13 December 2014

Omaha Beach Field Guide

The first field guide to the iconic and tragic Omaha Beach. The author, Brigadier General Theodore G. Shuey served under the command of Omaha Beach veterans, including General Cota. Sector by sector (with complete maps), he records the operations, relying upon the testimonies of veterans, as well as studying the battles from a military perspective, in relation to the role played by the German posts.

The book is highly illustrated, with photos from 1944 alongside modern colour photographs of the locations as they are today. This is also supplemented with photos of material and equipment used at the time, some of which has been found in Normandy in recent years. If you are considering visiting Omaha Beach, this book would be a good guide.

Published by Heimdal.

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The Gentlemen at War: Policing Britain, 1939-45

Very little has been written about the work of the police in the Second World War. The fire service, the wardens, the Home Guard - all have had books devoted to them. But the vital role played by the omnipresent police men and women, has been largely ignored. And yet policing tasks and responsibilities underwent an almost complete change virtually overnight. Draconian new laws were passed; policemen whose beats happened to include a Jewish ghetto found themselves interning some good friends, just because they came from Germany. New organisations were formed (wardens, Home Guard, AFS), many of which had responsibilities that tended to overlap those of the police. No longer did the country bobby have just a little poaching to worry about; he suddenly found a squadron of B17s based on his "patch", with its full complement of attendant US servicemen.

This book examines the changed role of the wartime police force and the effect the War had on the morals and mores of the population. It explores how shortages and rationing affected traditional standards. It reviews how the absence of menfolk and the influx of foreign troops was reflected in changes in moral behaviour, increased prostitution, sexual offences and vice in general. Other matters considered are the variations in crime patterns, the effect of the war on police/public relations and whether the experience fundamentally changed police attitudes and subsequent policing philosophies.

Using both primary sources (the memories of surviving members of the force) and secondary sources (official publications, contemporary books, magazines, etc.), The Gentleman At War successfully conveys the flavour of the period whilst providing an empirical analysis of the philosophy of policing in those uniquely troubled years.

Available from:

2 December 2014

An Englishman in Auschwitz

Leon Greenman was born in London in 1910. His paternal grandparents were Dutch, and at an early age, after the death of his mother, his family moved to Holland, where Leon eventually settled with his wife, Esther, in Rotterdam.

Leon was an antiquarian bookseller, and as such traveled to and from London on a regular basis. In 1938, during one such trip, he noticed people digging trenches in the streets and queuing up for gas masks. He hurried back to Holland with the intention of collecting his wife and return with her to England. The whispers of war were growing louder and louder.

In May 1940, Holland was overrun by the Nazis, by which time Leon and his family had been effectively abandoned by the British Consulate and stranded with neither passports nor money. Eventually, they were deported to Birkenau where Esther and their small son, Barney, were gassed on arrival. Leon was chosen with 49 others for slave labor. This book tells the story of Leon's remarkable survival, of the horrors he saw and endured at Auschwitz, Monowitz and during the Death March to Gleiwitz and Buchenwald camp, where he was eventually liberated.

Leon Greenman died in London in 2008. Read his obituary in The Telegraph.

Available from:
Vallentine Mitchell (currently out of stock)

30 November 2014

Neutral Shores - Ireland and the Battle of the Atlantic

From September 1939 until the last days of the war in 1945 Ireland was host to a constant flow of casualties from the Battle of the Atlantic. Ireland's unique location situated near the vital shipping lanes of the Western Approaches placed the country in the immediate conflict zone once the war at sea began with the sinking of the British merchant liner Athenia on 3 September 1939, when 449 survivors landed in Galway city. Neutral Shores follows the story of how many merchant navy ships during the war were attacked and sunk, and their surviving crews left adrift on the hostile Atlantic Ocean in a desperate struggle for survival. For the fortunate ones sanctuary was found along Ireland's rugged Atlantic shores, where the local people took these men from the sea into their homes and cared for them without any consideration of their nationality or allegiances to any of the belligerent nations.

