Churchill on Malta

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Since the days of Nelson, Malta has stood a faithful British sentinel guarding the narrow and vital sea corridor through the Central Mediterranean, its strategic importance was never higher than in this the latest war. The needs of the large armies we were building up in Egypt made the free passage of the Mediterranean for our convoys and the stopping of enemy reinforcements to Tripoli aims of the highest consequence. At the same time the new air weapon struck a deadly blow, not only at Malta but at the effective assertion of British sea power in these narrow waters. Without this modern danger our task would have been simple. We could have moved freely about the Mediterranean and stopped all other traffic. It was now impossible to base the main Fleet on Malta. The island itself was exposed to the threat of invasion from the Italian ports, as well as to constant and measureless air attack. Hostile air power also imposed almost prohibitive risks upon the passage of our convoys through the Narrows, condemning us to the long haul round the Cape. At the same time the superior air force of the enemy enabled them, by deterring our warships from acting fully in the Central Mediterranean except at much loss and hazard, to maintain a rivulet of troops and supplies into Tripoli.

About 140 miles from Malta, in the throat of the western Narrows between Sicily and Tunis, lay the Italian island of Pantelleria, reputed strongly fortified and with an invaluable airfield. This place was important to the enemy’s route to Tunis and Tripoli, and in our hands would markedly expand the air cover we could give around Malta. In September, 1940, I had asked Admiral Keyes to make a plan for seizing Pantelleria with the newly formed commandos. The idea was to attach two or three troopships to the tail of one of our heavily guarded convoys. While the main body was engaging the enemy’s attention these would drop off in the darkness and storm the island by surprise. The project, which was called “Workshop,” gained increasing support from the Chiefs of Staff. Keyes was ardent, and claimed to lead the assault in person, waiving his rank as an Admiral of the Fleet.

In my circle we did not deem the actual capture too hard to try, but the difficulties of holding the prize while we were already hard pressed in Malta caused misgivings. Nevertheless, on December 28, 1940, I issued the following minute:

Prime Minister to General Ismay, for C.O.S. Committee

Constant reflection has made me feel the very high value of “Workshop,” provided that a thoroughly good plan can be made and it is given a chance. The effect of “Workshop,” if successful, would be electrifying, and would greatly increase our strategic hold upon the Central Mediterranean. It is also a most important step to opening the Narrows to the passage of trade and troop convoys, whereby so great an easement to our shipping could be obtained. Urgency is supplied by the danger that the Germans, if they take over Italy, will take over “Workshop” island and make it a very difficult proposition both for nuisance value and against assault.

The Chiefs of Staff set to work on the problem at once, and I returned to the charge in the New Year.

Prime Minister to General Ismay, for C. O.S. Committee 13 Jan. 41

The effective arrival of German aviation in Sicily may be the beginning of evil developments in the Central Mediterranean. The successful dive-bombing attacks upon Illustrious and the two cruisers show the need for having these ships fitted with aerial mine-throwers. I do not know why Illustrious could not have had a couple. The improved naval pattern of aerial mine should be pressed on with to the utmost. The need for high-speed aircraft to catch dive-bombers out at sea seems very great. Surely we ought to try to put half a dozen Grummans on Formidable before she goes into the Mediterranean.

  1. I am very apprehensive of the Germans establishing themselves in Pantelleria, in which case with a strong force of dive-bombers they will close the Narrows. I fear this may be another example of the adage “A stitch in time saves nine.”
  2. It is necessary now that “Workshop” should be reviewed. It has become far more urgent, and also at the same time more difficult, and once the Germans are installed there it will become more difficult still. I should be glad if revised and perfected plans could be ready by today week. Plans should also be made to find an opportunity at the earliest moment. The question of whether to try it or not can only be settled after these matters of method and timing have been satisfactorily disposed of.
  3. I remain completely of opinion that “Workshop” is cardinal.

