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Sacrifice on the Steppe, Hope Hamilton

Sacrifice on the Steppe, Hope Hamilton


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Sacrifice on the Steppe, Hope Hamilton

Sacrifice on the Steppe, Hope Hamilton

The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943

The role of Germany's allies on the Eastern Front is normally reduced to little more than a footnote, a collapsing line significant only in its impact on the Germans. This work goes some way towards redressing the balance, looking at the fate of the Italian Alpine Corps during and after the battle of Stalingrad.

Mussolini sent a small expeditionary force to Russia soon after the German invasion, and by the end of 1942 an entire Italian army was fighting on the southern front. The Italians were used to hold part of the long front on the Don, west of Stalingrad (along with the Hungarians and Romanians). The Alpine corps was originally destined for the Caucasus, where their skills in mountain warfare may have been of use, but they too were sent to the Don.

The result was almost inevitable. The poorly equipped Italians were forced to retreat by the massive Soviet counterattacks west of Stalingrad. Some units managed to reach safety, and were evacuated to Italy, but most Italian soldiers were killed or captured, with many more dying in captivity (interestingly the survivors of this captivity don't see their poor treatment as deliberate, but instead as a reflection of the difficult wartime conditions in the Soviet Union).

This a useful addition to the literature on the Eastern Front, giving an interesting picture of an army normally only mentioned in foot notes.

Part 1: Italian Troops are Sent to Russia
1 - The Invasion of Russia
2 - Summer of 1942
3 - The Trek of the Alpini
4 - On the Don Lines
5 - General Conditions on the Don Front
6 - The Soviet Winter Offensive Begins
7 - Transfer of the Julia Division
8 - Encirclement of the Alpine Corps

Part II: La Ritirata: Withdrawal of the Alpine Corps from the Don
9 - Retreat During the Height of Winter
10 - The Cuneense and Julia Continue to Withdraw
11 - Disaster on the Steppe
12 - Withdrawal of the Tridentina Division
13 - Out of the Encirclement - The March Continues
14 - Survivors of the Withdrawal Return to Italy

Part III: Prisoners of War
15 - Capture at Valuiki
16 - Marches of the Davai
17 - Prisoner of War Transports
18 - Prisoner of War Camps - The First Months
19 - Camps Suzdal and Krasnogorsk

Part IV: Il Ritorno: Returning Home
20 - The Homeward Journey
21 - Le Perdite - The Losses

Epilogue: A Sign of Hope

Author: Hope Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2011



The tragic story of the Italians sent to the USSR by Mussolini—and the only division of elite mountain soldiers who didn’t completely perish.

When Germany’s Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies—the Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive that commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide—the Italian Alpine Corps.

As a result of Mussolini’s disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, by the fall of 1942, 227,000 soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army were deployed on a 270 kilometer front along the Don River to protect the left flank of German troops intent on capturing Stalingrad. Sixty thousand of these were alpini, elite Italian mountain troops. When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammer blows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and “General Winter,” to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. Only one of the three alpine divisions was able to emerge from the Russian encirclement with survivors. In the all-sides battle across the snowy steppe, thousands were killed and wounded and more were captured. By Summer 1946, ten thousand survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps.

Based on extensive research and interviews with survivors, this is the first full English-language account of this complex, unsettling human story. Mussolini sent thousands of poorly equipped soldiers to a country far from their homeland, on a mission to wage war with an unclear mandate against a people who were not their enemies. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation, and altruism in this saga of the withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.


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I read this marvellous book by Hamilton and found it more awful than I possibly thought human beings could withstand.

The first part of the invasions of Poland and then of Russia were dealt with quickly and could be summarised as a typical war narrative however, the following chapters recounting the Alpini retreat from their recrossing of the river Don and their eventual retreat back to Germany was horrendous. The author describes in terrible detail the days that these poor under-equipped soldiers must tolerate as they dragged themselves through snow up to their knees in minus 40 degree weather in the depth of winter.

Some finally reached railheads and were able to return to the West however, to do so, they must tolerate being in railcars that demanded they stand for days with little water and fewer food provisions.

Lacking a nationalistic or idealistic connection to the Nazi's war in Russia and poorly equipped, the Italian contribution to the campaign became fodder at Stalingrad. A total of 227,000 Italian troops amassed along the Don. 60,000 of which were the fabled Alpini or Italian mountain troops. The irony that these fighters were used on the flatlands is not lost on the author or history.

The men were committed to each other but could not overcome conditions, antiquated equipment (rifles from 1891 and M-13 "sardine" tanks), logistical incompetence, lack of coordination with other forces, and subjugated leadership. That being said, they fought well both offensively and defensively motivated simply to survive and return to their country. They displayed a rarely seen humanity on the Eastern Front by working with and supporting the local population. While some were Fascists (not something the author emphasizes), they were not as militant on the subject of racial superiority and instead connected with the peasant population. In the end 85,000 of these men did not return. And those who did came back in such a state that the authorities attempted to shield them from their countrymen to hide the truth.

