Books Reviewed in 2016

 

2016

1.  Sisters in Spitfires by Alison Hill (Reviewed by Helen Duffee)

2. The Long Range Desert Group  – by WB Kennedy Shaw

3. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare  – by  Giles Milton

4. The French Resistance by Olivier Wieviorka (translated by Jane Marie Todd)

5. A Hundred Miles As The Crow Flies  by Ralph Churches

6. Rifleman  by Vic Gregg with Rick Stroud

7. When the Moon Rises by Tony Davis

8. Lindell’s List by Peter Hore

9. Dutch Courage – by Jelle Hooiveld

10. Swift to Attack – No 1 Group Bomber Command by Patrick Otter

11. Within Four Walls by Maj M C C Harrison, DSO MC  & Capt H A Cartwright MC

12. The SAS and LRDG Roll of Honour 1941 – 1947

13. Shadow Warriors – Daring Missions of WW2 by Women of the OSS and SOE By Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis

 

Sisters in Spitfires by Alison Hill

This well-structured collection of poems is a delight to read.  Alison Hill’s extensive research into the wartime contribution made by the 164 women pilots of the ATA allows us to experience not only the pure poetry of being airborne in a Spitfire, but also to gain a very personal insight into who these exceptional women were.

The opening section, ‘Private Lives’, comprises a selection of cameo portraits, describing in ‘A Touch of Silk’ and ‘Washing Our Hair’, a quintessential femininity uncompromised by the practicalities and demands of this vital wartime role, whilst the narrative poem ‘Model Pilot, Model lawn’ beautifully encapsulates the life of one Monique Agazarian.

These women pilots, recruited from more than 25 countries, were responsible for ferrying aircraft between factories, maintenance units and frontline squadrons; the First Eight joining in1940 as reported in the Daily Mirror.  ‘Making the Headlines’ forms the second section of poems and documents the prevailing and sometimes negative publicity quoted from in ‘Some Slight Confusion’ and ‘Tiger Moth Scramble’ which pull no punches as to the pressure from press and public endured by these remarkable women.  An earlier Daily Express article of 1936 highlighted in ‘Do Air Women Lack Charm’ is entirely trumped here by the artless and accidental glamour of ‘Cover Girl’, beautifully consolidated by the confidence and affirmation of ‘3pm Appointment at Austin Reed’.

The central section, ‘Ferry Pilot’s Notes’, devotes itself to the flying experience itself, the glorious exponent of the Spitfire in ‘Simply Bliss’ (“it was the perfect lady’s aeroplane!”) and the yearning for the sky in ‘The Forecast Looks Doubtful’.  These poems never entirely lose sight of the ground however, and the aerial landscape of ‘Four Miles to the Inch’ and the determined focus of ‘Keep on Flying’ and ‘ATA Cockpit Check’ reinforce the constant awareness of danger.

In the penultimate section, named for the book’s title ‘Sisters in Spitfires’ we see the poet herself in 2015, inspired by ‘A Gathering of Doves’ and sharing with us precious anecdotes gathered from the past; the oasis of comfort within the “scattergun impressions of war” seen in ‘Sharing the Guard’s Van’ and the light-heartedness of ‘Chits for Chocolate’ which belies an emotional intensity.

The final section, ‘Leaving Legacies’, takes us from the detached and emotionally disciplined ‘Moving up the Blackboard’ to the contrasting ‘Honor Salmon’s Pale Blue Shirt’, where there is time to savour grateful memories, and to ‘Tell Me’ (“that our losses weren’t in vain”) sentiments attributed to Pauline Gower MBE who made great strides for women in aviation.

The Long Range Desert Group  – by WB Kennedy Shaw

 This is a reprint of a book first published in 1945 by Kennedy Shaw, who had been the Intelligence Officer of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Pre-war he had explored the Libyan D and had esert by vehicle, camel and on foot; in particular the desert area west of the Nile River, accompanied by Ralph Bagnold.

