5 August 2017

Captive Memories: Far East POWs & Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Conditions for Far East Prisoners of War were truly hellish. Appalling diseases were rife, the stench indescribable. Food and equipment were minimal or non existent. Men died daily, many in agony from which there was no relief. And yet, in the midst of such horrors, the human spirit steadfastly refused to be broken. Captives helped each other, intense bonds were formed, selfless sacrifces made. Tools and medical equipment were fashioned from whatever could be found, anything that could make life more bearable. Resilience, resourcefulness, pride and camaraderie; these were the keys to survival. Freedom, for those who made it, meant many things: home, family, comfort, of course; but also adjustment, loss of friendships, and a difficult road to recovery that for some would be lifelong. Most refused to talk about their experiences, coping alone with the post traumatic stress and chronic health problems. It was these ongoing physical after effects of captivity that brought a group of men into contact with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Beginning in 1946 and lasting right up to the present day, LSTM's involvement with the health (and latterly the history) of these veterans represents the longest collaborative partnership ever undertaken by the School. Out of this unique and enduring relationship came knowledge which has improved the diagnosis and treatment of some tropical infections, together with a greater understanding of the long-term psychological effects of Far East captivity. Using eyewitness accounts and the personal perspectives of this group of now elderly POWs as the backdrop, Captive Memories charts this fascinating history.

For more information, see the project website - Captive Memories

Available from:
Carnegie Publishing

3 August 2017

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes

In Forgotten, Linda Hervieux tells the story of an all-black battalion whose crucial contributions at D-Day have gone unrecognized to this day.

In the early hours of the 6th June 1944, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit of African-American soldiers, landed on the beaches of France. Their orders were to man a curtain of armed balloons meant to deter enemy aircraft. One member of the 320th would be nominated for the Medal of Honor, an award he would never receive. The nation's highest decoration was not given to black soldiers in the Second World War.

Drawing on newly uncovered military records and dozens of original interviews with surviving members of the 320th and their families, the author tells the story of these men. Members of the 320th came from many States and backgrounds, and were some of the thousands of other African Americans were sent abroad to fight for liberties denied to them at home. In England and Europe, these soldiers discovered freedom they had not known in their homeland - experiences they carried back to America, fueling the budding civil rights movement.

In telling the story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, Hervieux offers a vivid account of the tension between racial politics and national service in wartime America, and a moving narrative of human bravery and perseverance in the face of injustice.

Available from:
Amberley Books

13 July 2017

Beachhead Assault - The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in World War II

The Royal Naval Commandos had one of the most dangerous and the most important tasks of any in World War II - they were first on to the invasion beaches and they were the last to leave.

Formed in 1941 as the Royal Naval Beach Parties, many lost their lives in the Dieppe raid. After Dieppe they became fully fledged fighting Commandos with their legendary Fairbairn Sykes commando knives, organised into units from A Commando through to the all Canadian W Commando.

Under their officers who were designated as Beachmasters, the Royal Naval Commandos led the way in on the beaches as part of the Allied landings in Madagascar, Dieppe, North Africa, Pantelleria, Sicily, Salerno, the Volturno River, Anzio, Arakan, D Day, Elba, Walcheren and Commachio. Their work on the beaches was crucial to the success of the Allied invasions.

After the War the Royal Naval Commandos were disbanded and forgotten. Their wartime role was given to the Royal Marines. But now through the personal accounts of many of the Royal Naval Commandos themselves this book tells their remarkable story. It is a story which covers their beginnings early in the War and their training, both at their base HMS Armadillo at Ardentinny in Scotland and the famous Achnacarry Commando training school, through to the invasions where they led the way in.

Beachhead Assault includes a Foreword by Man and Boy author Tony Parsons, whose father was a Royal Naval Commando who fought at Elba. It also contains a preface by Ken Oakley, Chairman of the Royal Naval Commando Association.

Available from:
Frontline Books

11 July 2017

295th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company Audio Book

The 295th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company (FA) was a Field Army company of the United States Army from April 16, 1943, until January 1, 1946. Serving under the First, Second, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Army divisions, the company participated in the liberation of Europe during World War II.

Mike Rockett's grandfather, James T. Rockett, served with the Company, and he has created an audiobook which details the history of the Company, and their service.

