Books Reviewed in 2017

1.  Operation Sealion by Leo McKinstry
2.  ETA – A Bomber Command Navigator Shot Down and On The Run – by Gordon Mellor
3   SAS Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre
4.  Gardens of Stone by Stephen Grady and Michael Wright
5.  One Day in France by Jean-Marie Borzeix

 

Operation Sealion  by Leo McKinstry

‘Sealion’ was the German codename given to the planned invasion of Great Britain.

This is an excellent book about Britain’s wartime home defence and the German plans to invade.  The British Resistance Army preparation and plans to thwart the possible Nazi invasion were prepared in secrecy.  Britain’s defence planning in peacetime are little known, and even less so in wartime – unless you are actively involved.  In McKinstry’s book the whole of the wartime plan is exposed.  A British Resistance Organisation was in place before war was declared.  It was well organised and trained, the first Resistance group in Europe to be organised before the country was occupied.  Most members later moved on to SOE, the SAS or other Special Forces.  In addition to the soldiers there were farmers, fishermen, ghillies, poachers and criminals, nurses, priests and doctors.  Communication hides were established, buried in the English countryside together with shelters operated by men and women of the Royal Signals.  The organisation also had hides and supply dumps all over the country.  Many of these are still visible today.

According to popular history the RAF fighters were the country’s saviours and defeated the Luftwaffe, but they did not do it on their own.  Bomber Command was busy bombing German troop concentrations in  French and Belgian ports and German airfield.  At home people were working flat out to build gun positions, hides and hospitals.  On the 14th May (before the Dunkirk evacuation) a call went out for Local Defence Volunteers; within 24 hours over 250,000 had volunteered and by July that figure had reached more than 1,500,000.  Weapons and ammunition began to arrive from the USA

It was thought at one stage that the invasion would be launched from Norway, and later, that Hitler would use Ireland as a base to wage war against us.  Many of the documents now available in the archives make very interesting reading.  Some members of the Government were prepared to negotiate with Hitler to end hostilities; Churchill had them removed from office.  The Royal Family refused to be evacuated from London to Scotland, so a number of safe locations were prepared for them including Newby Hall near Ripon.  Both the King and Churchill undertook small arms training.

At a briefing in Berlin an American reporter suggested to a group of German Generals that invading Britain might not be the ‘walkover’ that they had experienced in Belgium and France.  He declared that the British were armed, trained, had excellent weapons and the rugged terrain would be difficult to occupy.  More importantly, there was little doubt that the British would fight!  The Generals were apparently not amused but interestingly later plans show the plans had been revised to ‘occupy in phases’ with the final advance halting roughly on a line from the Wash to the Severn.

The problems facing the Germans were immense.  Practically they had insufficient resources of manpower and equipment.  The Germans had suffered considerable losses on the campaign in Belgium, The Netherlands and France.  They lacked both sufficient numbers of airborne troops and the aircraft to carry them; there was a severe shortage of any form of landing craft and most importantly the Royal Navy controlled the English Channel and North Sea.  The book highlights all sorts of other preparations made by Britain to repulse any attempted invasion and covers post war interviews with former German officers that indicated that Hitler knew he would not be able to launch a successful invasion, and eventually the plan was dropped.  This book is an excellent read.

ISBN 9781848546981  John Murray  £25

 

ETA – A Bomber Command Navigator Shot Down and On The Run – by Gordon Mellor

This is one man’s story of a very dangerous life in Bomber Command. Gordon joined the RAF in 1940 and completed his aircrew training in Canada before being posted to RAF Lichfield.  His RAF experience began badly when a Wellington Bomber he was in crashed on take off, killing the rear gunner.  Gordon was then posted to 103 Sqn at Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire.  The sqn took part in the 1,000 bomber raids on Cologne, Essen, Bremen and Emden.  On a raid to Aachen on the night of 5/6th October 1942, with their bombing run completed the aircraft turned for home which is when it was attacked by a German night fighter. With both wings ablaze the order was given to ‘bale out’ and with seconds to spare Gordon found himself floating down to earth in the cold and dark.  He landed safely, but in a tree NE of Tongeren in Belgium.  Unable to recover his parachute from the tree, and with dogs barking nearby he left the area quickly.  As with all evaders Gordon had to deal with being wet, cold and hungry and he was eventually forced to seek help.  He approached a house which had a dim light showing and hesitantly knocked on the door.  A voice replied from an upper window, then after a while the door was opened slightly by a worried looking man.  Gordon showed the man his RAF badges, which he had removed from his battledress.  The man recognised the insignia and opened the door and gestured for Gordon to enter.  He was given some hot food, placed in front of a fire and invited to place his clothes around to dry off.

