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The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe

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May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Germans. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue fourteen prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It’s May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Germans. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue fourteen prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It’s a dangerous mission, but Lee has help from a decorated German Wehrmacht officer and his men, who voluntarily join the fight. Based on personal memoirs, author interviews, and official American, German, and French histories, The Last Battle is the nearly unbelievable story of the most improbable battle of World War II — a tale of unlikely allies, bravery, cowardice, and desperate combat between implacable enemies.


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May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Germans. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue fourteen prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It’s May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Germans. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue fourteen prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It’s a dangerous mission, but Lee has help from a decorated German Wehrmacht officer and his men, who voluntarily join the fight. Based on personal memoirs, author interviews, and official American, German, and French histories, The Last Battle is the nearly unbelievable story of the most improbable battle of World War II — a tale of unlikely allies, bravery, cowardice, and desperate combat between implacable enemies.

30 review for The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I wanted to like this book very badly. I was extremely interested in the premise- and the story itself, by the way, is pretty fascinating- but the author brought a terribly dry tone to his writing. I enjoy history books and it is very rare for me to consider them boring. This was a boring book, in spite of its (deeply interesting) subject. People who are reluctant to read history are reluctant because they think all history books are written like this one. The book gives in-depth biographies to e I wanted to like this book very badly. I was extremely interested in the premise- and the story itself, by the way, is pretty fascinating- but the author brought a terribly dry tone to his writing. I enjoy history books and it is very rare for me to consider them boring. This was a boring book, in spite of its (deeply interesting) subject. People who are reluctant to read history are reluctant because they think all history books are written like this one. The book gives in-depth biographies to each of the roughly 15 major personages featured, which gets incredibly hard to read after a few pages. These bios halt all action at critical moments and weaken the book for it, though without them I doubt The Last Battle would be half of its current length. Also, Mr. Harding writes with a historian's dispassion. He just fails to make battle scenes exciting and doesn't give you any "in-the-moment" suspense. That said, he didn't have many primary sources to work with, and was probably reluctant to extrapolate simply for the sake of entertainment. The more primary sources, the more dramatic one can make a historical account, generally- but I still hold that Mr. Harding could have done better. And if he wrote "die-hard Waffen-SS unit" one more time I was going to scream. He desperatly needed access to a thesaurus. All that said, the story of Schloss Itter was interesting enough to me that I am reluctant to rate the book lower than three stars. But if you're going to read this, be prepared to steel yourself for boredom.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Russ Moore

    Why haven't I heard of this battle before? Take ten American GIs, one Sherman tank, fifteen German soldiers, fourteen quarrelsome French dignitaries, a handful of concentration camp survivors, and two hundred execution-minded Nazis; put them together against the backstop of a medieval German castle on last day of fighting in WWII's Europe, and you have the makings for a fantastic screenplay. Stephen Harding is clearly a dedicated historian - his presentation of the facts is well-researched and we Why haven't I heard of this battle before? Take ten American GIs, one Sherman tank, fifteen German soldiers, fourteen quarrelsome French dignitaries, a handful of concentration camp survivors, and two hundred execution-minded Nazis; put them together against the backstop of a medieval German castle on last day of fighting in WWII's Europe, and you have the makings for a fantastic screenplay. Stephen Harding is clearly a dedicated historian - his presentation of the facts is well-researched and well-balanced. And that's what this book is: a presentation of facts. He starts rather slowly, but by the end of the fourth chapter the reader is acquainted with the dynamics which forced these different people together, and their motivations. There are gaps, of course - any attempt to gather research on an event 70 years in the past is going to be difficult - but Harding has done an admirable job not only of poring through existing records, but tracking down and interviewing survivors himself. I appreciated his ability to create moments of tension embellished by eye-witness descriptions from his interviews. For example: "When the Sherman backed onto the bridge, the span literally started to groan, as the interior metal girders supporting the length of the structure began to bend. Chunks of the stone façade popped out and dropped into the ravine, and hairline cracks opened on the macadam road surface." (p126-127) The notes are copious and interesting (one of my favorites is the brief account of Major Kramers' attempt to commandeer a villa as a command post only to come face-to-face with it's owner: the composer Richard Strauss). The Last Battle has all of the elements of a great fictionalized war story - flying bullets, rocket launchers, evil villains, cigar-chomping American heroes, a noble death, and even beautiful women in peril. I'm looking forward to the movie.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    In the weeks after the suicide of Hitler, an end to World War II had not officially been declared. As the Allied forces continued their push into Germany and Austria, they encountered small groups of loyal Nazis who were willing to fight to the death to stop the Allied advance. Unbeknownst to American troops, a small group of French VIP prisoners and their "numbered servants" were being held captive in an old castle in the Austrian Tyrol. This well researched account describes the Allied rescue In the weeks after the suicide of Hitler, an end to World War II had not officially been declared. As the Allied forces continued their push into Germany and Austria, they encountered small groups of loyal Nazis who were willing to fight to the death to stop the Allied advance. Unbeknownst to American troops, a small group of French VIP prisoners and their "numbered servants" were being held captive in an old castle in the Austrian Tyrol. This well researched account describes the Allied rescue of these prisoners. What is surprising about the rescue is that they were assisted by Nazi soldiers who were in fact Allied sympathizers. It's an amazing story of bravery and courage. Stephen Harding's meticulous research into the lives and personalities of the captives and their rescuers brings the account to life. Although detailed maps are included, it was still difficult for me to follow the assault on the castle. But the book did bring to light a previously unknown piece of World War II history.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bon Tom