Bagnold who formed the LRDG in 1940, soon sought out those that he wanted in his unit and Kennedy Shaw was brought in.  The LRDG was primarily an intelligence gathering unit operating behind enemy lines, but in due course also became a ‘taxi’ service for the newly formed SAS, delivering them to their target area and collecting them afterwards.  Later, when the SAS became independent the LRDG adopted a more aggressive role as well as continuing with their intelligence gathering.  This included raiding main supply routes and airfields after which they would disappear into the desert again, reappearing hundreds of miles away.  The unit specialised in ‘road watches’ along main supply routes, leaving members in hides and collecting them days later.  At times they also collected stray escapers and evaders.  Although the unit did move onto operate in Italy this book focus’ on the desert war.  It is an excellent read for those interested in the desert campaign and is written in an honest and sincere manner, with no exaggeration.  To comply with censorship rules at the time the names of some individuals have been changed.  ISBN 978184832 8587  Frontline Books  £25

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare  – by  Giles Milton

In 1939 Winston Churchill was the driving force behind what he called the ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’, which would eventually employ thousands around the world in a number of special units.  It is always good intelligence that identifies the best targets.  The Nazi weaknesses were power supplies, ammunition and fuel.  These were the targets that would be attacked relentlessly.

The ‘department’ was run by Colin Gubbins, Royal Artillery, who was an expert in guerrilla warfare and who gathered around him like-minded people such as Cecil Clark, an engineer who devised some of the most deadly sabotage weapons including the ‘dirty bomb’ that was used in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.  The unit also included Bill Sykes and William Fairbairn who had run specialist undercover units in the back streets of Hong Kong and Shanghai for the local Police forces.  They devised silent killing methods and infiltrated the Triad gangs.  Both meb would go on to train both Commandos and SOE agents to use these methods at the training school in the Scottish Highlands.  The Fairbairn Dagger is still issued to RM Commandos.  Many of the ladies in SOE HQ in Baker Street also played crucial roles and were involved with operations including the destruction of the Norwegian heavy-water plant which effectively prevented the Nazis from developing an atomic weapon.  ISBN 14447798952  John Murray  £20

The French Resistance by Olivier Wieviorka (Translated by Jane Marie Todd)

This is a well researched book on the French Resistance.  The author deals in-depth with the social, political and military foundations and reveals the fragmented nature of the many groups, their many objectives (sometimes combined) their methods and leadership.  He is dismissive of the myth that the Resistance developed because of De Gaulle’s Free French base in London and instead suggests that the movement was home-grown.  Following the French surrender there were no blueprints or plans to follow, and the members were drawn from across the political divide and all walks of life. Small groups of individuals formed their own networks or Resauax, often working alone or sometimes in family or work groups.  The author details their strategies, beginning with passive resistance such as printing documents, underground newspapers, assisting allied escapers and evaders, listening-in on telephone exchanges and leading onto sabotage, armed action and direct intervention.  The Resistance were never an army designed to conduct major combat operations; they were largely equipped with small arms and explosives.  They did however provide an almost constant stream of intelligence, did tie-down significant numbers of enemy troops and created havoc on and after the D Day invasion.

On the 20th June 1940 a farm worker sabotaged the telephone lines to the German HQ in Rouen.  He was captured and subsequently executed on the 24th June and was the first member of the fledgling Resistance to die for his country. On the 22nd December 1940 the first Free French agent was landed on the coast of Brittany.  He was betrayed by his radio operator and after a court martial was executed.  This book makes it clear that the French Resistance were prepared to take on the enemy without a second thought.  They may, initially, have lacked to right tools for the job but they made use of what they could.  The book argues that they have nothing to fear from history.                    ISBN 9780674 731226  Belknap Press $39.95 approx £30

 

A Hundred Miles As The Crow Flies  by Ralph Churches

This is the story of the largest mass escape during WW2 from a German POW camp.  The camp was Stalag XVIIID at Moribor, in Slovenia, a few miles south of the Austrian border.  British, New Zealanders and Australians formed the majority of the prisoners in the camp, and most had already suffered poor conditions in camps in Greece, prior to being moved to Maribor by train in overcrowded cattle trucks.  Maribor was important to the Germans as a main communications hub.  There were significant numbers of German Security organisations based there, including the SS, the Gestapo and SD.  The Germans regularly carried out mass executions as reprisals for Partisan activities, and it was made clear to the POWs that if any escapes took place, recaptured POWs would be executed, and further reprisals taken.  In March 1943, Ralph Churches was appointed as the POWs Camp Leader.  With that came contact with others inside the camp, but more importantly outside the camp.  Those contacts outside the camp provided useful information and also put Churches in touch with local partisans. In September 1944 and following one such contact Churches and seven others broke out of the camp.  A few days later, after meeting up with partisans they decided to ‘liberate’ others.  In total another 105 POWs escaped, including 10 Frenchmen who were initially very reluctant to get involved.  The partisans guided them through heavily wooded mountain areas lodging them in ‘safe’ villages overnight.   Although the route as the crow flies was about 100 miles (hence the book title) they covered almost 200 miles before reaching the extraction point at Otok, where the local SOE mission had an airfield.  They were collected by Dakota aircraft operated by Special Duties flight and taken to Italy.

