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True Stories of the Second World War (Usborne True Stories) Paperback – 29 Jun 2007
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The death of Violette Szabo at the age of 23, who had been a mainstay of the French Resistance, just months before the end of the war was just one small tragedy. She was shot by the Gestapo in the back of her neck. But she wasn’t the only female who took a notable role in the war. “Stalin’s Female Falcons”, led by Marina Taskova persuaded Stalin to let them train as Soviet air force pilots. One female pilot shot down over Russian territory had to be rescued by peasants who were all set to lynch her, but a Russian army officer driving by came to her rescue. Lilya Litvak was the highest scoring woman ace of the war, shooting down 11 to 12 planes: “Later that evening an army truck arrived at her air base. Inside was the German pilot Litvak had just shot down. He carried himself with with great confidence, perhaps even arrogance and seemed quite unafraid of his captors.” He asked to meet the pilot who shot him down and had replied that he would be delighted to meet such an accomplished man. When Litvak was introduced to him he refused to believe she was the real pilot. He was so angry to learn he’d been shot down by a woman that he tore the medal ribbons off his chest and threw them across the room in a rage. Marina Raskova’s three women regiments flew combat missions until the end of the war, although she herself was killed in action in 1943 at the age of 31.
The book also covers Adolf Eichman and the Wannsee Conference where the fateful decision was taken to persecute and ultimately murder 6 million Jews; the siege of Stalingrad and the sniper war – which comes with an intriguing love story; the astonishing story of Raoul Wallenberg, the who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing “protective passes” and ‘building’ an international ghetto where they lived and where diplomats from Spain, Portugal and Switzerland also provided safe havens and passes.
The final chapter covers Iwo Jima, the ill-fated island in the Pacific from where fighter planes attacked the large, silver US B29 bombers which passed daily to pound the factories and cities of mainland Japan.
At the moment I feel all warred out, so I’ll leave the third book in this series for another time.
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