Books Reviewed in 2015

2015

1.  If This is A Woman – Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women  by Sara Helm

2.  The British Army in France After Dunkirk  by Patrick Takle

3.  No Surrender in Burma  by Fred C Goode

4.  Mosquito Down by Frank Dell

5.  Target Italy  by Roderick Bailey

6. Operation Exodus  by Gordon Thomas

7.  Shadows in The Fog by Francis J Suttill

8.  Facing Fearful Odds  by John Jay

9.  KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann

10.  Solvitur Ambulando by Eric Moss

11.  The Cover Up at Omaha Beach by Gary Sterne

12.  Fighters in The Shadows By Robert Gidea

13. Great Escaper by Louise Williams

14. Campo 78 – The Aussie Camp by Gabriella Di Mattia

 

If This is A Woman – Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women  by Sara Helm

Ravensbruck was designed as a women’s camp and the site is situated about 50 miles north of Berlin. The guards were mainly women too and quite brutal and in some cases sadistic.  The camp opened in May 1939 and at the end of the war there were more than 130,000 inmates, with more arriving from the long march westward.  Very few of the inmates were Jewish, most being political enemies of the Third Reich including Resistance and Escape Line operators, social outcasts, Gypsies and anyone considered undesirable by the authorities.  Many were sick and injured.  Life in the camp was harsh,and prisoners were constantly beaten, tortured, used for medical experiments and simply shot out of hand.  The prisoners were used as slave labour to local industries and had to walk miles to and from their place of work.  Everyone starved, many to death.  Although not designed as an extermination camp, Ravensbruck became one during the final months of the war when more than 50,000 prisoners were put to death.  Like many of the former concentration camps ravensbruck was behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ until 1989.  Helm’s research for this book has been extensive, particularly in her search for survivors.  This book is not only about Ravensbruck, and how it evolved into a mass killing machine on an industrial scale, but also  a testament to the survivors and their tenacity and sheer will to live.  At times quite harrowing and disturbing but one of the few books that deals with the life of Ravensbruck from beginning to end.  ISBN 9-781-1-4087-0107-2.  Little Brown.   £25.

The British Army in France After Dunkirk  by Patrick Takle

During Operation Dynamo  more than 330,000 British and French troops were evacuated via Dunkirk between 26th May – 4th June.  However, thousands more were left behind, including most of  those who fought at Calais.  Some had volunteered to stay with the wounded, while others tried to escape.  Churchill had wanted to reinforce the BEF with more troop and aircover, but his senior military advisers disagreed as they felt they would need every available plane and man to defend Britain against the expected invasion.  Despite  great difficulties many of  those left behind did get away from other ports in Normandy and Brittany, and from further south including Bordeaux.  Altogether some 192,000 troops were evacuated, leaving a further 40,000 to try and make their own way home.  Some of these became the first evaders to reach England.  ISBN 1-8441-5852-7  Pen & Sword.   £19.99

No Surrender in Burma  by Fred C Goode

Fred Goode was a member of a Special Forces Unit, Special Service Detachment II,  whose role  in 1941 was to support Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese Army fighting the Japanese in China.  Their role was to teach weapon training, demolitions and guerrilla tactics to the Chinese soldiers. However the Japanese advance into Burma resulted in a change of role, and the force moved into Burma tasked with destroying airfields and military bases to deny them to the Japanese.  However, thwarted by the speed of the Japanese advance, Goode’s force were cut off before they reached the river Irrawaddy.  They split up into four smaller groups and made for either Yunan in China or India.  After negotiating some 2000 miles of inhospital jungle and only 20 miles from India Goode was betrayed to the Japanese.  He was tortured and then locked up in Rangoon’s infamous Central Jail until the end of the war.  This is a story of endurance and survival against the odds.  Of the fifty men in Goode’s unit only eight survived the war.  ISBN 1473824781. Pen and Sword.   £25