All agreements were obtained, but with our other affairs we could not meet the date at the end of January at which we had aimed. At a conference at Chequers on the morning of January 18, I agreed with the First Sea Lord and the other Chiefs of Staff to put it off for a month. I think I could have turned the decision the other way, but, like the others, I was constrained by the pressure of larger business, and also by talk about the commandos not being yet fully trained.

Keyes, who was not present, was bitterly disappointed. The delay proved fatal to the plan. Long before the month had passed, the German Air Force arrived in Sicily, and all wore a very different complexion. There is no doubt about the value of the prize we did not gain. Had we been in occupation of Pantelleria in 1942 many fine ships that were lost in our convoys, which we then fought through to Malta, might have been saved, and the enemy communications with Tripoli still further impaired. On the other hand, we might well have been overpowered by German air attack, lost our vantage, and complicated our defence of Malta in the interval.

I felt acutely the need of Pantelleria. But our hour had passed. Too much was upon us from many quarters. It was not till May, 1943, after the destruction of the German and Italian armies in Tunis, that, under a heavy bombardment, Pantelleria was taken by a British landing force at the order of General Eisenhower. We were then all-powerful in this theatre, and though the task was deemed very serious beforehand there was no loss.

Book: “Fighting for the French Foreign Legion”

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Like the 7th Cavalry, the Waffen SS or the Special Air Service the French Foreign Legion is one of those iconic (be that through fame or infamy) military units that most students of military history know something about. This book by Alex Lochrie (its subtitle – “memoirs of a Scottish Legionnaire” – make it clear from the outset his origins!) is not a long read at only one hundred and seventy pages. But it is a fascinating one.

The author had what can only be described as a chequered history before joining the Legion at the grand old age of 38. He was in advertising, joined two separate Scottish police forces (moonlighting at one point as a commercial pilot), became a down and out and attempted suicide! He then journeyed to Paris and joined not just one of world’s best and most well known fighting forces, but went on to become part of an elite within this elite – the 2eme Regiment Etranger Parachutiste (2eme REP); the Legion’s paratroopers! He worked his way up to Caporal Chef and was decorated for bravery.

Over a series of nineteen chapters the author takes us through his early jobs, his joining and induction in the Legion and his training and operational deployments over a decade long career from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. So we have various deployments to Tchad in Africa (as part of France’s military commitments to its ex-colonies); to Saudi Arabia/Iraq as part of the first Gulf War and, in the final (and longest) part of the book, to his 6 months in Sarajevo as part of the UN peace keeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These deployments are interspersed with re-collections of tough commando training (reminiscent of SAS style training), exercises with US forces and a move over to an intelligence gathering role (at a time when digital technology was part of a new frontier in this field of military operations).

As someone who during the early nineties had all the misery of the Balkan tragedy beamed regularly into his house it was the author’s description of his tour in Sarajevo that left the biggest impression on me. For those that have studied this conflict the tale is a familiar one; a seemingly spineless UN, highly restrictive rules of engagement, barbarism by all the main indigenous participants and misery and starvation for those trapped by the fighting. 2eme REP’s mission was to hold the International Airport to allow relief flights. Despite their blue helmets and UN status they were shot at and shelled throughout the tour. However being the Legion they didn’t take this lying down, despite those pesky rules of engagement. Some effective deployment of counter snipers with Tac50 Sniper rifles (“The Big Mac” – delivered in guitar cases so nobody could spot these non-defensive weapons) combined with a highly efficient and innovative way of mapping sniper positions ended the airport’s status as a shooting gallery. Also when shelling by the Serbians became too persistent and too close for comfort the French commander fetched in his 120mm mortars from home base and threatened to reduce the local Serbian HQ to rubble if one more round fell on the airport. The Legion’s reputation built up over months of patient diplomacy backed by the threat that only armed legionnaires can bring meant that the shelling stopped!

