- Operation Sealion by Leo McKinstry
- ETA – A Bomber Command Navigator Shot Down and On The Run – by Gordon Mellor
- SAS Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre
- Gardens of Stone by Stephen Grady and Michael Wright
- One Day in France by Jean-Marie Borzeix
- The Twisted Florin by Stella Clare Marsh
- The Nazi Hunters by Damien Lewis
- The Camera Became My Passport by Ben v Drogenbroek and Steve Martin
- Where The Hell Have You Been by Tom Carver
- The French Resistance – by Oliver Wieviorka
- Retreat and Rearguard – Dunkirk 1940 – by Jerry Murland
- D-Day through German Eyes – Books 1&2 – by Holger Eckhertz [Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
- Holocaust Heroes – Resistance to Hitler’s Final Solution – by Mark Felton
- Gurkha – by Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu [Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
- The Bletchley Park Girls – by Tessa Dunlop [Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
- St Valery and Its Aftermath – by Stewart Mitchell
- Gone To Ground – by Marie Jalowicz Simon
- Home By Christmas – by Ian English MC***
- Retreat & Rearguard – Dunkirk 1940 – by Jerry Moreland
- Escaping Hitler – by Monty Halls
- Operation Sealion by Leo McKinstry
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
The Twisted Florin by Stella Clare Marsh
Compiled by his niece this is the story of Sqn Ldr John Mott, who had a very interesting and exciting war as a Sgt Pilot with 78 Sqn, flying Whitley bombers (19 missions) from RAF Dishforth. On the night of the 28/29th December 1940 Motts aircraft was shot down on its way to bomb the dockyard at Lorient. He was the only one to evade capture. Hidden by helpers he crossed the Pyrenees and finally reached Gibralter in November 1941, some 11 months later. He returned to England on the 13th December 1941 and was posted first to 138 and then to 161 Special Duties Sqn based at RAF Tempsford. Both Sqns were involved in landing and extracting SOE agents in France, flyin g Lysanders. On the 28th May 1942, Mott, now a Flt Lt was flying a Lysander when it became bogged down in a field near Chateauroux. He and his ‘passenger’ split up; Mott was arrested by French police and held in a prison, then passed onto a POW camp PG5 at Gavi-Serraville, 20 miles north of Genoa. In Sept 1943, at the time of the Italian Armistice, Mott was on a train bound for Germany when he escaped by cutting a hole through the wooden truck. He escaped with others, but encountered a Yugoslav partisan band who mistook them for Germans. It was only through ther intervention of a British Liaison Officer working with the partisans that Mott’s life was saved. Later, in Italy he and others escapers took over an old German whaling vessel and sailed it down the coast to Porto San Giorgio, where they reached Allied troops. The book includes details of Mott’s family history, his helpers and a wider overview of the escape lines and the fate of the helpers.
ISBN 978 19 10500 583 Uniform Books £14.99
The Nazi Hunters by Damien Lewis
In late 1944 an SAS unit of 60 men parachuted into the Vosges mountains of France on Operation Loyton with the mission to assist Resistance forces create havoc behind enemy lines. As a result of wrong intelligence the unit parachuted into an area occupied by a German Panzer Division. Lightly equipped with jeeps and MMgs they were no match for the heavily armoured vehicles of the Germans but they fought until their ammunition ran out and then fled into the hills around the village of Moussey. The villagers provided the SAS with food, water, medical ttreatment and also with information. The Germans were unable to eradicate the unit and so the Gestapo rounded up the villagers for interrogation and then sent them to concentration camps. Not one villager gave the SAS unit away. Eventually some 31 SAS soldiers were captured and were summarily executed. The man who had commanded this mission refused to let their killers escape justice. Faced with the post-war disbandment of the SAS, Colonel Brian Franks MC formed a top-secret, clandestine SAS unit. Under the auspices of Winston Churchill, this deniable “Man Hunting” force was paid and equipped from out of a black budget in a deep-cover operation lasting through 1948 and beyond. Across war-ravaged Europe they hunted down the Nazi war criminals, plus those who had run the notorious concentration camps, stumbling upon some of the darkest secrets of the new war – the Cold War. Known as ‘The Secret Hunters’, this force was peopled by a cast of characters more extraordinary than any fiction: Still studied by the SAS today, The Nazi Hunters are a founding part of the Regiment’s myth, constituting one of the great untold stories of the Second World War
ISBN 9781 78429 3895 Quercus Books £20.00
The Camera Became My Passport Home by Ben van Drogenbroek and Steve Martin
This is the memoir of Charles Boyd Woehrie who was incarcerated in Stalag Luft lll, witten by ELMS member Ben van Drogenbroek and Steve Martin after many years of painstaking research. Although principally about Woehrie, it also covers many other RAF and USAAF airmen (575 mentioned) in the camp and a number of Germans. The subject is covered in great detail and includes 850 photos; maps and drawings (many in colour) most of which have never been published before. There are personal stories of prisoners and a named index with service details of each prisoner mentioned.
