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The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe Hardcover – May 7, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Advance praise for The Last Battle

Rick Atkinson, author of The Day of Battle
“A tale as compelling as it is unlikely. The Last Battle demonstrates that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, particularly in war. Well-researched and well-told.”

Alan Furst, bestselling author of Dark Star andNight Soldiers
“Stephen Harding has a laser-beam instinct for the detail that tells the story, he’s a fine writer, and, most important, knows a good story when he sees one. All the above is true of The Last Battle, one of the more remarkable battles in a truly vast war, now very nicely illuminated.”

Alex Kershaw, bestselling author of The Liberator
“A little-known but fascinating story brought brilliantly to life.”

Patrick K. O’Donnell, bestselling author of Dog Company
“I love untold stories from World War II, and this is a great one. Brilliantly told, meticulously researched, and filled with larger-than-life heroes and villains. The Last Battle is such a compelling read, I couldn’t put it down.”

John C. McManus, author of September Hope
The Last Battle combines good history and good storytelling. Harding writes with the skill and grace of a novelist but also the authority of an historian who has done some rather remarkable research into a previously lost chapter from World War II’s final days. I had trouble putting this book down, and I think you will, too.”

Peter Carlson, author of K Blows Top
“The Nazis capture two former Prime Ministers of France (who detest each other) and lock them in a medieval castle in Austria. A handful of intrepid American soldiers sets out to rescue them. And then...well, you’ll have to read The Last Battle to find out what happened. It’s going to make a fantastic action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger, call your agent!”

San Diego Union Tribune, 4/28/13

“At the heart of The Last Battle is a largely unknown story that (a) seems implausible, (b) would make a great movie, and (c) reminds us that almost 70 years after the end of World War II there are countless tales still to be told…Harding’s skills as a researcher and dedicated historian are apparent…[A] moment-by-moment real-time report of the events from the viewpoints of the Americans and prisoners…Page-turning…Harding has brought the implausible story to life.”

New York Journal of Books, 4/29/13
“Well done and eminently readable.”

Daily Beast, 5/12/13
“The most extraordinary things about Stephen Harding's The Last Battle, a truly incredible tale of World War II, are that it hasn’t been told before in English, and that it hasn’t already been made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie…Steven Spielberg, how did you miss this story?...Harding is a respected military affairs expert…and his writing style carries immediacy as well as authority…Everything that Harding reports in this exciting but also historically accurate narrative is backed up with meticulous scholarship. This book proves that history can be new and nail-bitingly exciting all at once…While the book concentrates on the fight for Castle Itter, it also sets that battle in the wider strategic contexts…This book is thus a fascinating microcosm of a nation and society in collapse…Part Where Eagles Dare, part Guns of Navarone, this story is as exciting as it is far-fetched, but unlike in those iconic war movies, every word of The Last Battle is true.”

Roanoke Times, 6/9/13
“If, in these halcyon days, a Hollywood screenwriter had approached a major producer with a movie script so packed with improbabilities, so extraordinary in its premises and fanciful in its conclusions, he — the screenwriter — would very likely have been shown the door….sheer tension and melodrama…Stephen Harding, a career journalist and military historian, has put together a fine tale of heroism and cowardice, petty bickering and unselfish sacrifice, and if Hollywood does not snap it up for an epic film, that’s its loss….A page-turner.”

ARMY Magazine, 9/1/13
“The book is a very quick read…The Last Battle has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster… Harding is a gifted storyteller and effective military historian who details the battle and its background with precision…This compact work is an unqualified success and will prove immensely enjoyable for virtually any reader of ARMY.  With the pace of a tightly-written novel, Harding writes with the determination of a true crime novelist and thoroughness of a first-rate historian.”

CollectedMiscellany.com, 8/15/13
“Harding recounts a fascinating piece of World War II history…Harding writes an engaging story about a battle that helped save many of France’s political elite from certain death.”

WWII History Magazine, Dec. 2013
“A finale worthy of Hollywood.”

America in WWII, Dec. 2013
“A book with a narrative Hollywood could only hope for.”

