“The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose

I thought I was reasonably well read about the Second World War but reading “The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose showed just how ignorant I was! I had never come across any story about an Indian spy as famous/infamous as Bhagat Ram Talwar. I was truly astonished to know that during the War years, Talwar (or Rahmat Khan or Silver as he was often called ) was a spy for not only the British and the Russians but also for the Italians, the Germans, and the Japanese! How remarkable is that!!!

I had of course read about how Rahmat Khan helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, acting as a deaf and dumb man, escape from India to Kabul during the early years of the Second World War. Little did I know that Netaji’s guide for this trip was the man who Mihir Bose describes as the ‘Most Remarkable Secret Agent of World War II”.

Talwar was first initiated into spying by the Italians in Kabul, which even then was a hot bed of intrigue and politics. He had initially wanted to work for the Russians as he was a member of the Kirti Kisan Party, a little known Communist party active in those days in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province of an undivided India. Spying for the Germans then followed as they were the allies  of the Italians in the Second World War. Netaji Bose had by then reached Germany and Talwar became a full time spy shuttling between Kabul, Afghanistan and the Punjab and the North West Frontier of India.

He was soon asked to work for them by the Russians. Talwar’s ties to the Russians was based on his fascination for the Communist ideology. What amazes me is how gullible the Germans or at least his handlers in Kabul were! Talwar cheated them for years without their knowledge. He invariably briefed the Russians soon after his meetings with the Germans, and gave them whatever he got from the Germans!! Ironically, the Germans helped him the most monetarily and he served them the least.

India was ruled by the British in those days and soon Talwar was engaged by the British. Incredible as it might sound, the Russians shared their knowledge about Silver with the British as Russia and Britain were then Allies against the Axis forces. Without knowing about his links with their enemies, each of these countries trusted Talwar. They extracted whatever they could from him, much of which, of course, was misinformation!!

In the later years of the War, the Italians crossed over to join the Allies. By then, the Japanese had joined the Axis and Germany had lost all interest in the Far East and South East Asia. It was inevitable that Talwar became a spy for the Japanese as well.

The author covers in much detail how Talwar transformed himself over the years from being an amateur in the game to becoming a master spy. Equally interesting is the role of Peter Fleming ( brother of spy writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond ) who was his handler for the British in India.

Talwar apparently lived on in post-Independence India right up to the early ’80s. He even took part in a seminar on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose which was held in Calcutta in 1973!!

All in all, I found this book to be extremely interesting.

My end note: This is not written in this book but left me wondering……….Talwar seems to have lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the mysterious Gumnami Baba also lived. Many believe that Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose! Given the personalities of both of them, is it not likely that Netaji and Talwar were in touch with each other in those post- War, post -Independence days? I like to think they were!!

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“World War II: Battle by Battle” by Nickolai Bogdanovic

What are the images that come readily to your mind when you think of World War II? Amongst others, the ones which flash in my mind are the Spitfires in the Battle of Britain; tired British soldiers waiting to be rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk; the U-Boat packs raiding Allied shipping in the Atlantic; the siege of Stalingrad and the bloody winter wars in Russia; D-Day and the landings on Normandy; the last days of the Third Reich in Berlin; the US Marines hoisting the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima; and the formal Japanese Surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The Second World War which raged between 1939 and 1945 is said to have claimed more than 60 million lives, both military and civilian. However, there will perhaps never be an exact figure for this. This was truly a World War, far wider in scope than the First World War of 1914-1918 as the battles were fought not just in mainland Europe but also in South East Asia going as far as some remote islands of the Pacific Ocean.

A compact publication I enjoyed reading recently was  “World War II: Battle by Battle” by Nickolai Bogdanovic, published by Osprey Publishing.  

Volumes have been written about the War but in this book, thirty of the World War II Battles are described quite succinctly. This gives the reader a bird’s eye view of some of the most important battles that were fought in that time.  Many of them were responsible for turning the course of the War.

The writer has not restricted himself to the battles in Europe. He has covered some of the battles in South East Asia and in the Pacific which were equally important from that region’s perspective. The feats of military leaders on both the Allied and Nazi sides are explained in brief as befitting a book that seeks to cover a very wide spectrum.  In my view, a short preface giving a broad overview of the Second World War would have been useful, especially for the uninitiated.

Students of military history and young people at large who have heard of the War but may have a sketchy idea of the battles would be well advised to read this book. I am sure they will enjoy it.

 

 

“On A Knife’s Edge: The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943” by Prit Buttar

In the annals of history, perhaps no war saw such savage fighting as there was in the Second World War which raged from 1939 to 1945. While there were many important battles during this long fought war which took an immense toll on both sides, one of the most savage has to be the fighting between the Russians and the Germans following Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941.

Both sides were guilty of what today would be politely called, “excesses.” The two powers had much at stake. The Russians were defending  their Motherland and trying to get back all that they had lost. For the first time, in November 1942, Stalin and the Russian top brass felt the tide was slowly but surely turning in their favour. The Germans on the other hand had too much at stake to retreat from Russia, even if doing so may have been strategically a better option. Their Sixth Army still lay trapped in Stalingrad and Hitler made it a matter of ego. There would be no withdrawals, he ordered, irrespective of the huge costs this would entail in human lives.

It is in this setting that Prit Buttar writes this in-depth coverage of the battles in the Ukraine in his book, “On A Knife’s Edge: The Ukraine, November 1942-March 1943“.

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“A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals” by Ernst Junger

I saw this book in NetGalley and jumped at it being an avid reader of military history. I expected it to be an interesting account of the Second World War as seen through the eyes of a German Officer. I thought it would have stirring accounts of pitched battles, and stories of intrigue, bravery and sacrifice, although as seen from the perspective of the Germans ( read: Nazis). I could not have been more off the mark. The wrong expectation was because I had, at that time, no idea who Ernst Junger was.

It turns out that he had fought in the First World War with distinction and his book, “Storm of Steel” still remains one of the best accounts of the bloody battles in the trenches from 1914-1918. Later it appears he did not join the Nazis though they appealed to him many times to join their emerging organisation. He remained aloof from the Nazis and it would appear that in later years, he did indeed privately wage war against them although he was on the outer fringes of the plot to assassinate Hitler. Continue reading ““A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals” by Ernst Junger”

“Train To Nowhere” by Anita Leslie

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.

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“The Spy Toolkit” by Stephen Twigge

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”

“The 9.45 to Bletchley” by Madalyn Morgan

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”

“Where The Iron Crosses Grow: The Crimea, 1941-44” by Robert Forczyk

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.

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“US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of World War II” by Barrett Tillman

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.

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U for U-boats

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.

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