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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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Frequently bought together
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.”
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.”
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
About the Author
- Publisher : Da Capo Press; First Da Capo Press Edition (May 7, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0306822083
- ISBN-13 : 978-0306822087
- Item Weight : 15.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #271,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I call it a footnote because it addresses essentially a skirmish at the very end of the war, that had no impact except on those immediately involved. What makes it interesting is it’s about an unusual battle with American soldiers, French VIPs, German Wehrmacht soldiers, and a single, disillusioned SS officer, fighting off an attack by SS soldiers apparently sent to kill the French VIPs. How can a battle with US and German soldiers, allied with each other, not be interesting? At the same time, Stephen Harding’s research and writing style make the book an enjoyable read.
Frankly, a large part of the book is basically a series of mini biographies about the battle’s primary participants, beginning with the French VIPs who had been gathered at this small SS prison in Itter Castle on the Austrian border, south of Munich. It then goes through the Key German players and then the Americans. What this means is by the time you get to the actual battle, you know who’s fighting and you care about the outcome. The description of the battle itself, and the relief of the defenders while being attacked by over 100 SS soldiers, fighting on even after Hitler’s death, but before Germany’s surrender, keeps you on your toes.
All of this is a credit to Harding’s writing abilities. His has an engaging writing style and an ability to tell a (historical) story. In fact, at times, I felt I was reading a novel. I seriously recommend this book because of the curiosity inherent in the subject, and the author’s writing style.
The normal history of Europe in World War II was that it effectively ended with Hitler’s suicide and that fears of a Nazi redoubt out in the mountains of Austria never really happened. At the 20,000 foot view this is mostly true. Among the exceptions was the Battle over the SS prison castle, Itter.
Castle Itter was a prison for a very mixed bag of high ranking Frenchmen and women. Mixed in the sense that they represented many different political views and included former members of the French Vichy Government. (They did not like each other) That they were allowed to live is itself a story as it is unknown if the German’s intended to use them as bargaining chips in peace negotiations, meaning even Hitler had a plan B. In the 100 or so pages that lead to the battle we get far too many details about each prisoners life leading up to their capture and their arrests and there various prison peregrinations leading to their selection to Castle Itter.
After all the back stories on the castle, the prisoners, the prison commander and then the eventual American/local resistance relief column under Captain Lee we get to the battle.
The selling point of the book is that the war is over. The prisoners are still at risk for their lives. The relief column will include Americans, local Austrian resistance fighters And German soldiers including former (as in up to the day before) SS officers and troops.
Either the improbabilities and ironies of that last paragraph wet your curiosity or this book is not for you.
Top reviews from other countries
As noted in the newspaper review excerpts on the cover, this is a story begging to be turned into a blockbuster film. A very readable book indeed.
The book is worth a read for an insight into pre-WWII French politicians and the intricacies of the fate of a very minor part of the Third Reich; just don't expect much action. I suspect that the author was after a film deal, but there's not enough material here for a decent script, let alone something of interest to a producer.
Over a period of time, I began to hear about the events that had taken place at Schloss Itter, but was never properly able to unearth the complete details, even though I knew the local terrain, which served as a backcloth for the happenings described in The Last Battle. I can also recall a landlord of a Gasthof in Salzburg recalling his own personal experiences of fighting alongside the Americans, but in those days before the Internet it was not so easy to fathom the precise facts.
I am therefore indebted to Stephen Harding for the thoroughness he has applied in researching this book and providing a thoroughly absorbing picture of the events and those who participated in them.