Fallschirmjäger! A collection of first-hand accounts and diaries by German Paratrooper veterans from the Second World War

By Greg Way

I have been interested in the Second World War from an early age. I grew up surrounded by people who experienced the war, family members, family friends and neighbours. My child play involved toy soldiers, military vehicles and planes. My books were amongst others, Action Annual and Commando comic books. Wartime films and documentaries were regularly on the TV. In my picture books Germans were often portrayed as faceless enemies. At an early age I wondered why I never heard or read war stories from the German point of view.

Oberfeldwebel Redhammer from Fallschirmjäger Regiment.2 was a well decorated Senior NCO and a veteran of the Crete campaign. This Regiment features heavily in the book.

I was a child when I first heard the words ‘German Paratrooper’ in ‘Dad’s Army’, a 1970s British TV sitcom about a Home Guard unit defending a coastal town in southern England against a possible German invasion during WW2. I thought nothing more about them!

I first read the words ‘German Paratrooper’ as a youngster in a 1970s Commando comic book story but thought nothing more about them. I first saw a ‘German Paratrooper’ as a child but he was 5cm tall, made of plastic and part of my toy soldier collection. I never knew what he was and thought nothing more about it. These and many other insignificant references to ‘German Paratroopers during my childhood probably influenced my interest in the future.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I chanced upon a twenty-year-old modelling magazine featuring a long article about ‘German Paratroopers’ and for the first time I read about their exploits at places such as Eben Emael in 1940, Crete in 1941 and Monte Cassino in 1944. This was the first time I read the word ‘Fallschirmjäger’! I was thoroughly intrigued by these airborne operations and ground campaigns, the courageous offensive feats and tenacious defensive actions, some of which have gone down in the annals of military history. I wanted to learn more about the men of this elite formation!

Volker Stutzer with his copy of the book. He was a late war conscript who fought in Pomerania in February 1945

The internet at that time was in its embryonic stage with only a handful of military forums and web pages but it allowed like-minded enthusiasts from all over the world to communicate their interests. One fellow enthusiast asked if I would like to write to a German Paratrooper veteran. He provided me with an address in Germany and I wrote a letter asking if he would share his experiences during the war. Not only did the veteran send me reports from his wartime service but he also put me in touch with other veterans, who were willing to share their experiences of training, combat, capture and captivity. Within a few months I had collated quite a few personal reports, with a personal perspective of many battles and campaigns.

With this growing collection of first-hand accounts, I toyed with the idea of a book as a permanent record of these personal wartime experiences, an idea welcomed by the veterans. I hoped this book would appeal to the professional historian, military enthusiast and the casual reader alike.

Erich Beine, Fallschirmjäger officer and recipient of the Knights Cross from the Luftlande-Sturmregiment, a formation that features in the book.

Fast forward to 2018 and after almost twenty years the book was accepted by Helion and Company who were excited about its historical value and potential appeal to the military history community.

The book does not cover the tactical level or military leadership but the written experiences of 19 Fallschirmjäger veterans from their perspective and in their own words. They are first-hand accounts of bravery, determination and adversity and describe the horror and inhumanity of war but also moments of humanity and the light-hearted moments experienced by soldiers the world over in times of war.

Oral histories like these now belong to an ever-decreasing number of elderly veterans but they create an important historical record of their military service during the Second World War.

You can buy the book now here.

The Book Reviewer

By Robert Neil Smith

I admire those who boast about not reading book reviews. They probably have the luxury of time or money, or both. They might also possess a surfeit of discernment, knowing the exact book to buy from those crowded shelves, or just not care; any book will do. Fair play to them. For the rest of us, however, book reviews are invaluable assistants in our relentless trawling for that next book we want or need to read. But what is a book review, who benefits from them, and why should we read, and write, them?

A good book review is not an opinion, though it might contain one or more. Rather, a good book review follows a basic formula written objectively preferably, but sometimes with an agenda in mind. The review will lay out the essential publishing details of a book: who wrote it, the title, the publisher, and where and when it was published. A brief introduction offers advice on the value of the book to the potential reader, the rest of the review should explain why. Content generally comes next with an overview of what is in the book and how the author has structured the work. The two sections that follow highlight the positive and negative aspects of the book. These observations are objective and subjective based on the reviewer’s background knowledge and authority, and sometimes their credibility. The conclusion of the book review summarizes the overall worth of the book and places it into its context, perhaps pointing to other books in the genre. A well-structured book review therefore answers a series of questions the potential book reader might have: a new book? Who wrote and published it? What is it about? What is so good about it? What are the drawbacks? And, of course, should I buy and read this book?

The basic formula for a book review is not a rule but a guideline. Reviews will deviate from that standard depending on the intended audience and the merits of the book. They slide up and down the academic scale, for example, sometimes bringing in other books or delving deeper into the arguments presented in a single book to create review essays. Reviewers also emphasize different aspects of a book, accentuating the positives of an important work or tearing apart a weak book from cover to cover. A book’s value may accumulate in various ways; not just in content, especially in these days of seemingly limitless information at our fingertips, but in the quality of the argument, if there is one, the structural coherence, and the quality of writing – the enjoyment of the book. And that is just the text! Then there is the visual element, particularly with military history. Colour plates are almost essential now in descriptive books of armies, and contemporary artwork supplies that period feel. I can also never get enough maps for campaigns and battles. And while you should never judge a book by its cover, an enticing image on the jacket can certainly set the mood.

