by Stephen Harding
Boston: Da Capo Press, 2013. Pp. x, 224.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $25.99. ISBN: 0306822083
The Curious Battle for the Itter Castle
The Last Battle
tells the story of how on May 4, 1945, a motley group of American troops, German deserters (one an SS officer!), high ranking French prisoners -- among them former prime ministers Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, former chiefs-of-the-general staff Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand, and even Marie-Agnès de Gaulle, sister of the Free French leader -- supported by some local Austrian nationalist partisans defended the Itter Castle, in western Austria, against an attack by a strong force of Waffen-SS troops. The attacking Nazis were intent on slaughtering the French prisoners, who had been in German hands since the Fall of France in 1940, and some of whom had spent the years quarreling among themselves as to the reasons for the disaster
In The Last Battle, Harding, author of several books on unusual but interesting aspects in World War II, such as Gray Ghost: The R.M.S. Queen Mary at War, does an excellent job of explaining how this strange action came about. He tells an excellent tale, fitting the incident into the larger picture of the war in Europe, at times reaching back years. Harding doesn’t just tell us what someone did during the fight, but fills us in on the lives of the various participants, explaining how they came to be there that morning, passing easily back and forth among these men and women and the events of their lives, as he brings all the threads together for the climactic battle, which is very well told.
The Last Battle
will prove rewarding and interesting reading for anyone, scholar or layman.
The Last Battle is also available in paperback, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-3068-2296-4, and as an e-book, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-3068-2209-4.