The author has an emotional connection to the subject matter as the catalyst for the book are her uncle's memoirs. Unfortunately, as a history it did not entirely work for me. The historical backdrop is missing, context is slim, and descriptions of the actual conflicts lacking detail and military insight. It was time to have this little known aspect of Stalingrad profiled and I hope to see other contributions that build upon this work.

Top reviews from other countries

This story of severe suffering for a bad cause deserves to be read by all those who think of Italians in the Second World War as the stereotypes of the popular imagination. Mussolini's recklessness and impetuosity in dispatching tens of thousands of ill-equipped men (ill-equipped here extending to the lack of hard-wearing boots, a vital item in the Russian climate) to the Eastern front. The author has interviewed many survivors of the Alpini and other Italian formations who were swept up in the Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad, and whose suffering extended in many cases not just to the two months of trying to fight out of the pocket in harsh winter conditions but also to a few years of captivity in Soviet labour camps.

Inevitably this is written from an Italian viewpoint, and some of the interviews stress the comparison between humane Italian treatment of the Russians (and the Russians in turn being almost friendly to the Italians, at least the ordinary folk) and the German harshness if not outright brutality. However this does seem of a piece with the pattern of other minor Axis allies on the Eastern front (for example, the Hungarians in some places apparently had de facto armistices with partisans) while German behaviour (encouraged by Hitler and his subordinates) towards the Soviet population has been well documented. And one Italian witness in the book does pay tribute to the military skill of the Germans and their discipline even in very adverse circumstances.

Of interest is the feelings of those Alpini who survived the campaign and/or captivity to return to Italy. All in all a worthwhile read, and worth reading together with "Hollow Legions" (the account of Italy's war with Greece by an Italian former soldier) to show what Italian servicemen had to go through as a result of Mussolini's thirst for conquest that was divorced from the reality of his nation's military and industrial capabilities.

British and American readers generally have some awareness of the actions of the Italian army in North Africa and Italy. But few are aware that Mussolini sent 200,000 Italian soldiers to fight along with the Germans in Russia..Mussolini was expecting a swift German victory and wanted many troops on the ground when the Russians surrendered and claims for new territory could be made in the share-out of the spoils of war. He was not particularly concerned about the quality of the troops or their equipment, only their numbers. Hitler allowed him to send troops, though the German Army did not want them. But they were useful in holding parts of the front line unlikely to be attacked. He later compelled the Hungarians and Rumanians to send forces to hold the line, which was a great mistake for it was through these that the Red Army broke through.

The Italian army at the time was composed of units of vastly different quality. The armoured divisions, and the mountain or alpine troops got the best equipment and training. The infantry got the least. This book is about the elite alpine troops, but the rest of the Italian forces got caught up in the general disaster that followed the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

The alpine, or mountain troops, were from various mountainous regions of Italy, and not only the alpine regions. The rank and file were mostly peasants, though the officers were more highly educated. They were trained and equipped to fight in mountainous regions like the Caucuses, but were sent instead to flat country along the River Don where their specialist equipment and training was useless. When the Red Army broke through, Hitler ordered the Alpini to hold their line along the River Don. This allowed them to be encircled.

The large part of the book described how many units of the Alpini fought their way out of the pocket. The bulk of the Red Army was pursing the Germans, so the Italians were surrounded by mobile troops and partisans. The Germans were more concerned at saving their own, and gave little help to the Italians, still in their summer uniforms trying to fight their way westwards in the bitter Russian winter.

One aspect of the book is the remarkable way the ordinary Russian peasants helped the fleeing Italians. The Russian and Italian people had no quarrel with each other. Another is the way the elite alpini stuck together and helped each other, and the way their officers stood by them. The infantry divisions just disintegrated. (At least according to the author, an Alpino himself).

The other aspect of the book is the appalling way the Russians treated the Italian prisoners of war. They were often placed in railway box cars, for months at a time as they were shunted around Russia. At each stop the corpses of those who died were just thrown out. In one car they kept their frozen corpses, propped up. for the Russians issued food, a thin soup, according to the numbers present.

Very few of the 200,000 troops that Mussolini sent to Russia ever came back.


Zum gleichen Thema

This story of severe suffering for a bad cause deserves to be read by all those who think of Italians in the Second World War as the stereotypes of the popular imagination. Mussolini's recklessness and impetuosity in dispatching tens of thousands of ill-equipped men (ill-equipped here extending to the lack of hard-wearing boots, a vital item in the Russian climate) to the Eastern front. The author has interviewed many survivors of the Alpini and other Italian formations who were swept up in the Soviet counteroffensive around Stalingrad, and whose suffering extended in many cases not just to the two months of trying to fight out of the pocket in harsh winter conditions but also to a few years of captivity in Soviet labour camps.