The whole book is well observed and very crisply written. As the author says his book is not meant to be an advertisement for the Foreign Legion, but he does a damned good job of making it look like a good life if you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk! On many occasions he compares the attitude and approach of the Legion with other units from the French armed forces and finds the latter wanting on nearly every occasion. The Legion follows the “any idiot principle” (although the author doesn’t call it this). So any idiot can be uncomfortable, too cold, too hot, not have decent cooking or recreation facilities. Whether in the deserts of Tchad or the harsh conditions of a Balkans winter the Legion makes sure that as far as possible its base areas are comfortable, well supplied and well fed. Always through their own efforts and resourcefulness.

The book is something of a historical document covering a period of around twenty five years ago-the Legion has moved on since then – but as a view of a period when the geo-political map of the world was being re-drawn it is a highly insightful one (especially given it is from the narrow perspective of a single military unit).

The book finishes with the end of the author’s career and some of his comments on how the Legion treated ex-Legionnaires in difficulties (which appears to be extremely well), makes one question the treatment of soldiers in the UK on their release from the British Army (I am in no position to comment on other nations) following their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won’t be giving the game away to say the author’s story ends well; this is no embittered memoir from someone who has been hard done by. This is the tale of a well-motivated soldier from an elite unit who has, overall, had a very good experience of military life.

The book is supported by a number of black and white photographs showing various aspects of the author’s career and interests. This kind of thing is de rigueur for this kind of book and always add something to text.

I am not particularly interested in the Foreign Legion as a subject, regular readers of these occasional reviews will know my military interests lie elsewhere; however, I have to say this was an excellent read and something of a page turner. So if the Legion is your thing then you will love this book. If you are interested in modern day soldiering then I think this will also be for you. There wasn’t a lot here for wargamers in terms of scenarios etc (the author’s career did not involve a great deal of direct kinetic action) but elements of the Sarajevo tour could provide some ideas.

“Fighting for the French Foreign Legion” available now in paperback from Pen & Sword Books, normal price £12.99/$19.95 (ISBN 9781783376155)

BOOK: The Men who fired the V2s against England

The Men who fired the V2s against England
Murray R. Barber and Michael Keuer

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Buy Online

‘We V2 soldiers fulfilled our tasks with the knowledge that every firing meant innocent people lost their lives…’

This substantial book provides an invaluable contribution to the operational history of the A4 (V2) rocket. Little has been written about the secret activities of the special troops whose role was to protect and fire the operational A4 (V2) rocket under field conditions in World War Two. Carefully researched, the book goes a long way to filling this void. As the result of many years tracking down the few remaining veterans the authors have complied eleven individual biographies of rocket troops whose pre-combat occupations included a scientist, chemist, engineer, toolmaker and builder. The text is written clearly and concisely and is well referenced.

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The book provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day lives of the rocket troops including their personal combat experiences, attitudes, humour and interpersonal relations. Particularly intriguing are their interactions with such Peenemünde notables as Dr. Wernher von Braun and Major General Walter Dornberger. Light is also thrown on the establishment of the field units and the training of the troops. The fact that several of the veterans interviewed have subsequently passed away highlights the urgency and importance of collecting such historical material. The scholarly work is highly recommended to any one with an interest in the history of Hitler’s rocket troops and the field deployment of the world’s first long-range rocket.


Brett Gooden author of Projekt Natter – Last of the Wonder Weapons and Spaceport Australia

In the final, desperate months of World War Two, at a time when the German war machine was considered by the Allies to be an almost spent force, Adolf Hitler unleashed a new weapon against England and western Europe that fell from the silence of the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the edge of space. It was a weapon that struck fear into the hearts and minds of wartime civilians; it came without warning and defence was impossible. This was an unseen threat that fell at supersonic speeds, levelling suburban streets to dust in seconds, terrorising the residents of London and Antwerp – this was the V2 Rocket.