    One of those lesser known events of WWII, that I'm grateful to come to know about thanks to the efforts of investigative authors. I guess we need to hurry up until these priceless stories are lost to the history and there are still people who can fog the mirror (to use the term from the book) and pass on their legacy. One of those lesser known events of WWII, that I'm grateful to come to know about thanks to the efforts of investigative authors. I guess we need to hurry up until these priceless stories are lost to the history and there are still people who can fog the mirror (to use the term from the book) and pass on their legacy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

    3.5 Stars - A well-researched examination of a very interesting chapter in WWII, one of the very last chapters, in which a medieval castle holding French political prisoners in Austria is captured and defended by a small band of American tankers, local resistance fighters, and friendly German soldiers who have long recognized the folly of their Nazi leaders, all pitted against 200 fanatical Nazi Waffen-SS troops fighting for Hitler to the bitter end and dead set on killing the French prisoners a 3.5 Stars - A well-researched examination of a very interesting chapter in WWII, one of the very last chapters, in which a medieval castle holding French political prisoners in Austria is captured and defended by a small band of American tankers, local resistance fighters, and friendly German soldiers who have long recognized the folly of their Nazi leaders, all pitted against 200 fanatical Nazi Waffen-SS troops fighting for Hitler to the bitter end and dead set on killing the French prisoners and everyone within the castle. Sounds like a great screenplay, huh? As much as I enjoyed the book, Harding's writing is dry and he tends to drop a lot of historical information on you in bunches, including in-depth backstories of every prisoner in the castle and the major players involved in their rescue, all before things really get underway. The first half of the book moves rather slowly with all of this information, including a confusing amount of names of officers and units involved as the battle draws near, but the last half is where you'll find the action, although there's less of it than I imagined, and I think a stronger author with a bit more flair could have made this short read (170+ pages) a bit more invigorating and lively. Still, it was interesting and enjoyable, and highlights a little known but important event at the very end of a long and bloody war.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurence

    Most of this is back story, the actual battle is actually pretty straight forward. With the right direction it could make for a good WWII movie. It was short, otherwise it wouldn't have been worth it. Most of this is back story, the actual battle is actually pretty straight forward. With the right direction it could make for a good WWII movie. It was short, otherwise it wouldn't have been worth it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    KB