The worst fate to befall a book must be to receive no reviews at all. The author receives no feedback for all their hard work or validation for their arguments. In twenty years of writing reviews, I think I’ve only discarded a handful as being worthless and refused to review them, though there are some topics I wont touch. Thankfully there is value in virtually every book, but when reading a review keep your weather eye open for faint praise and the subtle indictment, betraying the reviewer’s deeper reaction. Writing a review is made easier, of course, when the book comes from a trusted publisher and is part of a reputable series. The rapid rise of Helion’s various dedicated military history series in the last couple of years has helped my review workload considerably. These are solid historical works by serious historians and packaged with quality colour plates, and, yes, an attractive cover. Since I encountered these books in 2019, I’ve yet to read one that doesn’t tick all my boxes for a positive review. I have little doubt that this will continue, but in the meantime, I’ll go through the formula one book at a time.

Robert Neil Smith PhD is a full-time writer living in Scotland. His reviews appear in Wargames Illustrated magazine and on his Beating Tsundoku Facebook page.

What’s Forthcoming in our From Reason to Revolution series

By Series Editor Dr Andrew Bamford

The year 2020 sees a number of new developments as the From Reason to Revolution series continues to grow. Some of our new releases follow on from themes already developed within the series and will complement existing titles on such topics as the Seven Years War, American War of Independence, French Revolutionary Wars, and Napoleonic Wars. We are also continuing our expansion into maritime history with several titles focusing on naval actions across the era. Fans of uniform books will welcome a new study of Austrian cavalry 1792-1815 by Enrico Acerbi and Andras Molnar, sumptuously illustrated by Bruno Mugnai, as well as the second volume of David Wilson’s heavily-illustrated trilogy on the Danish army in the Napoleonic Wars.

2020 also marks the 275th anniversary of the tumultuous events of 1745 which saw the last pitched battles fought on British soil, and we will be marking this with a number of titles and events. The French victory at Fontenoy in May 1745 helped set the scene for the Jacobite Rising that began in the autumn and will be covered in the first volume of Mike McNally’s two-part study of Maurice de Saxe’s conquest of the Netherlands; the second volume, due for 2021, will cover the lesser-known battles of Rocoux and Lauffeld. Moving on to the Jacobite Rising itself, the prolific Jonathan Oates takes a look at the sieges of the ’45, an aspect often forgotten in favour of the dramatic battles, but of crucial importance. In the past, we have published several titles looking at aspects of the Jacobite forces so we now look to redress the balance by looking at the soldiers who opposed them. Peter Brown’s general study of the Army of George II, beautifully illustrated by Patrice Courcelle, covers the whole of that monarch’s reign, from 1727 to 1760, whilst series editor Andrew Bamford has brought together a team of contributors to take a more focused look at the forces who opposed the Jacobites, and, in particular, on the troops raised in both England and Scotland specifically to combat the Rising. All of these books will be launched in time for our extra series conference on the ’45 organised in conjunction with the Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust, the British Commission for Military History, and the Society of Army Historical Research. This will take place at Prestonpans itself as part of the 275th commemorations of the Jacobite victory, and will address all aspects of the campaigns of 1745 and 1746. All being well, we hope to have the proceedings of the conference ready to launch in time for the commemorations at Culloden in April 2021.

Moving on to later topics, the end of the year will also see us launch a fascinating study of the Damas Legion, one of the émigré units that fought on in exile against the reign of Terror; co-authored by Alistair Nichols and Hughes de Bazouges, the book’s title, For God and King, sums up the motivation of these men. Moving into the Napoleonic era, we will be using our illustrated Falconet format to take a more focussed look at some of the smaller actions of the Peninsular War, beginning with a study by Garry Wills of the 1812 Battle of Villamuriel. Garry is a veteran wargamer, and his book includes details of how this important rear-guard action can be recreated on the tabletop. Finally, we also continue to cater for naval enthusiasts, with Quintin Barry writing on the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake and Paul Martinovich delivering a biography of Sir Pulteney Malcolm.

Confessions of a Female Wargamer

By Carole Flint

There are some hobbies where women generally fear to tread. Angling used to be one of them, but that has changed a lot in the last decade or so, and contact sports like Rugby is another, but that has also changed. Wargaming is, however, still  an area where women are very much the minority. Why should that be? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been playing with toy soldiers since I was small. I have loved swashbuckling and adventure stories for even longer.

Let’s take a step back to the dim past, or the 1960s as some of us call it. I was always a solitary child with few friends. I was shy and I found it hard to open up to others. Consequently I took refuge in reading. Luckily, I was a good reader from an early age and I read voraciously. When I was in my first year at primary school, the teacher read us “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, which I loved, and I went on to read the other books in the series. I liked that the female characters were given prominent roles, although I much preferred Jill Pole and Polly Plummer to the Pevensie children. However, I discovered the “Swallows and Amazons” books shortly after, thus engendering my first literary crush, the formidable Nancy Blackett, someone who I really wished I could be. I also sought out various stories mentioned in the books, such as the “Ingoldsby Legends”, which seemed to spark the romantic swashbuckling instincts of Titty Walker a lot. However, I found the language of that book tough going.

Anyway, I read widely and preferred exciting stories to anything else, apart from History. I absolutely loved History.

Wargaming arrived when I was around 11. My father brought home Don Featherstone’s “War Games” from the library one week. After reading it, he went out and bought a box each of Airfix Desert Rats and Afrika Korps and a couple of tanks models, which were pretty random, being a Tiger and a T-34. The British got the T-34. As an aside, just think how different the war might have been if the British had actualy had T-34s in 1942. Anyway, it wasn’t too long before the dining table was turned into the North African desert and I was roped in to play games of soldiers. I enjoyed this hugely, having sat through the usual Sunday afternoon TV fare of black and white war films for years.

My father also brought home Charles Grant’s “The War Game”, a book that impressed me much more, because the pictures looked so good with all those massed ranks of soldiers. We never got to play any of those games, though, not having access to any 18th century figures.