The V2 – ‘Vergeltungswaffen Zwei’ (Vengeance Weapon 2), designed by the rocket scientist and engineer, Wernher von Braun, and his colleagues at the secret Nazi research centre at Peenemünde, was the most sophisticated weapon developed in Europe during the war. Following the end of hostilities, von Braun and many in his team transferred their allegiance to the United States and subsequently went on to design the mighty Saturn V that took the Americans to the moon. The experiences of von Braun’s rocket team are well documented, but somewhat surprisingly, some aspects of the V2 story remain largely uncovered. This is especially true from the German perspective and more specifically, the view of the men who formed the firing teams for this formidable weapon that embraced supersonic technology. From September 1944 to early 1945, V2 launch teams fired more than 3,000 rockets, each with a high-explosive one-ton warhead, at targets in England, France, Belgium, Holland and even within Germany itself. Many rockets were fired from mobile launch sites in The Hague and from concealed wooded areas hidden from Allied aircraft, using fleets of modern, purpose-built transporters and trailers with sophisticated ancillary and support vehicles.

For the first time, this book tells the story of the V2 through the eyes and experiences not only of the men who fired the missiles at targets such as London, Norwich, Antwerp and Paris, but also of some of the military scientists and technicians involved in its development. The authors have spent many years tracking down and interviewing the few surviving veterans of these little-known and secretive units and have unearthed new and rare information from first-hand accounts. These are the unique recollections of the ‘Rocket Soldiers’ who have spoken candidly to the authors about their wartime duties.

The accounts show that, mostly, they were not stereotypical and ideologically indoctrinated ‘Aryan warriors’, but very ordinary soldiers and technicians living through extraordinary times, handling the most sophisticated weapon ever developed in pre-nuclear Europe. The book also describes the development of German rocketry following the end of the First World War and the technology embodied within the V2. The veterans tell of their first encounters with the awesome new rocket and how, having survived the devastating RAF raid on Peenemünde, training was dispersed to test sites in Poland. They recall the move to forward firing positions, gun battles with the Resistance and the start of the rocket offensive. In truth, the more battle-experienced veterans knew that the V2 was a waste of valuable human and matériel resources – a last-ditch hope to save a desperate regime. Conversely, the book illustrates how inexperienced troops drafted directly to the V2 units from basic training, vainly hoped and believed that the fortunes of war would turn in Germany’s favour. The veterans tell of their desperate experiences when the inevitable defeat came, as they were rushed to the east to defend Berlin where so many Rocket Soldiers lost their lives. Yet while some V2 troops ended the war with tears of regret for a robbed youth, others shed tears of frustration, knowing that they would never live through such extraordinary times again.

Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers forms an important new contribution to our understanding of the German war machine and its technology. Using never-before tapped resources, this book will be a revelation and valuable resource to all military historians and those with an interest in rocket development.

The Authors

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Murray R. Barber F.R.A.S., was born in 1956 and is married with two children. He lives in Devon, England where he pursues several business interests that are related to astronomy. He has developed and written curriculum support information for the teaching of astronomy as well as the history of ancient Egypt, which is in use in planetariums worldwide. Since his schooldays he has always been interested in the history of World War Two and in particular its aviation. The V2 rocket represents a cross-over of his two main interests – the V2 being the very first man-made object to enter space and which was to lead, ultimately, to vehicles travelling beyond Pluto. Through the International V2 Research Group he met Michael Keuer and, following visits to see the remains of the former Peenemünde research and development establishment on the Baltic coast, they decided to study, together, the history of the V2 rocket. It was to fill the void of first-hand accounts of the operational use of the weapon, that the idea for this book was born. Murray is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Michael Keuer was born in 1959 in Hannover, Germany and is a senior software developer in a veterinarian pharmaceutical supply company. He has always held a keen interest in historical technical developments and the personalities behind scientific advancement. Following the reunification of Germany, he was able to visit the previously restricted area of Peenemünde to see the remains of the development works from where the V2 rocket was created and launched. During World War Two his grandfather worked as a technical skilled worker at Peenemünde and, indeed, Michael’s father was born just 32 kilometres away from the cradle of modern space science. As his interest grew, he met Murray Barber and the two decided to research the reminiscences of the last few surviving men involved in the military development and employment of this extraordinary weapon of war.

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In ‘Stalingrad,’ Jochen Hellbeck uses forgotten interviews to take us inside the battle that turned the tide of World War II

By Alan Cate

Stalingrad
By Jochen Hellbeck

PublicAffairs, 512 pp., $29.99

Yorktown and Gettysburg rank highest among American martial epics of valor and victory. Most Brits would probably choose the World War II aerial Battle of Britain as their “finest hour.” To the French, Verdun – with its defiant cry, “they shall not pass” – represents a national Calvary of agony and endurance in World War I.

For the Russian people, even more deeply engraved on the national psyche, it’s Stalingrad, “the most ferocious and lethal battle in human history.” This titanic five-month encounter, with roughly a million casualties – dead, wounded, captured or missing – on each side, culminated in a shattering defeat of the Nazi invaders by the Soviets.

Military historians universally recognize it as the turning point of the Second World War, or, as it’s known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War.

In “Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich” (PublicAffairs, 512 pp., $29.99), Jochen Hellbeck assembles what amounts to an histoire totale, or all-encompassing chronicle, of this pivotal contest. The book, previously published to great acclaim in Germany, centers around a remarkable collection of oral histories gathered by Soviet researchers during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the battle in 1942-43.

This documentary trove languished in the basement of a Moscow archive until Hellbeck, a German-born historian who teaches at Rutgers University, came upon it in 2008.

Comprising 215 eyewitness accounts – thousands of typescript pages – from participants ranging from generals to privates, as well as civilians, these interviews paint, writes Hellbeck, a “multifaceted picture” of incredible bravery and fortitude. Due, however, to their “candor and complexity,” they were censored during the war.

Afterward, the scholar who compiled them fell into political disfavor, and his project was buried and forgotten for more than six decades.

Hellbeck’s signal achievement lies in how he deploys and supplements his sources. He begins with an overview of the battle, placing it in the context of both the war and Soviet society. He reminds us that the U.S.S.R. did more than any country to defeat the Nazis and paid a much higher price.

The Red Army inflicted about 75 percent of all the casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht. Roughly 27 million Soviet citizens died – around 15 percent of Russia’s prewar population. In contrast, American World War II deaths number just over 400,000.

This introductory section also describes the origins of the interview project and its methodology, which Hellbeck hails for its “rigor” and “scholarly ethos.”

This volume’s most creative aspect resides in the “Rashomon”-like narratives Hellbeck produces by ingeniously weaving together numerous individual responses, and grouping “them chronologically and by location,” as if in a single conversation.

Thus we get multiple angles of vision on events such as the capture of the overall German commander at Stalingrad or a costly, failed assault on a Nazi-held position. Hellbeck aptly likens the effect to “a chorus of soldierly and civilian voices.”

The book also contains gripping, stand-alone accounts. Nurse Vera Gurova was among the nearly 1 million women who served in the Red Army. She and her sisters elicited this from her commander: “They can’t do what a man can do physically, but they outdo men in terms of courage.”

Sniper Vasily Zaytsev killed 242 Germans and was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Explaining his remorseless hatred for the enemy, he commented to his interviewer, “you see girls hanging from the trees. Does that get to you?”

Rounding out “Stalingrad” are many photos, transcripts of German prisoner interrogations, excerpts from the diary of a dead German soldier and a brief coda that describes the battle’s aftermath and the unhappy fate of the band of researchers who tried to capture the Stalingrad experience in full.

Besides illuminating the human side of this colossal battle, Hellbeck also revises the common Western image of the Red Army as a horde driven forward “by pistol-waving political officers.”
To be sure, savage penalties were meted out to perceived shirkers. One general casually remarked that he personally “shot the commander and commissar of one regiment, and a short while later” executed “two brigade commanders” for their failings.

Nevertheless, Hellbeck’s findings compellingly suggest that it wasn’t just, or even mostly, coercion that motivated Soviet troops. Rather, it was a combination of effective “political conditioning” and genuine patriotism that inspired them.

Hellbeck concludes with a visit to the giant memorial in Volgograd, the name that replaced Stalingrad in 1961 as part of that era’s de-Stalinization. Words penned about the battle and its heroes by the renowned Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman are engraved on an exterior wall: “An iron wind struck them in the face, yet they kept moving forward. . . . Are these mortals?”

Inscribed inside the monument is this response: “Yes, we were mortal and few of us survived, but we all discharged our patriotic duty to our sacred Motherland.”

Portrait of the artist under the Reich

Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War

Roger Moorhouse delights in a Second World War family memoir that stands out from the crowd.

Author: Giles Milton
Publisher: Sceptre
Reviewed by: Roger Moorhouse
Price (RRP): £20
It would be easy to make the assumption that Giles Milton’s new book is little more than a vanity project. It is, after all, the story of his own father-in-law and of his experiences growing up in the Weimar Republic and as a soldier in the Second World War.

Yet, such an assumption would be wholly misplaced. Rather than one of the countless wartime memoirs that provide little of any historical or literary worth, Milton’s book offers much of value to the reader.

Wolfram was born in 1924 and spent his formative years under the shadow of the Third Reich, growing up near the town of Pforzheim in the Black Forest. Coming from a rather bohemian, free-thinking background (his father was an artist, and he too would become an artist of some renown), he was little impressed by Hitler and the Nazis.

But the Third Reich swiftly made its presence felt in his life; particularly when he was transported to the eastern front as part of a labour battalion, and then when he was sent to Normandy as a conscript.
Wolfram is an engaging character. Thoughtful and circumspect, he occasionally comes across as an aesthete journeying through the Hades of wartime; savouring what little spiritual nourishment he could find; a beautiful landscape or the mournful chanting of an Orthodox funeral, before being wrenched back to the living death of war.

Of course, aside from such esoteric flourishes, Wolfram’s experiences – and those of his family on the home front – were scarcely extraordinary for Germans of the wartime generation.
Yet, the beauty of Milton’s book is the way that he has woven those experiences not only into a wider narrative, but also into the narratives of those that were close to Wolfram; childhood friends and family members.

The result is a book which deftly juggles the micro and the macro, ably contextualising Wolfram’s life and incorporating it into the broader story. Importantly, Milton’s use of the first-hand material that he has had access to – diaries, letters and interviews – is exemplary. In contrast to some books of this type, one never feels that the raw material is being stretched too thin, and neither does one sense that it is overused, presented clumsily, without sufficient explanation or context.

Milton’s writing, too, is first-rate. Engaging, poignant and vivid, he wrings just the right amount of pathos from his story, and shifts seamlessly between the varying ‘voices’ of his narrative.
Therefore for all its apparently homespun origins, this is a very valid and interesting book, which offers an illuminating insight into the experience of ‘ordinary’ Germans living in ‘small-town’ Germany.

Roger Moorhouse is the author of Berlin at War (The Bodley Head, 2010)

Youth’s view of Hitler’s rise finally has an audience

The dictator’s paramilitary machine … the Strum Abtellung (brown shirts) return from manoeuvres on a Sunday in Nuremberg.

Malcolm Brown

November 27, 2010
JOHN RISCHBIETH, then a pupil at St Peters College, Adelaide, was awestruck when, as a 17-year-old in Germany in 1935, he became surrounded by beaming members of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) and the Bund Deutscher Madchen (League of German Girls), showing him around the brave new Germany Adolf Hitler was creating.

He saw the brown shirts – the Sturm Abteilung- marching the streets with their spades, picks and rifles. He saw the SS officers with their daggers and revolvers, and he saw the banners, the flags, the Nazi insignia. He felt a sick feeling develop within him.

Mr Rischbieth, 93, was one of the boys who took photos during the visit, many of which he kept for decades until last year when, honoured for his service in World War II with the Royal Australian Navy, he saw fit to unearth them.

Some are in a new book, The 39ers – stories of part-time military who enlisted before World War II and went on to serve in the war, initiated by the Reserve Forces Day Council and being launched today at Victoria Barracks.

Although taken by innocent schoolboys, they capture the fervour and the militarism sweeping the country two years after Hitler came to power.

Mr Rischbieth, whose father migrated to Australia from Germany in 1835, was with a group of 15 Australian schoolboys taken on a tour of North America, Britain and Europe. They included six from St Peters College.

Mr Rischbieth shook hands with George V, attended a world Rover Scout moot in Sweden, then did a two-week tour of Germany escorted by two blond, blue-eyed ambassadors for German youth, Herbert Roloff and Toni Reinhart.

The boys were accommodated at castles, hostels and camps. In Berlin, they were welcomed by the mayor. ”Of course, they insisted the Germans were peaceful and had no intention of upsetting the world and all that nonsense,” Mr Rischbieth said.

The boys were shown the stadium being prepared for the next year’s Olympics and might have met Hitler himself except the fuhrer was running late and the boys had to catch a train.

But the boys were less than impressed by what they saw. Italy had invaded Abyssinia and they could see the Germans had the same belligerence. ”When we got onto the ship for Australia, we started to compare notes,” Mr Rischbieth said.

That unease had not been lost in January 1939, when Mr Rischbieth joined the RAN Reserve. ”I was convinced the war was coming,” he said. ”Chamberlain said, ‘Peace in our time!’ I said, ‘Like hell!”’
Mr Rischbieth was mobilised when war broke out, serving initially on an armed merchant cruiser, the HMS Moreton Bay. In 1941, having been commissioned, he joined a light cruiser, HMAS Hobart, and served with it in the Mediterranean, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies.

In the Battle of the Coral Sea, as assistant air defence officer, he was posted on the bridge to watch enemy aircraft and call out ”bombs away!” when they released their load, prompting extreme evasive action. The Hobart was not hit by bombs but was strafed.

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Mr Rischbieth was on a ship coming into Rabaul and, concerned that the Japanese might lob a grenade, he went ashore to speak to an Australian officer. The officer, John DeRavin, had been one of the boys on the trip to Germany 10 years before.

Mr Rischbieth, who returned after the war to work at a shipping company, George Wills and Co, and ended as managing director, will attend today’s launch. He is the last survivor of the St Peters boys who went on the German trip. Three were killed in action.

The 39ers is published by the Reserve Forces Day Council ($25). To order, contact the council via http://www.rfd.org.au

HITLER’S FINAL FORTRESS – BRESLAU 1945

Richard Hargreaves

In January 1945, the Red Army unleashed its long-awaited thrust into Germany with terrible fury. One by one the provinces and great cities of the German East were captured by the Soviet troops. Breslau, capital of Silesia, a city of 600,000 people stood firm and was declared a fortress by Hitler.A bitter struggle raged as the Red Army encircled Breslau, then tried to pummel it into submission while the city’s Nazi leadership used brutal methods to keep the scratch German troops fighting and maintain order. Aided by supplies flown in nightly and building improvised weapons from torpedoes mounted on trolleys to an armored train, the men of Fortress Breslau held out against superior Soviet forces for three months. The price was fearful. By the time Breslau surrendered on May 6, 1945, four days after Berlin had fallen, 50,000 soldiers and civilians were dead, the city a wasteland. Breslau was pillaged, its women raped and every German inhabitant driven out of the city which became Wroclaw in post-war Poland. Based on official documents, newspapers, letters, diaries and personal testimonies, this is the bitter story of Hitler’s Final Fortress.

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