    Stephen Harding's The Last Battle chronicles an obscure event that occurred in the closing hours of World War II in Europe, during which a motley band of American soldiers, German defectors, and elderly high-profile French political prisoners were besieged within a medieval Austrian castle by fanatical Waffen-SS Nazis. The narrative ably conveys the pervasive sense of desperate chaos that reigned throughout the war zone in May of 1945 as Germany's military disintegrated. Harding gives the reader Stephen Harding's The Last Battle chronicles an obscure event that occurred in the closing hours of World War II in Europe, during which a motley band of American soldiers, German defectors, and elderly high-profile French political prisoners were besieged within a medieval Austrian castle by fanatical Waffen-SS Nazis. The narrative ably conveys the pervasive sense of desperate chaos that reigned throughout the war zone in May of 1945 as Germany's military disintegrated. Harding gives the reader a glimpse of the terror that must have afflicted defenseless civilians as they struggled to survive the depredations of Nazi marauders amid the final spasms of the war. Overall, the book benefits from the author's careful research, as cited in the thorough endnotes and excellent bibliography. A good balance is achieved between entertaining storytelling and responsible historical reporting. The extensive backstories outlining several of the Frenchmen and the Germans are especially insightful and revealing. There are two particular aspects, however, which could have been executed better. The story becomes a bit confused as a result of an excess of personalities. While the people within the castle walls can be mentally differentiated with relative ease, it is more difficult to keep separated the numerous Americans who are introduced as the story progresses. By attempting to focus too intently on the activities of too many disparate groups at once, Harding muddles his account a bit. Dedicating a little less attention toward naming quite so many U.S. Army officers would have created a clearer overall picture. Conspicuously absent from the supernumerary cast of characters are members of the besieging force. An exhaustive history of a story such as this one ought to include the perspectives of some of the men on the opposing side, or should at least record basic information as to the number of attackers or their command structure. The general anarchy of the German soldiers' circumstances presumably may have precluded this sort of addition to the historical record, although the author is curiously silent on this point. Elsewhere he notes if specific individuals happened to fade away from history or otherwise became untraceable, but he does not make explicit his reasons for omitting from his text the viewpoint of the German attackers. The book receives four stars here rather than five, due only to the perceived shortcomings described above. The Last Battle is nonetheless a worthwhile read that will appeal to those whose interests include military history, wartime derring-do, World War II in Europe, historical French politics, or Austrian history. It is also fairly short, making for quick, enjoyable reading. Incidentally, this reviewer first learned of The Last Battle from an installment of the Futility Closet podcast, which offers a riveting overview of the material detailed in the book. That podcast can be heard at the following link: https://www.futilitycloset.com/2016/1...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Phrodrick