A Tale of Two Tankers
Destination Ventry
Arlington Court
A Bad Winter for Neutrals
The Happy Time
Clan MacPhee and Kelet
Disaster Off Donegal
No Safety for Stragglers
English Navvies in Ireland
Richmond Castle
Empire Breeze
Beginning of the End
Bay of Biscay
Appendix I - Ships sunk through belligerent action that landed survivors in Ireland
Appendix II - Explanation of the Allied convoy code

Available from:
Mercier Press

8 November 2014

Rations, Raids and Romance - York in the Second World War

In this second volume in York Archaeological Trust’s Oral History series, author Van Wilson looks at life in York during the Second World War, as remembered by those who lived through it.

Over 70 interviewees contribute their experiences of life in York and the surrounding area; their memories of evacuation, rationing, air raids and dancing in the de Grey rooms give a wonderful insight into the joys as well as the hardships of life in wartime Britain.

Chapter One: Preparing for War
Chapter Two: Tbe Evacuees
Chapter Three: Civil Defence
Chapter Four: The Women's Land Army
Chapter Five: Rations and Fashions
Chapter Six: The York Air Raids
Chapter Seven: Work in Wartime
Chapter Eight: Entertainment and Romance
Chapter Nine: Prisoners of War
Chapter Ten: The Pacifists
Chapter Eleven: The End of the War
Profiles of Interviewees

Published by:
York Archaelogical Trust

29 July 2014

Warsaw Boy: A Memoir of a Wartime Childhood

Warsaw Boy is the memoir of a sixteen-year old boy soldier who fought in the vicious Warsaw Uprising in the late summer of 1944.

On 1 August 1944 Andrew Borowiec, then a fifteen-year-old volunteer in the Resistance, lobbed a grenade through the shattered window of a Warsaw apartment block onto some German soldiers running below. 'I felt I had come of age. I was a soldier and I'd just tried to kill some of our enemies'.

The Warsaw Uprising lasted for 63 days: Heinrich Himmler described it as 'the worst street fighting since Stalingrad'. Yet for the most part the insurgents were poorly equipped local men and teenagers - some of them were even younger than Andrew.

Over that summer Andrew faced danger at every moment, both above and below ground as the Poles took to the city's sewers to creep beneath the German lines during lulls in the fierce counterattacks. Wounded in a fire fight the day after his sixteenth birthday and unable to face another visit to the sewers, he was captured as he lay in a makeshift cellar hospital wondering whether he was about to be shot or saved. Here he learned a lesson: there were decent Germans as well as bad.From one of the most harrowing episodes of the Second World War, this is an extraordinary tale of survival and defiance recounted by one of the few remaining veterans of Poland's bravest summer.

Andrew Borowiec was born at Lodz in Poland in 1928. At fifteen he joined the Home Army, the main Polish resistance during the Second World War, and fought in the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising. After the war he left Poland and attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Available from:
Viking (A Penguin imprint)

6 June 2014

WN 62: A German Soldier’s Memories of the Defence of Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944

Heinrich Severloh’s moving autobiography and service memoir describes the greatest amphibious landing-operation in history, which on D-Day marked the beginning of the decisive campaign of the Second World War. When in the dawn of June 6, 1944, the western Allies opened their offensive against the Atlantic Wall on the coast of Normandy, with 7,000 ships and 13,000 airplanes, Severloh, the machine-gunner who became the German most feared by the Americans, was posted at Strongpoint WN62. He fired at the G.I.’s on the beach with his machine gun and rifle for nine long hours - more than 2.000 of them were taken down.

In a moving and unsparing account, Heinrich Severloh describes  the dramatic hours during which 34,000 G.I.’s landed in his sector of what later was called “Bloody Omaha”, and met with the hard-fought resistance of only 300 German soldiers. Severloh the young farmer’s son from the L√ľneburg heath, survived a firestorm, as bizarre as it was terrible, that stamped the rest of his life.

Many internationally-known military historians, as well as the press and television, have immortalized Severloh in the history of warfare. Until the publication of this sad confession, Americans had never known the name of the one who, in large measure, caused the landing to become this awful slaughterhouse.

This memoir, in collaboration with Helmut Konrad Baron Keusgen, a writer for military history, is an extremely thrilling factual account with precise descriptions of the immediate area of the assault. It provides an additional point of view of the events of his dramatic day, and presents the relations of the French and the Germans in a different light.. It is told with violent emotion and unvarnished truth. Severloh clarifies uncompromisingly spurious moral values and ideologies, and questions hitherto prevailing official statements.