All the escapees reached Italy safely and were debriefed at Foggia.  The two principal organisers, Ralph Churches (Australian) and Les Laws (British) are listed at the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St James’ Palace in London for their actions in organising the escape and helping lead the men to freedom.  No formal acknowledgement has been recorded that credits the partisans for their part bin this extraordinary event.  However there have been repeated visits by some of the former escapees to thank their helpers.  The partisan records office holds documentation and photographs recording their escape and also documents the hardships the partisans faced while mounting ‘distraction operations’ to keep the Germans forces away from the escapers.

ISBN 0646 391178    Privately published by the Australian POW Association.  It is difficult to obtain copies of this but try Pioneer Books, South Australia (www.pioneerbooks.com.au) The cost of postage will exceed the cost of the book!

Rifleman by Vic Gregg with Rick Stroud

This is the story of a very down to earth Londoner who experienced an extraordinary service life between his enlistment in 1938, his wartime service and his subsequent activities during the Cold War.

Gregg describes himself as an ordinary soldier.  His military ‘career’ began with service with the Rifle Brigade in India prior to WW2.  The battalion was then sent to what was known as Palestine just prior to the declaration of war in September 1939.  The battalion moved to Cairo and then up to Sidi Barrani, on  border with Libya, at the time occupied by the Italians.  They soon engaged in successful operations against the Italians but following the arrival in theatre of Field Marshal Rommel and his Afrika Corps the British were soon in retreat.  Gregg managed to evade capture and made it back to Cairo.  His superior were clearly impressed with Gregg and he was promoted to Sergeant and posted to Popski’s Private Army.  Gregg then worked with Popski, the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the fledgling SAS.  With the defeat of Rommel at Alamein in late 1942 Gregg transferred to the Parachute Brigade and saw service in Sicily and Italy before being withdrawn to the UK to prepare for operation Market Garden.  Part of the second wave Gregg landed at Arnhem on the 18th September, as part of 4th Parachute Bde.  The whole airborne division was involved in ferocious fighting and Gregg was among many paratroopers who were taken prisoner.  He was moved to Dresden in Germany to a labour camp.  Gregg did escape but was recaptured after three days and returned to the camp.  Gregg was still in the camp at Dresden on the night that the Allies launched their massive air raid on the city, which resulted in a firestorm and caused the death of an estimated 30,000 civilians.  A number of POWs, working in the city were also killed.  Gregg describes vividly the destruction and chaos that the raid caused, and after several days in the remains of Dresden he and others joined refugees fleeing the devastation and headed east.  They met up with advancing Russian forces, and surprisingly Gregg remained with the Russians, working as a mechanic, until May 1945.  On return to the UK he was ‘de-mobbed’ and returned to London.  In the late 50s he was offered a job by British Intelligence as a chauffeur to the Chairman of the Moscow Narodny Bank and became involved in Cold War espionage, making several trips to the Soviet Union.  Gregg was a member of the Army POW Escaping Club.

ISBN 978 1 4088 13966 Published by Bloomsbury Books  £17-99

When the Moon Rises by Tony Davis

Tony Davis was captured while fighting with the Honourable Artillery Company in the hills around Medjez-el-Bab in Tunisia.  Wounded in the head he was treated in a German hospital for eight days before being handed over to the Italians for transportation to a POW camp in Italy.  He arrived at Camp PG66, near Capua on the Voltino River, just north of Naples.  While contemplating an escape he and the other POWs were placed on a train to be moved to another camp, Chieti near Pescara.  Together with several others Davis managed to escape from the train into the mountains.  However he was recaptured a few days later and returned to Capua.  After a short time he was moved to Chieti, and then finally to Camp 49 at Fontanellato.