    It is said that war consists of long periods of too little happening and a few moments of too many things happening. Such is the case with Stephen Harding’s The Last Battle. Journalist that he is he has found one of the least likely events of World War II and given us a chance to meet the people who lived it. While I tend to agree with those reviewers who felt the buildup was over long and the point of the story delayed. I cannot report this as a negative reading experience. The quality of the w It is said that war consists of long periods of too little happening and a few moments of too many things happening. Such is the case with Stephen Harding’s The Last Battle. Journalist that he is he has found one of the least likely events of World War II and given us a chance to meet the people who lived it. While I tend to agree with those reviewers who felt the buildup was over long and the point of the story delayed. I cannot report this as a negative reading experience. The quality of the writing is more workman like than either scholarly or particularly entertaining, but I enjoyed the read. So four stars, but under advisement. The normal history of Europe in World War II was that it effectively ended with Hitler’s suicide and that fears of a Nazi redoubt out in the mountains of Austria never really happened. At the 20,000 foot view this is mostly true. Among the exceptions was the Battle over the SS prison castle, Itter. Castle Itter was a prison for a very mixed bag of high ranking Frenchmen and women. Mixed in the sense that they represented many different political views and included former members of the French Vichy Government. (They did not like each other) That they were allowed to live is itself a story as it is unknown if the German’s intended to use them as bargaining chips in peace negotiations, meaning even Hitler had a plan B. In the 100 or so pages that lead to the battle we get far too many details about each prisoners life leading up to their capture and their arrests and there various prison peregrinations leading to their selection to Castle Itter. After all the back stories on the castle, the prisoners, the prison commander and then the eventual American/local resistance relief column under Captain Lee we get to the battle. The selling point of the book is that the war is over. The prisoners are still at risk for their lives. The relief column will include Americans, local Austrian resistance fighters And German soldiers including former (as in up to the day before) SS officers and troops. Either the improbabilities and ironies of that last paragraph wet your curiosity or this book is not for you.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I happened to watch The Book Thief the night before I read this book. The film was based on a book (which I haven't read so I can't testify as to how closely the film mirrored the book)about a German family who sheltered a Jewish refugee--at least for a time--and sheltered the daughter of a woman who was arrested for being a communist. The Last Battle is about some German soldiers who protected some French prisoners against other German soldiers. The reviews of the book usually report that it is I happened to watch The Book Thief the night before I read this book. The film was based on a book (which I haven't read so I can't testify as to how closely the film mirrored the book)about a German family who sheltered a Jewish refugee--at least for a time--and sheltered the daughter of a woman who was arrested for being a communist. The Last Battle is about some German soldiers who protected some French prisoners against other German soldiers. The reviews of the book usually report that it is about Wehrmacht troops helping American troops defend prisoners against the SS--but one of the officers defending the prisoners was a member of the Waffen SS himself--so that is not accurate. I do not think this is a minor point. Perhaps the significance of the point was called to my attention because both of these works emphasized the difference between "good" Germans and "bad" Germans. Both of these works appears to have more sympathy and attempts to promote more empathy for the good Germans than the non-German victims. I do not care for that emphasis. One particular aspect of that emphasis is that the Wehrmacht in toto was a victim of the Nazis. Although there were individuals members of the Wehrmacht who were victims of the Nazis, most were willing collaborators, more than collaborators--the Nazis could not have committed the atrocities they did without the help of the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht committed many atrocities on their own. I'm just saying, a little less myth-making and little more historical accuracy would be nice.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    In an area of Austria I know very well, the Nazis confined a bunch of squabbling French VIP prisoners (Gamelin, Clemenceau's son, De Gaulle's sister, Weygand, Daladier, Jouhaux) of varying political stripes to a fortified schloss under a crappy SS jailer. Days after Hitler's suicide, with Waffen-SS units wandering the hills and likely to kill the prisoners, messages got out to both a local German army unit as well as an American tank column. Of course they team up with the Austrian resistance an In an area of Austria I know very well, the Nazis confined a bunch of squabbling French VIP prisoners (Gamelin, Clemenceau's son, De Gaulle's sister, Weygand, Daladier, Jouhaux) of varying political stripes to a fortified schloss under a crappy SS jailer. Days after Hitler's suicide, with Waffen-SS units wandering the hills and likely to kill the prisoners, messages got out to both a local German army unit as well as an American tank column. Of course they team up with the Austrian resistance and spring the French (who, despite a moment of shooting off machine guns together, continue their spat).

  11. 5 out of 5

    J. Bryce

    A unique book about the last-days-of-WWII operation to free six French VIPs (politicians from pre-war days) from an SS-held castle in Austria. Along with sympathetic Wehrmacht (i.e., regular German Army -- not Nazi) soldiers, a small element of the US Army fought a day-long battle against SS troops still loyal to the dead Hitler and the Third Reich. Not particularly well written though not bad, but recommended for the interested. As many blurbs on the jacket say, this would make a great movie.

  12. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    3.5 stars There is a castle in Austria called Schloss Itter. During WWII, there were French VIPs (mostly politicians) who were kept prisoner in Schloss Itter; needless to say, it was a fairly comfortable place to be kept prisoner during the war. When the war was over, though, they needed to be rescued. So, after the war had officially ended, American soldiers came together with a few German soldiers to get the French VIPs out, but there was a battle at the castle before they were able to leave. T 3.5 stars There is a castle in Austria called Schloss Itter. During WWII, there were French VIPs (mostly politicians) who were kept prisoner in Schloss Itter; needless to say, it was a fairly comfortable place to be kept prisoner during the war. When the war was over, though, they needed to be rescued. So, after the war had officially ended, American soldiers came together with a few German soldiers to get the French VIPs out, but there was a battle at the castle before they were able to leave. This is a story from WWII that I knew nothing about. (Even for all I’ve read, I’m sure there are plenty of lesser-known stories.) It was interesting. In addition to information about the war, the castle, and the battle itself at the castle, there was biographical information about the prisoners, as well as the soldiers who worked together to help out (although, there were a lot of people, so it was still a bit tricky to recall who was who!). I also enjoy biographies, so those parts were some of the most interesting to me in this book, in addition to the battle itself. As a Canadian, I found Rene Levesque’s “cameo” in the book (he appeared later as a journalist) interesting. For the most part, I liked the way this book was written. There were a few dry parts, but mostly I enjoyed it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    R.L.M. Sanchez

