Category Archives: WWII in Europe

Book Review: God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours

Churhchill book cover

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours presents new insight into the life of Great Britain’s former British Prime Minister and wartime leader Winston Churchill. Co-written by Churchill’s great-grandson Jonathan Sandys and journalist Wallace Henley, God & Churchill details how the significant role of Churchill’s spirituality and Christian faith helped guide him through the twentieth century’s twin conflagrations: in the trenches during First World War, and in greater depth leading Great Britain and Allied leadership through most of the Second World War.

With God & Churchill, we are offered an exceptional book on Allied leadership’s cornerstone figure during World War II. So what makes this contribution to the collection of work on the twentieth century’s greatest leader unique and a ‘must have’? Sandys and Henley give substantive evidence for Churchill’s destiny towards greatness—his unwavering belief in God’s plan for his life and leadership. Additionally, the author’s use of substantive sources—primary and secondary—many in Churchill’s own words, speaking of his destiny for greatness on the world stage, fills gaps not covered in earlier works on the former British Prime Minister.

For 2015, the publishers at Tyndale Momentum have added God & Churchill to the growing body of literature on Churchill during another tumultuous period in our world’s history. Sandys and Henley draw parallels between Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and today’s growing terror in Iraq and Syria through ISIS and its growing world-wide influence. At a time when religious beliefs are the central theme for a different form of war today, the authors offer hope: “Here, then, is our hope for the cataclysmic time in which we live: The same God who brought forth Winston Churchill (and other deliverers) still rules over history, and he has a deliverer—or deliverers—for our season as well…. It might even be the ultimate Deliverer.” [1]

Sandys and Henley offer extensive contrast between what role the church was to play for Hitler and Churchill; such views which were the core of their respective ideologies—and their fates as the authors suggest.

As the era of the Second World War becomes more distant, research historians and writers continue to write more objectively, with less bias foregoing ‘romantic views’ of the war’s culture in modern memory. What does remain is a clearer view of Winston Churchill—‘warts and all’ as historians like to say. In God & Churchill, Sandys and Henley have done commendable work in adding to our knowledge of the popular wartime leader. British historian Geoffrey Best, Senior Member and retired professor at St. Antony’s College, Oxford in Churchill: A Study in Greatness, in recounting Winston Churchill’s state funeral (30 January 1965), decreed by the Queen and usually reserved only for royalty, writes:

For a former private secretary privileged to be in the small party that went with the family to the interment, there was no forgetting the ‘two single figures’ he saw from the train: ‘first on the flat roof of a small house a man standing at attention in his old RAF uniform; and then in a field, some hundred yards from the track, a simple farmer stopping work and standing, head bowed, and cap in hand’. For the millions who link with the funeral had to be television, the most unforgettable moment was probably (as it certainly was for me) the great cranes [grey heron; bird] along the south side of the stretch of river between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, dipping their masts in tribute as the launch went by, ‘like giants bowed in anxious thought’.[2]

Such was Winston Churchill’s positive impact on history and the world; a man whose leadership and legacy we may never see again.

God & Churchill will appeal to those readers interested in Winston Churchill, early-to-mid twentieth-century British history, as well as Great Britain’s role during the Second World War. Those who study leadership in particular will find the book essential reading. Readers and students interested in a deeper dive into the study of Churchill, the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education offers the following course (most semesters) titled: Churchill: Soldier, Politician and Statesman (Online). This is a tuition-based live class delivered via distance learning methodology and open to learners worldwide.

[1] Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours (Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale Momentum, 2015) 237.
[2] Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness (London: Oxford University Press, 2003) 327.

Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Sandys, Jonathan and Wallace Henley. God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours. Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale Momentum, 2015.

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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Book Reviews, WWII in Europe


Book Review: Colditz: The Full Story

From Zenith Press: Colditz: The Full Story by P.R. Reid

From Zenith Press: Colditz: The Full Story by P.R. Reid

Reid, P. R. Colditz: The Full Story. Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015. Pp.344. $18.99 (paper).

If 1963’s classic The Great Escape is among your favorite movies, you’ll want to add P.R. Reid’s definitive book on the POW experience, Colditz: The Full Story, to your library. First published in 1984, this new Zenith Press edition includes appended material not included in earlier editions. Just like The Great Escape’s co-writer, Paul Brickhill (RAF pilot, POW at Stalag Luft III), Reid (British Army officer) was also a prisoner of war held by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Colditz castle was conceived by the Nazis as an escape-proof POW camp to hold those prisoners who had repeatedly escaped from other stalags throughout Germany. Reid and a few other prisoners managed to escape the 12th century castle beginning in 1941 until the camp’s liberation in 1945. These richly-detailed escape attempts are the core of Reid’s Colditz.