On the morning of the 9th September 1943, a bugle call sounded and all the POWs gathered with their small packs on the camp square.  Italy had declared an armistice and the SBO, Lt Col De Burgh ordered all the POWs to leave the camp.  They marched out in companies and after about 40 minutes found a suitable ‘harbour’ area.  Local people provided some food and water.  Scouts were despatched to gather information, which showed that the Germans were arriving and taking over the camps.  The men were ordered to split into small groups and head either north to Switzerlan or south towards the advancing allied lines.  Davis, with two friends set off south, and assisted by many local Italians finally reached freedom.  This is a story of endurance by a POW and of humanity by local Italian families, who despite the dangers did their best to help.
ISBN 184832457X  Pen & Sword Books  £16-99

Lindell’s List by Peter Hore

Mary Lindell ran an escape line in France (Marie-Claire Line) for escapers, evaders and other fugitives, two of whom were RM Commando evaders, Hasler and Sparks, survivors of Operation Frankton which attacked shipping in Bordeaux harbour.  The Marie-Clair line often began in Ruffec and then travelled over the Pyrenees.

Lindell was reputedly a very difficult English woman to work with; strong willed she made many enemies in France.  Her bravery in adversity is legendary.  Following her initial capture Lindell  escaped to England and then returned to France where she was recaptured!  She was injured while trying to escape, and after hospital treatment and interrogation was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.  There, her mental strength and refusal to be intimidated led to her becoming the  leader of the British and American  women in the camp.  The Germans always denied that they held any US or UK female prisoners but Mary managed to record the names of those being held and smuggled the details out to Switzerland.  As a result many British. American, SOE, SIS, OSS and Resistance women were rescued by the Swedish White Buses of the Red Cross , before they could be murdered by the Germans.

This is a well researched book, and covers not only Mary Lindell but also a number of other women on the ‘list’.  It also exposes life in Ravensbruck as a ‘living hell’.  New information uncovered from archives in the UK, USA, France, Germany and Sweden provides previously unknown details of Marty’s escape routes and her incarceration taken by evaders.  The author also visited Ravensbruck and completed the high level route over the Pyrenees. ISBN 9780 7509 66214 The History Press £20

Dutch Courage – by Jelle Hooiveld

This is probably one of the better books dedicated to Special Forces (SF) operations in the Netherlands and covers in general the period from September 1994 until the liberation.

September 1944 saw the beginning of Allied operations in the Netherlands, initially to try and capture the bridges over the Rhine and Wall rivers (Operation Market Garden) and force open  a route into Germany.  Allied SF teams were dropped into the occupied Netherlands to gather intelligence and information prior to the Allied thrust.  Many worked alone, others with the Dutch Resistance and some were assigned to specific tasks.  ‘Rats’ were inserted into Germany to capture or assassinate high ranking German officers on so called ‘Hunter Kill’ operations, and to disrupt communications.  Jedbergh teams were deployed to work alongside SOE and Dutch resistance; American OSS teams were also inserted to work with the SAS which carried out operatiosn in advance of the Allied main armies.

Members of the Belgian SAS also began working with the British SAS, and provided invaluable language skills – not many Englishmen spoke a European language!  Many of theseindividuals also helped with the subsequent evacuation of Airborne troops following the withdrawal from Arnhem.  The nature of the terrain in the ‘Low Countries’ made operating there particularly difficult as it is pretty flat with little forest – hiding was difficult!  It was also densely populated, and controlled by large numbers of the Gestapo and SS, who were utterly ruthless in their treatment of both local and POWs alike.
ISBN 978 1 4456 5741 1 Amberley £20

Swift to Attack – No 1 Group Bomber Command by Patrick Otter

This is the story of 1 Group Bomber Command, which was actually established in 1936 and based on airfields in Oxfordshire, Norfolk and equipped with Blenheims or Fairey Battles. Deployed to France in 1940 it initially suffered heavy losses over France and the Low Countries before being restructured, relocated to bases in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and reequipped with new aircraft. The Group operated from 23 airfields and it was manned by a mixture of British, Polish and Commonwealth crews.  Like many other air formations No 1 Group suffered serious losses, over 2000 aircraft and 9000 men but they continued operations until April 1945. This book is an account of many of the operations carried out; of the men and their aircraft and the camaraderie that existed within the crews and squadrons.  The book contains many photographs of men, aircraft and the airfields they flew from. ISBN 178159094X Pen & Sword  £25