Inevitably this is written from an Italian viewpoint, and some of the interviews stress the comparison between humane Italian treatment of the Russians (and the Russians in turn being almost friendly to the Italians, at least the ordinary folk) and the German harshness if not outright brutality. However this does seem of a piece with the pattern of other minor Axis allies on the Eastern front (for example, the Hungarians in some places apparently had de facto armistices with partisans) while German behaviour (encouraged by Hitler and his subordinates) towards the Soviet population has been well documented. And one Italian witness in the book does pay tribute to the military skill of the Germans and their discipline even in very adverse circumstances.

Of interest is the feelings of those Alpini who survived the campaign and/or captivity to return to Italy. All in all a worthwhile read, and worth reading together with "Hollow Legions" (the account of Italy's war with Greece by an Italian former soldier) to show what Italian servicemen had to go through as a result of Mussolini's thirst for conquest that was divorced from the reality of his nation's military and industrial capabilities.

British and American readers generally have some awareness of the actions of the Italian army in North Africa and Italy. But few are aware that Mussolini sent 200,000 Italian soldiers to fight along with the Germans in Russia..Mussolini was expecting a swift German victory and wanted many troops on the ground when the Russians surrendered and claims for new territory could be made in the share-out of the spoils of war. He was not particularly concerned about the quality of the troops or their equipment, only their numbers. Hitler allowed him to send troops, though the German Army did not want them. But they were useful in holding parts of the front line unlikely to be attacked. He later compelled the Hungarians and Rumanians to send forces to hold the line, which was a great mistake for it was through these that the Red Army broke through.

The Italian army at the time was composed of units of vastly different quality. The armoured divisions, and the mountain or alpine troops got the best equipment and training. The infantry got the least. This book is about the elite alpine troops, but the rest of the Italian forces got caught up in the general disaster that followed the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

The alpine, or mountain troops, were from various mountainous regions of Italy, and not only the alpine regions. The rank and file were mostly peasants, though the officers were more highly educated. They were trained and equipped to fight in mountainous regions like the Caucuses, but were sent instead to flat country along the River Don where their specialist equipment and training was useless. When the Red Army broke through, Hitler ordered the Alpini to hold their line along the River Don. This allowed them to be encircled.

The large part of the book described how many units of the Alpini fought their way out of the pocket. The bulk of the Red Army was pursing the Germans, so the Italians were surrounded by mobile troops and partisans. The Germans were more concerned at saving their own, and gave little help to the Italians, still in their summer uniforms trying to fight their way westwards in the bitter Russian winter.

One aspect of the book is the remarkable way the ordinary Russian peasants helped the fleeing Italians. The Russian and Italian people had no quarrel with each other. Another is the way the elite alpini stuck together and helped each other, and the way their officers stood by them. The infantry divisions just disintegrated. (At least according to the author, an Alpino himself).

The other aspect of the book is the appalling way the Russians treated the Italian prisoners of war. They were often placed in railway box cars, for months at a time as they were shunted around Russia. At each stop the corpses of those who died were just thrown out. In one car they kept their frozen corpses, propped up. for the Russians issued food, a thin soup, according to the numbers present.

Very few of the 200,000 troops that Mussolini sent to Russia ever came back.


Dettagli prodotto

  • Editore &rlm : &lrm Casemate Pub & Book Dist Llc (15 aprile 2011)
  • Lingua &rlm : &lrm Inglese
  • Copertina rigida &rlm : &lrm 366 pagine
  • ISBN-10 &rlm : &lrm 1612000029
  • ISBN-13 &rlm : &lrm 978-1612000022
  • Peso articolo &rlm : &lrm 689 g
  • Dimensioni &rlm : &lrm 15.24 x 3.18 x 23.5 cm
  • Posizione nella classifica Bestseller di Amazon: n. 48,410 in Storia contemporanea dal XX secolo a oggi (Libri)
    • n. 52,321 in Storia militare (Libri)
    • n. 527,447 in Società e scienze sociali (Libri)

    A Family Memoir Brings Italy’s Eastern Front Tragedy to Light

    T en years ago, retired teacher Hope Hamilton began a memoir about her two Italian uncles that turned into a groundbreaking book. Sacrifice on the Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign 1942–43 is the first comprehensive exploration in English of the corps’ horrific experience. Fluent in Italian, Hamilton used interviews, diaries, and other neglected sources. “I wanted to tell this from the bottom up,” she says. “A wide range of emotions emerged in my interviews. Veterans said it was rare to speak about experiences in Russia. Some said, ‘No one would believe us!’”

    Your uncles were mountain soldiers—Alpini.
    They were second lieutenants, drafted like regular soldiers, then given the chance to become officers because they were university students with more privileged backgrounds than the mountain villagers they led. They were sent to fight in the Caucasus, but when Hitler decided to attack the Caucasus and Stalingrad at the same time, he sent the three Alpini divisions to the Don River. Some Alpini marched 190 miles, some 450 the Tridentina Division marched 800.