Mosquito Down by Frank Dell

Those of you who were part of the RAFES will know Frank Well.  Later the RAFES became  part of ELMS and Frank became one of  our Patrons.  His story is of flying a Mosquito of 692 Squadron on an operation to  Berlin when he was brought down by a German night fighter over the Duisberg/Munster area.  His navigator was killed but he landed safely by parachute.  He walked at night into Holland where he met up with the Dutch Resistance.   Frank still keeps in touch with the families.  It is a story of hiding and moving onto different safe-houses continuously in Holland and the hep given him by the brave Dutch Helpers.  We also learn of what happened to the Helpers.  Eventually Frank returned to Engand.  After the war Frank flew with BEA and became their Chief Pilot (technical).  I enjoyed this book and not just because Frank is a good friend.  ISBN  13 978 09926 20721.  Fighting High Ltd.  £19.95

Target Italy  by Roderick Bailey

This is an unusual book which deals with SOE’s secret war against Mussolini from 1940- 1943.  Commissioned by the Cabinet Office, it is the official history of SOE operations in Fascist Italy.  It is the full story of operations designed to cause a rift between Germany and Italy with an eventual brake-up of the Alliance.  It is different in that SOE’s role  in Italy was exceptionally difficult because Italy was an enemy country at the time, and not an ‘enemy occupied’  country.  Different rues applied when trying to topple or encourage resistance to a very powerful authoritarian regime.  Many operations were carried out and other drastic measures considered including arming the Mafia and the assassination of Mussolini.  SOE also brokered the very delicate talks between the Allies and Italians that eventually led to the Italian surrender in September 1943.  Many agents died in Italy where they often had little support.  They arrived on foot from Switzerland, or by submarine or parachute, usually with no extraction plan in place if things went wrong with the exception of Switzerland.  Despite this radio communications were established,  stores,  weapons and ammunition were smuggled in and an infrastructure of cells and groupings established which grew into partisan and resistance organisations immediately after the armistice.  ISBN 978057129918-8.  Faber & Faber.   £20

Operation Exodus  by Gordon Thomas

During WW2 over six million Jews died in 32 concentration camps.  The death camps of Auschwitz/Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno and Majdanek were at the heart of the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ for the extermination of the Jewish people,  and these camps ran on an industrial scale.  Others died in work camps.  At the end of the war,and despite the end to hostilities the Allies were very concerned about disease and starvation amongst former camp inmates.  Displaced Persons,as they had been known since 1943, were now housed in mainly tented camps with the idea being to contain any disease.  This was a difficult task as many of the former inmates just wanted freedom, others sought revenge.  Over 15 million  foreign workers were repatriated quickly, but nearly two million others, mainly from Eastern Europe refused to go home. Many of these were Jews.  It took seven years to try and resolve the problem, by which time the state of Israel had been established.  The covert Aliyah Beet organisation, run by the Jewish Agency had smuggled over 7,000 Jews into Palestine by 1939.  It continued to do so during WW2,  but at the end of the  war escape lines were in place for many more Jews to escape Europe, mostly from the south of France and Italy, where a fleet of 64 ships had been assembled.  These took people all round the world, but the majority went to Palestine/Israel.  This book tes the story of one  of the ships, the ‘Exodus’.  This is a story of defiance, and against all the odds the determination of a group of  former camp inmates to reach ‘The Promised Land’, Israel.  ISBN 978-1-906779-26-9. JR Books. £20

Shadows in The Fog by Francis J Suttill

Review By Michael Tillotson; The Times saturday 28th March 2015

Who or what caused the  collapse of the Special Operations Executive’s  “prospect” circuit, which extended from Nantes through Paris to the lower reaches of the Marne in 1943 has been the subject of books, myths and speculation for more than half a century. Throughout, suggestions of double agents, betrayal through jealousy or penetration by German intelligence have faded before the more sinister proposition that it was given away deliberately to confuse the enemy over the Allies’ invasion strategy or to distract attention from clandestine operations elsewhere.  The Western Allies, Britain and the US sought to convey the impression that an invasion of Europe, through Brittany, the Netherlands or even Norway was being planned for 1943.

In his book, SOE in France, the authoritative MRD Foot concedes that the head of “Prosper”, Major Francis Suttill, returned to France from a briefing in London in October 1943 believing that an Allied invasion was probably imminent.  This was certainly not part of any deception plan but rather due to the fact that the high-level decision to delay the invasion to mid-1944, for practical reasons, had not at that time been communicated to SOE’s headquarters.