 

Within Four Walls by Major M C C Harrison, DSO MC  & Captain H A Cartwright MC

There were many escapes made during WW1 which are little remembered, but the lessons learned have provided excellent references for later would be escapers.  Many of those escapes were written up in a report in 1917 but were unused until September 1939 when the file was taken to the then embryonic MI9 in the Metropole Hotel in London and Harrison offered his services to them.

Harrison and Cartwright were stationed in Mons in 1914, and were later captured there before being incarcerated in a POW camp in Burg, in Germany.  Almost immediately they began working on an escape plan.  They dyed and tailored their uniforms to resemble those of the guards and simply walked out of the camp. After nine days on the run and having covered some 300 kilometres they were recaptured near Rostock and sent to another camp near Torgau where they immediately started work on a tunnel!  After a number of failed attempts they finally made it out and after nine days reached the Netherlands, and eventually England.  Although written in 1917, the principles and methods were adapted for WW2 and still hold good for today!
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SBN 1473827574 Pen & Sword  £25

The SAS and LRDG Roll of Honour 1941 – 1947

This extraordinary historical record has taken some thirteen years to complete. Written by an ex-member of the Regiment it commemorates the death of every member of the SAS during WW2 but also records its activities with the LRDG.  The book has 800 pages and includes operational reports, service reports, diaries and family letters.  It was produced for the Regiments 75th anniversary in August 2015.

Tis volume (and it is very big!) contains many old photos, including one of the ‘original’ members after their first operation at Kabrit, in North Africa. This first operation was to deliver a group by parachute into the Libyan desert and destroy enemy aircraft.  Unfortunately gale force winds and heavy rain in the area resulted in the group being widely scattered and separated from their equipment.  Those that survived this experience walked, in some cases for 36 hours to pre-arranged RVs where they were picked up by the LRDG. Of the 53 who departed on the raid only survived and returned to base.  Undaunted, the SAS then began to use the LRDG to deliver them to their targets, before themselves using heavily armed jeeps, a method of operation still in use today!

At the end of the campaign in North Africa the Regiment had destroyed more enemy aircraft than the RAF.  The book goes on to document further operations behind enemy lines in Greece, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and finally Germany.  374 men from the Regiment died during WW2, a number murdered following Hitler’s infamous Commando Order.  SAS teams were the first Allied troops to reach Bergen-Belsen.  After the war ended the Regiment were disbanded but that did not prevent some of them remaining in uniform and returning to Europe to seek out their lost comrades.  The leader of this covert unit, CSM Bill Barkworth, with others tracked down many of those responsible for their comrades’ deaths.  The author has researched records of the War Crimes trials and visited people in the areas where these events occurred and the author’s intention is to have monuments to his fallen comrades erected.  Profts from the sale of this book will help fund that. The SAS was reinstated in 1947 during operations in Malaya and the many lessons learnt during the first years in North Africa still apply today.
Please contact our Director or the Allied Special Forces Association for more information about the book

Shadow Warriors – Daring Missions of WW2 by Women of the OSS and SOE
By Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis

WW2 was the first conflict in which women were trained on a large scale for combat against the enemy.  Taught the skills of silent killing, use of small arms, sabotage and espionage, radio use these women soon demonstrated that they could lead Resistance groups and fight as partisans.  Their use as couriers changed the world of the spy forever.  Often experts in disguise they could blend into the background when necessary, and a winning smile was often enough to get them through a road block or ticket barrier.  Most British were employed by SOE and others by SIS.  When the USA entered the war in December 1941 they created the Office of Strategic Services and they too recruited a number of women.  The first group travelled to the UK to learn additional skills from their SOE counterparts.  They later worked in the field with both SOE and SIS.  By the end of WW2 more than 4000 women were employed by the OSS.  This book covers many of the stories of those daring and brave women, many of whom gave their lives but a surprising number lived to tell their tales!

ISBN 9781 4456 61445 Amberley Books  £20