The story of camp life includes all the overt and covert activities that took place in considerable detail. The successful escapes such as ‘The Wooden Horse’, The Mole Tunnel, The Great Escape and escapes through the wire are all covered. In general the book focuses on three main areas; Camp life in all its forms; Escapes from the camp and finally the forced march from the camp and final liberation at Moorsburg. The book also touches on subjects such as Mi9 and MiS-X procedures and codes; Jewish prisoners; life in Nazi Germany and the liberation; and airmen who were held in Buchenwald concentration camp.
The book is a limited edition, each volume numbered and signed by the authors. The signature of Charles Woehrie has also been placed in the book and there is a ‘Nameplate’ space for additional personalisation of a well bound and presented volume. It is a large book and with a weight of 2.5 kg is not the type of book to read in bed! It took twelve years to produce and will be of particular interest to those either connected with or an interest in Stalag Luft iii. Published privately by the authors, The Stalag Luft iii Archives of Holland and the POW Archive of Canada. Order directly from the author; B_V_Drogenbroek@hotmail.com
Where The Hell Have You Been? By Tom Carver (Reviewed by Chris Colussi)
This book by Tom Carver, Field Marshal Montgomery’s grandson was recommended to me by a London ‘cabbie’. The story centres largely on Carver’s father, Richard, Monty’s step son, but also touches on Monty’s campaigns in north Africa and Italy. Richard met Monty in north Africa and was sent on a mission during which he was captured and eventually transported to Italy. He was moved north through a series of POW camps and then escaped following the armistice. He headed south to meet up with the advancing allies and finally met again with his stepfather – the title of the book reputedly being Monty’s greeting on their reunion. The escape will be of interest to many with an interest in Italy.
Kindle edition £5.82
The French Resistance – by Oliver Wieviorka (Translated by Jane Marie Todd).
This is well researched book on the French Resistance. The author deals with the social, political and military aspects from the-inside-out and reveals the fragmented groupings, sometimes interlocking, and their objectives, methods and leadership qualities. He dismisses the myth that the Resistance was a result of de Gaulle’s Free French in London and instead considers that the Resistance was home-grown. There were no blueprints or plans to follow and the members were from all walks of life and across the political divide. They formed their own Networks and Reseaux, often worked alone or sometimes in family or work groups. The author details the resistance strategies, starting with passive resistance such as printing documents, underground newspapers, assisting allied escapers and evaders, listening-in on telephone exchanges, eventually leading on to sabotage, armed action and direct intervention. Throughout, they were not an army to be able to stand and fight; they had small arms mainly, and in the beginning they only had old weaponry and very little else. They did, however, supply the Allies continuous intelligence, tied down much needed enemy troops, and sowed havoc on and after D-Day behind the enemy’s lines. On June 20 1940, a farm worker sabotaged the telephone lines to the German HQ in Rouen. He was captured and executed on the 24 June after a court martial. He was considered the first martyr of the Resistance. On December 22 1940 the first Free France agent landed on the Brittany coast. He was betrayed by his radio operator, and after a short court martial he was also executed. He was the first agent of Free France. The French Resistance took on the enemy without a second thought. They had not got the ‘tools for the job’ but made use of what they had; they have nothing to fear from history. ISBN 9780674 731226 – Belknap Press – $39.95 approx £30
Retreat and Rearguard – Dunkirk 1940 – by Jerry Murland
This the story of the rear-guard actions during the period 26 May – 03 June 1940. It must be understood that the French Army also defended the perimeter from the 29 May – 04 June (8000 men 12th French Motorised Inf. Div.). Many of the French port areas were defended by both British and French troops, but this account deals mainly with the area north of the Somme, and the desperate fighting withdrawal from the Dyle River line through Belgium to the evacuation points and through the ‘Dunkirk Corridor’. The actions at Dunkirk, Boulogne, Calais and Dieppe are all covered together with the lesser engagements at Cassel, Arras and the Bergues-Furnes Canal. The tragedy of the Le Paradis SS massacre is also mentioned. Very well researched. ISBN 978147 3823662 – Pub: Pen & Sword – Cost £25