    How many Italians were at Stalingrad?
    There were 227,000 on the Germans’ left flank—170 miles as the crow flies, more because the Don twists. They were spread extremely thin, with a tiny mobile reserve force and gaps everywhere. They had very few trucks, and weapons from the First World War. Only 60,000 were Alpini. The rest were infantry, far less trained and equipped, with summer uniforms meant for Africa.

    Where was your uncle Nello Corti?
    With the Julia Division. In December 1942, the Russians broke through the Italian infantry lines southeast of the Alpini Corps. The Julia was sent southward to protect their flank. Nello was marching to Ivanovka when one of his Alpini asked, “What are we doing here?” Nello kept asking himself that during the month-long battle. They were defending a line in the snow there was no way to dig a refuge, no protection. Gradually he realized this was a dirty war with no point.

    What made him feel that way?
    Like many Italians, he empathized with the Russians. He admired how they fought for their motherland, with everything they had. Human waves of Russians were mowed down, then more came. Many were drunk. Commissars behind them shot them if they stopped. It was amazing the Alpini could hold the line, but they didn’t give an inch.

    How did they view the Germans?
    Most disliked them. Many Alpini had fathers who fought against Germany in the First World War. Going through Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, they saw how the Germans treated people, especially Jews, how they took over civilians’ homes and food, and starved prisoners. They quickly realized they were fighting a war for Greater Germany it was not their war. The Germans were so ruthless, it made the Italians more empathetic to Russians than their own allies.

    For example?
    In the villages near the front there were only women and children and the elderly. The Russians needed food and the Italians baked their own bread, even on the Don. So the women did their laundry or gave them eggs in exchange. The Russians were as curious about the Italians as the Italians were about them, and liked them. They would yell “Italiani chorosho” (Italians are good). They fed and hid Italians even during the withdrawal. Russian soldiers gave themselves up to the Italians, knowing that German POW camps were death camps. The Italians avoided handing them over to the Germans, though they were supposed to do that immediately.

    How did the Germans treat the Italians?
    For the most part, with arrogance and disdain. They thought of Italians as Untermenschen (inferior people). The Germans never gave them information until the last minute—if then. It only got worse during the fighting on the Don. They complained the Italians didn’t perform well, though without better equipment and communication it’s hard to see how they could have done any better.

    How was your uncle Nello wounded?
    In a southern battle in December, checking out an outpost the Germans abandoned without telling the Alpini. He was shot in the arm and continued fighting his hand was paralyzed, which he didn’t realize yet. Eventually he was sent to Kharkov on a hospital train, then weeks later to a hospital in Senigallia, Italy. When he arrived, he just about threw up from the stench. He passed bins of gangrenous limbs. Soldiers had wound dressings that hadn’t been changed since Kharkov. One peasant farmer had his fingers amputated with pliers.

    Meanwhile, the Red Army was encircling Stalingrad.
    Nello was lucky: the Julia division was almost annihilated. So was the Cuneense, which my uncle Veniero Marsan was in. There were 4,000 men left in January, when they walked unknowingly into Russian-held territory at Valuiki. There was no air reconnaissance. None of their radios worked. The Germans didn’t tell them the Russians were there. The Tridentina trekked cross country through the snow in subzero temperatures for 150 miles in 12 16-hour days, and fought 20 battles. Many of them escaped. Unorganized bands of Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, and civilians attached themselves to the Tridentina in a column almost 20 miles long, about 100,000 men. In order to fight, the Alpini had to set up roadblocks to hold this column back. It was a chaotic mess.

    What happened to Italian POWs?
    Veniero was among 70,000 men captured at Valuiki on January 27, 1943. Some went to camps on trains most went on foot in snow and subzero temperatures without food. Whether you survived depended on who you were with: a lieutenant named Vincentini tried to keep the Russians from shooting stragglers by pacing himself to the slowest. Often at night there was no shelter. They finally got hot food on February 20.

    How were the trains?
    They were cattle cars or freight cars with one tiny window and no sanitary facilities, no water, no heat. Veniero was on one. They stopped regularly in the middle of nowhere. Periodically the Russians came to remove the dead. Many men suffered from frostbite and gangrene. Sometimes they were allowed to get a bucket of water or snow. They drank urine. Some men were in these trains for 25 days. They talked a lot—about food, the past, poetry, books, anything to distract from hunger and stench and cold and lice.

    Your uncle ended up at Khrinovoje, a temporary POW camp.
    Twenty thousand died there. They sifted their feces to find millet seeds, when they weren’t eating garbage. They dragged the dead to pits and buried them in mass graves. Some Italians pulled gold teeth from the corpses morale and solidarity decayed as they starved. Finally they were moved to sorting camps, then labor camps, and were better fed and taken care of. Veniero went to Suzdal.