There remains the controversy over the SOE agent – and almost certainly double agent – Henri Dericourt, the former French civil airlines pilot responsible for finding suitable sites for RAF Lysander aircraft clandestine landings bringing in SOE agents and lifting others out.  He was responsible for some of Prosper’s support flights and he also had dealings with the Gestapo.  tried but found not guilty after the war, Dericourt died in 1962.

It now appears certain that following his arrest Francis Suttill remained stoically  silent under German interrogation about his comrades,British and French, right up to the day of his execution in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in March 1945.

Now, Francis J Suttill, son of the Prosper leader, has completed a decade long forensic examination of all the evidence to arrive at the truth.  The book, accurately titled Shadows in The Fog, requires careful  reading as it contains hard evidence intermingled with reports that inevitably overlap and in some cases contradict.  it is a scholarly work. The truth emerges, leaving the honour of  Suttill senior enhanced and giving reminders of the rules of clandestine operations.

The SOE was disliked and distrusted by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) for its enthusiastic amateurism but it brought to the war effort some remarkable men and women.  This book provides a captivating account of the courage, determination and ingenuity of agents parachuted or air-landed into occupied France – and elsewhere in Europe – with their lives not just in their own hands but in the hands of others, some friends, some foe.
The History Press. £20

 

Facing Fearful  Odds by John Jay

This is the story of Rifleman Alec Jay, a Territorial Army infantryman whose unit was thrown into the defence of Calais, and effectively decimated.  Against overwhelming odds the Calais garrison held out for four long days  Finally over-run the survivors were herded into makeshift holding areas prior to setting out on the long march to a POW camp, in Jay’s case to Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf in the Sudetenland.  Jay remained a POW until March 1945. This is a story, written by his son, of Alec’s time as a POW, but in his case with a difference – he was Jewish!  Despite this, Alec Jay did survive, and the book recounts his experiences in a variety of work camps.  He made four unsuccessful attempts to escape, but from the evidence these were rather ‘on the spur of the moment’ efforts without much planning.  As a result he was recaptured each time.  He finally returned home to England on the 15th May 1945, weighing only 7  stone and almost five years to the day since he was captured at Calais.

This is an interesting story, but unfortunately Alec did not leave much in the way of material for his son to use to write this book.  As a result sizeable ‘chunks’ are devoted to his life in the TA before the war, his family upbringing, the life of some of his friends, German policy directives  etc.  Alec Jay endured what many others did, except he always lived under the threat of his Jewish identity being discovered.  That said,  book is well written with useful maps and interesting  photos and will be of interest to anyone looking for a soldiers tale of captivity.  ISBN 1473827345.  Pen & Sword. £25

KL by Nikolaus Wachsmann

KL (from the German for Konzentrationslager) is a tremendous research achievement dealing with every aspect of the Nazi concentration camp system.  From the very first camp to open, Dachau on the 22nd March 1933, Wachmann has covered every aspect of all the camps until their final liberation.   Much of this material has never been published before.  The book focus’ on two main areas:

  1. The life and death within, living conditions, slave labour, punishments, torture, and gratuitous violence that ruled within the camps.  There were those who cooperated fully with the Nazis, those who cooperated to some degree and those who steadfastly refused to cooperate in any way.  The book also highlights the fact that of the estimated 6 million Jews who died as a result of the Holacaust, most died outside of the camp system, as a result of forced labour, and gratuitous violence meted out by their captors.
  2. The second element highlighted in this book deals with how the small number of camps built initially for political prisoners developed into the industrial scale system that evolved, largely in the occupied territories. The legal, business, military, social political and economic systems which allowed prisoners to be hired out to factories and work camps as a source of income for the Reich are covered in depth.