D-Day Through German Eyes – Books 1&2 – by Holger Eckhertz
[Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
These books have proved most interesting and have uncovered facts that I suspect many didn’t know before. The author’s grandfather, Dieter Eckhertz, was a writer for military propaganda magazines such as ’Signal’ and ‘Die Wehrmacht’. During the Spring of 1944 he visited and interviewed some of the troops along the Atlantic Wall in Normandy. Then in 1954 he traced some of them and interviewed them again. Not long afterwards, he died and all of the information lay dormant until his grandson discovered it and brought it to life, producing two volumes based upon the comments and recollections of the interviewees, who, in military terms, were either very young, or very old; a fascinating glimpse into history. Apparently, the author had only intended producing one book, but in response to the world-wide interest the second volume was published. These books have enlarged my knowledge of the events surrounding D-Day and are well worth reading. Kindle Edition – Amazon – £1.99
John Harney Recommends:
“Into The Dark”, a short on-line video on VIMEO. It is an interview with Vera Atkins [SOE], apparently taken from the sound archives of the IWM. A fascinating insight into Vera’s thoughts and feelings as she sent agents out ‘into the field’ and welcomed others home.
Just type ‘Into the Dark – Vimeo – Vera Atkins’ into your search engine.
Holocaust Heroes – Resistance to Hitler’s Final Solution – by Mark Felton
The author has studied the Resistance that occurred against Hitler’s ‘Final solution’ throughout many of the concentration camps, leading up to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Often these uprisings ended tragically but those who escaped were able to return to the fight from the hills and forests of Eastern Europe. Desperate resistance took place in ghettos and towns throughout the occupied territories. In the concentration camps of Poland and the Ukraine large uprisings
took place – in Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Sobibor. The camps were sabotaged and mass breakouts took place; some of the few successful escapers joining partisan groups in the wild hill and mountainous areas. On most occasions the Nazis were taken by surprise suffering casualties, but after the initial shock they exercised terrible retribution which was swift and deadly. Most of the escapees had only small arms with little ammunition and could not compete against vehicles, light aircraft and fit German troops. Most paid with their lives. ISBN 1783400579. Pen & Sword. Cost £19-99.
Gurkha – by Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu [Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
I was brought up to have respect and know that the Gurkhas are the bravest of the brave; otherwise I knew little about them. Now finally, a soldier of the Brigade of Gurkhas has been allowed to write his own story. Colour Sgt Kailash Limbu tells briefly of growing up in a remote part of Nepal. He weaves into the story the tests and stages he had to pass to finally become a British Gurkha. He tells of one of his tours of duty in Afghanistan, in particular of being sent to New Zad in Helmand Province. Limbu brings to life what it is like to always be on guard for the enemy – the Taliban – and how he lived from day to day. As a civilian it made me realise the conditions and lack of everyday amenities that are part of a serving soldier’s life. ISBN 978-0-349-14010-0 // Price £7.99 // also available as an e-book
The Bletchley Park Girls – by Tessa Dunlop [Reviewed by Chris Colussi]
This is the story of fifteen girls [still alive when the book was published] who worked at Bletchley Park. We learn a little of their lives before joining the famous B.P. group. Security was so tight that they were not allowed into the room next door to theirs and knew nothing of what went on in there. Their jobs were ‘limited’ and repetitive. A number of girls were from Oxbridge backgrounds, but others were from humble backgrounds. It was only years later that they discovered exactly how much their work had helped towards the final result of WW2. An interesting and fascinating read. ISBN 978144795738 // Kindle price € 9.99
SAS and LRDG Roll of Honour 1941-47.