    Perhaps the least publicized and most bizarre battle of WWII. During the interim between Hitler's suicide on April 30th, and Nazi Germany's surrender on May 7th, the Nazi Schutzstaffel, or SS, were given orders ranging from eliminating evidence of concentration camps, to executing political prisoners. The Battle of Castle Itter marks the one battle in WWII where US GIs and the German Wermacht, fought together to route a radical company of Waffen SS troops and stop them from executing a number of Perhaps the least publicized and most bizarre battle of WWII. During the interim between Hitler's suicide on April 30th, and Nazi Germany's surrender on May 7th, the Nazi Schutzstaffel, or SS, were given orders ranging from eliminating evidence of concentration camps, to executing political prisoners. The Battle of Castle Itter marks the one battle in WWII where US GIs and the German Wermacht, fought together to route a radical company of Waffen SS troops and stop them from executing a number of prisoners in a repurposed Austrian castle turned prison. Overall, this book would make a killer movie, and an important lesson that not all Germans were "evil" just because their dictator was, as the misconception goes. The Nazis were not "Germany", and your standard Heer soldier was not a "Nazi", although you had your fanatics. Would really recommend a read like this for history buffs and anyone who wants to read about one of the more stranger instances in WWII.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Carlson

    I gave it four out of five because it is a meticulous book that still has a neat story that is conveyed well. I will say though the first couple of chapters were a bit difficult to get through as Harding went in-depth on each of the French VIP prisoners at Schloss Itter, and it really wasn't necessary. Harding writes military histories, which, though I'm a fan of history, I'm not as used to reading, so a lot of the information on technical specifications and military divisions was a bit lost on I gave it four out of five because it is a meticulous book that still has a neat story that is conveyed well. I will say though the first couple of chapters were a bit difficult to get through as Harding went in-depth on each of the French VIP prisoners at Schloss Itter, and it really wasn't necessary. Harding writes military histories, which, though I'm a fan of history, I'm not as used to reading, so a lot of the information on technical specifications and military divisions was a bit lost on me. But the book is still pretty short and the story fascinating that even more casual readers like myself can get a lot out of it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thee_ron_clark

