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Hitler's Final Fortress - Breslau 1945 Hardcover – 17 Nov 2011
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Had I been nominating a Second World War book as my Editor's choice this month then this would have been it. This full-length account is the story of the notorious siege of Breslau. Based on official documents, newspaper accounts, diaries, letters and scores of personal testimonials, this is the siege told by the men and women who witnessed it first-hand. - Great War Magazine
About the Author
Richard Hargreaves is also the author of The Germans in Normandy (978-0-8117-3513-1) and Blitzkrieg Unleashed (978-0-8117-0724-4). He lives near Portsmouth, England. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
This is a story that is unknown to most of us in the West. Much of it is extremely moving and horrific. The tales of the Hitler Youth boy who looked down into the mud and saw the face of a soldier who had been crushed under the tracks of a tank staring back at him and the Russian soldier who threw a young German boy into a house on fire in revenge for the death of his own children are particularly horrifying.
A fine book, excellently written. I found it hard to put down and would highly recommended it.
The book begins with a capsule summary of Breslau in better days before the war with Russia. In fact, the people of Breslau had fairly normal lives during the war up to late 1944, missing all the Allied bombing that the western half of the country and Berlin received but the situation started changing as Konev and his 1st UF entered eastern Poland.
Food and other essentials were running low, sadistic Nazi town leaders running amuck to control its people and doubts of winning the war crept into the minds of many turning the atmosphere dour though the propaganda of super weapons conditioned some into thinking Germany would still win the war.
Using many first hand accounts from citizens, city officials, German soldiers, triumphant Russian soldiers plus insightful prose by the author, the book is a penetrating look at the psyche of individuals and a country that has fallen to unbelievable lows.
The military overview begins in 1944 at the Vistula bridgehead, hundreds of miles from Breslau. In mid January 1945, Konev, the smart and ruthless commander of the 1st UF begins his last push to the German border with the quick penetration of the Vistula defenses and with each passing day and with each fallen village his armies conquer, the lives of the Germans in the path of this unstoppable Red machine is chronicled.
During the long siege which occurred in the coldest days of winter, the author clearly describes the impact of the many days of shelling as well as the days of attack had on soldier and civilian defenders alike and despite all the death and destruction Brelauers endured. After the surrender on May 5th, Mr Hargreaves tallies up the losses and provides the general results of the siege.
The story, looking at the lives of many different people living with death, destruction and misery while living under a nearly four month siege against an enemy that wanted to extract every ounce of revenge they could is quite a read and is highly recommended for people interested in the end of the war or would be interested in reading on how people cope under nearly impossible conditions.
(There are many Notes and an impressive Bibliography is further reading is desired.)
Hargreaves' book is the first full-length English language account of the Siege of Breslau and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the dying days of the Third Reich and the implosion of National Socialism. Quoting extensively from personal testimonies, diaries and contemporary documents, Hargreaves weaves a spellbinding narrative of the fall of "Hitler's Final Fortress". The book is well-researched and Hargreaves gives due credit to other writers whose work he quotes [notably the Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City and the seminal work on the Siege of Breslau, the ten-volume, German language "Breslauer Apokalypse" written by Horst Gleiss - whose personal recollections feature heavily throughout this book]. There are also thorough notes at the end of each chapter which cite the sources used.
First-hand accounts from both those defending and attacking the city recall the savage battles that took place in and around Breslau during the assault on this Nazi stronghold and the recollections of ordinary Breslauers are used to convey the horror of life in a city under siege. A city which is being pummelled to dust by non-stop artillery barrages and round-the-clock air raids. A city which seems to be permanently on fire. A city where 100,000 people freeze to death while being evacuated. A city where the regime seems to have turned against its own people and a city where even after the surrender the terror continues as the Russian invaders wreak revenge on the German inhabitants of Breslau - especially its womenfolk. There are also accounts from some of those Breslauers who took part in what must be one of the most desperate acts of the Second World War. With Breslau completely surrounded the city's Gauleiter, Karl Hanke, decreed that an airstrip should be built in the city centre so that the defenders could be re-supplied from the air. Dozens of buildings were demolished and a two kilometre long, 250 metre wide 'runway' was carved through the heart of the city. Built under constant shellfire at a cost of over 3,000 lives, the runway was completed too late to be of any military benefit and it was hardly ever used. One person who did use the runway however was Karl Hanke himself. On the day before the surrender of the city, the man who had given orders that anyone who tried to flee the city should be executed for cowardice, boarded a Fiesler Stork aircraft, took off and fled to the Czech Republic. The final chapter considers his fate along with that of the other Breslauers we've got to know throughout the book.
I found Hargreaves book particularly interesting because I am planning to visit Wroclaw later on this year and Hargreaves explains in the final chapter how the city's buildings and structures still bear the scars of 1945. Concrete bunkers litter the city and its outskirts and there are at least two of the huge, round "Hochbunker" fortifications still standing in the city centre. Most of the bunkers though are underground and it seems they are in various states of disrepair. What was Fortress Command is now, according to Hargreaves, "a rather run-down restaurant with a Russian-themed nightclub on the ground floor". Hanke's 'runway' is, predictably, now a massive dual carriageway completely out of keeping with the historic heart of the city. It is, perhaps, the biggest scar of all.
In summary, "Hitler's Final Fortress" is a well-written, all-round account of the Seige of Breslau, which will be of particular interest to those wanting to learn more about WWII on the Eastern Front or anyone who is planning to visit Wroclaw and who would like to learn more about the city's recent history. Definitely recommended.