Information on the 295th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company can be found on Mike's site - www.295th.com, including interviews with some members and a number of photos. A summary of their service can be found here:

1 Training
1.1 Camp Sutton
1.2 Camp Toccoa
1.3 Camp Campbell
1.4 Tennessee Maneuvers
1.5 Camp Forrest
1.6 Fort McPherson
1.7 Camp Gordon
1.8 Fort Jackson
1.9 Camp Kilmer
2 Battle Operations
2.1 Port of Embarkation
2.2 Liverpool, England
2.3 Wem
2.4 Ninth Army
2.5 Weymouth
2.6 Le Havre, France
2.7 Camp Twenty Grand
2.8 Vis, Belgium
2.9 Maastricht, Holland
2.10 Tegelen, Holland
2.11 Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany
2.12 Sterkrade, Germany
2.13 Detmold, Germany
Occupation in Post-War Europe
3.1 Ammendorf, Germany
3.2 Gotha, Germany
3.3 Karlsfeld, Germany

The audio book contains the full narrated story of the Company, and contains many additional details not featured on the website.

Available to download from:
Amazon

7 July 2017

Cassel and Hazebrouck 1940: France and Flanders Campaign

This is the first detailed account of the rearguard action that took place between 25 and 29 May 1940 at Cassel and Hazebrouck on the western perimeter of the Dunkirk Corridor.

By 25 May the decision to evacuate the BEF via Dunkirk had already been taken, Lord Gort, commanding the BEF in France, had given instructions to Lieutenant General Sir Ronald Adam to relinquish his command of III Corps and prepare a perimeter of defence around Dunkirk. As part of the western defensive line of the Dunkirk Corridor, 145 Brigade were deployed to Cassel and Hazebrouck with the instructions to hold the two towns until the last man.

Under the command of Brigadier Nigel Somerset, the brigade occupied Hazebrouck with the infantry of 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion and Cassel with the 4/Ox and Bucks Light Infantry together with the regulars of the 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. Attached to Somerset s meagre force was a number of units that had previously been part of two of Gort s ad hoc formations - Macforce and Woodforce, and it was with these men that the two towns were fortified against the advancing German armoured divisions.

While Hazebrouck was overwhelmed very quickly, the hilltop town of Cassel held out for much longer with German forces failing to consolidate any penetration of the perimeter. The book looks closely at the deployment of units in both towns and focuses on the individuals involved in the defence and the subsequent break-out, which ended in capture or death for so many.

There are two car tours that explore the surrounding area of Cassel and the deployment of platoons within Hazebrouck. These are supplemented by two walking tours, one in Cassel itself and the second further to the west of the town around the area controlled by B and D Companies of the 2nd Gloucesters. The book is illustrated with ten maps and over 100 modern and contemporary photographs.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

28 June 2017

Paras - Voices of the British Airborne Forces in the Second World War

This book is full of untold short stories of men who created a legend, the legend of the British airborne forces during the Second World War.

Impressed by the performance of the German paratroopers in Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940, and on Crete in 1941, Winston Churchill ordered the creation of a British Airborne force of no less than 5,000 parachutists. Their task was to land behind enemy lines and take and hold or destroy key objectives while ground troops advanced toward them. The result was the 1st and 6th Airborne divisions, and this is their story, as told by the men themselves.

Covering everything from the initial training at Hardwick Hall and Ringway through their first operations in North Africa and Italy, to D-Day, Operation Market Garden and the crossing of the Rhine, this is a compelling account of the war fought by the paratroopers and their comrades in the glider units.

Contents:
  • The British Airborne Forms
  • Hardwick Hall: The Selection Process Begins
  • Ringway: The Parachute School
  • The Glider Pilot Regiment
  • Tunisia, Sicily and Italy
  • Normandy: 6 June 1944
  • Arnhem: 17 September 1944
  • Over the Rhine and Walking to the Baltic

Available from:
Amberley Publishing

26 June 2017

'Evans Above... The Life and Times of an Army Chaplain 1942-81

'Evans Above tells the story of the Reverend Walter Evans' service as an Army Chaplain from 1942 to 1981, with a break after World War 2 as a Rector of a parish in Gloucestershire when he was a TA Chaplain.

He had an unusual variety of postings, and was in North Africa and Italy from January 1943 until the end of the War. This included a spell with the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group in Italy, Belgium and Holland in 1945, ministering to the 20% non-Jewish elements within it. He was the only Church of England Chaplain who served with them. He also served with the 184 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery in the UK (1942/43), 79 (Herts Yeomanry) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy (1943/45) and the 56 Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery in Italy (1945).