    The Last Battle is an interesting and true story of the final battle between American and Nazi soldiers during World War II. The part that makes it much more interesting is that Austrian soldiers switched sides to assist the American soldiers in a pitched battle against Nazi hardliners. This book leads up to the final battle that takes place at an Austrian castle used as a German POW camp for high-profile French prisoners. As World War II comes to a close and the Nazis are near defeat, the camp i The Last Battle is an interesting and true story of the final battle between American and Nazi soldiers during World War II. The part that makes it much more interesting is that Austrian soldiers switched sides to assist the American soldiers in a pitched battle against Nazi hardliners. This book leads up to the final battle that takes place at an Austrian castle used as a German POW camp for high-profile French prisoners. As World War II comes to a close and the Nazis are near defeat, the camp is vacated by the guards. As American soldiers and anti-Nazi resistance race to rescue the prisoners, many obstacles stand in their way. For the Americans, bureaucracy holds them back time and time again. Some things obviously haven't changed much over the years. There is a lot of lead-up to the final battle. I found myself bored with a bit of it and somewhat confused about which prisoner was which after awhile. The latter issue might have been the similarity in the sounds of some of the French names and the shear number of prisoners. Regardless, this was a very interesting read about an unusual battle that I had been completely unaware of. I would love to see this as a film, but would fear Hollywood might butcher it as they often do great literature.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    An amazing story about a siege at the end of the war where an American tank commander and an infantry squad teamed up with a German SS officer and a group of German Wiermark soldiers to rescue French VIPs,(2 prime ministers, 2 generals of the army, a socialist union leader, a famous tennis star and others) in a Austrian castle turned VIP concentration camp against the last gasp of a frantic and still zealot SS army intent on killing the VIPs all after the death of Hitler and the ending of the wa An amazing story about a siege at the end of the war where an American tank commander and an infantry squad teamed up with a German SS officer and a group of German Wiermark soldiers to rescue French VIPs,(2 prime ministers, 2 generals of the army, a socialist union leader, a famous tennis star and others) in a Austrian castle turned VIP concentration camp against the last gasp of a frantic and still zealot SS army intent on killing the VIPs all after the death of Hitler and the ending of the war. This is told well with backstories on all participants and a follow up on how they ended up. I wouldn't say this was the best written book but the story is so compelling that the authors lack of finesse is more than made up for by the drama. Worth a read just for the shear novelty of it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    A very well researched book about the the almost unbelievable story of one of the strangest battles of WWII. Its the story of unlikely allies at the close of the war; a small group of American Tanker soldiers, some war-tired German soldiers and a group of quarreling French VIP prisoners vs Fanatical Nazi SS troops in the Austrian alps at a medieval castle, Schloss Itter. I could have used some additional maps, but overall, well done.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    This book is one of those gems I just happened upon without holding any great expectation about it. The book turned out to be a fascinating vignette of an obscure battle found near the very end of the World War in Europe. There is so much intriguing about the story, I find it difficult to write about it for fear of spoiling the tale for other readers. Here is the gist of the story. Schloss Itter is a castle in Austria picked by Himmler to house VIP captives in hopes of being able to trade them for This book is one of those gems I just happened upon without holding any great expectation about it. The book turned out to be a fascinating vignette of an obscure battle found near the very end of the World War in Europe. There is so much intriguing about the story, I find it difficult to write about it for fear of spoiling the tale for other readers. Here is the gist of the story. Schloss Itter is a castle in Austria picked by Himmler to house VIP captives in hopes of being able to trade them for captured Nazi high officials. Some of the VIP captives are ex-French presidents and other French dignitaries. The story begins toward the very end of the war. Hitler is dead, the German army is in retreat and the American forces are closing in on the last remnants of the Nazi military. The only fight left is the SS troops which are battle hardened and determined to never rrender and to continue taking the fight to the Allies. It is the story of a remnant of the German army, Austrian resistance fighters and an American tank commander joining an effort to save the VIP’s from certain execution at the hands of the SS troops wandering the Austrian forests. It is one hell of a tale well told by the author.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    A good book, but the Author's obvious desire to get a movie made gets in the way of a good solid history. It's good but not exceptional, although some may enjoy the dramatisation. In 1945 in Southern Austria, a group of high value French Hostages/Prisoners are trapped in a Nazi Prison. The Allies want to save them, some retreating Waffen SS might like to kill them, and a handful of German soldiers and Austrian resistance fighters thought they were worth protecting. It's a fun romp, but in trying A good book, but the Author's obvious desire to get a movie made gets in the way of a good solid history. It's good but not exceptional, although some may enjoy the dramatisation. In 1945 in Southern Austria, a group of high value French Hostages/Prisoners are trapped in a Nazi Prison. The Allies want to save them, some retreating Waffen SS might like to kill them, and a handful of German soldiers and Austrian resistance fighters thought they were worth protecting. It's a fun romp, but in trying to write a page-turner, Harding has to cut back in other areas. One of the areas that gets shortchanged is the area of French Politics, a sad thing, as the real story is the personal interplay of French Military/Political giants Clemanceau, Weygand, Reynaud, and Daladier, et al. But the book is effective enough at hitting all the points to be good, just not enough to be great. It is fine for juvenile readers, and will be interesting to Military Enthusiasts/Modelers/Gamers for the myriad of scenario/diorama ideas one can riff out of this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    A pretty decent account of a little-known military engagement that united American, German, and partisan forces to protect a group of high-value French prisoners from Nazi troops in the waning hours of the war in Europe. A little too much background on the French, methinks. Much bravery displayed against poor odds, aided by some last minute luck. Overall, a good piece of history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark Lawry

