Stephen Harding and tales of gusto in The Last Battle

Stephen Harding and tales of gusto in The Last Battle
Stephen Harding wrote "The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe"

I love history books – especially military history books. Which, admittedly, is a bit strange since I consider myself something of a staunch pacifist. I'm like a vegetarian enamored with Guy Fieri.


But military history is filled with strategy, lore, camaraderie and lessons – all topics I love to read about.

And Stephen Harding, a military journalist with a few titles under his name, has written a book about a group of people who displayed true gusto in the waning moments of World War II in Europe.

Andrew Roberts might have summed up the book best in his article on it for The Daily Beast:

Here are the basic facts: on 5 May 1945—five days after Hitler’s suicide—three Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Jr., liberated an Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol, a special prison that housed various French VIPs, including the ex-prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former commanders-in-chief Generals Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, amongst several others. Yet when the units of the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division arrived to recapture the castle and execute the prisoners, Lee’s beleaguered and outnumbered men were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as well as some of the extremely feisty wives and girlfriends of the (needless-to-say hitherto bickering) French VIPs, and together they fought off some of the best crack troops of the Third Reich.

Wow. Yes, please. I'll read that book. War, for all of its evils, can bring people together to do amazing things at times. It's why I believe (or hope, at least) so many people are fascinated by it.

This book – and the group of people filling its pages – is  yet another reminder of that.

• Going for Gusto is a blog by Joe Grace that looks for the awesome in life. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at

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