Category Archives: Russia

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that, during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ? How could anybody treat genocide as a sport? an entertainment?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, six at a time, picked up and taken away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women even though we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said, “Would you like to photograph a shooting?”. I said, “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-butts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).   They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not become an excuse to allow race hatred. Otherwise, race hatred will end in the shocking events I have described above. Punishments for race hatred should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat will be like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined and less well trained armed forces.

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (3)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history.

It is quite difficult to find a coherent story which will link together 12,000+ images, but I will give it a go. I’m going to start with the Red Army. Here are 11 Soviet soldiers, all well equipped for winter conditions:

The next few photographs will show some of the methods they used. First of all, they knew the conditions and were used to fighting in snow, especially the fierce Siberian troops:

They obviously had a few armoured trains left over from the Civil War and made use of them, although I would struggle to say exactly where:

The Soviet way was to make things that were tough and would stand up to use. They  were also not ashamed to use simple means of transport as opposed to complex tracked vehicles that might freeze up. Horses are tough and, if need be, you can eat them:

Machine guns were easily transported on special little trolleys:

There were huge problems, of course, especially in the early days. Members of the KGB would be positioned at the back of any Red Army advance  and would shoot down the men who ran away. This seems quite extraordinary but many engagements in the Civil War had been lost because the Soviet forces just took to their heels and fled. On more than one occasion the British forces had the benefit of this sudden loss of nerve.

The White Russians had to try extremely hard to lose that war, but they managed it!

Here recruits are trained to shoot straight. Note the unusual fastening for the bayonet onto the rifle barrel:

The troops’ confidence would grow enormously when these newly invented rocket weapons were used. They were known as “Stalin’s Organ” and made use of fourteen Katyusha rockets with a range of up to four miles:

The biggest difference between the Soviets and the other combatants was probably the use of women, not only in non-combat roles but as, for example, fighter pilots and snipers. Women made excellent snipers, apparently. They found it much easier to kill in cold blood than men did, and felt little or no guilt when they did so.

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko had a record 309 kills:

I think that this cheery young lady is also a sniper, judging by the telescopic sights on her rifle:

Some women, of course, worked at what were, by Western standards, more usual wartime occupations:

And, finally, waving the Red hordes on to Berlin. Notice the road sign on the right. It reads “Берлин” :

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (1)

“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:

The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Harald Welzer (above) was born in Hannover in 1958 and he is a German social psychologist, having studied sociology, psychology and literature at the University of Hannover.

Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.

The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:

I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.

The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.

In the earliest pages, it is explained that:

“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”

The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.

One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:

“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”

When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:

Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.

Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.

We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”

Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:

“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.

The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.

In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.

They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………

 

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (2)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on CD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+ images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

We left the German invaders discovering just how cold the Soviet Union could get. The Germans still thought that they could win, though. Their racial theories said the Russians were “untermenschen” and the photographs they took and sent home seemed to prove it:

This man is living in the Western USSR but what race is he? :

And what about this one? He is far from the Aryan ideal. And by the rules used by the Germans, he may be killed for that offence against racial purity:

When they invaded Poland, the German troops were told that the Poles lived in filth, that they had a distinctive stink and that, with practice, you could smell the presence of any Poles nearby. Poles were Slavs and so were Russians. It wasn’t a huge leap to apply the same attributes to Russians. And the photographs you took would prove it. They were subhuman. Just look at them. Barefoot and unkempt. Where would you find the like in Germany?:

Many of them even lived underground:

And their children?  Like little animals. Dirty. Badly dressed and often bare footed:

And many of them are complete ragamuffins, with little evidence of knowing who their parents are:

And then the stupid, smelly Russkies stumbled their way to making what may well have been the finest tank of all time, the T-34 :

And before too long, the tables began to be turned. More and more prisoners were being captured by the useless, cretinous Soviets:

Events accelerated after that, from very bad to catastrophic. Soon it was Germans who were fleeing as refugees. Hitler had said that he would drive Bolshevism out of Europe, to the far side of the Urals. He was wrong. His incompetence had brought the Red Commie Tide westwards, and the Russians by 1945 were some 800 miles further into central Europe than they had been six years before. Run, run, run!:

And before long, they were giving German Grandads in Berlin newly invented superweapons and telling them to do their bit to chase those 2,300,000 Russkies out of the city. Don’t look so bewildered, Gramps! They’re easy to use, but unfortunately, they fire only one shot:

 

 

 

 

 

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (1)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share the best of these photographs with you because a good number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

September 1st 1939. The Germans attacked Poland in some strength and soon, prisoners were being taken in large numbers:

On June 22nd 1941, came Operation Barbarossa. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union where lebensraum was almost limitless. Victories came easily. Cities were blown to bits:

Towns were destroyed:

And villages burned:

Russian prisoners were captured in their hundreds of thousands:

The Germans didn’t always feed the Russians. In years to come this would result in cannibalism in many of the camps. A German sentry would shoot a Russian prisoner, and the others, all starving, would then eat him:

For the advancing army, there were always meteorological problems, In the height of summer, it was dust:

But then it started to rain as autumn set in. Not too much to begin with. But then it got worse. The Russians call this time “распутица” (pronounced “rass-poot-eat-sa”) which means “the season of bad roads”.  The origin of the word is that “рас” (“rass”) means “in different directions” and “пут” (“poot”) means the road. And that’s exactly what happens as the road disappears into a sea of mud. It begins very gradually with this:

And it ends with this:

Traditionally, the weather starts to get colder and much more wintry on November 7th, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. But the Germans did not know this, and they just woke up one day and there was a light dusting of snow, and the mud was all frozen. They preferred that. At least you could walk on frozen mud:

But then it snowed a little more, and a little more. At first it was very picturesque:

But then you find your tank is stuck in the frozen mud and the snowdrifts and it’s unusable. You expect to be given a winter uniform and winter equipment but it never comes. You start to feel cold. And it’s no fun playing stupid games in the snow any more:

 

 

 

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Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (3)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder. He was killed on February 13th 1943 during an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, carrying out a mission to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This type of activity was called “Nickeling”. In the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”:

I was really surprised when I found out exactly what they were distributing. Firstly, it was not necessarily a single sheet floating down. Some leaflets were up to sixteen pages. They are best thought of like an old football programme, with two or four or even eight sheets folded in two and then stapled.  Leaflets dropped on France in late 1942 included “We are winning the battle which will be decisive for victory” or “Winston Churchill Ami De La France”. There were precise verbatim reports such as “Speech by Mr. Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on September 9th 1942”, “Churchill talks on British war production” and accounts such as “Victory in Egypt – Prelude to the Allied Offensive”, referring to the Battle of El Alamein. One leaflet showed what the Free French in Great Britain were doing, trawler fishing and so on, and a second leaflet which firmly announced, “The Renault factories were working for the German Army. The Renault factories have been bombed”. Always mentioned were the times and frequencies of the BBC’s broadcasts to France.

There were two long running titles which were dropped many times in France. The first was “Courrier de l’Air” or “Postbag of the Air” with lots of short articles and photographs, of various happenings outside Hitler’s Europe:

On February 25th 1943, it contained “A heavy threat weighs on the Nazis in the Donetsk region”, “Heavy fighting in central Tunisia” and “The battleship Richelieu in New York”. Sometimes a single topic might fill the “Courrier” such as “I flew over the German army surrounded at Stalingrad”, “Stalingrad the Invincible”, “The condemned German army were waiting for the coup de grâce” and the sarcastic “Hitler has not forgotten you” under a photograph of five half, if not totally, frozen German soldiers:

Another favourite was the “Revue de la Presse Libre” or “The Magazine of the Free Press”. It carried editorials and articles in French taken from “The Times”, “The Telegraph” and other British newspapers. The leaflets were printed in hundreds of thousands and were dropped for several weeks, particularly if they were very general in nature. “Who was right?” ran from February 4th-April 11th 1943. “Edition Spéciale : Casablanca” ran from February 11th-14th 1943, and the January 1943 “Courrier de l’Air” was still being dropped in March. My own best guesses for the leaflets that Robert was delivering included “Courrier de l’Air 4 février 1943” which was dropped between February 11th-March 4th. My best guess No 2 would be the “Revue de la Presse Libre No 5” which was airlifted in by the RAF between February 11th-14th 1943. Waterlows had printed around 300,000 of them.

To be continued……….

 

 

 

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Books for Christmas (2)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

The first book is quite unusual since it is an attack by a German writer on the dastardly deeds of Bomber Command, and presumably, by extension , on the American Eighth Air Force. Jörg Friedrich obviously remembers very well Dresden, Hamburg, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, Pforzheim and so on. He seems to have forgotten the people who invented the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians at places such as London and even York Minster in WW1, and then Guernica, Rotterdam, Warsaw and so on. And there are some factual errors.

Overall the book reminds me of the verdict of a German friend of mine about the generation before his own:

“They start a war and then moan about losing it.”

Even so, “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown is quite an intriguing book. Some of the things he says made me quite angry but perhaps because many of them are things that I have worried about myself, but loyally continued to defend.

A nice contrast is the book by two German academics, Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, entitled “Soldaten”.  They examine the dreadful, appalling things done by ordinary Germans in World War Two, and then look at whether the Americans in Vietnam or Iraq could have done the same. A really good book, which does not leave you feeling too good about your own morality.

In my previous selection, the best book was either “Subsmash” or “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”. In this second selection, the book we should all read and take in is “Soldaten”:

It’s quite a contrast with our next book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. There are a lot of different editions of this masterpiece, and I would recommend the one which has a preface or introduction by Doris Lessing. Do NOT be tempted by an edition “with extra new added pornography”. In any case, the book is also about WW1 and about the disappearing English landscape.

As you can see, the cover of the best edition has the gamekeeper putting his trousers back on, or, more likely, taking them off yet again.

Perhaps even better to read are Lawrence’s “Selected Stories”. You get 400 pages of his best short stories, including my own particular favourite “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

Next on the list is “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. This book should be a compulsory read in every secondary school in England. How much really interesting history has been hidden away because of prejudice? Black Africans on Hadrian’s Wall, a black man killed by a white mob in Liverpool and the fight to abolish slavery, among many other long avoided stories.

Four books I haven’t read yet, although I’m certainly looking forward to them. Firstly, “Lend-Lease And Soviet Aviation in the Second World War” by Vladimir Kotelnikov. I have looked at the pictures of the P-39s and P-40s with red stars on them, and the Short Stirling, but I haven’t read the text yet. If it’s as good as the illustrations, it will be brilliant.

I haven’t read this book either, although I have read the companion volume about cricketers killed in World War One. It’s “The Coming Storm: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in World War II” by Nigel McCrery. I have no reason to believe that this book will be anything other than extremely well researched and an interesting read.

Next book in the “In Tray” is  “Mettle and Pasture”, the story of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment during WW2, written by Gary J Weight. I am hoping it will be a great read. It has certainly got some excellent reviews on amazon.co.uk.

The last book in the “In Tray” is called “Luftwaffe over America” by Manfred Griehl. The author examines the Germans’ very real plans to bomb the eastern seaboard of the United States during the Second World War,  using their Me 264s, Ju 290s and 390s and the Ta 400 from Focke Wulf. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the fact that, on a trial flight, a Ju 290 supposedly got within ten miles of New York.

That’s all for now. Third and final part next time.

 

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Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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