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Battle for Cherbourg

One of the Battle Zone Normandy series published by Sutton Publishing, Battle for Cherbourg gives an overview of the battle for the port town, urgently required by the Allies as a port to allow landing of troops and vital supplies.

The battle started on the 22nd June, with three American divisions beginning their assault. A bitter six-day battle ensued, as the 40,000 strong German garrison in the Cotentin peninsula had been ordered to hold the port to the last man.

The book also includes four different battlefield tours, colour illustrations and reference maps.

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Normandy Landings - A 19-year-old's diary with unique photos

"....we had to fight two wars, one against the sea and the other against the Germans."

Still only in his teens, and newly commissioned, Sub Lieutenant Carter was one of the youngest naval officers to engage in prolonged action on the Normandy beaches during operation overlord in June 1944.

Their first beaching took place with his landing craft filled with American Stuart tanks. It was a grim scene, faithfully recorded by the author in this excellent account and clearly attested by the over twenty-five of his own photographs. Because of the leaky state of his LCT Mark V, Sub-Lt. Carter was kept in Normandy for three weeks of hard toil delivering armaments and supplies all along the American beachhead, experiencing the horrific storm and the break-up of his craft.
 Uniquely, then, he presents a record of many landings, rather than just one, and gives us a chilling overview of the chaos that turned - miraculously - into triumph. After seventy years, it is well to remember how much we owe to the men who landed on D-Day, and to those, like the author, who helped ensure their victory.

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Destination Normandy - Three American Regiments on D-Day

G. H. Bennett collects oral histories from the soldiers of three American regiments and weaves them into an intimate account of the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. 

Widely scattered during its drop into Normandy, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (82nd Airborne Division) stopped the advance of an SS division. The untested 116th Infantry Regiment (29th Infantry Division) landed on bloody Omaha Beach, where it suffered more casualties than any other regiment that day. Meanwhile, the 22nd Infantry Regiment (4th Infantry Division) easily waded ashore on Utah Beach but faced savage fighting as it moved inland.

While the book covers the experiences of the men of these regiments on D Day and in Normandy, an additional element is the detail given to the time spent training across the UK - an aspected often overlooked.

Available from:
Casemate (UK Distributor)

5 June 2014

The Normandy Battlefield - D-Day & The Bridgehead

The dramatic events of 70 years ago left behind many signs across Normandy: from the huge caissons of the Mulberry Harbour around Arromanches, the gun emplacements at Longues and Merville, to the multitude of hardware used as memorials—tanks, artillery, pillboxes—and the many graves and cemeteries that honour those who died on both sides. It is in memory of the dead that much of what can be seen on the ground survives, but as the last few survivors reach their 90s, a new audience requires information about the events of the past that can only come from seeing the ground where the battle was fought. Today, the beaches are a fascinating mixture of the new and the old, including the new visitors’ center at Colleville and the renovation and expansion of the Utah Beach museum—even as further new memorials jostle with the older sites that have changed little in 70 years.
The Normandy Battlefields details what can be seen on the ground today using a mixture of media to provide a complete overview of the campaign. Maps old and new highlight what has survived and what hasn’t; then-and-now photography allows fascinating comparisons with the images taken at the time—particularly the aerial views—and computer artwork provides graphic details of things that can’t be seen today.

A particular aspect of the book that is worthy of note is the photograph captions. A concerted effort has been made to identify not only locations, but also the individuals contained within well known photos - including in some cases their fate, during the battle for Normandy. 

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Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy

On the afternoon of 7 June 1944, Lorne Brown, a private serving with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in Normandy, was bayoneted to death while trying to surrender to troops of the 12th SS Division 'Hitler Youth.'

Over the next ten days, more than a hundred and fifty Canadian soldiers were brutally murdered after capture by the 12th SS. Despite months of post-war investigation by Allied courts, however, only two senior officers of the 12th SS were ever tried for war crimes.

Drawing extensively on archival sources, Howard Margolian reveals the full account of an atrocious chapter in history and exposes the causes - an inept and indifferent Canadian military justice system, and a Canadian government all too willing to let bygones be bygones - of the flagrant inaction that followed. Highly praised for both its meticulous research and its engaging passion, this book will resonate with veterans, those interested in war crimes, military buffs, and historians.