Time marched on, though, and in my teens other things took prominence, underground music and being a hippy, mostly, but I never lost my love of history and adventure stories. The next big thing for me was one of the most important literary influences on my wargaming life; Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings”. This gave me my second great literary crush, the Elven Lady Galadriel. She was POWERFUL. People loved and feared her. She wielded Elven magic. She ticked all the boxes for me.

Of course, I was reading lots of other fantasy stuff too, and inevitably this led on to Dungeons and Dragons, a game I embraced as a student. Of course, life took over, including getting a job, growing up and having a family. Games went to the back of the queue. However, when my son was growing up, he developed an interest in games, initially via the MB Games Heroquest, which we bought him for Christmas one year, and then Warhammer Fantasy and later on 40K. I painted up endless Elves, Goblins, Space Marines etc and helped him build scenery and played in his games too. Then, as these things often seem to do, he moved on to teenage rugby and playing bass in a band, and the Warhammer stuff ended up getting sold.

So, what got me back into gaming? The simple answer is Boredom. My life was all about work. I was a manager in a large IT Services company and I was drained by work and I needed to get away from reality. Pretty much out of nowhere, I started looking online at wargaming stuff, just to see what the hobby was like in the present day. I was amazed at the abundance of rules, figures, vehicles etc, and also at the breadth of games one could play. When I took voluntary redundancy from work-related stress, I became very bored indeed and one day, on a whim, I went shopping online. Before long, I was painting up PSC British and German infantry and tanks with the aim of playing solo games, but I needed rules. I was drawn to the idiosyncratically-titled “I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum” and bought the rules. I suddenly had structure. I put armies together, I played a few games, but I wanted more. I went shopping mad. I bought the Field of Glory: Renaissance rules, because I’ve always liked the Pike and Shot period, and I bought and painted Louis XIV and William of Orange armies from Lurkio. Unhappily, I didn’t like the rules, so I moved on to other things, specifically another TFL set of rules, Sharp Practice, which I was able to play at Crusade in Penarth with Richard Clarke himself running the game. I was hooked. Before long, I had the rules and two Peter Pig 15mm Union and Confederate armies. I played solo, but I also roped my partner in for a few games, but I had the bug now and I was widening my purchases. I discovered Ground Zero Games and bought loads of 15mm Sci Fi troops. Why? I just liked them. That was reason enough. I started exploring the imaginary nations concept, remembering my love of Charles Grant’s book. I started a blog, basically so I could write about my chosen imagi-nations, based on Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin graphic novels of Hergé. I’d been an avid viewer of the TV cartoons in the 60s and we had had the books in French at school. Obviously, I needed armies for this too. Using Sharp Practice as my ruleset, I put together armies for both countries using Essex 15mm Seven Years’ War Austrian, French and Prussian figures.

Of course, eventually I had to start playing games against real (and willing) opponents, so I joined a local wargaming club, after visiting their annual show for a couple of years running, and now I get to play all kinds of games against real friendly opponents. It was at one of these shows that I met someone who is a real pioneer in women’s wargaming, Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo. Needless to say, I think of her as a real friend now and I have lots and lots of her excellent figures.

And the War Goes On: William III’s Ongoing War with Louis XIV of France

By Mark Shearwood

Following the events of the Glorious Revolution and the departure of King James II to France (22 December 1688), William’s obligations between the governance of England and his commitments on the continent became increasingly complex. The League of Augsburg was signed in August 1685 between the Prince of Orange, the Elector of Brandenburg, German Southern Princes, The Holy Roman Emperor and Spain, with Charles XI of Sweden becoming a signatory in 1686.[1] The invasion force assembled by William during autumn of 1688 necessitated the movement of troops within Europe and the withdrawal of regiments to support William’s attempt on the throne.[2] These arrangements including the transfer of 6,000 Swedish troops to replace troops being withdrawn from Germany for the invasion in line with the trinational treaty of 1683.[3] By early 1689 the pressures both diplomatic, and militarily on William to increase his forces in Flanders was yielding results. The following regiments from the English establishment were ordered to sail for Holland, the figures are for private soldiers and were the establishment strength and not the actual strength of each regiment:[4]

Second Troop of Horse Guards & Horse Grenadiers                          256 men

Royal Regiment of Horse                                                                               450 men

Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards                                                      1360 men

Royal Regiment of Foot                                                                                 1360 men

Regiment of Scott’s Guards                                                                          1106 men

Royal Regiment of Fusiliers                                                                          780 men

Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot                                    780 men

Colonel Churchill’s Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel John Hales’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Sir David Colieaves Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel Hodges Regiment of Foot                                                             780 men

Colonel Fitzpatrick’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Colonel O’Farrell’s Regiment of Foot                                                        780 men

William received a letter from the Prince of Waldeck[5] on the 14 April 1689 from the Prince of Waldeck. As well as giving details of the war between Denmark and Sweden and a probable invasion of Prussia by Poland, the Prince inquired as to the names of the English colonels commanding the regiments being sent and the proper strength of each regiment.[6] The letter also contained copes of communications that the Prince of Waldeck had received, these will form the bulk of this post in the hope that they will highlight the pressures on William III to expand his forces in Europe.[7]

[The] Count de Flodrop has notifies that it is impossible to hold Huy[8] with a less force that a corps d’armeé, which cannot be spared. The Marquis de Castanaga asks for aid and would dispose of the States’ forces, more according to his own theories than to reason. Count de Horn was ordered to concert with him to form a small company of cavalry and some of the States’ infantry for the protection of Ghent. Meanwhile, two battalions have been sent to Bruges. General Schoning desires to strengthen his forces by detaching troops from the regiments at Nimuegen [Nijmegen] sent from Zauten. This is contrary to a previous agreement. On both sides. There seems to be a desire to make the Prince [King William III] responsible for any mishap that may be experienced. The Prince has left the battalions for the security of Cologne. He has joined to general Schoning six battalions, with seven regiments of cavalry belonging to the troops in the States’ pay, under the command of Mons. de Schlangenberg, and three regiments of cavalry and one of dragoons under Mons. de Alva, and has also formed a corps d’armeé of the troops of Erffa, Wurtemburg, Bouregard, and Baye, with Colonel Franck’s dragoons and those of Hesse, to hold the line of the Demer against the enemy until a plan of attack can be found. It is therefore possible for the Prince to let General Schoning have his way. The panic before the fort of the bridge of Bonne seems to show that matters are badly managed at Cologne as elsewhere. Pensioner Heinsius has done his best to assist the Prince, who, without his prudent conduct, would have been left without artillery.[9] The Prince did not find at Breda the artillery waggons, horses and stores, &c expected. He s also in great want of money; he has only received half od the 10,000 livres promised him by the King for secret correspondence, and that is already expended.

