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Customer Review

on 13 December 2005
I have just read this book in the paperback version and was impressed by it's presentation of the events leading to the fall of Berlin through the eyes of the (mainly)German soldiers. I particularly liked the way some of the accounts overlap and present differing perspectives of the same event, for example the attempted breakout from Berlin to the west in early May and the fighting for the Seelow Heights. For me it puts faces on those that are, for many accounts of the battle for Berlin, merely targets.
It is a shame therefore that chapter 12 blows the whole book out of the water with a yarn that makes The Old Lady Who Lives In A Shoe look like a hard hitting documentary on urban overcrowding.
In it, Sgt. Major Willi Rogmann of the SS begins his tale in February 1945 by telling Hitler, in the bunker, that the war is long since lost. Instead of being strung up from the nearest lamp post like most defeatists he is returned to his barracks.
Come April and the Russian offensive, his battalion commander begs him to join in the fight as he has an order from Hitler not to join in. Our heros' sense of duty gets the better of him and is assigned a group of bandsmen and told to form a mortar platoon. Unsurprisingly his men have no experience of heavy support weapons but off they go anyway. The newly formed section retire for a pre battle drinking session in their quarters only to have the party gatecrashed by an SS Brigadier who gets drunk and fills them in on the true situation in the bunker making our Willi the best informed squaddie in town.
In the morning they march up to the Reichs Chancellery. As Hitler is down in the bunker for the foreseeable future, Willi decides that his office will make an ideal billet for his section and finds a box of cigars and a bottle of cognac in the desk drawer. That's what you call luck in the office of a rabid anti-smoking teetotaller!
Later on Willi has his boots pee'd on by a puppy belonging to a blonde woman wandering around in the ruins. He tells her in no uncertain terms to keep her dog under control. It turns out the dog walker is Eva Braun, Hitlers girlfriend. Could this be the sticky end for Willi? Sadly, no.
On and on he goes, pointing out the shortcomings of superior officers to their faces, conning quartermasters out of hoarded supplies to win the love of his men and civilians alike like a jackbooted Bilko / Robin Hood.
As the Russians begin to close on his positions Willi discovers a supply of heavy rockets in a cellar but does not know how they work, but again luckily, finds someone wandering around who looks like an explosives expert. What an explosives expert looks like and why he isn't busily engaged setting demolitions isn't explained but he is intimidated into showing Willi and his NCOs how they work before they chase him away - WHY?
Now an expert in rocketry Willi later stops a Russian assault destroying numerous tanks. This makes him a well known and respected figure who cannot be allowed to put himself in danger so he is put in charge of escorting stragglers back to the frontline. Again I scream the question Why? Why, when every combat soldier is needed, is a warrant officer required for such a lowly task?
Later in the fighting Willi is hit in the throat by a shell splinter. The wound is sufficient to almost stop him breathing meaning a several hundred yard crawl through the rubble to a field hospital. However after the splinter is removed and a tetanus shot our man is as right as ninepence and on his way.
As the fighting spreads into the Reichstag we are informed that mortars were fired horizontally to create holes on the bricked up doors. Mortars are fired by dropping the bomb down the tube onto a firing pin - they can't be fired horizontally. Even if they could the recoil would cripple the firer.
On the story goes with Willi saving the day left, right and centre until the inevetible capitulation. Willi comes across a large number of men assembled at a brewery. He joins them thinking they a planning to break out to the Americans but....
Willi smells a rat and barges into a room to discover the senior SS officer in Berlin doing a deal with the Russians to sell him and his comrades down the river.
Willi has a shouting match with his superior in front of the Russians before storming out to warn the men to a cry of "Bring him back or he will spoil everything!" from the SS officer
If you're writing comic strip dialog then have him say something entertaining like "Grrr, I'd have got away with it but for that pesky Sergeant Major!"?
Other officers thank him for making them realise what fools they had been and beg him to take them with him to the Americans rather than face Siberia.
At this point the book discribed a long arc towards the waste bin. With five more pages of this drivel to go I finally lost the will to go on.
Had Willi been writing this review it would have plopped in dead centre. As this is real life it missed by about 18 inches and slid across the floor.
To the authors credit, he does question the account and provides the citation for Willi Rogmanns German Cross in Gold from March 1945 the bravery of which cannot be disputed but this chapter, in my opinion, is 84 wasted pages. If they had been used for chapters of the preceding quality this would be an excellent book. Instead it is like finding a maggot in your apple - you forget about the good bits and focus on the maggot.
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