20 December 2021

Tragedy & Betrayal in the Dutch Resistance

In the final days of the Second World War, as German troops were withdrawing and fighting rearguard  actions across Europe, the Nazi security forces were still enthusiastically implementing their cruel regime on the civilians of the areas still under occupation. In Zwolle in The Netherlands, five men were executed by the Sicherheitsdienst on the 31st March 1945. 

Samuel de Korte was the family member of one of those men, and his book is a personal journey to find out more about the men, what they had done and the reasons behind their execution. The author has used a range of resources, including interviews, archival material, and contemporary newspapers to create an important insight into the impact of this callous, brutal moment. Sadly, executions were being carried out across Holland even at this late stage of the war, murdering men and women of the resistance literally days before their liberation from the Nazis. While their stories may be remembered in The Netherlands, this is a little known chapter of Second World War history. De Kortes book helps to ensure their sacrifices can be learnt about by a wider international audience.

Table of contents:

  1. A Horrid Execution
  2. The Five Men and Their Families
  3. In the Huis van Bewaring
  4. The Verdict and Westerbork
  5. The Aftermath
  6. Perpertrators and Collaborators
  7. The Monument and Reflections
    Endnotes

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the copy of this book.

Available from:
Pen & Sword


19 December 2021

20th Century Defences in Britain - An Introductory Guide

Anyone living in Britain will probably be familiar with seeing the remains of pillboxes, and other crumbling installations from the Second World War, or perhaps even older. However, I personally haven't really been able to identify what every construction was for, although I had made some educated guesses. So I was very pleased when I recently picked up a copy of this book in a secondhand bookshop. 

20th Century Defences in Britain - An Introductory Guide, was produced by the Council for British Archaeology as part of the Defence of Britain project. It explains, with illustrations and photographs, the variety of defensive remains that can still be found across the country. Pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles, coastal batteries, bombing decoys, radar stations, Nissen huts, air raid shelters, airfields and many more are described in considerable detail. 

Table of Contents

Part I - Military Archaeology: Sources and Methods
1. Sources of evidence
2. Approaches to survey
3. Materials and techniques

Part II - The Defence of Britain c.1900 - 1945
4. Early warning systems
5. Anti-aircraft defences
6. Civil defence
7. Anti-invasion defences
8. Coastal defences
9. Airfields

Part III - The Archaeology of the Cold War 1945 - 1992
Early warning, active and civil defence

This is a great handbook for anyone - like me - who wants to know what that old bit of concrete once was, and why it was placed there.  

Available from:
I think this is out of print - you could try Amazon


The Beaulieu River Goes to War 1939-1945

Despite its rather uninspiring name, The Beaulieu River Goes to War is a very insightful book which explains in detail the role of Combined Operations, and Landing Craft which used the Beaulieu River during the Second World War. 

Over 500 major and minor assault landing craft and barges used the river, and these participated in the landings of DDay and Walcheren. The latter is covered in significant detail in the book, and this is a key highlight. Parts of the Mulberry Harbour were constructed on the west bank, while a secret hydrographic unit, Naval scientists experimenting with new weaponry, the SOE 'Finishing School' for SOE Commandos and Free French commandos were all in the local vicinity. The history of HMS Mastodon is described in detail, and should be of interest to anyone researching Combined Operations prior to DDay.

The book also includes information on the crash of a German bomber in the area, which lead to some speculation regarding its crew and mission (covered in detail in The Exbury Junkers - https://recollectionsofwwii.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-exbury-junkers-world-war-ii-mystery.html). 

The author, Cyril Cunningham, served as a Midshipman on LCT 2401 during the Second World War, and participated in the Normandy campaign, being at HMS Mastodon during 1944. 

Table of contents:

  • The Ghosts on the Beaulieu River
  • Twilight War
  • Innovation and Experimentation
  • The Reformation on HMS Mastodon
  • Nevil Shute and the Mystery Bomber
  • Neptune's Trident
  • Westkapelle: The Jaws of Death
  • Fortunes of War
  • Bibliography
  • List of Major Landing Craft using the Beaulieu River 1939-45
  • Index

Available from:
Out of print, but you can try Amazon

The Terror Raids of 1942 - The Baedecker Blitz

Between April and June 1942, England was shaken by a series of raids on smaller, historic cities, which were not previously targetted in such a way. These raids were in direct retailiation for the bombing by the RAF of similar cities in Germany, and were known as the Baedecker Raids. The Baedecker Guide was a pre-war tourist book which rated locations for visitors - and the cities targeted were all rated  'three stars' in the terms of the Guide, and this was announced by the German Foreign Office, prior to the raids - ‘We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide’. The ensuing raids on Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury cost the lives of over a thousand people.  

While the Blitz on major cities - particularly London and Coventry - is well known, the 1942 raids have received less attention. While there are certainly books published on each specific raid (such as The Bombing of Bath by Niall Rothnie, Norwich - A Shattered City, by Steve Snelling, and Target Exeter by Geoff Worrall), this is the first recent book to provide an overview of all the raids and the impact on each city. The author has used a wide range of sources including newspapers from the period, material from Exeter Cathedral Archives, the Mass Observation Archive, Bath Records Office, and personal correspondence and interviews. Combined, this provides a unique insight into the impact of the raids, and gives voice to the civilians who experienced the raids first hand. 