The arrival of further troops from England is awaited with anxiety, the numbers of these already arrived is very small, with Mr Douglas’ Regiment (600 men) Lord Churchill’s (400 men) Mr Le Tolmisch’s, commanded by Count Silvins (400 men)  and Holschers (400 men) are arrived, and no more. The Prince would like to know by whom the muster of these troops should be made, as he has no exact list. To Mons. Hopp, the Prince replied that the King of England is readier to act for the public weal than it is though at Vienna.

The numbers of men quoted as arrived on the continent shows the disparity between the paper strength of a regiment and the actual strength. Colonel Churchill’s regiment has a theoretical paper strength of 780 private soldiers, arrived in Europe at just over half strength. The Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards commanded by Lt-General Douglass should have had arrived with 1,106 private soldiers instead of the 600 that actually arrived. Mr le Tolmisch is referring to Brigadier Thomas Talmash [Tollemache] who was the colonel of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. [10]

The following is an extract from a letter from the Marquis de Castanaga to the Prince of Waldeck sent from Brussels and dated 21 April 1689 [11 April according to the English calendar]:[11]

… Hostilities may begin at once. It is of the utmost importance that all the troops of the States should advance at once on Liège, where the Marquis d’Humieres is collecting a corps d’armeé. I am much vexed to hear that your troops have abandoned Huy, which is the proper place at which to await the enemy. The King informed me that bodies of troops would be sent to Ghent and Bruges to protect those places and Dutch Flanders. You will have had like instructions and I trust will carry them out speedily.

The Prince of Waldeck received a communication from Mons. Hopp in Vienna on the 1 April, giving a account of conditions within the Habsburg Empire.

It is to be feared that the Elector of Bavaria may take amiss the appointment of the Duke of Lorrain to the command of the Imperial army, as he has written to the Emperor saying that he would not be employed to look after the baggage, and desired employment worthy of his reputation. The Pope has given King James a pension of 100,000 crowns. Everyoe here is very eager to hear that King William has declared war against France; this court will not formally recognise his title until that is done, and should “Milord Paget” arrive here earlier he may meet with some coolness.

Lord Paget was William’s ambassador to the Habsburg Empire. Despite the seeming frosty relationship between William III and the Habsburg Empire, William had been in constant communication with Emperor Leopold I since before the events of 1688. He had arranged for 1,500 troops to be transferred from the English establishment to the Imperial army. These troops were the remnants of the four Irish battalions brought over to England by James II in September 1688 and were currently being held on the Isle of Wight. The contract had originally stated 2,00 troops but due to desertion and illness, only some 1,500 were ready for transport at the beginning of April 1689.[12]

Inmane van Huy 1694 [Taking Huy, 1694]
Anonymous print published by Laurens Scherm. Amsterdam 1695 © Rijksmuseum NL
Gevechten bij Walcourt, 1689 [Fight at Walcourts, 1689]
Image of the bloody battle on 25 August 1689, between the Prince of Waldek, and the Marshal de Humiers, by the village of Walcourt, in the province of Naamen
Anonymous print published by Jacobus Robijn, Amsterdam 1689 © Rijksmuseum NL

About the Author

Mark Shearwood is a second year PhD Researcher at the University of Leeds, whose research is on ‘The Catholic ‘other’ in the army of James II and William III’ and is looking at the English army’s transition from the pseudo ‘Catholic’ army of James II to the ‘Protestant’ army of William III. He hols a Masters’ degree in War and Strategy from the University of Leeds and a Bachelors in Leadership and Management from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

The Author’s first book, The Perfection of Military Discipline: The Plug Bayonet and the English Army 1660-1705 has just been published by Helion. The book looks at the implementation of the plug bayonet within the English army and the effect that it had on infantry tactics. During the period that the work covers 1660-1705, there were a number of significant advances in military equipment and the author places these within their historical context. The book exposes some of the myths surrounding the replacement of matchlock muskets with flintlocks, as well the use of pikes during the late 17th century.

The author is currently working on his second book for Helion, The Great Northern War 1700-1721: A Wargamer’s Guide, for Helion’s new Wargames series, which should be out before the end of the year.


[1] B Cox, King William’s European Joint Venture. Assen: Van Gorcum & Co. and Lynn, J. 1999. The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714. London: Longman, 1995)

[2] This article does not intend to look at the validity or otherwise of the Glorious Revolution, for a fuller account of the coalition that William built to facilitate the Glorious Revolution see Shearwood, M, ‘William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution’ Arquebusier, Journal of the Pike and Shot Society, 35.6 (2018) 26-35.

[3] The trinational treaty between the Habsburg Empire, Sweden and the United Provences of 1683 included a condition that each party pledged 6,000 troops for their mutual defence against France. S Oakley, William III and the Northern Crowns During the Nine Years War 1689-1697. (London: Garland Publishing, 1987). p.31. and Robert Hall, Uniforms and Flags of the Armies of Hanover, Celle and Brunswick 1670-1715. (Romford: pike and Shot Society, 2016) p.7

[4] British Library, Add MS 15897 Hyde Papers, Pensions and Establishment, fol. 88.

