Over the decades I have read ever so many books about the Second World War. Most have been by professional journalists or by the military top brass who have written about their own experiences. I have just finished what must be one of the best autobiographies I have read which has the Second World War as a backdrop. This is “Train To Nowhere” by Anita Leslie, a young lady from a well to do aristocratic Anglo-Irish family who was distantly related to Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. In 1940, aged 26 she joined the Mechanised Transport Corps where she became a qualified mechanic and ambulance driver, to do her bit for the war effort.
As one who has read extensively about the Second World War, I was delighted to read, “The Spy Toolkit: Extraordinary Inventions from World War II” by Stephen Twigge published by Osprey Publishing recently. Starting with the story of the famed German spy from the First World War, Margaretha MacLeod, a Dutch dancer and courtesan better known by her stage name of ” Mata Hari “, I have been fascinated (like millions of others, I am sure) by stories of spies and spying. The profession has always been full of hazards and many stories of spies have remained untold. For every spy like Mata Hari who made the headlines there must have been thousands who died unsung, many at the hands of their captors during war. Continue reading ““The Spy Toolkit” by Stephen Twigge”
Set in Britain during the early years of the Second World War, Madalyn Morgan’s, “The 9.45 to Bletchley” is an interesting book which has elements of suspense and leads to a fitting climax. Ena Dudley is a young woman who works in the engineering firm called Silcott’s. She is engaged in top-secret work and knows that the products manufactured by their firm are contributing to the war effort, though she doesn’t quite know how all the pieces fit in. Much of what they do is governed by the war-time Official Secrets Act. Her boss entrusts her to transport her output, which he usually used to carry himself, to the secret defence establishment at Bletchley. Continue reading ““The 9.45 to Bletchley” by Madalyn Morgan”
Robert Forczyk has written extensively on the Second World War, especially about the battles between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. “Where The Iron Crosses Grow” which I completed some time ago but could not review earlier due to my ill-health is a detailed account of the battles for the Crimea spread over the period 1941 to 1944. I find that Dr. Forczyk has a Ph.D in International Relations and National Security from the University of Maryland and this brings to bear a meticulous mind in researching and presenting material in his book.
Nearly 200 illustrations of squadron logos and of fighter planes embellish Tillman’s book on the famous fighter squadrons of the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War. Most of their fighting was against the Japanese in the Pacific. The Pacific War, it is said, was the largest naval conflict in history. Names like Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima have passed into history as have the Battles for Midway, the Coral Sea and Guam. Likewise, some of the US Marine Corps fighter pilots have become legends: Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Lt Col Harold “Indian Joe” Bauer, Capt Joseph J. Foss, Major John L. Smith, and Capt Marion E. Carl, but to name a few.
As a Second World War freak, for me U has to be for U-Boats, those menacing destroyers of Allied shipping which Hitler used so effectively in the first part of the war. Most historians agree that all through 1939 to 1942 the U-Boats were feared for their sudden attacks as Allied convoys ran the risk of running into packs of U-Boats in the Atlantic waters. It was only after 1943, when Allied bombing severely damaged U-boat pens in Europe and brought the production of U-Boats down from a flood to a stutter that things began to change. Convoys became safer at sea and Allied Navies grew as the strength of the German Kriegsmarine waned. The Battle of the Atlantic raged on and was finally won by the Allies but at great cost: the Allies lost 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships were sunk for the loss of 783 U-boats.
O for me today is for Onoda. In case you don’t know who he is, I don’t blame you one bit. If you are a World War freak like me, you might remember that Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army was one of the last to surrender. Some days ago there was a discussion about the Second World War amongst my group of friends. The question of discipline, service to a cause, and patriotism as defined by themselves came up for discussion. When we spoke of the determination of the Japanese, for example, to fight to the very end, we had to talk about Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who fought on long after Japan had officially surrendered. He finally surrendered in 1974.
E is for Escapes as I remember “Escapes from Prisoner of War camps” when I think of the letter “E” today. As a kid, I read as many books about the Second World War as I could. I particularly loved Paul Brickhill’s “Reach For The Sky” the story of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, the legless fighter hero of the Royal Air Force. I was totally impressed that even after he was shot down over France and taken prisoner by the Germans, he continued to harass them in ways he could as he believed it was the duty of every POW to do his best to escape. Bader couldn’t do much because of his disability in the actual digging of tunnels but he was vociferous in what was called “goon baiting.”
Who can write better about an air war than someone who has been there and seen it for himself? “The Deadly Skies: The Air War in Europe 1939-1945” is by Bernard Nolan who was a young co-pilot and later commander of B-24s and B-17s in the 8th Bomber Command of the USAF during the Second World War. This book, which covers the air wars in Europe from 1939 to 1945, is by a retired Lt. Col. in the USAF who flew 33 combat missions and is qualified to speak of the experiences air crew ( those in bombers, in particular) had in their long flights into far away Germany from bases in the UK. Continue reading ““Deadly Skies”: Bernard T. Nolan”
I have read hundreds of books about the Second World War but “No End Save Victory: Perspectives of World War II” edited by Robert Cowley must rank as being one of the best. I had looked at this book several times and kept it back in its assigned shelf in the library I use, daunted by its size, (688 pages), but some weeks ago I decided to give it another shot, and am so glad I did so.