    What was that like?
    It was for officers: Hungarians, Germans, Romanians, a few Spaniards and Finns, and 700 Italians. Veniero saw the tensions between Italian Fascists, anti-Fascists, and Communists. The Fascists greeted each other with the Roman salute. The NKVD ran reeducation programs constantly. Most Italians were telling stories, playing cards, and making things to swap with peasants for eggs and tobacco. Cobblers made shoes for the commandant’s wife and her friends they ate well.

    When did the soldiers come home?
    Some came back in March 1945, the rest as late as fall 1946. Many wrote on their boxcars “abbasso comunismo” (down with communism), but many Italians greeted the trains with red hammer-and-sickle flags. There were a lot of brawls. In some places, like Rome, their return was kept quiet. They got no official recognition. Only 14 out of every 100 made it home. The rest, called dispersi, disappeared without a trace. It’s a sad ending.


    Sacrifice on the Steppe : The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943 by Hope Hamilton (2016, CD MP3, Unabridged edition)

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    The Japanese superbattleship Musashi was steaming east along with a fleet of other battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on their way toward what was expected to be a climactic battle at Leyte Gulf. At 8:10 am on October 24, 1944, Musashi’s captain ordered the crew to battle stations. An American scout plane had been spotted overhead. The fleet lacked its own air cover, so it had to endure the American plane and expected an attack any time. The fleet commander, Admiral Takeo Kurita, sent a message to his sailors: “Enemy attackers are approaching. Trust in the Gods and give it your best.”

    At 9:30 a lookout spotted a trio of what appeared to be more scout planes. Kurita requested air support from land-based fighters, but they never arrived. Less than an hour later the lookouts spotted the first wave of American planes. They were from the U.S. aircraft carriers Intrepid and Cabot, a few dozen torpedo and dive bombers escorted by 21 fighters. Within a few minutes Musashi’s antiaircraft guns were in action, sending rounds skyward at aircraft that plunged down to deliver their deadly payloads. A bomb hit first, but it struck the forward turret, doing no damage. Then a torpedo impacted amidships and four more bombs were near misses their combined effects were leaks below the ship’s waterline. Musashi developed a list of 5 1 /2 degrees to starboard, but damage control crews were able to reduce that to one degree. The ship still kept pace with the fleet.

    Tragically for the crew, however, Musashi’s trials had only just started. Within an hour another attack occurred a trio of torpedoes struck the port side along with two more bomb hits. The ship now listed five degrees to port and lost the port propeller. She fell behind the fleet, losing the protection of its escorts. When the next strike arrived, even the main guns fired on it, using nine sanshiki-dan, or beehive shells designed for antiaircraft fire. They had no apparent effect on this wave or the next, but more torpedo and bomb hits followed, leaving Musashi stricken. The goal had been to get the fleet within range of the American invasion force in Leyte Gulf and lay waste to it. The Japanese attack force would still arrive, but it would be short one battleship. Musashi sank beneath the waves just after 7:30 PM, a victim of overwhelming American air power.

    The Pacific War extended over an immense expanse, most of it water dotted with thousands of islands, making it essentially a conflict of warships and aircraft. In 1944, the American leadership chose to strike next at the Philippines, which would sever Japan’s link to its oil supply and bring the Allies one step closer to ending the war. Japan’s own war leaders knew this was a likely avenue of approach for their enemy and prepared for it, but they were fast running out of ships, aircraft, and resources and had to make do with what remained on hand. Both sides used intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, and radio interception to determine what their opponent would do. Deciphering an enemy’s intentions and deciding how to counter them is a complex and difficult process. How both sides tried to do this is well recounted in Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy (John Prados, NAL Caliber, New York, 2016, 388 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $28.00, hardcover).

    There have been many books on the Leyte Gulf fighting and for good reason. The battle is full of tough decision making, extreme courage, and hard-fought actions. What makes this new book stand out is the author’s extensive research into the intelligence and reconnaissance efforts that took place before the fighting. The work does an excellent job showing how both sides tried to figure out what the other would do as well as how the various personalities acted, setting the stage for the Japanese navy’s last major battle. The amount of detail included in the author’s assessments shows the immense amount of research taken from intelligence reports and the amount of work done to correlate all the data.

    The result is a thoroughly informative book that retells the prelude to the battle before delving into the fight itself in exciting prose. The author’s extensive knowledge allows him to add background information as needed. It is a complete retelling of one of history’s largest naval engagements.