When the war was over he saw service in Belgium, Holland, Germany (twice), and many locations across the UK. His last uniformed posting was to the SAS at Hereford. He was re-employed after leaving the Army proper as Chaplain to The Royal Hospital Chelsea, for nearly ten years.He was Mentioned-in-Despatches in Italy, and again a decade later in Kenya. He was made an MBE (Military) in 1966.

Available from:
Amazon (Out of Print)

13 June 2017

Air Battle of Malta - Aircraft Losses and Crash Sites, 1940 - 1942

In the Second World War, Malta was subjected to continual air attacks during a siege lasting nearly two and a half years.

This is part of that story, from the early days in June 1940, when only a few Gladiator biplanes were available to combat Italian bombers and fighters, to the intervention of the Luftwaffe and the tenuous defence by outclassed Hurricanes, culminating in the desperate months of fighting following the arrival on Malta of the first Spitfires in March 1942.

Of more than 1,000 aircraft destroyed during the battle, many fell into the Mediterranean or were written off in landing, and at least 200 crashed among the Maltese Islands.

This book documents all known aircraft crashes that occurred in and around Malta and Gozo during 1940-42, describing in detail the circumstances of each loss and what became of the pilot or crew, including some who even today are officially listed as missing.The immediacy of eyewitness accounts from both sides provide a fascinating perspective of an epic battle - much of the material is previously unpublished, not least the narratives by those who were there.

Available from:
Greenhill Books

10 June 2017

Too Young to Die - Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War

John Boileau and Dan Black tell the stories of some of the 30,000 underage youths - some as young as fourteen - who joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the Second World War. This is the companion volume to the authors' popular 2013 book Old Enough to Fight about boy soldiers in the First World War. Like their predecessors a generation before, these boys managed to enlist despite their youth. Most went on to face action overseas in what would become the deadliest military conflict in human history.

They enlisted for a myriad of personal reasons -- ranging from the appeal of earning regular pay after the unemployment and poverty of the Depression to the desire to avenge the death of a brother or father killed overseas. Canada's boy soldiers, sailors and airmen saw themselves contributing to the war effort in a visible, meaningful way, even when that meant taking on very adult risks and dangers of combat.

Meticulously researched and extensively illustrated with photographs, personal documents and specially commissioned maps, Too Young to Die provides a touching and fascinating perspective on the Canadian experience in the Second World War.

Among the individuals whose stories are told:
  • Ken Ewing, at age sixteen taken prisoner at Hong Kong and then a teenager in a Japanese prisoner of war camp
  • Ralph Frayne, so determined to fight that he enlisted in the army, navy and Merchant Navy all before the age of seventeen
  • Robert Boulanger, at age eighteen the youngest Canadian to die on the Dieppe beaches
Available from:
Lorimer
Casemate (UK)

30 May 2017

Send More Shrouds - The V1 Attack on the Guards' Chapel 1944

On Sunday 18 June 1944 the congregation assembled for morning service in the Guards’ Chapel in Wellington Barracks, St James’s Park, central London. The service started at 11 am. Lord Hay had read the first lesson, and the ‘Te Deum’ was about to begin, when the noise of a V1 was heard. The engine cut out. There was a brief silence, ‘an intensive blue flash’ and an explosion – and the roof collapsed, burying the congregation in ten feet of rubble.

This was the most deadly V1 attack of the Second World War, and Jan Gore’s painstakingly researched, graphic and moving account of the bombing and the aftermath tells the whole story. In vivid detail she describes the rescue effort which went on, day and night, for two days, and she records the names, circumstances and lives of each of the victims, and explains why they happened to be there.

Her minutely detailed reconstruction of this tragic episode in the V1 campaign against London commemorates the dead and wounded, and it gives us today an absorbing insight into the wartime experience of all those whose lives were affected by it.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

15 May 2017

Blood in the Forest - The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket

Blood in the Forest tells the brutal story of the forgotten battles of the final months of the Second World War. While the eyes of the world were on Hitler's bunker, more than half a million men fought six cataclysmic battles along a front line of fields and forests in Western Latvia known as the Courland Pocket. Just an hour from the capital Riga, German forces bolstered by Latvian Legionnaires were cut off and trapped with their backs to the Baltic. The only way out was by sea: the only chance of survival to hold back the Red Army. Forced into uniform by Nazi and Soviet occupiers, Latvian fought Latvian - sometimes brother against brother. Hundreds of thousands of men died for little territorial gain in unimaginable slaughter. When the Germans capitulated, thousands of Latvians continued a war against Soviet rule from the forests for years afterwards.