    Two thirds of the book describes the lives and events of the VIPs and other players leading up to the battle. Battle is too strong a word. More correct to call it an engagement between an 88 and a Sherman. Short but will add another European castle to your bucket list if you're a lover of history. The last chapter was dedicated to telling what has become of those involved. They became such things as small business owners and bricklayers. This struck me (as it always does) that when you're looking Two thirds of the book describes the lives and events of the VIPs and other players leading up to the battle. Battle is too strong a word. More correct to call it an engagement between an 88 and a Sherman. Short but will add another European castle to your bucket list if you're a lover of history. The last chapter was dedicated to telling what has become of those involved. They became such things as small business owners and bricklayers. This struck me (as it always does) that when you're looking at an elderly person you're looking at a walking incredible story.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe Debenedictis

    Super detailed book, very good

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cameron

    A story that had to be told, The Last Battle is about the attempt by an American tank commander (Jack Lee) to rescue a group of high-ranking French politicians who were imprisoned by the Nazis in an Austrian castle in the mountains east of Innsbruck. During the final days of the war, an SS unit was dispatched to execute the prisoners, and Lee--with a small contingent of American infantry and one tank--scrambled to defend the castle and its occupants. In a bizarre twist of allegiances, a former S A story that had to be told, The Last Battle is about the attempt by an American tank commander (Jack Lee) to rescue a group of high-ranking French politicians who were imprisoned by the Nazis in an Austrian castle in the mountains east of Innsbruck. During the final days of the war, an SS unit was dispatched to execute the prisoners, and Lee--with a small contingent of American infantry and one tank--scrambled to defend the castle and its occupants. In a bizarre twist of allegiances, a former SS commandant and a small unit of Wehrmacht infantry joined them to protect the prisoners. The story is full of larger-than-life characters: Lee was a former football star and a superbly competent tank commander; his SS ally was Hauptsturmfuhrer Kurt Schrader, a highly decorated veteran of the war who had finally decided to abandon the Nazi cause; among the prisoners were France's two most recent prime ministers (Reynaud and Daladier) and two former chiefs-of-staff of the French military (Gamelin and Weygand) as well as a leading French labor leader (Jouhaux) and a variety of other VIPs. The story takes place mainly within the 14th-century castle, Schloss Itter, renovated as a luxury hotel and then converted by the Nazis into a prison. The castle's defenders needed to make use of the medieval structure to fight off thousands of SS troops equipped with artillery, machine-guns and sniper rifles. Harding's description of the battle is marvelously suspenseful and full of fascinating detail. Harding's prose can be tiresome at times but this wonderful adventure more than compensates for that--this is a page-turner well-situated in a vibrant historical context and in a moment when history was taking a dramatic turn. Enjoyable and full of surprises.

  24. 5 out of 5

    John Collins

    I was fascinated by the subtitle of this book, because I’d never heard of this event before. That’s surprising, then throw in the compelling storyline of Germans and Americans joining together to protect French prisoners in an Austrian castle, and I had to read it! However, I’m hesitant to rate this book higher because the story is dragged down by what seems like excessive contextual and background information. About three quarters of the book is setup for the “last battle.” There were several t I was fascinated by the subtitle of this book, because I’d never heard of this event before. That’s surprising, then throw in the compelling storyline of Germans and Americans joining together to protect French prisoners in an Austrian castle, and I had to read it! However, I’m hesitant to rate this book higher because the story is dragged down by what seems like excessive contextual and background information. About three quarters of the book is setup for the “last battle.” There were several times when I thought “Kudos to the author for all the research. This is good background for him to do, but I didn’t really need to know it.” This painstaking research was at odds with the multiple times that the author said something to the effect of “We can therefore assume...” I found those assertions troublesome from someone who spent so much time in the historical details. At fear of sounding critical of an experienced author and editorial staff (view this as constructive criticism instead), a strong editor would have been valuable on this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bernard

    How is this not a major motion picture yet? Stephen Harding's tale of World War II has everything you'd want: exotic locations, a sharp gun battle, shifty politicians, actual stone-cold-killer Nazis, and a daring rescue at the end. And it's all true. Harding weaves an intricate and engrossing tapestry about the end of the war in Europe and the liberation of some high-value political prisoners who'd been stashed in Austria by the Nazis. There are heroes and villains, and tanks. Harding gives a lot How is this not a major motion picture yet? Stephen Harding's tale of World War II has everything you'd want: exotic locations, a sharp gun battle, shifty politicians, actual stone-cold-killer Nazis, and a daring rescue at the end. And it's all true. Harding weaves an intricate and engrossing tapestry about the end of the war in Europe and the liberation of some high-value political prisoners who'd been stashed in Austria by the Nazis. There are heroes and villains, and tanks. Harding gives a lot of excellent background and real insight into the Nazi thinking about keeping such prisoners alive -- and how their captivity both did and did not track with the larger horror of the concentration camp system -- and he humanizes every one of the dozens who tromp across the page. This is both a rollicking good tale and an excellent history, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the era.