    As Good As Dead: The True WWII Story of Eleven American POWs Who Escaped from Palawan Island (Stephen L. Moore, Caliber Press, New York, 2016, 368 pp., maps, photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, $27.00, hardcover)

    Palawan Island in the Philippines was the site of a Japanese-run POW camp in late 1944 that camp held 150 American prisoners. They had endured years of torture, disease, and starvation while working at forced labor. It was a hellish existence. Near the end of the year U.S. forces landed in the Philippines. The Japanese decided to murder the prisoners, herding them into small underground air raid shelters. These dugouts were then doused with gasoline and set ablaze. About 30 Americans were able to escape the flaming pits and ran for the relative safety of some nearby cliffs. As they fled Japanese soldiers turned machine guns and bayonets on them, cutting down many yet 11 managed to get away. Their ordeal was just beginning, however.

    The struggle for survival faced by these 11 men is recounted in dramatic detail in this new volume by an author well known for his works on the Pacific War. Using diaries, letters, court transcripts, and the official statements of the survivors, he has created an exciting, readable story of how these men overcame the odds against them. It is an astonishing tale of human endurance and willpower in the face of extreme adversity.

    Holocaust Heroes: Resistance to Hitler’s “Final Solution” (Mark Felton, Pen andSword, South Yorkshire, UK, 2016, 174 pp., photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $34.95, hardcover)

    It was 2 AM on August 16, 1943, and the SS was coming for the Jews in the Bialystok Ghetto. Operatives of the Jewish Underground noticed SS troops surrounding the ghetto and warned their comrades. The Jewish fighters had only a few small arms and hand grenades to resist their foe, which had armored vehicles and artillery in support. As the SS rounded up the civilians, the fighters attacked at 10 AM. They set off a mine under a sewer manhole, forcing the tanks back for a time. Luftwaffe aircraft strafed and bombed the Jewish warriors had no response to that. The fighting went on for several more days, varying in intensity but gradually turning against the Jewish resistance throughout the burned and blasted ghetto. Mordecai Tenenbaum, a resistance leader, committed suicide in his bunker just before the Germans captured it. He left behind words describing his determination and defiance: “We aspired to only one thing: To sell our lives for the highest possible price.”

    This concise but detailed history of Jewish resistance to the SS effectively shows both the danger experienced by the fighters and the boldness they demonstrated in the face of overwhelming attacks and extreme cruelty. Most works on the Holocaust focus on the plights of Jews as victims of Nazi barbarity. This new book shows how they could also be courageous and determined soldiers.

    Sacrifice on the Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943(Hope Hamilton, Casemate Publishing, Havertown, PA, 2016, 268 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $18.95, softcover)

    The Battle of Stalingrad is the classic struggle of Nazi Germany versus the Soviet Union, but other nations’ armies were involved. Italy, Romania, and Hungary all contributed forces that guarded the German flanks as the Wehrmacht drove itself into the heart of the city. All of them were crushed under the Russian tide when their counterattack struck. All but one—the Italian Alpine Corps, known as the Alpini. These 60,000 elite mountain troops held out against punishing attacks after they were encircled and even tried to break out, all during a terrible winter. Ultimately, however, they faced capture and imprisonment just like their German allies. Only 10,000 of them would survive the POW camps and get home.

    Though they fought for a doomed and wrongful cause, the valor, suffering, and sacrifice of the Alpine Corps is worthy of the retelling they receive in this book. The author sets out to tell the story of the Alpini “from the bottom up” and succeeds, with the experiences of many private soldiers, NCOs, and junior officers included, making it a human story above all. Enough higher information is provided to give the reader a sense of time and place, which blends well with the narrative of bravery and sorrow.

    Wasp of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds(Sarah Byrn Rickman, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2016, 440 pp., photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $29.95, hardcover)

    Soon after World War II began, U.S. Army Air Corps commanders realized they lacked enough pilots to carry out the mission of ferrying newly built training aircraft from the factory to the airfields where a new generation of flyers would learn to take warplanes into the air. A woman named Nancy Love gathered a group of 28 female pilots to carry out the duty. Later, a flight school for women trained more pilots to join them in this unglamorous but vital task. After production of trainer aircraft ceased, these women were retrained to fly fighters and began ferrying them to New Jersey so they could be shipped overseas for combat use. In all, more than 100 women served as Ferry Command Pilots, doing what they could to serve their country in its time of need.

    This is the author’s third work on the subject, and her expertise shows in the detailed narrative and clear prose. This subject has long been unexplored, and it formed one small step in the gradual sweep of social change in the 20th century, a phenomenon the war only accelerated. The dedication and perseverance of these women is shown to advantage, and the book is liberally illustrated with period photographs of the pilots performing their duties.

