On 5 May 1945 arguably the last ground battle of World War 2 took place. It was a relatively small and very brief affair by the horrendous standards of that war, but it made up for that in terms of strangeness.
In the early hours of the morning of 5 May a force of Waffen SS attacked a castle in Austria, Schloss Itter, intent on massacring the prisoners there. The attack was resisted by a tiny ad hoc force of US tankers, Austrian resistants, anti-Nazi Wehrmacht and the prisoners themselves, who were a veritable who’s who of the French political and military elite, including Gamelin, Daladier, Reynaud, Weygand and the labour leaders Leon Jouhaux and Augusta Bruchelen.
It is the only known time in the war when Wehrmacht and Allied troops fought side by side.
The Last Battle is a short but highly entertaining book, and very informative regarding the divisions and dissensions in French politics both before and after the fall of France. It is also a warm tribute to the American and German commanders during the battle, Jack Lee and Josef Gangl, both of whom could have ignored the threat to the prisoners in the castle but who instead risked their lives with the Austrian resistance to stop a blood bath.
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