This is a project that has taken 13 years to compile. It is a combination of operational reports, service records, medal citations, interviews, letters and correspondence. Lavishly illustrated with photographs published for the first time. It is a boxed set. The stories intertwine with the SAS, SBS(1SAS),LRDG, GCHQ Liaison Regiment (Phantom). They are collated in three geographical arranged volumes. 1. North Africa, Middle East and New Zealand. 2. Central and Eastern Mediterranean. 3. North West Europe.
This is a limited, numbered edition, with a numbered certificate fixed to the first page of Volume 1. It has been published privately.
Cost is £68-50 (including postage and package) (UK). The author does not wish to be named. Contact: Paul@cedargroup.uk.com
Several members have requested information about Scott Goodall’s book ‘The Freedom Trail’. This book is available at £15 + £3-50 P&P (UK). £9 (USA)
St Valery And Its Aftermath – by Stewart Mitchell
In May 1940, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Gordon Highlanders, which was part of the 51 Highland Division, were detached from the main BEF and made an heroic defence defending the perimeter at St Valery-en-caux. Unable to escape themselves, they ran out of ammunition, were surrounded and were given the order to surrender. Immediately, many Jocks escaped and were on the run. Many reaching other ports, others headed to the Pyrenees and Gibraltar. Many left the marches to Germany and disappeared into the French countryside to emerge later on the newly formed escape line routes and returned to England to fight again often after recapture, imprisonment in the notorious Miranda de Ebro concentration camp in Spain, and often further imprisonment in France and North Africa. Others escaped from camps in Germany and Poland, often after working on twelve hour shifts in salt and coal mines and in quarries under brutal guards. Later those that remained interned had to endure the infamous long marches from their camps from Poland into Germany on the brutal marches. All Gordon Highlanders, captured, killed, escaped or evaded in 1940 are mentioned.
ISBN 1473886589. Pen and Sword. Cost £25.
Gone To Ground – by Marie Jalowicz Simon
This is a book about urban survival in wartime Berlin from the winter of 1941. Born into a Jewish family, the author evaded deportation and Jewish round ups by taking off her yellow star and going to ground in the city. Most of her family and friends were rounded up and died in the camps. She remained continually on the move, changed her identity a number of times, slept rough, and accepted food and shelter wherever it was offered. She trusted no one. Accepting accommodation with foreign workers in different areas, she also used over twenty different safe-houses ran by communists, friendly Germans and on one occasion a dedicated Nazi party member. Her evasion is a tribute to her mental toughness, Intelligence and instinct for survival. On liberation, another different situation arises – the Russian army.
After the war she became a professor of classical antiquity at the Berlin Humboldt University. ISBN 9781781254141. The Clerkenwell Press. Cost £14-99
Home by Christmas – by Ian English MC***
First published in 1997 by Ian English to recount the remarkable adventures of escapers from the Fontanellato POW Camp in Italy, PG49, after the 8 September 43 Armistice.
The main focus of the book tells the story of the help given to these escapers, including Ian himself, and the sacrifices made by the contadini – the people of the mountains, who collected in escapers, gave them a bed for the night, fed them, clothed them and treated their wounds. Without these brave mountain people many would have died in the snow and ice in the mountains of the winter of 43/44. On many occasions they also led the men over the mountains to other villages where their relatives took over; on other occasions they were taken to the Allied lines. Ian’s own escape route, which was over 500 miles long, traversing many high mountains, took him to Casoli and the Allied lines. Other escapers headed north to the Alps, to the east and west coasts and to the south to meet the Allies.