For those interested in this particular aspect of WW2 this is a valuable contribution to the existing library.  Definitely not for the faint hearted as the testimony of survivors included in the book is often harrowing.  ISBN 9 780316 729673  Little Brown  £25

Solvitur Ambulando by Eric Moss

Eric Moss served in the RAF as a Wireless Operator/Gunner.  His story recounts his initial training in England, operations in North Africa where he was shot down, his capture and subsequent experience as a POW in Italy.  His account highlights the hardships, danger, muddle confusion and luck experienced by many in the same situation.  His description of life as a POW, initially in North Africa, then on a ship transporting them to Italy and his subsequent incarceration in PG70 near Monte Urano highlight the often dreadful conditions experienced by many POW.  PG 70 housed some 8,000 POWs whose were accommodated in large concrete buildings, 500 to a ‘shed’.  These building still exist, although the factory is now closed.  He illustrates clearly the deprivation and discomfort experienced by those in the camp; all other ranks except for the camp commandant and Medical Officer.  Moss and a colleague escaped from the camp in the days immediately following the Italian armistice and were given shelter by the villagers of Monte Giberto, about 10 miles from the camp.  Moss remained in the area until late May 1944 when along with a number of other escapers they were evacuated by sea from the beach near Porto San Giorgio.  Moss returned to the UK and remained in the RAF until he was demobilized in April 1946.  He returned to Italy in 1989 and located some of those who had helped him and revisited the site of PG 70. ISBN 0951367633 Amberwood Publishing.  (This is probably out of print but I sourced mine from Amazon)

The Cover Up at Omaha Beach  by Gary Sterne

Review by Chris Colussi

Many of us have read about the desperate struggle at Omaha Beach and the Point du Hoc.  However, when you read this book you begin to understand that much of what we thought we knew is in fact false.  Thanks to the many interviews with veterans of the Ranger battalions involved, and the release of classified papers after more than 60 years we now know far more about what actually happened, and the many mistakes that happened.  Why for instance did the Allies attack a particular gun battery when they knew there were no guns there.  Why did they ignore nearby Maisy, which did have a gun battery sited there.  At Maisy and opened   I enjoyed the interviews and the re-writing of previously incorrect history but some of the technical details of guns etc would probably only appeal to military people.  The author has in fact purchased a plot of land at Maisy and opened up the site to the public as part of the Normandy D-Day tour.  The book does contain many photos which really ‘puts you in the picture’.  ISBN 9781848844896 Pen & Sword £25

Fighters in The Shadows By Robert Gidea

Reviewed by Roger Stanton

With access to previously unseen French archive materiel, ‘Fighters in the Shadows’  attempts to expose some of the myths surrounding much of the French Resistance and the boasts of General de Gaulle.  .  The first French soldier into Paris in 1944 was a member of the ‘La Neuve Regiment’ which consisted mainly of Spanish Republicans.  The majority of French people adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach to the liberation, as put forward by the government of Petain.  In 1971 the film ‘Le Chagrin et Pitie’ suggested that the French people had been supine, cowardly and given to collaboration.  The film was banned from public display for twelve years!.  It was not until the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 and the introduction of the ‘Service du Travail Obligatoire’ for over 40,000 French men to decide to join the Maquis, rather than be deported to Germany.  Nearly all were under 30 years of age.  Gidea floats the idea of talking of ‘Resistance in France’ rather than ‘the French Resistance’.

The book makes reference to the many organisations and individuals omitted from the Gaullist rhetoric, not least the part played by the other Allies!.  Gidea also mentions the foreign fighters whose role has been largely ignored, ie the Spanish Republicans and the anti-fascists who served in many of the large Resistance groups in the south of France.  As an example, Nancy Wake ran a very successful group of over 7,000 Maquis which included many Spaniards, some of whom formed her personal bodyguard!  Also omitted from the ‘official history’ were the many eastern Europeans, in particular the Poles who formed their own intelligence network, escape lines and resistance groups.  It is also not widely known that following the liberation of Paris in 1944 British and Jewish members of SOE were given 24 hours to leave France.  The ‘official history’ also makes little mention of the part played by either the French Colonial forces or the Escape Lines.

General de Gaulle also understated the role played by women in France.  WW2 put many women in the firing line particularly those working for the escape lines and in SOE and intelligence gathering roles.  When de Gaulle assumed control of France they were largely ignored, removed from jobs with the Resistance and most received no formal recognition for the part they played.  It was in most cases women who started the Resistance by working as nurses, couriers, safe-house keepers, intelligence gatherers and even armed fighters.  As an example when Marguerite Gonnet was arrested by the Gestapo in Lyons in May 1942 she was asked, during her interrogation why she had taken up arms against the Germans.  Her reply was apparently ‘ Quite simple Colonel, because the men had dropped them’.

