There - We Down Here - Luftwaffe Anti-Aircraft Assistants vs. Allied Bomber Crews

In 1944, entire German school classes were deployed as anti-aircraft gun assistants (Luftwaffenhelfer) to support the heavy Flak defending Germany and Austria. These schoolboys were drilled in the use of the 88mm Flak gun to support the soldiers of the Wehrmacht battling the allied bomber streams. The author, Gerhard Oberleitner, was one of these boys, and was deployed near St. Valentin, Austria, to protect the local tank production works, one of the biggest in the Reich.

Letters, reports, documents and above all, the author’s complete diary and photographs do much to support this detailed and extensive account. He describes how it was in the final two years of World War II, both on the ground and in the air, manning the guns and systems of the 7th German Anti-Aircraft Brigade. The author has also carried out research into the operations of bombers of the 15th US Air Fleet - the foes that his unit were opposing, thus providing an insight into both the lives of the schoolboy troopers “down here” and the bomber crews “up

Extracts of the book can be read here.

Available from:

15 August 2011

The Fatal Flag - The Top Brass in Captivity

This is the true story of English POW Brigadier Claude Richards, which adds a missing dimension to the many accounts of this period in Japanese WWII history. It concentrates on the plight of high-ranking officers whose experiences as a group have largely been ignored.

Made possible by his copious yet covertly written notes, Claude's legacy also presented an opportunity to write a partial biography of his interesting family at a time when the misfortunes of war kept it apart. Deprived of any letters from his wife for the majority of his imprisonment, Claude still generated vital psychological support from the connection he maintained by writing notional letters to her. His conversational narrative also contains frequent appraisals of his fellow officers - not always complimentary!

From the malarious tropics of Formosa to the freezing gales of Manchuria, ageing men endured physical and mental abuse, the torment of starvation and the attrition of disease, but it was a consolation 'to the wretched to have companions in misery' and most survived. A combination of literature, cards, rumour and humour, or the stimulation of latent wanderlust in some cases, helped relieve the ennui and frustration of those wasted years.

Available from:
Troubador Publishing

11 July 2011

Sacrifice On The Steppe - The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943

When Germany’s Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies—the Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide—the Italian Alpine Corps.

As a result of Mussolini’s disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, by the fall of 1942, 227,000 soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army were deployed along a 270km front along the Don River to protect the left flank of German troops intent on capturing Stalingrad. Sixty thousands of these were elite mountain troops incongruously put into combat on the vast steppe. When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammerblows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, and which then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and “General Winter,” to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. One division was all but destroyed, but two others were able to emerge with survivors. In the all-sides battle across the snowy flatlands, thousands were killed and wounded, and even more were captured. By the summer of 1946, ten thousand survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps.

The consequences of Mussolini’s decision to send troops to Russia is complex and unsettling, but most of all it is a human story. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.

Available from:

The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II

World War II remains one of the most galvanizing and defining events in the history of America. Seemingly overnight, the entire nation unified behind a singular cause. By 1945, the size of the U.S. armed forces had grown from two to twelve million men and women of every color, religion, and creed. Young people from every walk of life were inducted and volunteered. America had quickly and fiercely established itself as a global superpower, and an entire generation's identity was forged, in part, by what many still refer to as the "last good war."

Sixty years later, a young photographer named Thomas Sanders began traveling the country photographing hundreds of World War II veterans. The more he shot, the more he listened, and the more captivated he became by their memories of the war. Veronica Kavass, a writer and interviewer with StoryCorps, joined the project and spent countless hours with these men and women, recording their vivid accounts as Tom recorded their storied faces. "They are a living record of an incredibly historic time," Sanders says. "We have so much to learn from their experiences." He became determined to see that the two million living veterans were celebrated and remembered.
The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II is a chronicle of courage and hardship, sacrifice and determination. The harsh reality of combat is tempered by tender, poignant moments. The overwhelming anguish of lost brothers-in-arms sits alongside stories of enduring friendships. The war brought Americans in touch with people from all over the world – some they fought and some they fought next to, from the beaches of Normandy to the frozen plains of Russia, the North African deserts and the mountains of Japan. They came, these volunteers and draftees, from everywhere and for every reason: from the young woman pulled from her college and covertly trained to break German submarine codes, to the soldier who stormed Hitler’s castle home, these pilots, soldiers, marines, and sailors each provide a unique window into American history.

There are two million veterans still alive today, but with each passing day there are fewer and fewer. The images and memories of these men and woman, collected in these pages, preserve a profound piece of America’s history. Their past offers us a lasting and powerful perspective on today's world, and defines the true price of freedom.

This is the story of World War II through the veterans who lived it.

Visit the Mini-site for The Last Good War for preview pages, author information and more.

Available from:
Welcome Books

Voices of the Bulge - Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge

The powerful German counteroffensive operation code-named “Wacht am Rhein” (Watch on the Rhine) launched in the early morning hours of December 16, 1944, would result in the greatest single extended land battle of World War II. To most Americans, the fierce series of battles fought from December 1944 through January 1945 is better known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” Almost one million soldiers would eventually take part in the fighting.

Different from other histories of the Bulge, this book tells the story of this crucial campaign with first-person stories taken from the authors’ interviews of the American soldiers, both officers and enlisted personnel, who faced the massive German onslaught that threatened to turn the tide of battle in Western Europe and successfully repelled the attack with their courage and blood. Also included are stories from German veterans of the battles, including SS soldiers, who were interviewed by the authors.