[5] The Principality of Waldeck was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and is today within the German territory of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

[6] William, Hardy, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of William and Mary: 1689-1690 (London: HMSO, 1895) p.62.

[7] National Archives, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20.

[8] Huy is in the Walloon region of Belgium.

[9] Anthonie Heinsius, was a councillor pensionary of Holland was one of William III’s leading Dutch advisors, E, Mijers and D, Onnekink, ed, Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context (London: Routledge, 2016) pp. 4, 31-34.

[10] J, Childs, The Nine Years’ war and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991) p.122.

[11] N.A, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20

[12] The study of these troops forms a major part of my PhD research.

COVID-19 Emergency – Event Postponed

Bosworth Battlefield Discover Day Tour

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and August is currently under discussion as an alternative.

From Reason to Revolution Conference 2020 – Armies and Enemies of Napoleon 1789-1815

Considering the current COVID-19 emergency we are all facing, and the Government’s advice to cease all non-essential social contact, Helion & Co felt this was the only responsible course of action. The company fully intends to run the event later in the year and October is currently under discussion as an alternative.

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin returns to print!

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin is back in print after more than a decade. This second edition offers a highly illustrated, thoroughly rewritten, redesigned, and expanded text. Bloody Streets presents the fighting in Berlin in unprecedented detail, weaving every known possible military unit’s movement and combat action into a tactical narrative that does not fail to provide the wider strategic context of why the Red Army conducted the assault into the city and not the Western Allies.

The new content added increased the size of the main text to over 500 pages, with 24 tables and nearly 300 black and white images. A separate map book was produced with over 60 pages that contains nearly 50 color and black/white maps (to include period aerial imagery), as well as a dozen color images of Berlin’s ruins and military vehicles taken shortly after the battle. Given Berlin’s extensive destruction during World War II, many key battle locations no longer resemble what they looked like in the 1930s and 40s. Care was taken to source period imagery of those locations so that readers had a sense of what the urban terrain looked like to the combatants at the time of the battle.

The Zoo G-Tower’s 12.8cm dual flak guns on the south-west corner of the upper platform. The three Flak Towers played a critical role in the ground fighting as gun platforms that engaged Red Army units with direct fire, command and communication centers, as well as hospitals. Together they prolonged the Battle of Berlin perhaps by as many as 3-4 days. (Cecil F.S. Newman collection, courtesy of Stadtmuseum Berlin)

I began research into the Battle of Berlin after visiting what was “East Berlin” in 1992 as a young U.S. Army Officer Cadet. When I walked through the city’s eastern districts back then, I was surprised to see the scars of battle still present on the facades of many buildings, nearly 50 years after the end of World War II. I wanted to learn more about the battle for the city, but I soon realized that the few books published about the Battle of Berlin at that time did not offer the operational or tactical detail I sought. Given the size, scope and significance of the Red Army’s assault into the largest urban complex on mainland Europe, I was perplexed that it remained one of the least studied and understood military operations of the war when compared to the unending works of history produced on battles like Normandy, the Ardennes, Operation Barbarossa, Stalingrad, or Kursk.

Battle for the Spittelmarkt, Berlin, 26–27 April depicted on period aerial imagery.  The fighting in this area of Berlin raged until the end of the battle. (1) Reichsbank. (2) Hausvogteiplatz. (3) Dönhoffplatz. (4) St Joseph II Hospital. (5) Spittelmarkt. (6) Foreign Exchange. (7) Reich Stationery Office. (8) Movie Theatre. (9) Jerusalemer Church.

I viewed my book as “technical-military history” with a main goal to pull back the curtain of the “fog of war” to the greatest extent I could, and detail the fighting street-by-street using all available sources available at that time. It soon became apparent after publication of the first edition that I was not the only one interested in this level of detail. The first edition sold out within nine months of release, even as the Great Recession took its toll on the world’s economy. While I was pleased with the treatment of the German side of the battle, I believed that more work needed to be done to expand upon the Red Army’s conduct of fighting. I was determined not to reprint the first edition until I conducted further research, despite the many calls to the publisher for its re-printing.

The second edition benefits from a decade of research that resulted in nearly 200 pages of new material being added from extensive German and Soviet era primary documents. Among the additional source material acquired were documents that detailed the role of the three massive German Flak Towers in the ground fighting. Their role in the battle has remained largely undocumented until now. New German accounts of the street fighting and various breakouts are published in the revised edition for the first time. Arguably, the most significant new material acquired were the War Diaries for the 1st Belorussian, and 1st Ukrainian Fronts. These documents offered an unparalleled view into the operational decisions and tactical problems faced by the Red Army during their final battles in April-May 1945. Their material has never been utilized in previously published works about the battle. The “Lessons Learned” at the Red Army’s battalion and regimental level contained in these war diaries, cover all topics related to urban combat operations in Berlin. They reveal what worked and did not work tactically during the Red Army’s assault into the city. Also included are scores of new Red Army front-line soldier accounts that were translated and incorporated for the first time in English. These accounts offer new detail of the fighting along the Seelow Heights, Polizeipräsidium, Treptower Park, Berlin Zoo and other locations by the men who fought there.