Major Ian English served with 8 DLI (Durham Light Infantry). He was awarded a Military Cross in the Gazala battles in North Africa, a bar to the award at El Alamein, and a later bar to the award in Normandy. Very few men won the award three times. He was one of the original members of ELMS in the late eighties and also a member of the Army POW Escaping Club, and later the Monte San Martino Trust.
The initial publication of this book was quickly sold out and there has been a demand for a second edition for many years. To get a good overview of POW life and life on the run in Italy then this is a good buy for anyone interested in escapes it Italy, and written by someone who was there, escaped, and made it home to the Allied Lines by Christmas. A really good read.
Contact ELMS member Christine English for more information at: email@example.com Cost is £12-95.
Retreat & Rearguard – Dunkirk 1940 – by Jerry Moreland
This book covers the rear-guard actions fought by British troops. (Not forgetting that the French 12th Motorised Inf Div defended the western Dunkirk perimeter from 29 May – 4 June with 8000 men. Many French died in this action and also holding perimeters at other key points and ports to enable the evacuations to take place).
The main area covered is the French/Belgian Border areas; the River Dyle, to Dunkirk, Belgium and the Channel Ports. Belgium and the ‘Dunkirk corridor’ is mentioned, an escape route used by many British troops to reach Dunkirk. Many accounts are from Regimental battle diaries and the soldiers themselves, and include the post withdrawal period when soldiers were on the run, some making it home eventually. Some atrocities, including the massacre of British troops at Paradis and Wormhout are also covered. Throughout these rear-guard actions there was tremendous bravery; the majority of soldiers fought enemy tanks with Bren guns and grenades. There was little armoured protection and back up for the British, and the BEF suffered badly from a lack of air power, giving the Stuka dive bombers a virtually unchallenged air superiority on the battlefield and on the beaches. The BEF also suffered from a lack of tanks, anti–tank weaponry and other ammunition. Many of the Regiments took on the enemy with bayonets. Often they moved to give support to Belgian and French units only to find they had gone home. Few of the British and French senior officers had experience in armoured warfare and relied on their knowledge gained in WW1 trench warfare. Many British Regiments were virtually wiped out. This is one of the best books written about the withdrawal of the BEF to the coast showing the British soldier at his best against the odds. Well worth reading.
ISBN 1473823668. Pen and Sword. Cost £25
Escaping Hitler – by Monty Halls
Many members may have seen the four-part Channel Four TV series called ‘The Freedom Trails’ which retraced four of the high mountain escape routes in Italy (2), France and Slovenia.
Monty Halls, the presenter, has collated his research for these films into a book, ‘Escaping Hitler’. He and his team interviewed escapers, evaders and helpers and visited many locations, in addition to walking and experiencing the actual routes. The book recounts the stories behind the escape lines in France and the lesser known routes in Italy and Slovenia.
In Slovenia coverage is given to the largest successful breakout from a POW camp in WW2 involving British, Australians, New Zealanders and a small group of reluctant French soldiers. Their epic walk to an extraction airstrip ran by the partisans and SOE is legendary. Of the 102 men listed, all were eventually ferried back to Italy by Special Duties Dakotas. According to an arrogant British staff officer, during the debriefing of the break-out organisers Les Laws (British) and Ralph Churches (Australian), their walk consisted of ‘Only 100 miles as the crow flies’. To which Churches, in a typical Australian response said, ‘Yes, but we are not bloody crows – Sir, it was about 200 miles!’
In Italy the extraction route for 2SAS in Rossano, and the routes in the Sulmona Triangle are dealt with. In France, there are details of the high level route from St Girons into Spain, and many of the lower routes are mentioned together with the helpers.
ISBN 978 1509865994. Pan McMillan Books. Cost £14-99.
It’s not always the case that film companies are blessed with an individual like Monty Halls to host a film series like the ‘Freedom Trails’, then commit his research to paper. He proved to be the right man for the job; an ex RM Commando with a love of the mountains and a family history of evasion in WW2. He brought the past to life with his enthusiasm and genuine interest, and opened up for the British public an area of WW2 previously unknown to many.