S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “Germany”

Book Review – The Women Who Flew for Hitler

Rating – Five Stars

Mulley has penned a dynamite narrative. A page-turner par excellence. It’s superbly written and an easy and engrossing read. She pens an incisive narrative of political Germany post-Treaty-of-Versailles. She couches her narrative in the biographiesof female test pilots Hanna Reitschand Melitta (nee Schiller) von Stauffenberg. Mulley guides us through the inter-war years: the Weimar Republic, the rise of the National Socialist Party (Adolph Hitler, HeinrichHimmler, Herman Goering, et al.), World War II, collapse of the Third Reich, and beyond

We are introduced to Hanna Reitsch, glider champion, test pilot extraordinaire, avid defender of the Fatherland, National Socialism adherent, and friend and confidant of  Nazi leadership including Adolph Hitler.

Melitta (nee Schiller) von Stauffenberg was the daughter of a Jewish father, devoted to and protector of her extended family, a PhD aeronautical engineer, consummate test pilot, ardent defender of the Fatherland, and, sub rosa, an anti-Nazi.

Suffused throughout the narrative are key elements of the womens’ aviation accomplishments, political beliefs, support of the Third Reich, and important associates and friends (especially Reitsch’s). I’ll not review the details to keep this review from becoming a substantial spoiler.

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Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg

Nonetheless, do you recognize the family name “von Stauffenberg”? Graf Schenk Claus von Stauffenberg is, perhaps, the most important character in this narrative. Claus was the brother of Melitta’s husband Alexander (Alex).

Operation Valkyrie. On 20 July 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg entered Hitler’s bunker, dubbed “The Wolf’s Lair,” deep in the forest of East Prussia. Claus placed his bomb-loaded briefcase under the oak table and next to Adolph Hitler. He left the room to answer a conspirator’s telephone call.  The explosion killed four, but amazingly only wounded Hitler superficially. There’s more to this story in Mulley’s book.

Point: The book has no map, a critical gaffe. I recommend that you use a map of pre-war Germany to follow coherently the numerous locations mentioned—essential to fully appreciate the scope of the narrative.

FIN

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Book Review – African Kaiser

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Rating – Four Stars

Gaudi weaves an intriguing chronicle of the ferocious campaign in East Africa between the German Schutztruppe and British Commonwealth troops during the Great War—1914 to 1918. He develops the account of this little known Afrikanischer Krieg from the German perspective and in an easy, empathetic, and coherent style. The account is so compelling that we experience the details as if we are participants in the narrative.

The protagonist is Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Army. For four years, Lettow-Vorbeck led his Schutztruppe of well disciplined and highly trained German and colonial askaris troops in skillful guerrilla warfare in a classic tactical retreat through East Africa: British Africa (later Kenya), German Equatoria (later Tanganyika), Portuguese East Africa (later Mozambique), and Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe). In failed pursuit were elements of the British Army.

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Clockwise from the top: Lt. Col Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck; German Askaris Company; German Askaris; Askaris on the Krieg-Safari

Lieutenant Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck’s Schutztruppe of almost fifteen thousand troops eluded, perplexed, and defeated the ten-times-larger British forces, inflicting horrendous casualties on their troops.

And, peripheral to the ground war in East Africa, Gaudi recounts exactly how the 5. SMS Konigsberg R1German “battleship” SMS Königsberg (actually a light cruiser) from the Kaiserliche Marine escaped from the British battle squadron in the Indian Ocean; the ship’s role as a commerce raider; and its journey up the Rufiji river to hide from the British ships pursuing it. After several weeks of fruitless search, Fleet Air Arm aeroplanes spotted the SMS Königsberg in a remote tributary of the river, hidden under the leafy limbs of a copse of trees. He continues with the particulars of its demise by British naval artillery.

In another tangential episode, he details the German High Command’s resolve to resupply Lettow-Vorbeck’s isolated Schutztruppe with arms, food, and other necessities.

