Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding

The Last Battle:  When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding - 223 pages

When I chose to read The Last Battle it was because I was interested in reading about the circumstances of how the United States and Germans teamed up.  However, I was unimpressed.  What is not clearly mentioned is that it was not truly the Germans who were participating.  Most of the so-called "German" soldiers were Austrians and they had joined the Austrian resistance long before the war ended.  The goal of this "last battle" was to protect a group of high-ranking French political prisoners (former ministers who opposed the Nazis) and kept at Schloss Itter, a medieval castle in the Tyrolean Alps.  Initially, after the true Germans guarding the prisoners leave, local Austrian-bred officers and soldiers plus one disgruntled former Bavarian SS Captain who deserted, Schrader,  help protect the prisoners.  Then one prisoner escaped to let the nearby American troops know what was happening and they came to the rescue in two waves.  The first is the focus of the latter half of the book, as the second wave is given only one paragraph.

Also a fact I disliked about the book was its focus on biographies over the actual event.  The first nearly one hundred pages were mini-biographies of the ensemble cast of about two dozen.  However, that same fact lets me unexpectedly claim this book towards this month's goal of sports and athlete related books.  One of the French prisoners was Jean Borotra, a world-renowned tennis champion and former Minister of Sports and Recreation, who was imprisoned for saying the Jews should be allowed equal opportunity to participate in sporting activities.  Also, the American soldier who led the troops to Schloss Ittler, John C. Lee, Jr., participated in swoardsmanship and horsemanship sports while enrolled in a military academy and played several seasons of semi-pro football after the war's end.  Both Lee and Borotra were the indispensable brains and brave souls whom without the battle never would have been won.

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