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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Audio Book Review: The Last Battle by Stephen Harding

This is an interesting and worthwhile presentation of a special historic event.
The Last Battle:
When US and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe
by Stephen Harding
Narrated by Joe Barrett
    LENGTH    7 hrs and 16 mins
    RELEASE DATE    09-03-13
    PUBLISHER    Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Genre: Nonfiction
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0

Publisher's Summary

May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich is little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Nazis. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue 14 prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It's a dangerous mission, but Lee has help from a decorated German Wehrmacht officer and his men, who voluntarily join the fight.

Based on personal memoirs, author interviews, and official American, German, and French histories, The Last Battle is the nearly unbelievable story of the most improbable battle of World War II - a tale of unlikely allies, bravery, cowardice, and desperate combat between implacable enemies.

World War II is almost over in early summer of 1945. The American soldiers want to finish up and get home. None of them want to be the last man killed by the Nazis. There are 14 prominent French officials who are being held as special, political prisoners in a famous, but declining, castle in the Austrian Alps. The prisoners have always been treated fairly well but they are at risk of being killed before the war ceases.

One of the prisoners has been exercising and making unsuccessful escapes during which he learns the surrounding forest paths. A couple of them have become friends with the staff who are secretly working with the resistance. Even some of the German officers have turned to help the resistance forces. One of the staff manages to get out to meet up with the American forces where he has to convince rough Captain Jack Lee that the Americans must take on the mission to rescue the French prisoners.

The book sets out the history of the castle and the prisoners. It then follows the efforts to reach help and the obstacles and mishaps that occur as Jack Lee and only a small group of men make it through to the castle. Some of the troops are diverted and much of the heavier equipment has to be left behind as it would not fit over the narrow, weak bridges. There is tension as the battle begins with the small group of Americans facing the determined German troops surrounding the castle. Some of the German soldiers are no more than boys and have little training or heart for the fight. On the other hand there are the determined, well-trained SS soldiers engaging in what they may realize will be the last battle of the war.

When I saw this title offered for review I thought it would be worthwhile to listen to a real-life battle. This is different than fiction as it is like a documentary in the way it is told. The characters are identified with background and personality traits and the author even follows up to tell what happens to each after the war. The real difficulties of communication, transport and territorial lines of the troops are all part of the remarkable event. It was interesting to hear how the prisoners, who had their own animosities, pulled together during the battle only to separate again as soon as the danger was passed. Although this didn’t have the flair of a novel, anyone who is interested in real-life war history would find this a good listen.

Audio Notes: Joe Barrett manages to keep the documentary approach moving so that it doesn’t fall into ‘too dry’ mode. He provides nuances to convey the challenges, chagrin and frustrations that are faced during the rescue mission.

I received this for review from Blackstone Audio through Audiobook Jukebox.

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