The book also brings to light the in-fighting  between  various key players in the Resistance such as Jean Moulin and Henri Frenay, and the communist Maquis groups and the anti-communists at de Gaulle’s HQ in London.  A meeting was held in Saint Sulpice in May 1943, chaired by Jean Moulin which included all the leaders of the main Resistance to try to settle their differences.  A month later he was betrayed to the Gestapo and died under torture.

This is a serious book which highlights much of the bravery of the many ordinary French citizens and groups who were air-brushed from the official history for political reasons.  It also gives credit to the many brave French citizens who fought and died for freedom, irrespective of their political objectives.  ISBN 978-0571280346  Collins    £30

Great Escaper by Louise Williams

John Williams as a young man in 1937, received one of the 25 Short Service Commissions awarded each year to members of the Royal Australian Air Force.  War clouds were gathering over Europe but to an 18 year old in Australia the possibility of war seemed quite remote.  He initially planned to study medicine and spend his spare time surfing, but by 1942 he was a Squadron Leader with 450 Squadron of the Desert Air Force leading his squadron in air combat over Egypt and Libya.  On the 31st October 1942 he was brought down after an accident involving one of his own aircraft.  He was captured and eventually incarcerated in Stalag Luft lll in Poland.  John Williams was one of the 76 escapers who tunnelled their way out of the supposedly escape proof camp as part of what would become known as ‘The Great Escape’.  Together with a former school friend and two other POWs they made it to Czechoslovakia but were eventually captured by the Gestapo.  Hitler had been so infuriated by the mass breakout that he gave orders that 50 of the recaptured POWs should be executed.  John Williams and ‘Rusty Keirath, his school friend and their two fellow escapees were driven deep into the forest near the town of Most.  The group were executed.  John Williams was just 24 years old.  Despite a War Crimes investigation no one was ever brought to account for the crime.

John’s niece Louise Williams has methodically pieced together John life from his upbringing in Australia to his exploits in the air and filled in the missing details of his escape and recapture.  ISBN 978 1445654010 Allen & Unwin £18-99

Campo 78 – The Aussie Camp by Gabriella Di Mattia

PG 78, a POW camp for Allied POWs in Italy is located on the northern outskirts of the town of Sulmona, at Fonte d’Amore.  During WW2 it was ‘home’ to many Allied POWs, the bulk of whom had been captured in North Africa while serving with the ‘desert Army’.  Many of the Australians held in the camp had been captured at the fall of Tobruk, and about 500 were sent to PG 78.  As with most POWs, escapers and evaders luck plays a large part in what happened to them.

During the summer of 1943 a young, six year old girl in Sulmona offered a piece of fruit to a very tired and hungry Australian soldier.  A small incident in a very long war.  The girl married in 1956 and because of the poverty in the Peligna Valley during the 50’s, the family emigrated to Adelaide, Australia.  One day in the 1960’s the woman was shopping in a butchers shop when she became aware of an Australian man watching her intensely.  Feeling somewhat concerned she looked away.  The man then approached her and said ‘I know you’.  Feeling rather intimidated she replied “ No, I do not know you”. “Yes you do” Was the reply, “ I met you in a far away land.  You were the little girl that gave me some fruit outside the camp at Fonte D’Amore in Italy.  You were the little girl I have held in my heart since that day.  Finally I have found you”.  They hugged and were both in tears.  Burt Boucher, a tough ex-Sergeant had never returned to Italy.  For the rest of his life in Australia he treated Anna Mastrangioli and her family as his own, assisting where he could, and looked upon Anna as his own daughter.

This is a story of the Aussie escapers from Sulmona Camp, their life in the camp and later their experiences as they evaded capture after the Armistice in September 1943.  It is also a story of the help they were given by many Italian families.  The book is in two parts – the first in Italian and the second an English translation.

Published under the auspices of Accademia delgi Agghiacciti, Sulmona.  We do not have an ISBN

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