6. Luftschiff Zeppelin LZ57 R1

The scheme was to use the super Luftshiff Zeppelin L57 to carry these supplies to East Africa. In command was Korvettenkapitan (Corvette Captain) Ludwig Bockhold of the Kaiserlich Marine’s Naval Airship Service. The L57, after a harrowing flight, finally reached the Nile River in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. But, British Intelligence had broken the German naval codes and sent fake messages to the L57 telling Bockhold to abort the mission and return. He ordered the zeppelin to reverse course and sail to Europe.

In June 1917, Kaiser Wilhelm awarded Lieutenant Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck 7. Major General von Lettow-Vorbeck R1Germany’s highest military award, the Pour le Mérite. In October 1917, the German General Staff promoted Lieutenant Colonial von Lettow-Vorbeck directly to Generalmajor (Major General).

The next year, at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, and in the 11th month of 1918, the guns of the Great War fell silent. Two weeks after the armistice in Europe, Generalmajor von Lettow-Vorbeck (Bwana Obersti) marched his Imperial East African troop, the last German command in the field still undefeated in battle, into Abercorn, Rhodesia. Von Lettow-Vorbeck ordered his Schutztruppe to lay down their arms, and he surrendered to Brigadier General Edward Northey of the British Army. The general accepted von Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender in the name of King George V.

British Captain W. C. Downes of the The West African Frontier Force commented on the martial skills of Generalmajor von Lettow-Vorbeck, “He was a genius in the art of bush warfare, a man of indomitable spirit—a most remarkable leader of men, who did not know what it was to be beaten.”

9. Major General Lettow-Vorbeck R1On March 2, 1918, Generalmajor von Lettow-Vorbeck rode through the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, leading the survivors of the Schutztruppe in a parade, to boisterous cheers from the defeated and disheartened German folk. “’The Lion of Africa’ was the only undefeated German general from World War I still commanding an army of a defeated nation at the Armistice.”

Negatives:

  1. Only two large-scale maps are in this book. To comprehend the details of the campaign, we need small-scale maps (about 1: 24,000) that highlight the geographic features and the movements of opposing forces.
  2. Gaudi has a tendency to call most all warships “battleships.” No battleships were involved in the East African campaign.
  3. He labels the SMS Königsberg a battleship. It was a light cruiser.
  4. He discusses the “Indian” Gurkhas. The Gurkhas are from Nepal only.  
  5. He states that Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated to Switzerland. He abdicated to the Netherlands.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

killing pattonKilling Patton is a compelling tale of World War II’s greatest general: George S. Patton (1885 to 1945).  The manuscript reads easily—almost as an adventure novel.  We are propelled into the story as a participant as our intense empathy builds. Importantly, one does not have to have a keen knowledge of the War to follow Patton’s exploits. The authors lead us with guiding words that sets the perspective and the scene.  I would suggest that Killing Patton is the superior of the other three “Killing” books they’ve written.  It’s a must read.

Patton was not a man of subtlety or tact: he was narcissistic, proud, boisterous, forthright, aggressive, disrespectful, stubborn, insubordinate, and the most successful American general of the war.  His highly successful campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Western Europe are text-book examples of his motto, “Attack.  Attack.  Attack.  And attack again.”  A captured German officer told his American captors that, “General Patton is the most feared general on all fronts.  The tactics of General Patton are daring and unpredictable.”

It was during the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945) that exemplified the best, and perhaps the most, important example of Patton’s aggressive tactics.  In late-December, he thrust his Third Army from southern France to Belgium to relieve the Battling Bastards of Bastogne—the men of the 101stAirborne Division and other elements that were fighting heroically to fend the German Wehrmact and SS Division that have this crucial town surrounded.  It was freezing cold, snowing, and sometimes raining. Accordingly, there was no American air support.  The inclement weather had slowed down Patton’s advance.  He prayed to God and chided him, “I am beginning to wonder what’s going on in Your head.  Whose side are You on anyway.”

Meantime at Bastogne: the American forces suffer many casualties, ammunition was low, and hope for relief was fading. German General. Lt. Gen.Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwit sent a note to General Anthony McAulife demanding that he surrender.  McAuliffe’s reply, “NUTS!” The weather cleared, and on 26 December, elements of the Third Army relieved Bastogne.