A knocked-out T-34/85 (No. 605) from the 11th Tank Corps on Kurstraβe, just north of the Spittelmarkt. Debris from a falling wall came down onto the tank. Scorch marks can be seen along the front of the turret. (Cecil F. S. Newman collection, courtesy of Stadtmuseum Berlin)

Bloody Streets, The Soviet Assault on Berlin remains the benchmark military study of the battle for decades to come. I am also pleased to announce that the second edition of Bloody Streets was used extensively as background research for the most comprehensive documentary produced about the battle, 16 Days in Berlin: The Final Battle of WW2 Day by Day, produced by RTH – Real Time History GmbH. This documentary will be released in April 2020. (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/documentary-16-days-in-berlin#/)

About the Author

Aaron Stephan Hamilton is an academically trained historian who holds both a Bachelors and Masters’ degrees in History, as well as the Filed Historian Designator awarded by the U.S. Army’s Combat Studies Institute. He continues to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel. He has spent more than 25 years researching and writing about the final year of World War II in Europe.

The author’s The Oder Front 1945 Vol. I and Vol. II, served as the basis of U.S. Army Europe’s (USAREUR) first Battle Book and Staff Ride of the Seelow Heights that was enthusiastically endorsed by USAREUR’s former commander Ret. Lt. General Ben Hodges. His Panzergrenadiers to the Front! The Combat History of Panzergrenadier Division ‘Brandenburg’ on the Eastern Front 1944-45 is widely considered among the best late-war German divisional histories published in any language.

Over the last five years the author’s interests have shifted to Battle of the Atlantic and naval topics. He is an amateur maritime archeologist who spends much of his free time diving the wrecks of World War I and II across both sides of the “pond”, when not searching for new archival source material. His latest ground-breaking work Total Undersea War: The Evolutionary Role of the Snorkel in Dönitz’s U-Boat Fleet, 1944-1945 will be published in spring 2020 by Seaforth.

You can purchase the book here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/bloody-streets-the-soviet-assault-on-berlin-revised-and-expanded-2nd-edition.php

Visit to the Wallace Collection

By Jonathan Davies

I like learning new things. This happens increasingly often. As I discover more and more, I realise that in fact know less and less. Ultimately, I will know nothing about anything, thereby achieving the highest level of ignorance. Very Zen you may say, but what has this got to do with anything? Well in my last visit to the Wallace Collection I learned a lot of new things and unlearnt a lot of old things, under the guidance of Dr. Tobias Capwell the Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection in London. I was visiting in order to choose some items to use as illustrations for my forthcoming Helion title on The Art of Tudor Warre 1485-1558.

A late 16th century armour with a pistol proofing mark.  I would find the extent of the damage uncomfortably large and probably shop elsewhere!  Very little armour was ‘musket proof’ but armour was by no means made obsolete by gunpowder weapons.

The majority of the collection focuses on developments in arms and armour from the 14th to the 17th centuries although there are some earlier pieces as well as some later, including some magnificent firearms. As my particular interest is in late 15th to mid-16th century items I was in seventh heaven. It is not only the diversity but the quality of the artefacts that is so impressive.

Toby Capwell is not only an authority on arms and armour but is also founder of the Order of the Crescent, a jousting team which recreates (as accurately as possible) jousts and tournaments of the mid-15th century. He has a real understanding of armour, literally from the inside and he was able to guide my less experienced eye through the wealth of the collection.

The armour of Otto Heinrich Count Palatine of the Rhine ca1535.  The armour is left black from the forge, indicating that he is a ‘hard-ass’, the engraving denotes wealth and that therefore his life is worth ransoming (insurance).

Although many of the pieces are superbly etched, blued, and gilded, they were not merely for show. The term ‘parade armour’, is one which most readers will know. I have always assumed, wrongly again, that such highly decorated pieces were solely for display. In fact, a study of their construction shows that not only do they conform in stylisitc detail to contemporary armour, more importantly, from a metallurgical point of view they were often of the highest quality. One exceptional close-helmet Toby pointed out to me is fully etched and gilt, too expensive, one might think, to be used in combat. But not only does it feature a reinforcing plate on the left side of the skull, it also carries a number of obvious dents and dints from sword cuts, demonstrating that this piece has seen some hard fighting in the tourney or foot combat.

An early 16th century Italian sallet with a reinforced brow and hinged neck protection.  Henry VIII purchased thousands of similar items to provide for his soldiers in his numerous foreign wars.

There is a very unusual painted helmet, with a grotesque monster’s face on the visor, which is an excellent example for the period. Evidence for painted armour is today very rare, having been aggressively over-polished by Victorian collectors for whom the ‘knight in shining armour’ was the ideal. Many more helmets were probably browned or blackened to help preserve them and avoid the tedious exercise of keeping them polished and rust free.

I left with a fine choice of swords, polearms, armour both plate and mail, as potential images for the book. The items were well made, serviceable pieces, well-suited to their purpose and a testimony to human ingenuity in the service of war.

Early 16th century examples of a fine halberd and bill. Often perceived as ‘crude’ weapons wielded by pointless peasants, these examples are clearly carefully crafted and deadly.  The boar spear on the end indicates what a serious foe this wild beast could be.

One piece which I would love to include in a sequel to my current title is a complete armour from the justifiably famous Greenwich Royal Workshops. It was manufactured in the year before the Armada, for the commander of cavalry defending the south coast, Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. Lush!

If you haven’t visited the Wallace collection and you happen to be visiting London then you should definitely go. It also has a very good restaurant.

About the Author

Jonathan Davies was a scholar of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge where he read history, before progressing to a career in teaching. He has spent the last 40 years mostly teaching medieval and Tudor history as well as leading a medieval/Tudor re-enactment group. He has followed the route of the First Crusade in an ancient ex-ambulance and has most recently completed a Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on foot. His first book for Helion, The Tudor Arte of Warre 1485-1558 will be published in the second half this year (2020).

Revenge, Honour, and National Identity

Nicholas Kaizer explains why the War of 1812 still has such a resonance in today’s Canada.