Table of contents:

  1. The Baedecker raids: background and chronology
  2. Bombs and radio navigation: countermeasures and the types of bombs used in the raids
  3. Air raid shelters and civil defence
  4. Exeter and the Baedecker raids, April - May 1942
  5. The Bath Blitz, 25-27 April 1942
  6. Norwich, April - June 1942
  7. The York raid, 29 April 1942
  8. Canterbury, June 1942: the final series of Baedecker raids
  9. Conclusion

The bibliography is helpfully broken down by city, to assist the interested in reader in finding additional sources for further research. As mentioned, there are more detailed books available on the individual raids (although some are now out of print), however this book gives a good broad overview of all the Baedecker Raids and provides attention to a lesser known period, which is certainly warranted. 

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the copy of this book.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

20 January 2021

U-Boats at War in 100 Objects 1939-1945

I am quite a fan of the series of '100 Objects' books, as the authors provide an authoritative summary of a range of effects and items, relating to different aspects of the Second World War, and they are a good resource for collectors. 

In this book Gordon Williamson, using a carefully selected range of surviving U-boat memorabilia from private collections, describes 100 iconic elements of the U-Boat service and its campaigns. The range of items under consideration include the uniforms and insignias the men wore, the weapons, equipment and technology used, and Williamson also explores the conditions in which the U-boat crews served, from cooking facilities and general hygiene down to the crude toilet facilities. The key individuals of the U-boat arm, and the types of U-boats themselves are also examined.

As this topic is relatively focussed, it is also helpful that the enemy they faced is also covered, examining the ship-borne and airborne anti-submarine weaponry utilised against the U-boats. This helps to provide a balanced view point of the U-boat campaign, although if your area of interest is specifically U-boats this may not add much to the book for you. 

The images of items from collections are complemented with colour and black and white photographs from the war. One small criticism is that the picture quality is variable. The majority of images are clear and crisp, but a few are less vibrant and the image of the extremely rare and unique Soldbuch belonging to Karl D├Ânitz is unfortunately low resolution.  Overall I would recommend anyone with an interest in the U-boat campaign, and particularly with an interest in collecting militaria associated with U-boats, to consider purchasing this book. 

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy. 

Available from:
Pen & Sword

12 January 2021

Operation Demon - The Evacuation of British Commonwealth Troops from Greece 1941

'Operation Demon' is the new book from author Brian Crabb, and it tells the little known story of theevacuation of Allied troops from mainland Greece in April 1941. 
 
In late April 1941, as the German Army overran the country, just over 51,000 Britsh, Australian and New Zeland troops were taken from the shores of Greece at night, to avoid the risk of Luftwaffe attacks.  The evacuation did not run entirely to plan, and three ships - the Dutch troopship Slamat and HM destroyers Diamond and Wryneck on 27 April 1941, were tragically lost, leading to the loss of over 1,000 soldiers and sailors - a story little known today.

'Operation Demon' provides an intricate narrative of this episode of the Second World War, and is available as a limited edition illustrated hard back with extensive appendixes - some of which can be read on Brian's website. This is a unique book and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the campaign in Greece and Crete during the Second World War.

Available from:
Email the author: briancrabb @ talktalk.net
Author's website

25 November 2020

The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South 1944

The retreat across the Ukraine and Romania in 1944 by the crumbling Wehrmacht is not a topic which has been covered extensively in English language books. There are certainly titles which cover specific  battles, such as the Cherkassy-Korsun Pocket, but Pritt Buttar has taken on the challenge of telling the story of the final push by the Red Army to expel German forces from her soil. 

The explaining the actions of opposing forces across the vast expanse of the Eastern Front is not an easy task, but The Reckoning strikes a good balance - utilising first hand accounts from both sides to illustrate the detailed descriptions of the defensive and offensive actions across the Ukraine and Romania. While the first hand accounts add a great deal, and are often translations from German or Russian sources, it is also clear that memoirs of the Eastern Front are not as prolific as those of the Western Allies, and as such there are sections which rely more on descriptions of unit movements interspersed without a personal touch. But this is a minor issue, as Buttar has created another great book which fills a gap in the history of the Eastern Front. 

The book is a hefty 496 pages and has limited illustrations, but each chapter features numerous maps which help to tell the story. The chapter notes are extensive and the bibliogrpahy stretches to five pages, which tells you everything you need to know about the depth of research that has gone into this book. 

Table of contents:

  1. The Protagonists
  2. The Kirovograd Encirclement 
  3. Watutin and the Cherkassy-Korsun Encirclement
  4. Another Stalingrad
  5. Mud, Snow and Hill 239
  6. Kamanets-Podolski: The Encirclement of First Panzer Army
  7. Malinovsky's Offensive
  8. The Wandering Pocket
  9. The Crimean Peninsula
  10. The End of the Leash
  11. Preparing for Summer
  12. The Lviv-Sandomierz Operation
  13. The Disintegrating Axis
  14. The Approaching Endgame

Many thanks to Osprey for the review copy.

Available from:
Osprey Publishing