As with most successful evasions, luck played its part.  Gordon had knocked on the door of the Van Meeuwen family.  They summoned assistance and Vicaire Adons, the local priest arrived to interrogate Gordon.  Gordon had ‘fallen’ into the hands of members of the Comete escape line.  This books describes Gordon’s experiences as he was moved from Belgium, via Paris to Bayonne and finally St Jean de Luz.  After a night there he was taken by bicycle to Urrugne, to the last safe-house in France, owned by Frantxia Uzandizanga at Bidegain Berri.  There he was joined by Dedee and later by Florentino, his guide.  His route over the Pyrenees is described in detail.  On arrival in Spain the guides returned to France, leaving Gordon to have a hot meal while he waited for a car that took him onto San Sebastian.  From there via Madrid and Gibraltar, Gordon eventually returned to Cornwall in a Dakota!

ISBN 9780993415258  Fighting High Ltd  £25

SAS Rogue Heroes  by Ben Macintyre

It is now 75 years since the SAS was formed and the Regiment has decided to open its WW2 diaries and archives to the author.  Most information, reports, memos, photos, letters and maps are backed up by interviews with original members of the Regiment.  The Result is a story of danger, heroism, fearlessness, recklessness and risk taking.  The story begins in the summer of 1941, when Lt David Stirling, a tall Guards officer, came up with a plan to work behind enemy lines in North Africa.  Never one to comply with rules about following the chain of command, Stirling eventually gained access to HQMELF in Cairo, and knocked on Gen Sir Neil Ritchie’s door.  Ritchie was Deputy Chief of Staff.  He listened and took some notes which he then passed onto one of his staff officers.  That individual made it clear that he resented Stirling bypassing ‘proper channels’!  However three days later Stirling was summoned to see General Auchinleck and the rest, as they say, is history!  The story continues until 1st October 1945, when the Regiment, along with many other units and formations was disbanded.  This book covers operations by the Regiment in all the theatres in which it operated in WW2.

ISBN 97802411866216  Penguin Viking  £25

Gardens of Stone by Stephen Grady and Michael Wright

As a schoolboy, 14 year old  Stephen Grady lived near Ypres, where his father worked as head gardener for the Imperial War Graves Commission.  At the beginning of WW2, as the Germans advanced through Belgium fighting was taking place all around them.  During lulls in the fighting Grady and his friend Marcel went souvenir hunting to collect pieces of shot down aircraft, empty shell cases and other items of interest.  Aged only 16 he was arrested by the Germans, charged with sabotage and threatened with the firing squad or deportation to a camp in Germany – things were not looking good!  However, after being interrogated he was released and in 1941 he joined the French Resistance.  He worked alongside the SOE run Sylvestre-Farmer network run by Captain Michael Trotobas, and he was involved in courier and operational work.  On the liberation of France Grady transferred to the British Army and served as an officer in the Intelligence Corps.  Following the end of his military service Grady then began what was to be a long career with the newly titled Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

ISBN 978144476059 0 Hodder & Stoughton  £20

One Day in France  by Jean-Marie Borzeix

On Thursday 6th April 1944 a German patrol, arrived in the rural French town of Bugeat.  Their task was to carry out a sweep, looking for Resistance fighters who were active in the area and were thought to be hiding in the local forests.  The local Maquis had been quite active in mounting attacks on bridges, trains, barracks and even military convoys.  The patrol took four farm workers  and executed them as a reprisal and warning to others.  In addition another unidentified man was also executed.  Over 60 years later the author has uncovered the history of that fifth man.  Excellent research has uncovered his story, leading the author to Paris, Israel and even into the darkest parts of the Holocaust in France.  Once the Jews of other nationalities had been rounded up it became the turn of the French Jews to suffer that same fate.  Many were hidden in villages such as Bugeat, thanks to the bravery of ordinary French people who hid them in their homes.  The last element of this book deals with the emotive subject of French collaboration, and the battle between Frenchmen.  This is a disturbing account of a forgotten episode in a small town in rural France

ISBN 978 1 78453 6220  I B Tauris  Translated by G McAuley  £16.99

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