Imprisoning so many bright and ingenious men in this atypical setting provided Reid with a wealth of stories to draw upon. His narrative suggests that the castle offered more avenues of escape compared to conventional stalags and POW camps in Germany. Castle walls, attics, floors all gave the determined prisoners of Colditz additional means of escape from what we’ve learned in Brickhill’s The Great Escape (also in book format). And yes, tunnels were dug at Colditz.

Reid’s chronological narrative illustrates that despite the continuous escape attempts, there was much civility shown the Allied prisoners by their captors. This was surprising and unexpected in light of the horrors and murder that had taken place in the concentration death camps.

New to this new edition is Appendix 5, “Prisoners of War in the Western Theaters of the Second World War.” Here Reid writes why officers were compelled to escape as compared to “troops”—enlisted men—held in their own POW camps. The Geneva Convention mandated that prisoners of war were separated into these two categories. Furthermore, troops could work “in factory or field”[1] for the enemy without repercussion of aiding the enemy.

In Reid’s view, troops were allowed these freedoms of work, in many cases outdoors, giving them the feeling of freedom, if only during the day. Officers did not have this option. Officer prisoners were entitled different treatment through the Geneva Convention. Most importantly, Reid adds “Further, it was clearly understood by the signatories of the Convention that an Officer would and should consider it a matter of honor to attempt to regain his liberty and return to his fighting unit—in other words to escape.”[2]

By separating officers from men as prisoners of war whenever possible, Nazi Germany effectively removed the leadership component of escape throughout the stalag system. At Colditz Castle, designated Oflag IV-C during the war, housing a prisoner population dominated by officers highly motivated to escape was a never-ending challenge for the German captors.

In “Appendix 2,” Reid lists “Escapes” by name and rank—successful and not successful—and their contingent country: British, Polish, Dutch, French and Belgian. I won’t list those numbers here however. That would spoil the reading experience of this important work.

This book is highly recommended. Like re-watching a great movie, you’ll want to read Colditz a second time to ‘pick up’ what you’d missed on the first pass.

[1] P.R. Reid, Colditz: The Full Story. (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015) 330.
[2] Ibid.

Reid, P.R. Colditz: The Full Story. Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015.

Scott Lyons


Book Review: The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

The Guns at Last Light, by Rick Atkinson

The Guns at Last Light, by Rick Atkinson

Atkinson, Rick. The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2013.

Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, provides a capstone to the third and final installment of his “Liberation Trilogy’, a sequential historical series starting with An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, a narrative history of Allied involvement in North Africa, followed by The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, which chronicles the war in Italy. With The Guns at Last Light, Atkinson confirms why his writing earned Pulitzer Prizes in 1982, 1999 and 2003 (for The Day of Battle).

The successes Atkinson has achieved with The Guns at Last Light are the result of extensive in-depth research, and more importantly his skill for writing creative non-fiction. His “Selected Sources” section comprises 28 pages; sources compiled from, and listed as: “Books;” “Periodicals;” “Newspapers;” “Papers, Letters, Collections, Personal Narratives, and Diaries;” “Interview, Questionnaire, and Oral History Transcripts;” and “Miscellany.” Not surprisingly, his bibliography is preceded by 168 pages of “Notes,” which confirm effective interpretation of his selected sources, by chapter.

But it is Atkinson’s flair for putting the reader ‘in the room with Eisenhower and Montgomery’, or ‘in the streets with citizens of Cologne or Essen following Allied bombing’ for example. To achieve the top spot on the New York Times ‘Best Seller’ list with a work of non-fiction history, the writing must be rich, colorful and engaging. Atkinson has achieved this with The Guns at Last Light. For example, in this narrative of the book’s most widely known history—Allied ships departing Great Britain for Normandy, France and the resultant legendary beach landings—Atkinson writes most imaginatively:

Ship by ship, convoy by convoy, the OVERLORD fleets slid into the broad, black Bay of the Seine. A vanguard of minesweepers carved an intricate maze of swept channels, demarcated by dan buoys agleam in the phosphorescent sea. Sailor and soldiers alike were astonished to find the Barfleur lighthouse still burning east of Cherbourg; among the tallest and most conspicuous beacons, the rotating double flash was visible for thirty miles.1

The writer’s ability to engross the reader with such richness contrasted however with his over-weighted digressions, occasional references which deviate from the era, and random inclusion of language not in ordinary usage.

Atkinson’s off-topic forays, however so slight, both add to, and detract from the book. One theme dominating much of the narrative is that of Allied leadership. While the continued struggle for power by Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery with SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) Commander U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower is relevant and interesting and worthy of inclusion, Atkinson carries Montgomery’s desire for complete Allied control following the Normandy landings far too long throughout the book. As a lesser theme it was relevant to the book as whole, but became tiresome. This had me contemplating the difference between new history, and trivia.