‘A six pounder is not an army, no more is 450 men, except in our puny war’ wrote one Upper Canadian in a Halifax newspaper in 1813.[1] Even contemporaries living in the British North American colonies (what is today Eastern Canada) recognized that the scale of the War of 1812 was tiny compared to the titanic campaigns being waged in Europe. By this point in the Napoleonic Wars, field armies could comprise hundreds of thousands of men: over 600,000 men made up Napoleon’s Grand Armée when he invaded Russia (1812), and the colossal Battle of Leipzig (1813) involved 600,000 soldiers in all. The British army that invaded and burned Washington DC (1814), by contrast, fielded just over 4,000 redcoats. The colonials also recognized, that to the wider British Empire, their Anglo-American conflict was a bit of a sideshow.

Still, 19th century Haligonians were engrossed by the campaigns in Canada, just as they were by those of Lord Wellington in Europe. The naval actions of the conflict were not neglected, either. Most shockingly for Halifax, USS Constitution, the famous American heavy frigate, defeated two Royal Navy frigates in single ship actions. A third frigate was captured by her sister ship, USS United States, and by March 1813 three British sloops of war met the same fate. During the 19th century, Halifax was a fiercely British city – proud subjects of the King and proud of the Royal Navy. Haligonians, who had enthusiastically followed the exploits of Admiral Horatio Nelson, were shocked by the losses, and struggled to come to terms with them; how could the Royal Navy be defeated by the upstart Americans?

A large ship in the water

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Not the Little Belt
Illustration by Elizabetha Tsitrin, Image Courtesy of Blue Nautilus Art, https://bluenautilusart.com/

Today, we Canadians cling to our national prowess in hockey and celebrate our athletes. The Toronto Raptor’s Championship win in the summer of 2019 briefly drew the attention and admiration of the country. In the early 19th century, our sports heroes were the officers and men of the Royal Navy’s frigates – figures who held a great degree of star power. They captivated Halifax’s youth and inspired many to seek a career in the navy, including a young Provo Wallis, who won fame during the War of 1812, and would go on to reach the highest rank in the Royal Navy. Beamish Murdoch, a future Nova Scotian historian who was a boy during the conflict, remembered the ‘sad series of disasters’ which, while ‘they are only connected with the history of our province indirectly,’ their impact ‘on the minds of our people was great, stimulating their patriotism and loyalty instead of depressing them.’[2] Faced with the losses of 1812, Halifax’s papers sought to defend the reputation and honour of their naval heroes, clinging to the fact that USS Constitution and her sisters vastly outclassed the RN frigates which they defeated. It was a remarkably similar tune to that sung by the press in England, which too sought to defend the honour of the Royal Navy and its sailors. This is still the understanding of today’s British and Canadian historians. The historiography of the War of 1812, alas, has always been steeped in national biases.

When I set to work on the project that would culminate in Revenge in the Name of Honour, I quickly noticed that not all contemporaries seemed to agree that the American victories could be sufficiently explained by their marked advantage in sire and firepower. None other than James Dacres, the captain of HMS Guerriere during her crushing loss to USS Constitution, declared at his court martial that the disparity in force had little to do with the defeat, and that he wished ‘to be once more opposed to the Constitution, with [his old crew] under my command, in a frigate of similar force to the Guerriere.’[3] The attitudes and actions of the Royal Navy’s captains following the losses suggest that Dacres’ rather bold interpretation was not unique. More than one officer sought revenge and contemplated putting their ships and crew into unnecessary risk to do so. The boldest was Captain Philip Broke of HMS Shannon, whose tiresome and risky efforts to bring about a single ship action with an American frigate paid off on 1 June 1813, when in a brief action Shannon captured USS Chesapeake.

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H.M.S. Shannon Leading Her Prize the American Frigate Chesapeake Into Halifax Harbour. Schletky, J.C., King, R.H., Haghe, L. Library and Archives Canada, R3908-0-0-E W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana, http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=2836439

The victory reinvigorated the British. It was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic, and Broke was showered with praise and honours from Halifax and British society. Halifax continued to celebrate the action well into the following century, and it became a staple of cultural memory and local literature. Its centenary in 1913 was marked by major events, and the 150th anniversary was celebrated with a naval spectacle, attended by warships from the Royal Navy, the still-young Royal Canadian Navy, and even from the United States Navy, once a bitter enemy but now united by a camaraderie built over two world wars. Alas, as with most aspects of the War of 1812, it had largely faded from public memory by the bicentenary in 2012, when the Government of Canada again commemorated the war, as part of a wider mission to celebrate a nostalgic vision of Canada’s colonial past.

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Photograph of a 18-pounder on display outside Province House, Halifax (seat of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly), believed to have come from Shannon. One believed to have come from Chesapeake is on display on the opposite side of the building. Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society, https://hmhps.ca/sites/shannon-vs-chesapeake

While the general public in Halifax has largely forgotten the conflict, the naval-interested public still hold a certain delight in this particular bit of history. It has taken up more than its fair share of curated space in museums and public places in the city, which is hardly surprising; not only was Shannon’s senior surviving lieutenant a Haligonian (Provo Wallis), but Canadians delight in any arena we can claim a victory over our cousins to the south. It was no different in Halifax in 1813, when the small town flocked from Sunday church to the waterfront to cheer on Shannon and the Haligonian officer at her helm.

Lieutenant Provo Wallis, At the Time of His Victorious Entry Into Halifax Harbour, ca. 1800-1880, Davey Fitzner. Library and Archives Canada/William Kingsford collection/e010966281, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/CollectionSearch/Pages/record.aspx?app=FonAndCol&IdNumber=4310540

[1] NSA, Acadian Recorder, Saturday 4 December 1813, 1:47 (online), available at https://novascotia.ca/archives/newspapers/archives.asp?ID=800

[2] Beamish Murdoch, A History of Nova Scotia, or Acadie, (Halifax: J. Barnes, 1867), Vol 3, p.334.

[3] TNA, ADM 1/5431, Testimony of Dacres, CM Guerriere.

MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East: Mikoyan I Gurevich MiG-23 in Service in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, 1973-2018

By Tom Cooper

Terminus ‘MiG-23’, perhaps even ‘Flogger’, is likely to appear at least ‘common’ to many of readers. Yes, that’s that arrow-like design from a stable of well-known, Soviet-made fighters, many of which were captivating our minds during the times of the Cold War, back in the 1970s and 1980s. Younger readers are going to recognize it from several recent – indeed: ongoing – conflicts, like those in Libya but especially Syria.

The MiG-23 was never a ‘star’: although once manufactured and rolled out in numbers hard to imagine in these days, and widely exported, it was easily overshadowed by the Mach-3 capable MiG-25, the type the ASCC/NATO code-named the ‘Foxbat’. On the contrary, and although famed not only by the Soviets but even in diverse Western intelligence assessments shortly after its service entry, the MiG-23 was something of an anti-star: the type belittled by many. In the West of nowadays, it is best-known as something like an ‘awful’ aircraft to fly, technically unreliable, problematic – if not outright impossible to control, and then one the reputation of which was definitely ruined by heavy losses the Syrian Arab Air Force is claimed to have suffered during the Lebanon War of 1982, not to talk about the defection of a Syrian pilot with a MiG-23 to Israel, seven years later.

Actually, these were only two episodes in the history of this type – and then two actually minor episodes in a long history.

Far more important is that the MiG-23 was never studied within the context in which it came into being, nor within which it was originally expected to be operated. Not only multiple researchers in the West, but all the Russian-language researchers are usually concentrating on revealing the technology-related secrets of this family only: very little attention is paid to its operational service, and even less so to a comparison

The aim of the book ‘MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East’ is to set that record straight: it is a culmination of 30 years of related research, in the course of which I wanted to find out what do ‘those’ MiG-23s flown by diverse air forces in the Middle East look like, who was flying them, what were their experiences, and how effective they have proven themselves.

The MiG-23 came into being along ideas of the General Staff (‘GenStab’) of the Soviet military: a cast of highly-qualified military minds indoctrinated to think in best traditions of von Clausewitz. Back in the early 1960s, the GenStab envisaged the type as a ‘hands-off’, ‘remotely controlled’ interceptor – a literal ‘missile with a man inside’, carrying a radar and missiles capable of hunting F-104 Starfighters and USAF’s F-105 Thunderchiefs, armed with nuclear bombs and underway at very low altitudes over Central Europe. This type was not expected to ‘waste time’ with searching for its targets, in dogfights or any other discipline of air combat: it was supposed to operate with full support of a well-developed network of ground-based early warning radars and electronic warfare stations, to take-off, catch its target, fire, kill – and return to base. It was supposed to bring the emphasis of air warfare to the point.  For this reason, it carried a bare minimum of necessary avionics.

So much for planning. In reality, even the best plans tend to come apart as soon as they encounter the enemy. In reality, it was so that because the GenStab changed its requirements several times, it took too long to develop the MiG-23. By the time it appeared, it was de-facto obsolete in comparison to its Western competitors.

Nevertheless, by then it was too late: even Moscow could not argument pro a project that meanwhile took billions of Rubles and seven years to develop – without pressing it into service. At least as important was the fact that diverse of Soviet customers in the Middle East were demanding an advanced interceptor, something better than the MiG-21 – droves of which were shot down by Mirages and Phantoms of the Israeli air force, equipped with vastly-superior armament, in early 1970s. Some of customers in question conditioned the state of their relations to the Soviet Union on deliveries of such aircraft. Unsurprisingly, the Soviets rushed to deliver: in a matter of two years, more than 200 MiG-23s have reached Syria, then Egypt, followed by Iraq and Libya. As proud as always, the Soviets famed their new interceptors as at least matching, if not clearly outmatching anything the West was likely to deliver to its local allies. With exception of the Algerians, most of their local customers were more than happy to buy this version.

It turned out that rushing is never a good idea – especially not when it comes to the research and development of an advanced combat aircraft. Early MiG-23 variants were suffering far more from incomplete testing and poor manufacturing quality, than to combat attrition. Eventually, it took them years of additional efforts – including hiring of US test-pilots who then wrote a new flight manual for the type in Libya – to turn the aircraft of this family into combat-effective platforms.

Meanwhile, diverse variants of the MiG-23 saw combat in most diverse conflicts – and nearly always without the kind of support from the ground as originally envisaged. While often not declared into ‘Soviet supported’, even the Syrian military did not receive the equipment necessary to provide proper support for its MiG-23s, and this is not to talk about the Iraqi military, or that of Libya. Egypt meanwhile abandoned the idea of continuing the acquisition, while Algeria de-facto went its own way.

Nevertheless, advanced variants of the MiG-23 did enter service in Iraq and Libya of the mid-1980s, and these then saw more of intensive combat operations in these two countries alone – than in all other air forces around the World, combined.

In the early 1990s, the MiG-23 rapidly fell out of everybody’s favour: no matter what variant, the entire fleet became block-obsolete due to the appearance of such types like MiG-29 or Sukhoi Su-27.  Thus, only air forces out of condition to replace it have continued to keep their MiG-23s in operational condition. But, and once again, exactly such air forces – those of Iraq, Libya, and Syria – were to see more combat action over the last 20 years, than most of other air forces around the Globe.

The story provided in ‘MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East’ remains incomplete: the type is still in operational service with three air forces involved in diverse wars. And plenty of details remain outside my reach. However, thanks to the cooperation of nearly two dozen active- and former-MiG-23-pilots from six different air forces, this book provides a host of exclusive insights, and de-facto re-writing the operational history of this type.

MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East: Mikoyan I Gurevich MiG-23 in Service in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, 1973-2018 is available to order here.