About the Author

As a journalist specializing in military affairs, Stephen Harding has reported from Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Iraq. Currently senior editor at Military History magazine, he lives in Virginia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306822083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306822087
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (381 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

As a defense journalist Stephen Harding covered the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and, most recently, Iraq. The author of seven books and some 300 magazine articles, he specializes in military, aviation and maritime topics.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Lukester on May 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've been on a WWII kick since reading Beevor's The Second World War recently. Although I am no history buff, I thought I knew about WWII. Beevor's book convinced me I was wrong. I loved Beevor's overarching account of the war, but it was just that: overarching. While it has touches of personal stories of the actual soldiers fighting the war, it was much more focused on a description of the battles and the tactical chess match of the war. After I finished it, I was looking to "zoom in" a bit on the war. At first I watched Band of Brothers and The Pacific, two excellent HBO miniseries. I enjoyed both, but they are definitely centered on the American soldiers. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but after reading Beevor, I was looking for something that focused a little bit more on other nationalities. In no way am I trying to discount the sacrifice of Americans or the large role they played in bringing Germany to its knees, but WWII was really about Europeans than it was Americans. This is often lost on the U.S. audience.

When I saw a description on The Last Battle, I decided to give it a try. I'm so glad I did. It almost seems too good to be true: American soldiers pairing with German soldiers to defend an Austrian Castle and the French VIP POWs housed there in the waning moments of WWII in Europe. It fit exactly what I was looking for: a book that, like Beevor, made me rethink WWII.
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62 of 74 people found the following review helpful By James Delahanty on May 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have put aside ARS stuff to read a charming little book called `The Last Battle;' it is the story of an improbable rescue of French VIPS imprisoned by the Nazis in Tyrolia in an ancient castle by a gaggle of Austrian Nazi-resisters, turncoat members of the German Army and and American Tank crew against diehard SS troops given the assignment of killing the VIPS. This occurred in the interregnum between Hitler's death and the first week in May before the official surrender. The writing is crisp and the depictions very well done even though the book was written some 68 years after the event. The book has no socially redeeming virtues; it is just a good story, well told, of people trying to survive a world little of their making. The French VIPs didn't really deserve rescue, but they are not the focus of the story anyway. This review based on the Kindle version.
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134 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Justin Oldham on April 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding (Da Capo Press, May 2013) brings to light one of those rare twist-of-fate moments in military history that deserves to be a movie.*

*[from the press release] The Last Battle is under option to Stellar Productions as a theatrical motion picture. The screenplay adaptation has been written by Bryce Abel, 2008 winner of the Writers Guild of America long form original screenwriting award.

I interviewed this author for The Politics and Patriotism Show. You can find that episode online or through iTunes.

Historians have known for centuries that big battles win wars, but small battles change lives. The men and women affected by the outcomes of these fights in little known out of the way places don't always earn the interest of historians or the ink of publishers for reasons which can sometimes be selfish or unsavory.

Stephen Harding reveals just such a little known life-changing event in The Last Battle. Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7th of 1945 after nearly six years of brutal war. A paradoxical battle took place just three days prior to that capitulation that most of us are not aware of.

The site of this unlikely engagement is Castle Itter, located in the Tyrolean region of Southernmost Austria, not far from the Italian border. It's an ancient stronghold overlooking a scenic mountain pass. The walled structure has a grand history that dates back to 902 CE, when it was first built to protect valuable trade routes.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John A. Boyle on May 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a well researched tale of a small scale action at the end of World War II. The author presents a good background so that we can appreciate the significance of the event. Important French prisoners were involved as was close cooperation between American and German solders. The book could use maps showing unit movements and the avenues of the final SS attacks.
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Roy Jaruk on May 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the hands of a writer with a flair for the dramatic and the ability to turn a phrase such as Cornelius Ryan (author of a book by the same name about a very different and larger battle), W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, or Donald Burgett, this book would have been a compelling read. However, Stephen Harding managed to turn a tale of German/Austrian officers and soldiers, bloody-handed SS types, concentration camp prisoners, members of the Austrian Resistance, combat-hardened Americans, and querulous Frenchmen into a dull trudge of boredom.

Part of the problem is that Harding spends a great deal of time on biographical background of the players on all sides; only about 35 pages of the 170 page text (the rest of the 230 page book is prelude, acknowledgments, index, bibliography, and footnotes) concerns the Battle of Schloss Itter. Perhaps this was necessary at this remove from the time of the action; but to me it gave the book the affect of Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride muttering to the Bishop at the wedding, "Man and wife! Say 'Man and wife!' " as the reader waits for the action to commence. Harding presents the facts of the establishment of this Prominente prison, the fight to hold it and protect the VIP prisoners held there, and the actions that led up to the battle with all the charm of cold pancakes without butter and syrup. As a writer, I know that if you are going to give a long lead-up to the heart of your story, you had better do something to insure your readers don't become so fed up waiting for something to happen that they throw the book across the room. This lesson Harding has yet to learn.

Another problem from my point of view as the reader is Harding's decision to have a separate footnote section instead of footnoting at the bottom of each page.
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