I found it necessary to put down the new book from time to time. Atkinson’s writing became tedious compared to similar literature on the subject. While I admire his Master’s credential in English from the University of Chicago, at times his writing in this particular work gives the impression that he is trying to move the reader with his expansive vocabulary. After numerous dictionary consultations, Atkinson had me longing for Stephen Ambrose or Antony Beevor and their less self-indulgent writing style. For example, Atkinson writes: “But even the bouncy sangfroid and the too-ready smile sometimes slipped a bit as his troops prepared to fling themselves into the Vosges.”2 Or: “A churlish, dolorous mood had taken hold, belying their station as the winning generals of winning armies in a winning, righteous cause.”3

In The Guns at Last Light, Atkinson occasionally digresses too far into the past when his narrative dictates precluding a scene set in 1944 or 1945. And this not always proves effective. In Chapter Five’s introductory paragraph, Atkinson, in describing the locale of a new command post for Eisenhower, writes:

Versailles had long proved irresistible to empire builders. A modest seventeenth-century hunting lodge, built above a fenny country village twelve miles southwest of Paris, has quickly grown into the world’s most celebrated chateau, an emblem of both the [ancien] regime and French regal indulgence. More than twenty-thousand nobles, courtiers, merchants, and servants eventually basked in the radiance of the Sun King and his dimmer heirs, crowding together in what one traveler described as ‘a state of unhygienic squalor’. Later, the palace had served as a headquarters for the Prussian army besieging Paris in the starving winter of 1870, when 65,000 Parisians perished despite eating the city’s cats, crows, and rats.4

If possible, what serves to make Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light so superb, at the same time slows or halts the pace for the reader too frequently; that critical pace and flow which combine to make the best books ‘page turners’.

Overall however, Atkinson’s final book in his ‘Liberation Trilogy’ is a winner. The Guns at Last Light will appeal to those keenly interested in the backstory to D-Day and Allied victory in Europe.

[1] Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2013) 53.
[2] 367.
[3] 389.
[4] 235.
Atkinson, Rick. The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Book Reviews, WWII in Europe


Book Review: The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion

New from Zenith Press

New from Zenith Press

By Martin K.A. Morgan
Published by Zenith Press, 2014


‘D-Day’, the June 6, 1944 invasion and battle for Normandy, France, possesses a rich and growing historiography. This anthology–in both book and film format–includes thoroughly-researched literature from well-respected historians including Stephen Ambrose, Rick Atkinson, Antony Beevor, Max Hastings, and Cornelius Ryan. While these prominent historians have contributed unparalleled research re-counted to readers via exquisite narrative, the literature has lacked a definitive photographic history on the subject. To this list of renowned historians we now might add the name Martin K.A. Morgan, author of The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion.

Morgan has accomplished an extraordinary task by providing D-Day bibliophiles clear, vibrant images to relate with their studied narrative of the subject. Narrative that had previously left the reader to his or her own imagination of places such as Graignes, France; Montebourg, France; Portland and Weymouth Harbors in Dorset, England; or Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France. When we think of D-Day, we picture U.S. Army soldiers fighting and dying on Omaha and Utah Beaches. In his new book, Morgan has not omitted the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard or Army Air Force. He includes photographs which bring to light their involvement and heroic efforts.

Morgan’s eight chapters that make up The Americans on D-Day include: “The Buildup,” “From the Air,” “From the Sea,” “On the Beaches,” “Pointe du Hoc,” “La Fiere,” “Graignes” and “Aftermath.” Each chapter offers a breadth of incredible photography specific to the air, sea, and land events as they unfolded and their aftermath.

Chapter 4, “On the Beaches,” gives the reader a true feel for what Cornelius Ryan described in The Longest Day: “These obstacles—jagged triangles of steel, saw-toothed gatelike structures of iron, metal-tipped wooden stakes and concrete ones …” Relating images from The Americans on D-Day to Ryan’s work, the reader now has an accurate impression for the effort behind Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’. In D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose, the eminent historian writes: “By early afternoon a majority of the German pillboxes on the beach and bluff had been put out of action by destroyers, tanks, and infantry …” In The Americans on D-Day, Morgan now gives the reader powerful photographs of this post-landing destruction on Omaha and Utah Beaches.

The Americans on D-Day fills a long-ignored gap in the photographic history of D-Day. Morgan’s contribution makes an exceptional companion-book to existing literature by giving the reader an array of photographic reference. But make no mistake, Morgan has written invaluable narrative as he guides the reader from the massive build-up in England, armada crossing the English Channel, the struggle on the beaches, and finally inland in the days following 6 June.

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