During the Battle of the Bulge, a German SS Division captured several hundred Americans near the town of Malmedy.  The SS soldiers machine-gunned the Americas—only two soldiers escaped this massacre.

Patton speaks his mind and the aftermath be dammed. He offends his superiors: General Dwight Eisenhower, General Omar Bradley, President Harry Truman, and the British.  He believes that Eisenhower is a fool, Bradly is ineffectual, and President Truman is gullible.  Patton says, “Truman just doesn’t like me.”  And Truman says, “Patton is a braggart who struts around like a peacock in his showy uniform, with polished helmet and bloused riding pants.”  General Eisenhower tells President Truman that, “Patton is a mentally unbalanced officer, and suffers from bouts of dementia.”  General Marshall orders that Patton’s telephones be tapped.   The head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), William (Wild Bill) Donovan answered “Yes” to the question from a subordinate’s question, “Shall I kill him?”  All the while, the Soviets are spying on Patton.

Patton has an abiding distrust of the Communists and the duplicitous Joseph Stalin and says so loudly and to anyone nearby.  He states that after Germany surrenders, we should continue our war to defeat the Soviets.  He makes deadly enemies on both sides of the conflict.

He escapes two attempts on his life.  On 18 April 1945, while flying in an L-5 Sentinel aircraft, a Supermarine Spitfire (a British fighter) with Polish markings made two aggressive attacks. The L-5 pilot took desperate evasive tactics and pushes his aircraft close to the ground.  The spitfire plows into the ground.  Records indicate that no Polish spitfires were in the area on 18 April.  The Soviet army does have several squadrons of Spitfires.

On 3 May, Patton is riding in an open air jeep.  A German peasant’s ox cart with a sharpened pole extending in front of the cart slams into the jeep.  The pole misses Patton by inches.

On 8 December, Patton is in the back seat of a sedan en route to a hunting trip.  A large army truck smashes into the sedan head on.  Patton suffers serious head injuries.  He is taken to a hospital in Heidelberg.  On 21 December Patton dies.

I do have some negatives.  The authors spend too many words on numerous back stories that are only marginally relevant.  For example, long discourses about Adolph Hitler and his activities inside his bunker: ditto re President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and the USSR, the Great Depression, Winston Churchill and the Parliament, William Donovan, excruciating details re the Auschwits-Birkenau Extermination Complex, Anne Frank and the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals.

My greatest disappointment is that the authors skipped details of the German surrender.  They should have described this monumental event in detail—the defeat of Germany was the central theme of their book—the raison d’être for this story of Patton. Perhaps they could have deleted some of the back-story text to make room for this scene.

Here are the highlights of the German surrender.  On 7 May 1945, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodel, on orders from Admiral Karl Donitz signs the unconditional surrender document. General Dwight Eisenhower signs for the United States of America. All German military activities cease on 8 May, (Victory in Europe Day, VE-Day).

Putin, Chamberlain, and Hitler

On 2 March 2014, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin ordered Russian motorized infantry to invade the Ukraine’s CrimeanPeninsula.  Such a military incursion violates international treaties and specifically the Soviet Union’s/Ukraine’s treaty of 1954.  The Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, deeded the Crimea to the Ukraine as a gesture of good will to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s incorporation into Czarist Russia.

Putin’s rationale for his invasion was that he “…reserves the right to use all means…to protect Russian speakers in the country’s (Ukraine’s) south and east if they are in danger.”

On 15 March 1939, on Adolph Hitler’s ordered the Nazi Wehrmact to invade the Sudetenland, a province of Czechoslovakia. His rationale was to protect the German-speaking people of this province from the “accursed” Slavs.  Within a few days, the Nazis had occupied all of Czechoslovakia, in direct violation of international law and the 30 September 1938 Munich Agreement between Germany, Great Britain, France, and Fascists Italy; all without consulting the Czechoslovakian government.

This Munich Agreement was an appeasement treaty by Great Britain and France to avoid another world war over an insignificant country—created in the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.  “Peace for out time,” was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s proclamation.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and the world was engulfed in another world war.

I wonder if history repeats itself.

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