    Fighting the Invasion: The German Army at D-Day(Edited by David C. Isby, Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2016, 256 pp., maps, photographs, index, $14.99, softcover)

    Fritz Ziegelmann, a lieutenant colonel in the German Army’s 352nd Infantry Division, was abruptly awakened at midnight on June 5, 1944. Enemy parachutists had been reported nearby at Caen. As a staff officer for his division, he went ahead and ordered all units to an increased air raid warning. An hour later reports of several companies of paratroopers near Carentan came in. More reports followed, and German infantry was dispatched to deal with them but they were delayed when their French truck drivers claimed “engine trouble.” Over the next few hours a handful of prisoners were brought in, Americans wearing the patch of the 101st Airborne Division. Not long afterward Ziegelmann learned the beach areas were being bombarded soon a regimental commander reported inbound landing craft. The division staff began issuing orders, but communications became spotty. For a while it seemed the Germans were holding their own against the assault, but around 11 AM the weather cleared and hordes of Allied fighter bombers attacked. It was the start of a long day for the division staff, and the beginning of the end of a long war.

    Numerous books on D-Day can be found on any bookstore shelf what makes this volume stand out is its perspective. The entire story is told from the point of view of the defending German troops. It is a compilation of after-action reports from various German officers telling their piece of the story as they saw it on that fateful day. Each section of the book covers a different topic: the preparations, how the defense was organized, the invasion itself, and the counterattacks carried out that day.

    Before the Belle: The Chronicle of Hot Stuff, the First Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber to Complete Twenty-Five Combat Missions During World War II (Cassius Mullen and Betty Byron, Page Publishing,New York, 2016, 338 pp., maps, photographs, bibliography, $18.95, softcover)

    At 9:22 AM on May 3, 1943, a lone Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber named Hot Stuff took off from Bovington Aerodrome in England bound for the United States. It had to stop in Iceland to refuel. The weather was bad, and the pilot took his plane down as he searched for the airfield at Keflavik. It appeared once through the heavy clouds, and the bomber circled, dropping flares to announce its intent to land. Still the weather prevented a landing. The B-24 continued to circle until the pilot decided to divert to another airfield. As the pilot turned his craft, a mountain suddenly loomed ahead. Contact with Hot Stuff was lost at 3:30 PM. All but one of the crew was killed, including Lt. Gen. Frank Andrews, commander of all U.S. Forces in Europe.

    The authors present a convincing case that Hot Stuff was the first heavy bomber in the Eighth Air Force to complete 25 missions. In fact they maintain the bomber completed 31 missions and document each of them. Even if the reader disagrees about whether this bomber was the first to 25, the book is a fascinating look at the almost day-to-day life of a bomber crew and their aircraft, with descriptions not only of their missions, but base life, leave in London, and flights to other theaters of operation, such as the Middle East.

    New Georgia: The Second Battle for the Solomons(Ronnie Day, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2016, 272 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $35.00, hardcover)

    In November 1943, the Americans won the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a second turning point in the Pacific War after the Battle of Midway. Afterward, they attacked up the Solomons Island chain. They would fight the Japanese at New Georgia on land, sea, and air from March through October 1943. It was really a series of battles, with names such as Kula Gulf, Bairoko Harbor, and Vella Lavella. Air power would prove crucial to victory, and the skies over New Georgia were often filled with fighters and bombers engaged in equally desperate if unnamed struggles. Meanwhile, soldiers and Marines fought their Japanese counterparts in the jungles below.

    Many of the engagements, landings, and fights that took place during this campaign are worthy of a book of their own this volume takes a look at each and how these events combined to influence the final outcome. The author weaves a narrative that effectively tells the reader a complex tale in a simple, readable style. Sadly, the author, a history professor at East Tennessee State University, passed away before the publication of this work. The book is a fitting tribute to his love of history and skill as a writer.


    SACRIFICE ON THE STEPPE THE ITALIAN ALPINE CORPS IN THE STALINGRAD CAMPAIGN, 1942 - 1943

    When Germany&rsquos Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies&mdashthe Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide&mdashthe Italian Alpine Corps. As a result of Mussolini&rsquos disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, by the fall of 1942, 227,000 soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army were deployed on a 270km front along the Don River to protect the left flank of German troops intent on capturing Stalingrad. Sixty thousand of these were alpini, elite Italian mountain troops. When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammerblows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, and which then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and &ldquoGeneral Winter,&rdquo to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. Only one of the three alpine divisions was able to emerge from the Russian encirclement with survivors. In the all-sides battle across the snowy steppe, thousands were killed and wounded, and even more were captured. By the summer of 1946, 10,000 survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps. This tragic story is complex and unsettling, but most of all it is a human story. Mussolini sent thousands of poorly equipped soldiers to a country far from their homeland, on a mission to wage war with an unclear mandate against a people who were not their enemies. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.


    Sacrifice on the Steppe, Hope Hamilton - History

    When Germany&rsquos Sixth Army advanced to Stalingrad in 1942, its long-extended flanks were mainly held by its allied armies&mdashthe Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide&mdashthe Italian Alpine Corps.