Available from:
Zenith Press

27 June 2011

Hitler's Irishmen

During the Second World War, two young Irishmen served in the armed forces of Nazi Germany, swearing the oath of the Waffen-SS and wearing the organisation's uniform and even its distinctive blood group tattoo.

Ironically these young men had originally joined an Irish regiment of the British army, and but for a twist of fate would have ended up fighting against the Germans. Instead, the pair were recruited to the German special forces after they were captured on the island of Jersey.Under the command of Otto Skorzeny, the man who rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a mountain top prison, they were involved in some of the most ferocious fighting of the war in the last days of the Third Reich.This account, which also covers some of the other Irishmen who sided with Nazi Germany, draws heavily on their own accounts and on state papers which have been released in recent years.

Available from:
Mercier Press

Long Hard Road - American POWs during World War II

Between 1941 and 1945 more than 110,000 American marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors were taken prisoner by German, Italian, and Japanese forces. Most who fought overseas during World War II weren’t prepared for capture, or for the life-altering experiences of incarceration, torture, and camaraderie bred of hardship that followed. Their harrowing story—often overlooked in Greatest Generation narratives—is told here by the POWs themselves.

Long hours of inactivity followed by moments of sheer terror. Slave labor, death marches, the infamous hell ships. Historian Thomas Saylor pieces together the stories of nearly one hundred World War II POWs to explore what it was like to be the “guest” of the Axis Powers and to reveal how these men managed to survive. Gunner Bob Michelsen bailed out of his wounded B-29 near Tokyo, only to endure days of interrogation and beatings and months as a “special prisoner” in a tiny cell home to seventeen other Americans. Medic Richard Ritchie spent long moments of terror locked with dozens of others in an unmarked boxcar that was repeatedly strafed by Allied forces. In the closing chapter to this moving narrative, the men speak of their difficult transition to life back home, where many sought—not always successfully—to put their experience behind them.

Available from:
Minnesota Historical Society

24 June 2011

A Letter from Frank: The Second World War Through the Eyes of a Canadian Soldier & a German Paratrooper

This is the remarkable tale of a long-forgotten letter. It was written from Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War to a Canadian in a peaceful Southern Ontario town. Both had been soldiers and had met on a German battlefield. The letter lay unseen for years and was found by the Canadian's son long after the old soldier's death. This book tells how that faded letter led to the discovery of the one-time German paratrooper who became his father's friend in the immediate aftermath of the war.

"A Letter from Frank" is part war story and part biography, following the lives of Russ Colombo, the Canadian soldier, and Frank Sikora, the German paratrooper. One grew up during the Depression in Ontario, the other was a German in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. This non-fiction narrative also chronicles Stephen J Colombo's struggle to come to terms with a father haunted by the war. Their recollections provide insights into the events that shaped the generations that forged a modern Canada and rebuilt Germany after its near-total devastation.

More information on "A Letter from Frank" can be found on the author's website, including extracts from the letters and information on how to research your relatives' wartime experiences.

Available from:
Dundurn Books

5 May 2011

Finding Uri
A man's journey to discover the father he never knew

Finding Uri is a memoir written by a man who has only one fleeting memory of his father. Uri Munro, a naval aviator flying off the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Pacific during World War II, was shot down and lost in January 1945.

The author, also a Navy carrier pilot, unexpectedly received a box in the mail following his mother’s death. It contained 190 letters written back and forth between his young parents, Uri and Betsy, while Uri was in the service flying in TBM torpedo bombers.

After almost a year’s consideration, the author began a two-year process of reading the letters and writing about the experience in real time. He includes photographs and often-emotional excerpts, and weaves other family members into the story.

Using thorough research Munro tells the fascinating history of Uri’s Torpedo Squadron 90. But more significantly he gets to know his father — and his mother — during that two-year period in their lives. It’s an intimate, true tale that the reader discovers along with the author.

Available from:
People's Press

9 March 2011

Foreign Shores - A True Story

Foreign Shores is the true story of Theodor Terhorst, a former German soldier held as a prisoner-of-war in England. Growing up in a small village in Nazi Germany, Theodor, like many other impressionable boys of his age, was a willing participant in the rallies and events organized by the Hitler Youth.

Called up in 1944 at the age of seventeen, he underwent training as a member of a Fallschirmjager (parachute) regiment before being posted to northern France. Wounded in heavy fighting during the allied invasion of Normandy, Theodor was evacuated to Guernsey in the Channel Islands where, after recovering from his wounds, he was subjected to the horror of gradual starvation. Eventually captured when the islands were liberated, he was shipped back to England as a prisoner-of-war. Weak and emaciated after his ordeal, he was hospitalized and given a special diet to gain weight before being sent to a POW camp in Shropshire.

By the end of 1945 with hostilities over, prisoners were allowed to work outside the camps, but many were prevented from returning to Germany in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Theodor was one of those and sent to work as a labourer on a nearby farm where he met and fell in love with the farmer’s eldest daughter.

Some years later Theodor returned to his homeland to try and settle down, but his experience was an unhappy one. Convinced that he is resented by many people for his healthy young family, his prosperity and even for the simple fact that he is still alive, he returns to England where he spends the remainder of his life, developing a sense of belonging and love for the land against which he had once fought.

Available from:
Troubador Publishing