An award-winning documentary journalist, the author travels through the modern landscape gathering eye-witness accounts from seventy years before piecing together for the first time in English the stories of those who survived. He meets veterans who fought in the Latvian Legion, former partisans and a refugee who fled the Soviet advance to later become President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, A survivor of the little-known concentration camp at Popervale and founder of Riga's Jewish Museum, Margers Vestermanis has never spoken about his personal experiences. Here he gives details of the SS new world order planned in Kurzeme, his escape from a death march and subsequent survival in the forests with a Soviet partisan group - and a German deserter.

With eyewitness accounts, detailed maps and expert contributions alongside rare newspaper archive, photographs from private collections and extracts from diaries translated into English from Latvian, German and Russian, the author assembles a ghastly picture of death and desperation in a tough, uncomfortable story of a nation both gripped by war and at war with itself.

This book provides a fascinating perspective on the little known battles of the Courland Pocket. The author's skilled use of interviews combined with his personal travelogue makes it one of the best books I have read in a number of years, as it successfully brings the long lasting impact of war on the Latvian people into stark focus. I look forward to reading more titles from Vincent Hunt in the future.

Author's website - www.vincenthunt.co.uk/author.html

Available from:
Casemate

12 May 2017

Dartmoor Air Crashes - Aircraft Lost in World War Two

This is a book about the consequences of the air war over Devon. Describing Dartmoor as the last wilderness in southern England, it gives details about the aircraft that crashed there during World War Two. What is surprising is the total comes to more than forty. Illustrated with photographs, it has accounts of more than two dozen accidents involving the aircraft that came down on the slopes of Dartmoor. Despite involving British, American and German forces, all cases are treated in the same ‘matter of fact’ manner. Although it was a time of war, only a few of the crashes came about because of enemy action, but with many it seems the weather played a large part.

The first chapter, ‘The Day the Battle of Britain came to Tavistock’, tells how in 1940 a top secret installation at the village of Wotter led to a German bomber being forced to crash land at Tavistock. The following chapters deal with a variety of aircraft that came to grief on the moor during the war; from one of the oldest fighters then in the RAF, a Gloster Gladiator biplane, to the loss of two of the very latest twin engine Westland Whirlwinds that crashed ‘somewhere near Princetown’. There is an account of what caused a high flying German reconnaissance plane to come swooping down to earth at Scorriton. But one of the saddest tales is about a Liberator bomber of Coastal Command returning from a long patrol over the Bay of Biscay. There is a full explanation as to why it should have come down in a field by Plasterdown as the crew struggled to make an emergency landing.

Undoubtedly some of the stories are tragic, but they are nonetheless fascinating. They show how fate can play a part in the outcome – sometimes for the better, but not always. There are tales of amazing escapes, like the one about the crew of an American Flying Fortress returning heavily damaged from a bombing raid on Lorient. Then there is the piece about what happened to Basil Browne, a nineteen year old RAF sergeant and how he happened to be on an American weather plane that crashed above Bridestowe on Christmas Day 1943. There is also an epic account of how the quarrymen at Meldon ventured out in appalling weather to look for the crew of a Wellington bomber that had crashed ‘somewhere up on the high moor’.

There is a whole chapter devoted to Harrowbeer, the only operational air station on Dartmoor. Built early in the war, the airfield was home to a number of fighter squadrons. There are details about the aircraft and pilots who came down on the moor whilst flying from the airfield. It concludes with an explanation as to why the President of the United States should have paid a flying visit to Yelverton.

At the end of the book there is a list of the casualties. Some of them survived to fly again, but sadly many did not. What is amazing were their ages, the oldest was only 27. They came from all walks of life and from all over the globe. The majority of RAF crews were volunteers coming from as far away as New Zealand and Canada.

Available from:
Amazon

7 March 2017

Survivors of Stalingrad - Eyewitness Accounts from the Sixth Army 1942-43

In November 1942 – in a devastating counter-attack from outside the city – Soviet forces smashed the German siege and encircled Stalingrad, trapping some 290,000 soldiers of the 6th Army inside. For almost three months, during the harshest part of the Russian winter, the German troops endured atrocious conditions. Freezing cold and reliant on dwindling food supplies from Luftwaffe air drops, thousands died from starvation, frostbite or infection if not from the fighting itself.

