Book Review: The Last Battle by Stephen Harding

The war is over …

The Last Battle
The Last Battle

It is May, 1945. Adolf Hitler lies dead and burned  in his bunker. The Third Reich is now little more than a smoking pile of rubble. American soldiers think about going home, now that the war is essentially over. Formal surrender is just days away.  Then something unbelievable happens. The  Last Battle is still yet to be fought.

The last battle begins …

According to John C. Lee, Jr, “Well, it was just the damnedest thing!”

Captain John C Lee, Jr. is in command of a small group of American soldiers, disheartened Wehrmacht soldiers and one ex SS officer. A startling  alliance forms to protect a group of VIP French prisoners from being executed at the end of WWII.

The stage is set …

German forces invade France in May of 1940.  Hitler’s troops round-up many French government officials and other VIPs, including   Wimbledon champion. Initially, these prisoners spend time in places like Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Hitler decides to have some hostages on hand to exchange if things go bad.

As a result, this group of illustrious prisoners find themselves interred at Schloss Itter, a castle in northern Austria. The living conditions at Schloss Itter are much better than at the concentration camps.  However, the French prisoners were not out of the woods.  The commandant of the castle is a brutal, murderous thug who, at one time, was in charge of prisoner discipline at Dachau.

The German army is in compete disarray after Hitler’s death. Deserters are very common. A fanatical unit of SS troops receives orders to execute the French VIP’s before they can be rescued. The SS set out to carry out their last orders.

An unbelievable tale …

The Last Battle tells the unbelievable story of this unlikeliest battle of WW II.  This small group of American tankers, led by Captain Lee, who with the help of German soldiers, fight off these fanatical SS troops and protect the stronghold’s VIP prisoners. This is a tale of unlikely allies, real bravery and desperate combat between soldiers who just want to go home alive and fanatical Nazi killers.

While this is a great story., it is not a bang, bang, shoot-em-up!  It is a history and well-documented.  The story does start a little slow because of the great attention to detail. Beginning chapters contain biographies of the French prisoners and there is a great deal of historical background.  The battle comes at the end.

I did thoroughly enjoy the read and if you are a historian, you should enjoy it as well.  If you need not stop action … this might not be a book for you.  It is an fascinating and excellent story.

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