  26. 4 out of 5

    S.R. Dixon

    I was attracted to the basic premise - what would bring German and American soldiers together to fight side-by-side? The answer, in short, is Nazi fanaticism even as the defeat of the Reich is inevitable. An intriguing premise for what turns out to be a rather average book. As resource material for the era, Stephen Harding provides a thoroughly researched book. Perhaps too thoroughly researched. The book bogs down from time to time with exhausting detail about the equipment and technology of the I was attracted to the basic premise - what would bring German and American soldiers together to fight side-by-side? The answer, in short, is Nazi fanaticism even as the defeat of the Reich is inevitable. An intriguing premise for what turns out to be a rather average book. As resource material for the era, Stephen Harding provides a thoroughly researched book. Perhaps too thoroughly researched. The book bogs down from time to time with exhausting detail about the equipment and technology of the day, and the background of many characters, and none of that plethora of detail makes the characters come alive. In this book, one can receive several pages of biographic information just for having been there, even without actually contributing anything to how the events at hand unfolded. Three stars, which I define as "I read it...it was okay...I can't imagine reading it again".

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carl Palmateer

    A curious story about a mixed up little skirmish in the short period between Hitler's death and the end of the war. A VIP prison housing eminent French personages is in limbo and thus in danger. Some want to use them to gain better treatment from the Allies, some want them dead. A strange collection of Wehrmacht, SS, Partisans, and US troops gather to protect them from an SS unit with orders to kill them while awaiting the arrival of the cavalry. Nicely done and with a sufficient but not overbea A curious story about a mixed up little skirmish in the short period between Hitler's death and the end of the war. A VIP prison housing eminent French personages is in limbo and thus in danger. Some want to use them to gain better treatment from the Allies, some want them dead. A strange collection of Wehrmacht, SS, Partisans, and US troops gather to protect them from an SS unit with orders to kill them while awaiting the arrival of the cavalry. Nicely done and with a sufficient but not overbearing filling in of details so one can understand the importance and conflicts of these VIPs.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Well researched and well written. My only criticism is that the length is a little short (173 pages) even after a thorough background and history on every participant and the castle. The fight, as it turns out was a small affair relative to the larger war, but fascinating since you had Germans fighting alongside Americans against other Germans, protecting French and other nationalities prisoners. Overall an excellent read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Niles

    There's more clashing of personalities than of military forces in this book. But the author does a great job of relating the setting and characters in a way that makes it enjoyable to read. History buffs will enjoy the biographical aspects, as well as just what an interesting confluence of events and people that this battle was. However, those who are not history buffs may find there to be too much history and not enough action. There's more clashing of personalities than of military forces in this book. But the author does a great job of relating the setting and characters in a way that makes it enjoyable to read. History buffs will enjoy the biographical aspects, as well as just what an interesting confluence of events and people that this battle was. However, those who are not history buffs may find there to be too much history and not enough action.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    A few weeks after Hitler is dead and days before the European war is officially over, American troops in Austria are alerted to the fact that 14 French VIP prisoners and several "numbered" prisoners are being held in the Schloss-Itter Castle. About 10 soldiers, a Sherman tank, and a handful of defected German soldiers join forces to rescue them in the final battle of the war. If you can get past the first few chapters, it's a fascinating, incredible, but sorrowful read. A few weeks after Hitler is dead and days before the European war is officially over, American troops in Austria are alerted to the fact that 14 French VIP prisoners and several "numbered" prisoners are being held in the Schloss-Itter Castle. About 10 soldiers, a Sherman tank, and a handful of defected German soldiers join forces to rescue them in the final battle of the war. If you can get past the first few chapters, it's a fascinating, incredible, but sorrowful read.

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