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D-Day - By Those Who Were There

Drawing upon the archive of the Second World War Experience Centre, the support of veterans world-wide and from archives overseas, the author, Peter Liddle, uses previously unpublished letters, diaries, photographs and reminiscences to tell the story of D Day in a way which brings the reader closer to the actual experience. From an aerial, naval and land perspective the events of D Day are captured superbly in wartime contemporary and retrospective documentation.

Each of the beaches is fully represented. American, Canadian and British testimony is supported by new, compelling, German material. Appropriately the RAF and Merchant Navy experience appear as do the contemporary and retrospective reactions of women ‘in the know’ and those whom knew from ‘unofficial sources’ of the immediate imminence of the assault.

The reader will share in each stage of the day from the experience of paratroops and glider-borne troops to crossing the Channel by sea and at the landings on each beach. The book is profusely illustrated with previously unpublished photographs and facsimile documentation.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

The Bayeux British Cemetery

No war cemetery has been so intimately recorded during the years of its creation as that of Bayeux.

This account, published by Pitkin Guides, is based on interviews and personal experiences, and includes many images, including previously unpublished photographs by Corporal Eric Gunton of Number 32 Graves Registration Unit, who photographed the cemetery as it took shape. Here is a tribute to those - known and unknown - who gave their lives in the Second World War and whose last resting place is this 'corner of a foreign field'.

Available from:
The History Press

Achtung! Minen! The Making of a Flail Tank Commander

Ian Hammerton was a Sherman Flail (Crab) troop commander, B Squadron 22nd Dragoons, whose first experience of combat was at D Day. The book details his landing at Bernieres-sur-Mer on the 6th June, and follows his experiences in North West Europe, until the end of the war.

I personally found this an excellent account, one of the most engaging that I have read of the experiences of a British tank commander during the war, and I would certainly recommend obtaining a copy - if you can find one.

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70th Anniversay of D Day - a few books from my shelf

It is quite hard to not be aware that it is the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy landings - D Day. While there are a considerable number of books available that consider the Normandy campaign, I thought I'd list a few over the next few days from my personal collection.

The books I will be listing are mostly titles published in the last 10 years, with a few more recent ones. They are books that I've obtained over the years, which caught my interest for one reason or another. I hope that you find something of interest.

2 May 2014

U-Boats at War - Landings on Hostile Shores

I recently purchased this book from The Lewes Book Centre in Sussex (definitely worth a visit if you are in the area).

U-Boats at War - Landings on Hostile Shores is a fascinating book, which covers the relatively unknown visits of U-boats and their crews to locations as diverse as Ireland, Iceland, Canada, Africa, Spain, the Canary Islands, and the Arctic. The author, Jak P. Mallmann Showell does an extremely comprehensive job of covering the stories of these incidents, and manages to effectively dispel some of the post-war myths that developed about secret U-boat bases and the like.

The table of contents is:
  1. Irish Fiascos
  2. Icelandic Betrayals and Failures
  3. Sabotage in the United States
  4. Investigating American Atom Bombs and Jet Aircraft
  5. Intrusions into Canadian Waters
    Landing Leutnant Langbein from U213
    Landing Werner von Janowski from U518
    Daylight Raid in Conception Bay
    Picking up Escaped Prisoners of War
    The German Base in Canada
  6. Along the Fringes of the Sahara
    Landing Jean Lallart from U66
    Mediterranean Landings
    Munitions Transporter for Rommel's Army
  7. Neutral Spain
    The Spanish Supply System
    Repaired in Spain
    Interned in Spain
  8. The Mysterious Canary Islands
    Was the a Secret Refuelling Base?
    U-boats on the Canary Islands
  9. The Barren Arctic
    U212 Landing on Bear Island
    U703 Rescues Russians from Hopen Island
    Arctic Reconnaissance
  10. Arctic Meteorological Stations
    U365 Sails to Spitzbergen
    U354 on Hopen Island
  11. U722 Supplies the Garrison at St Nazaire
  12. The Final Defiance
Available from:

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: