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WW2 Books

Noteworthy World War II books and book reviews.
Latest hand-picked WWII news.

Hitler's Final Fortress Breslau 1945 by Richard Hargreaves (book review)
The siege of Breslau is mentioned often in the final diary entries of Josef Goebbels. The stand by "dear Hanke" did much to reinforce the Nazi propaganda minister`s fanaticism. Of Goebbels` fanaticism there can be no doubt. His sincerity is another matter. Karl Hanke, the brutal Nazi sent to organize the defense, had cuckolded Goebbels. Goebbels possibly regretted Hanke`s death less than he claimed. In any event, Richard Hargreaves has written a good account of a battle that turned out to have no significance in the war fighting, but in the aftermath reversed a major turning point in European history: Stalin saw to it that Poland recovered Silesia, of which Breslau is the capital.
(mauinews.com)

Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War by Charles Glass
Of the 100,000 British and 50,000 American troops who fled the ranks during WWII, Eddie Slovik must count as the most unlucky... in a small French village in January 1945, he became the 6-year conflict`s first and only soldier to be executed for desertion. Slovik, a 25-year-old infantryman and ex-con from Detroit, was sentenced to death by musketry for desertion during the Battle of the Bulge. The US Army was fighting a bloody, violent battle for survival. Every man was vital. Before he was executed, Slovik wryly declared: "They`re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I`m it because I`m an ex-con... they`re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old."
(burnleyexpress.net)

World War Two: A Short History by Norman Stone (book review)
In all the WWII books, this must be one of the most unexpected: Norman Stone has elected to tell the whole story in 200 pages. Reading it is like being taken up in an all-seeing satellite to observe massive movements on the ground. It is illuminating, concentrating on what mattered most psychologically. Stone asks the really big questions. Did the war need to be fought? Why did Hitler topple Western Europe so easily? Did Britain ever nearly lose the war - through bombing, invasion or U-boat sinkings? Why did it take the U.S. so long to join in?
(dailymail.co.uk)

Sven Hassel, novelist who depicted Nazi soldiers` lives, dies at 95
Sven Hassel, a Danish-born writer whose pulp novels depicting grunt life in the Wehrmacht - drawn, he said, from his own combat experiences - sold millions of copies worldwide died on Sept. 21 in Barcelona, Spain. His 14 novels portrayed German trench soldiers in a misfits` brigade of convicts and deserters - a Third Reich version of the Dirty Dozen - who, like soldiers in all wars, eat badly, sleep little, live with death and struggle to retain their humanity.
(nytimes.com)

Why Normandy Was Won': Operation Bagration: The Russian Contribution to Operation Overlord
If you're a history buff you'll recognize Operation Bagration as the massive Soviet assault on June 22, 1944 against Germany's Army Group Center in Byelorussia. Kenneth C. Weiler writes in "Why Normandy Was Won: Operation Bagration and the War in the East 1941-1945": "Germany lost more than 300,000 men in 22 divisions in just 5 weeks; this was a blow from which the Ostheer (the German Army in Russia) never recovered. In order to stabilize the front, the German command was forced to transfer forty-six divisions and four brigades to Byelorussia from other sectors, taking some of the pressure off the British and American troops in France."
(huntingtonnews.net)

The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943, by Robert M. Citino
This well-written book about the retreating Wehrmacht in 1943 reminds us that nothing is inevitable in military history, except German counterattack. Rommel's 1,000-mile retreat to Tunis after El Alamein in late 1942, Kasserine Pass in early 1943, the attempts to save Stalingrad before its surrender, the massive panzer assault in the Kursk salient July 1943, above all the Sicilian and mainland Italian campaigns: In each case the brighter Germans knew they were losing but nonetheless staged dogged and, in some cases, brilliant counterattacks. This is, therefore, a story of a doomed resistance against overwhelming odds, but full of astonishing if short-term reversals.
(historynet.com)

The Second World War by Antony Beevor - 880 pages cover the entire conflict
Antony Beevor has done a great deal to popularise military history. Having played a key role in convincing both public and publishers alike that the subject could be sexy, he has been at the forefront of history's much-vaunted boom of recent years. His new book is a single overarching volume about the entire conflict. Beevor opens with the amazing story of a young Korean soldier taken prisoner by the Americans in Normandy, who had been dragooned by the Japanese before passing through Soviet hands and into Hitler's Wehrmacht. His case typifies the utter lack of control that those affected by war had over their lives.
(independent.co.uk)

Historian Carlo D'Este's list of ten WWII books that deserve to be better known
+ Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell, Tug of War: The Battle for Italy, 1943-45
+ John S.D. Eisenhower, The Bitter Woods: The Battle of the Bulge
+ Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Command Missions: A Personal Story
+ Frederick C Sherman, Combat Command: The American Aircraft Carriers in World War II
+ Gerald R. Pawle, The War and Colonel Warden (about Churchill)
+ David Fraser, Alanbrooke
+ R.W. Thompson, The Battle of the Rhineland
+ Way of a Fighter, The memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault
+ J.D. Morelock, Generals of the Ardennes: American Leadership in the Battle of the Bulge
+ John Toland, The Last 100 Days
(foreignpolicy.com)

December 1941: Twelve Days that Began a World War by Evan Mawdsley (book review)
70 years ago Britain was broke, besieged and fighting the Nazis if not alone then at least with the kind of ally she never really wanted. And how much use would Stalin be anyway? Already, the German scouts were 11 miles away from Moscow's city centre and General Heinz Guderian had set up the Second Panzer Army's headquarters on Tolstoy's country estate at Iasnaia Poliana. In "December 1941", retired Glasgow University Professor Evan Mawdsley takes us through the first 12 days of a month in which both the Second World War and the century itself hinged - showing how closely all of these epochal changes were interlinked.
(scotsman.com)

Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings (book review)
World War II was "the greatest and most terrible event in human history," Max Hastings writes, and any doubts are dispelled by reading his comprehensive account of that epic struggle. From Hitler's invasion of Poland to the atomic bombs that hastened Japan's surrender, "Inferno" details all the major campaigns, with vignettes and anecdotes that provide a richly textured picture of what soldiers and civilians on all sides experienced. There are also accounts of campaigns too often overlooked: the 1939-40 Winter War sparked by the Soviet attack on Finland, brutal ethnic clashes in Yugoslavia and the bravery of the British-led troops in jungle fighting that recaptured Burma.
(syracuse.com)

Extract: All Hell Let Loose: The Experience Of War 1939-45 by Max Hastings
William Crawford was a 17-year-old Boy Second Class serving aboard the British battle cruiser Hood in 1941, from where he wrote home with a plea: "Dearest Mum, I can'nae eat and my heart's in my mouth. We struck bad weather today and waves as big as houses came crashing over our bows. I wonder if it would do any good, Mum, if you wrote to the Admiralty and asked them if there was any chance of me getting a shore job." Crawford, however, was still aboard Hood when she was sunk with almost all hands, including him. On the far side of Europe, Red Army Private Samokhvalov was lining up for battle at Kursk, writing: "Mama, please pray to God that I live. When I was at home I did not believe in God, but now I think of him 40 times a day."
(dailymail.co.uk)

850 books about the Third Reich emerged in 2010 (Listen 30-minute BBC podcast: Nazi Gold - Publishing the Third Reich)
If you want your book to sell well, how about putting a swastika on the front cover. An impressive 850 books about the Third Reich were published in 2010, up from 350 in the year 2000. The ceaseless success of books about the Nazis includes fiction, non-fiction and science fiction. Topics seem to cover everything: the occult and the Nazis, Nazi weaponry, Nazi doctors, the history of SS uniforms, SS staff cars, the exploitation of Nazi scientific discoveries by America, adventures with the Panzer Division, SS recruitment and propaganda.

Direct link to the 30-minute BBC podcast: Nazi Gold - Publishing the Third Reich.
(bbc.co.uk)

Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II by Michael Burleigh (book review)
There's no such thing as a "good war," but World War II was a necessary one, states British historian Michael Burleigh in his 650-page tome "Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II." Burleigh - historian behind the authoritative "The Third Reich: A New History" - claims that the grotesque atrocities planned and carried out by the Axis are in no way comparable to the things Allies sometimes did. For example: No serious person can compare the hard-fought bombing campaign with the industrial scale slaughter of innocents by the Nazis.


(cleveland.com)

The Legacy of the Second World War by John Lukacs (WWII book review)
In "The Legacy of the Second World War" historian John Lukacs asks, and ambiguously answers, 6 major WWII questions which are often debated: "Was the Second World War inevitable?" --- "Was the division of Europe inevitable?" --- "Was Hitler inevitable?" --- "Was the making of the atomic bombs inevitable?" --- "Was America's war against Germany inevitable?" --- "Was the Cold War inevitable?" One chapter deals with Rainbow Five - a secret plan developed by U.S. military strategists more than a year before Pearl Harbor - which demanded a "Europe First" strategy should America find itself in a 2-front war.
(blogcritics.org)

The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War [book review]
The theme of the book is the interaction between Adolf Hitler's personality and Nazi Germany's fortunes on the battlefield. Andrew Roberts argues that the Nazi leader's mistakes started when he turned his anti-Semitics into practice, expelling Third Reich's best brains. The allies won because "our German scientists were better than their German scientists" - as Sir Ian Jacob said. Hitler also started World War II too early: A bigger U-boat fleet could have starved Britain. The author reveals that more Frenchmen fought on the Nazi side than with the Allies, and that a British official in Malta put Sabbath observance ahead of unloading ships, at terrible cost.
(economist.com)

Sealing their fate: The twenty-two days that decided World War II [book review]
Sealing Their Fate, by David Downing, focuses on three weeks in late 1941: From Nov. 17 - the day Adolf Hitler's Wehrmacht began a final drive against Moscow and a Japanese fleet with six aircraft carriers secretly left port - to Dec. 8, the day (Japan time) that Imperial forces attacked Pearl Harbor and other American and British targets in the Philippines and Malaya. From events on the wintry Russian front, to the Pacific and the Libyan Sahara where British forces dispelled Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's panzers, the author breaks those 3 weeks into a chapter a day.
(seattletimes)

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor [book review]
Great WW2 books have been written about Overlord by Max Hastings, John Keegan and Carlo D'Este, and "D-Day" by Antony Beevor (author of The Fall of Berlin 1945 and Stalingrad) deserves its place beside those. The chapter on the Omaha Beach is the literary version of the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan, with the same horror and pace. The German high command is well covered, especially for the absurd system whereby there was no central command in France, with tasks being shared between Rundstedt and Rommel, who disagreed about how to handle the invasion. The Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine commands were separate from the Wehrmacht.
(telegraph.co.uk)

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe [book review]
It is a paradox that after an occupation few nations are likely to like their liberator for long as the joy is replaced by a view that the liberator has become the new occupier. Despite the efforts to explain the woe of the occupied nations, many GIs did not like or trust the French. Even before D-Day they saw France almost as an enemy country. Myths of Frenchwomen acting as snipers alongside their Nazi lovers spread quickly. At the end of the war Allied officers were angered to have to attend 5 big victory parades, with fly-pasts, using American military vehicles and gas. Not a single US or UK flag was to be seen anywhere, as if France had won the war alone.
(timesonline.co.uk)

Private Yokoi's War and Life on Guam by Omi Hatashin [book review]
Imagine being driven into hiding and being on edge for 28 years - like Shoichi Yokoi, the Imperial Japanese Army soldier and latter-day celebrity. When American forces retook the western Pacific island of Guam in 1944, Private Yokoi went on the run, avoiding chasers real and imagined. Do not confuse him with two other high-profile imperial diehards who slightly outlasted him. Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda led a guerrilla task force on the Philippine island of Lubang near Manila, and emerged from the jungle in March 1974. Private Teruo Nakamura was discovered growing crops on the Indonesian island of Morotai in Dec. 1974.
(atimes.com)

Luck of the Devil: The story of Operation Valkyrie by Ian Kershaw
Adolf Hitler was the target of more designs to kill him than any other Chancellor of Germany. Most schemes were foiled or just came to nothing, like the conspiracy of prominent figures in the army to have Hitler arrested if he invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938 (the Munich Agreement put an end to that plan). In 1939 Georg Elser set up a bomb in Munich, where Hitler gave a speech each year. But Hitler had to cut his speech short to travel back to Berlin, so the bomb exploded after he had left. In March 1943 members of Army Group Centre placed a bomb on Hitler's plane - but it failed to detonate. The man who would come closest to succeeding: Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.
(timesonline.co.uk)

The Brenner Assignment - American spies behind enemy lines [book review]
In the Alpine terrain of northern Italy, a small team of American secret agents has a singular task: to sabotage the Brenner Pass. "The Brenner Assignment: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Spy Mission of World War II" is a documented account of this daring Second World War mission. Military historian Patrick K. O'Donnell relies on thousands of declassified documents, interviews, and personal journal entries to tell for the first time the real-life story of how OSS (Office of Strategic Services) warriors worked behind enemy lines to close off the supply channels of Nazi Germany into Italy from 1944-1945.
(projo.com)

"Same War Different Battlefields" views World War II through civilian eyes
Jean Goodwin Messinger's "Same War Different Battlefields" contains first-person accounts of WWII from the civilian point of view. The book is divided into 3 parts: life in war-time Europe, life for Japanese-Americans and stateside stories. Stories include accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima, life in the Camp Amache Japanese American internment camp, the London blitz, refugees fleeing invadind Russian armies, living under Nazi occupation, life in Third Reich and the story of a survivor from German ocean liner SS. St. Louis, that left Europe in 1939 with refugees and was denied entrance to Cuba, the US and Canada. The ship returned to Nazi Germany.
(wiscnews.com)

We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War - Book review
"The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away." So did correspondent George Steer break the story, denied by Franco's regime for the next 35 years, of how the Luftwaffe carpet-bombed Guernica. 1000 journalists and writers covered the Spanish war. 5 reporters were killed, and those who committed the sin of objectivity in the rebel zone were threatened with death or put on a Gestapo wanted-list. Everyone who crossed into Spain changed, not least those who arrived uncommitted to the cause. Observation became righteous outrage; sympathy became involvement.
(telegraph.co.uk)

The Third Reich At War 1939–1945 by Richard J. Evans -- Book review
Richard Evans has no doubt that Adolf Hitler was, as he put it in his second volume of his history of Nazi Germany, "in the driving seat". Traditionalists have not focused on the self-destructive quality of Führer's decisions, but on the conduct of the war against the Red Army. Evans shows that Hitler's military decisions (like delaying the assault on Moscow in 1941, pulling out of the Battle of Kursk) were not especially irrational - as the German generals did not have much better plans... And the latest German enquiry reveals that the Battle of Kursk was a pyrrhic victory, in which Soviet losses were 6-10 times those of the Nazis.
(timesonline.co.uk)

Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II -- Book review
Everyone has an opinion on war, but ironically, what should be one of the loudest voices is often a voice that goes unheard: the voice of the soldier. Robert E. Humphrey thinks that the time to hear the soldier's story is now, with his account of WWII's 99th Division, which aims to collect the tales of as many GIs as possible. Formed in Mississippi late in 1942, the 99th Division was made up largely of volunteers who were keen to serve in U.S. Army. 10 months later, the unit would ship out to Europe, where they would spend 6 months on the frontlines in sorry conditions, taking part in one of the biggest engagements of the war: the Battle of the Bulge.
(newsreview.com)

Masters & Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall & Alanbrooke won the war in the west
Who were the most important Allied military commanders during World War II? Most people would say General Dwight Eisenhower on the American side, and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on the British side. But, as Andrew Roberts shows in Masters and Commanders, they were not the key players. It was Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke in London, and General George Marshall in Washington, who, along with their political masters Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt, shaped the strategy that the West needed to fight the war. Roosevelt and Churchill were both tough egomaniacs, and Brooke and Marshall had to be equally strong-minded to work closely with them.
(timesonline.co.uk)

Hitler's Private Library by Timothy Ryback [book review]
Adolf Hitler's reading habits were unusual. In the first volume of "Mein Kampf" he wrote that "reading is no end in itself, but a means to an end." He clarified what this meant: "A man who possesses the art of correct reading will... instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing." Hitler, with such an anti-intellectual approach to reading, had a huge private library of 16,000 books (the largest groupings were "military history" and "art and architecture"), kept in his residences in Berlin, Munich and Berghof.
(nysun.com)

Anthony Read's top 10 history books about Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich
(1) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer, who was in Germany for much of the time, and it shows. (3) "Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris" and "Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis" by Ian Kershaw. The ultimate Hitler biography. (4) The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg. Life under Nazi rule. (5) Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer. The other side of the coin, the least repulsive of the Nazi memoirs. (6) Letters to Freya by Helmuth James von Moltke. (9) Hitler's War Aims by Norman Rich. Hitler's ambitions and achievements outside the old Reich, the methods and the results of the drive for Lebensraum. (10) The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher.
(guardian.co.uk)

Russia bans Hitler's Table Talk: 1941-1944 by prominent historian Hugh Trevor-Roper
A Russian court has banned a history book about Adolf Hitler by the late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, saying citations (like "Russians are beasts," "Slavs are a mass of inborn slaves") attributed to the Nazi leader insult Russians. Under anti-extremism laws the court banned "Hitler's Table Talk: 1941-1944" (1953), which records Adolf Hitler's occasionally racist ramblings on a range of topics. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote one of the classic histories of the fall of Nazi Germany: "The Last Days of Hitler". The book will now be put on a list of extremist works that are banned and owning or distributing it would then be illegal.
(reuters.com)

Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe by Mark Mazower
Adolf Hitler's Europe has been described as everything from the last European land-based empire to a forerunner of the EU. This reveals the varying nature and short duration of Nazi rule. The Greater German Reich didn't last long enough to settle the ambiguities that characterised Nazi rule. Hitler's interpreter noted: "The Nazis kept talking about a Thousand Year Reich but they couldn't think ahead for more than 5 minutes." In 1940 Hitler ordered German generals to prepare the invasion of the Soviet Union. The food and raw materials, plus the oil, would enable Nazi Germany to achieve world domination.
(independent)

Armageddon - The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 by Max Hastings
In Sept. 1944, as WW2 entered its 6th year, Nazi Germany seemed about to collapse. That summer the German Army had suffered 2 million casualties on the eastern front, in the west the Allies had broken through. Adolf Hitler's allies had given up or trying to switch sides. How the Nazis were able to keep fighting? Max Hastings has 3 reasons: 1) Albert Speer's organization of the Nazi economy. 2) Heinrich Himmler's repression of dissent. 3) The fighting power of the Wehrmacht. Sometimes outnumbered by 7 to 1, often without air support, German troops still fought with remarkable skill.
(nytimes)

Author Gerald Astor dies at 81 - Wrote on American WWII GIs
Gerald Astor, an author who drew on the recollections of combat veterans in his books telling battles of World War II, died at 81. Through interviews with veterans and stories from their diaries, Astor, who served with the 97th Infantry, told of combat as experienced by foot soldiers, sailors and pilots. In its review of "A Blood-Dimmed Tide" Astor`s account of the Battle of the Bulge, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland said he expressed "the sight, feel, smell and taste of a historic battle told by soldiers who did the fighting, not those who moved map pins back and forth in the safety of a rear echelon headquarters."
(nytimes)

Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation by David Stafford
David Stafford's book is a corrective to the view that there was anything clean about the wretched way in which peace staggered into the space vacated by the war. He tells the story of Götterdämmerung by focusing not just on the gods - though the tales of Adolf Hitler's, Heinrich Himmler's and Benito Mussolini's pathetic ends get yet another outing here - but on ordinary people with their worm's-eye view of World War II. Fred Warner, a refugee from Nazi Germany, parachuted into Austria as an SOE agent fixed to wreak his revenge; while American GI Robert Ellis and British Commando Bryan Samain saw the turning of yesterday's dangerous foes into silent 'friends'.
(telegraph.co.uk)

Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy
World War II, the Great Patriotic War, plays a key role in Russians' understanding of who they are and what place they hold in the history of the world. Victory over the Nazis remains a source of enormous pride among Russians. Aged veterans, decorated with medals and poorly fitting old uniforms, proudly march on Victory Day. The war on the Eastern Front was the decisive theater, and the defeat of the Third Reich was due more to the Soviet war effort than to the other Allies' military efforts combined. Yet Americans celebrate a history of the war that focuses mainly on General George Patton and D-Day. "The War" by Ken Burns really should be called "Americans at War."
(timesonline.co.uk)

Book: Pain and Purpose in the Pacific: True Reports of War   (Article no longer available from the original source)
"Pain and Purpose in the Pacific: True Reports of War" is a 363-page account of some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. Richard Carl Bright said the book was intended to recount the battles on Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa as he retraced the travels tof a Marine from the farmland of Minnesota to Japan and back. "I have been blessed to travel and to spend time at many of the places..." He said his book is for the younger generation so that they will not forget the sacrifices and sufferings of those who fought for the freedom.
(mvariety)

Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy by Eric D. Weitz -- Book review
You could almost suppose that Germany has no past before 1933, so massively does the Third Reich dominate historical writing. But it does, and one interesting period is the one preceding the Nazis: the attempt at democracy known as the Weimar Republic. It has inspired a number of studies: Peter Gay's Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider; Walter Laquer's Weimar: A Cultural History; Anton Gill's A Dance Between Flames: Berlin Between the Wars, and Otto Friedrich's Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s. Now we have the Weimar Germany by Eric D. Weitz. His book leans a bit more on the politics and on how the republic segued into the Nazi tyranny.
(nytimes.com)

Dancing in Combat Boots - The stories of 11 women   (Article no longer available from the original source)
"Dancing in Combat Boots" by Teresa Funke tells the stories of 11 women, each with a different experience of the war. It's been more than 10 years since she got of the idea for the book. While interviewing veterans for her 2002 book about the battle of Wake Island, "Remember Wake," she noticed that the women she met had fascinating stories to tell as well. There's a woman who learns to pilot military aircraft, an African-American woman who joined the segregated Women's Army Corps, and a nurse on the front line in France.
(coloradoan)

Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945 by Max Hastings
Three years after Armageddon, his history of the battle for Nazi Germany 1944-1945, Max Hastings has produced a sister-book, Nemesis, about the battle for Japan 1944-1945. Apart from the time-frames nothing seems to connect them, right down to the weaponry used. Hastings points out how dissimilar the war in Europe was from the war in Asia: Germans were surrendering at the rate of 50,000 a month in late 1944- and the Japanese were fighting on to the last man. In July 1941 Foreign minister Yosuke Matsuoka resigned because he wanted to attack Russia when Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa - It was a classic turning point where history failed to turn.
(telegraph)

The Day of Battle: War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944 (WWII book review)
After chasing Erwin Rommel and Wehrmacht out of North Africa in May 1943, Allied commanders needed to decide what to do next as Operation Overlord could not be undertaken until 1944. In "The Day of Battle" Rick Atkinson shows how Field Marshal Albert Kesselring occupied high ground, bloodying the enemy and then retreating to next mountain citadel. "The Tommies will have to chew their way through us, inch by inch," a German paratrooper wrote. Ortona and Monte Cassino were little Stalingrads with house-to-house fighting. Malaria and breakdowns took thousands off the battlefield. Misguided strategy and bickering among Allied generals also took a toll.
(nytimes.com)

The Greatest Battle chronicles battle for Moscow
During World War II, US armed forces reported a total of about 1 million casualties (292,000 battle deaths). By contrast, 2.5 million Russians and Germans were killed or taken POW in a single battle between August 1941 and April 1942 for control of the Moscow. In The Greatest Battle, Andrew Nagorski argues that the fight for Moscow decided the outcome of WWII. Still, it has drawn less attention than the showdown at Stalingrad (the subject of William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates) or the 900-day siege of Leningrad, with its heartbreaking famine. Nagorski suggests this is not coincidental: This battle did not show the leadership on either side at its best.
(wilmingtonstar)

The secret history of the Nazi mascot Alex Kurzem
Alex Kurzem came to Australia in 1949 carrying just a small brown briefcase. Tucked away in his briefcase were the secrets of his past: fragments of his life that he kept hidden. In 1997 he finally revealed himself. He told how, at the age of 5, he had been adopted by the SS and became a Nazi mascot. His personal history, one of the most remarkable stories to emerge from the Second World War, was published in a book The Mascot. "They gave me a uniform, a little gun and little pistol." In newsreels he was paraded as 'the Reich's youngest Nazi' and he witnessed atrocities. But his SS masters never discovered that their little Nazi mascot was Jewish.
(bbc)

5 best books about major WWII decisions by historian Ian Kershaw
(1) Libraries of works have explored the background to the war that began in 1939, but the best is Donald Watt's "How War Came." With unsurpassed knowledge of the diplomatic records of the main players, he unfolds the drama that ran between the Western powers' sellout of Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference of Sept. 30, 1938, and the decision to go to war 11 months later. (2) "The Road to Stalingrad," the first volume of John Erickson's 2-volume "Stalin's War With Germany" examines one of the most extraordinary WWII stories: how the Soviet Union was able to survive the German onslaught in 1941 and begin to turn the tables.
(wsj)

Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-1941
Major wartime choices often appear either inevitable or idiotic - because we view them in retrospect. Ian Kershaw's strength is to explain the emotions and the circumstances that framed the decisions. And then he shows how one decision affects the next. History may be "one damn thing after another", but cause and effect is everything, starting with Churchill's war cabinet in May 1940. French resistance had collapsed and the British army seemed to be doomed to destruction when retreating towards Dunkirk. French leaders wanted to approach Mussolini to discover what Adolf Hitler's terms would be. The British war cabinet came close to following down that track.
(guardian)

The Ghost Army: Journalist Andy Gallagher writes book on Stalingrad
"The Ghost Army" by Andy Gallagher zeroes in on the Eastern Front battle of Stalingrad. "...the more I read, the more I realized the real warfare of World War II was fought on the Eastern Front, a struggle of pitiless savagery. And as I read more, I realized the battle of Stalingrad was such a horrible disaster, no matter how much you might hate the Nazis, nobody should have to die like the members of the 6th Army." With a quarter of a million men (6th Army was beefed up with 500 battle tanks, 7,000 guns and mortars) under his command General Friedrich Paulus advanced on Stalingrad, defended by General Georgi Zhukov.
(register-herald)

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man - Debunking the myth of Dunkirk
The uniqueness of historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's book lies in the attempt it makes to tease out the core of the Dunkirk myth. The book does not try to refute the claim that the evacuation was an important act. Adolf Hitler's meddling in military matters, Sebag-Montefiore argues, may have compromised the fighting abilities of the German army; however, he does not believe that the decision to stop the battle tanks from storming Dunkirk offers any proof of this. The period of rest was imposed by the German generals. Hitler accepted their decision and issued the order, but only after the army had already halted without any such command from Berlin.
(haaretz)

How Green Were the Nazis? Environment in the Third Reich
It is true that Adolf Hitler and his crew were A-number-one landscape-impacters. London got plenty impacted by the Nazis' environmental outreach program, as did cities like Leningrad, Stalingrad, Dresden, and Berlin. To be fair, I did learn a lot from book "How Green Were the Nazis". I already knew that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian with a taste for nonalcoholic beer, but I didn't know that SS boss Heinrich Himmler also eschewed meat or that Hermann Goering had a "sincere interest in forest conservation." Nazi party secretary Rudolf Hess was a devotee of organic gardening. Did you know that there was an organic herb garden at Dachau?
(boston)

Royals and the Reich - Adolf Hitler's Blue-Blooded Servants
"Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany" by Jonathan Petropoulos lays to rest the myth of anti-Nazi resistance in high places. His book focuses on two blue-blooded servants of the Nazi regime: Princes Philipp and Christoph von Hessen. Christoph was a senior SS man, whose role in intelligence involved him in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. He later received the Iron Cross. It was only in 1944, when the fascist adventure looked doomed, that upper-class began to distance themselves from Nazis. After WW2, Philipp became part of a circle that gathered around the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and British fascist leader Oswald Mosley.
(bloomberg)

Ivan's War - Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
The observations, words, thoughts of Russian soldiers were lost amid the patriotic zeal of the Cold War. The cause of the Russian soldier was never popular in the West. Turns out, it wasn't popular in Russia, either. Joseph Stalin's idea of the perfect war hero was Joseph Stalin. In the recently unsealed documents, Catherine Merridale found a tale of absurdity. In interviews with veterans, she found a reluctance, even today, to speak against the state. It's not an American-style history. There is no Band of Brothers, no Private Ryan worth saving.
(timesdispatch)