    As a result of Mussolini&rsquos disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, by the fall of 1942, 227,000 soldiers of the Italian Eighth Army were deployed on a 270km front along the Don River to protect the left flank of German troops intent on capturing Stalingrad. Sixty thousand of these were alpini, elite Italian mountain troops. When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammerblows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, and which then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and &ldquoGeneral Winter,&rdquo to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. Only one of the three alpine divisions was able to emerge from the Russian encirclement with survivors. In the all-sides battle across the snowy steppe, thousands were killed and wounded, and even more were captured. By the summer of 1946, 10,000 survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps.

    This tragic story is complex and unsettling, but most of all it is a human story. Mussolini sent thousands of poorly equipped soldiers to a country far from their homeland, on a mission to wage war with an unclear mandate against a people who were not their enemies. Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.

    Hope Hamilton, fluent in Italian and having spent many years in Italy, has drawn on many interviews with survivors, as well as massive research, in order to provide this first full English-language account of one of World War II&rsquos legendary stands against great odds.

    About The Author

    Hope is a graduate of the University of California at Berkley, with advanced degress from the University of Michigan, and currently lives in Modesto, California.

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    PART I. ITALIAN TROOPS ARE SENT TO RUSSIA
    1. The Invasion of Russia
    2. Summer of 1942
    3. The Trek of the Alpini
    4. On the Don Lines
    5. General Conditions on the Don Front
    6. The Russian Winter Offensive Begins
    7. Transfer of the Julia Division
    8. Encirclement of the Alpine Corps

    PART II. LA RITIRATA:WITHDRAWAL OF THE ALPINE CORPS FROM THE DON
    9. Retreat During the Height of Winter
    10. The Cuneense and Julia Continue to Withdraw
    11. Disaster on the Steppe
    12. Withdrawal of the Tridentina Division
    13. Out of the Encirclement&mdashThe March Continues
    14. Survivors of the Withdrawal Return to Italy

    PART III. PRISONERS OF WAR
    15. Capture at Valuiki
    16. Marches of the Davai
    17. Prisoner of War Transports
    18. Prisoner of War Camps&mdashThe First Months
    19. Camps Suzdal and Krasnogorsk

    PART IV. IL RITORNO: RETURNING HOME
    20. The Homeward Journey
    21. Le Perdite&mdashThe Losses

    Epilogue: A Sign of Hope
    Postscript
    Composition of the Italian Alpine Corps

    REVIEWS

    &ldquo&helliptragic account of the fate of the Alpini, Italy&rsquos elite mountain troops&hellip Historian Hamilton tells their story through interviews with survivors, extensive historical records and archival photos.&rdquo

    - Italian America, Summer 2011

    &ldquoRaw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.&rdquo

    - Recollections of WW2

    &ldquo&hellipa ground-breaking study of Italy&rsquos participation in the Second World War on the Russian Front&hellip an excellent addition to any library on Italian participation in World War II. &rdquo

    - The NYMAS Review

    &ldquoWith the Italian Army often the butt of cruel jokes, this book sets at least one of the records straight. Hope Hamilton&rsquos account of the Italian Eighth Army on the Steppes of central Asia is compelling and informative. &ldquo

    - Books Monthly

    &ldquo&hellipa useful addition to the literature on the Eastern Front, giving an interesting picture of an army normally only mentioned in foot notes&rdquo

    - History of War

    &rdquo&hellip a well told story, complex and unsettling and Casemate have picked a rich subject which has been concealed and misrepresented, even in Italy.&rdquo

    - Military Modelcraft International

    &ldquo&hellipdraws on personal interviews, exhaustive research and the written accounts of Italians who participated in and survived Mussolini's tragic decision of Italian involvement.&hellipincludes good notes, is well indexed, and has a great bibliography &hellipIf you're looking for a good overview and an understanding of what the Italian soldiers experienced then you'll enjoy the book. I give it four stars. It is a must addition to any military historian&rsquos library. It is a good first volume to fill a long void of an English language account of the Italian involvement on the eastern front.&rdquo

    - Kepler’s Military History

    &ldquo..the rarely told story of 227000 Italian troops fighting and dying in Russia in WII&hellipdetails the Italian defense of their sector with tactical placements and actions in harrowing details of logistical failures, indefensible positions and bitter cold endurance&hellip&rdquo

    - LtCol Thomas L. Roberts USMCR (Ret)

    ". powerful and affecting human story. It is well presented and can be very highly recommended."

    - War in History

    "makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Italian involvement in the war against the USSR. Hope Hamilton's highlighting of the combatants' own experiences and memories, previously common only in Italian histories, is most welcome in this work meant for Anglophone readers"

    - Michigan War Studies Review

    ". you will see how Hitler's war machine and Mussolini's deference to it led Italian soldiers into a war that was not theirs against a country they did not want to fight. Sacrifice on the Steppe and its many remarkable anecdotes will not simply bring you in touch with your most empathetic side, it will make you thankful for every opportunity you have in life after traveling alongside a group of soldiers who had none.

    - Italian America


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Comments:

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