This important work reconstructs the grim fate of the 6th Army in full for the first time by examining the little-known story of the field hospitals and central dressing stations. Reinhold Busch trawled through hundreds of previously unpublished reports, interviews, diaries and newspaper accounts to reveal the experiences of soldiers of all ranks, from simple soldiers to generals.

The book includes first-hand accounts of soldiers who were wounded or fell ill and were flown out of the encirclement; as well as those who fought to the bitter end and were taken prisoner by the Soviets. They reflect on the severity of the fighting, and reveal the slowly ebbing hopes for survival. Together they provide an illuminating and tragic portrait of the appalling events at Stalingrad.

Highly recommended for the depth and range of first hand accounts it includes, this title was originally published in German in 2012 as Der Untergang der 6. Armee

Available from:
Pen & Sword
 

28 February 2017

The Battle for Heraklion - Crete 1941 - The Campaign Revealed Through Axis and Allied Accounts

Crete, 20 May 1941: the first campaign-sized airborne assault is launched. Many books have been written about this famous invasion, with the emphasis mainly on the battles for Maleme and Chania.

The Battle for Heraklion - an epic struggle - remained largely forgotten and widely unstudied. Yet the desperate fight for Heraklion had everything: street-fighting in the town; heroic attacks against well-fortified positions and medieval walls; heavy losses on all sides; and tragic stories involving famous German aristocratic families like the von Blüchers and members of the Bismarck family.

This book highlights personal stories and accounts - and the author’s access to records from all three sides allowed accounts to be placed in their correct place and time. Finally, the history of the battle is written with the added perspective of extensive Greek accounts and sources. In contrast, earlier books were based solely on British and German sources - totally ignoring the Greek side. Many of these accounts are from people who were fighting directly against each other - and some reveal what the enemies were discussing and thinking while they were shooting at or attacking each other. Some accounts are so accurate and detailed that we can even identify who killed whom. In addition, long-lost stories behind both well known and previously unpublished pictures are revealed.

For the first time, 75 year-old mysteries are solved: what were the names of the paratroopers in the planes seen crashing in famous pictures? What was the fate of soldiers seen in pictures taken just before the battle? The author has studied the battlefield in every detail - thus giving the reader the opportunity to understand actions and incidents by examining what happened on the actual field of battle. For example, how was it possible for a whole platoon to be trapped and annihilated, as in the fate of Wolfgang Graf von Blücher? Such a question is not easily answered even by people with a military background. How was it possible for the paratroopers to fail in their attempt to occupy the town?

The answers to questions like these became very clear when the author walked through the battlefields - following the accounts of the people from all sides who had fought there and which describe the same incidents. The author’s extensive research is vividly presented via detailed maps and photographs, both from the era of the battle and today; even battlefield archaeology plays a role in revealing what really happened on the battlefield. The author’s approach addresses two different types of readers: those who are largely unfamiliar with the battle - hence the emphasis on personal stories, accounts and pictures - and the researcher who wants a reliable source of first-hand material and perhaps a different point of view, such as is offered by Greek accounts and sources (and by the writer’s detailed analysis of the battle).

This fresh account of one of the Second World War’s most memorable battles is given added authority by the writer’s military background, together with his deep knowledge of the battlefield and his access to Greek accounts and sources.

Available from:
Casemate
 

1 February 2017

Churchill's Last Wartime Secret - The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed from History

It's been a State secret for more than 70 years: The official line in the UK has always been that it never happened - but this new work challenges the assertion that no German force set foot on British soil during World War Two (the Channel Islands excepted), on active military service.

Churchill's Last Wartime Secret reveals the remarkable story of a mid-war seaborne enemy raid on an Isle of Wight radar station. It describes the purpose and scope of the attack, the composition of the raiding German force and how it was immediately, and understandably, 'hushed-up' by Winston Churchill's wartime administration, in order to safeguard public morale. Circumventing the almost complete lack of official British archival documentation, the author relies on compelling and previously undisclosed first-hand evidence from Germany to underpin the book's narrative and claims; thus distinguishing it from other tales of rumoured seaborne enemy assaults on British soil during the 1939-45 conflict. After examining the outcome and repercussions of this astonishing incident, what emerges is an event of major symbolic significance in the annals of wartime history.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about this book online - personally, I am still not convinced by the argument put forward by the author, but I suggest that if it sounds interesting to you, then you should make up your own mind!

Available from:
Pen & Sword