Here is a highly informative book that offers a broad sweep of the history of the international brigades and the roles they played in aiding the Spanish Republican government in its struggle against the Nationalists (and their foreign cadres) during the Spanish Civil War. There are also plenty of photos and illustrations to give the reader a basic understanding of the military units organized by the Comintern which proved under fire to be a 'corps d'elite', seeing action in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. This is a good book for anyone who wants a basic understanding of one of the 20th century's most significant conflicts.
Here is a concise, comprehensive, well-told story of the establishment and combat history of Germany's Legion Condor's fighter squadron component (Jagdgruppe 88) during the Spanish Civil War. Jagdgruppe 88 was the fighter element within the Legion (4 squadrons), which along with its bomber, anti-aircraft, and reconnaissance/transport units, had been sent to Spain in 1936 by Hitler to assist the rebel forces (i.e. Nationalists) fighting against the leftist Republican government in Madrid. Indeed, the war itself was to be a proving ground for Jagdgruppe 88, which had entered combat flying what was at the time Germany's standard fighter plane, the Heinkel 51, a biplane not far removed from its First World War antecedents.
Within a few months, the Heinkel 51 was found to be inferior to the Republican fighters (i.e., the I-15 'Chato' biplane fighter and the I-16 'Rata' monoplane fighter - both of which were supplied by the Soviet Union to the Republican forces) it encountered in combat. Consequently, the decision was made to send the new Messerschmitt 109 monoplane fighter (which represented in 1936 a revolutionary leap in aircraft design) to Spain for wartime evaluation and testing. This would be done in stages over the length of the conflict. (The numbers of Heinkel 51 fighters in the Legion would be reduced, til by war's end in 1939, only one squadron would be flying it as a ground attack fighter.) Indeed, as was pointed out in the book: "The Legion Condor had played a significant role in winning Spain for Franco, and the importance of the Civil War had demonstrated the importance of air power to battlefield victory. The success of every major Nationalist offensive and defensive operation was dependent upon clear air superiority."
Like similar books in the Osprey Aircraft Series, "ACES OF THE LEGION CONDOR" is chockful of photos and richly rendered illustrations. It will make a welcome addition to any aviation enthusiast's library.
A few minutes ago (it's now 9:29 PM EST as I write this), I finished reading this book. I felt both grateful for the considerable work the author put into travelling across the country (starting in the summer of 2003) to interview personally as many of the surviving U.S. veterans (men and women alike) of the First World War as could be found --- and thankful to hear these veterans speak of their experiences. This has a special resonance to me because my maternal grandfather (who was born in 1895) had served in France as a corporal in the U.S. Army in 1918. He passed away in the early 1970s (when I was a 3rd grader) as I was beginning to come into an awareness of what war was, courtesy of Vietnam. So, it wasn't until many years later, that I came to have a special appreciation for those Americans who served in the First World War and for the changes that war wrought on this country.
Many of the persons Richard Rubin interviewed represented a broad cross-section of those Americans (both native born and immigrant) who served in uniform between 1917 and 1918. While most of the veterans he interviewed (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) served overseas, there were at least a couple of them who remained in the United States. Indeed, one of them enlisted toward the end of the war and before he could become more fully integrated in "the Army way", the armistice was signed and he was told he could go home. He hadn't been issued a uniform and aside from receiving transit home, the Army gave him a certificate of service and a dollar.
The author also managed to interview a couple of African American veterans of the war. One of them, was George Johnson, a 111 year old living in Richmond, California in 2005. His Army experience was largely reflective of the disdain and indignities with which many African Americans who served in the U.S military during the First World War had to deal with from their white compatriots, and the general society. Mr. Johnson's case was somewhat unique in that, as a very light-skinned African American, he could have easily passed as white, had he so chose. When he speaks with the author about the experiences his brother had with the U.S. Navy (where he was thought to be white and treated as such, until in answer to a query one of his shipmates put to him, he admitted that he was 'Negro'), it was a very sad and tragic story. One that impacted on Mr. Johnson for the rest of his life and perhaps was the contributing factor that made Mr. Johnson later see himself as white and not black. The other African American veteran the author interviewed in 2006 was Moses Hardy at age 113 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. Mr. Hardy served in one of the U.S. Army "pioneer infantry" regiments in France which saw combat during the final stages of the war.
He was in one of the few African American combat units, for most African American soldiers, upon arrival in France, were placed into labor units. (According to the book: "...only 20 percent of all African American troops sent to France in World War I were used as fighting men.") This was reflective of the then widespread belief that African American soldiers were unfit for combat duties. (Never mind the distinguished service African Americans had provided the country as soldiers and sailors since the American Revolution.)
The book concludes with a series of interviews the author had with Frank Woodruff Beckles, who ended up as the last surviving U.S. First World War veteran. His story was richly fascinating, encompassing so much of the world in which he spent so much time between the wars, working on a variety of jobs.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war against Germany (April 6, 1917), I would strongly urge any one reading this review to pick up a copy "THE LAST OF THE DOUGHBOYS" and treat yourself to one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have.
Prior to reading "CHURCH OF SPIES: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler", the opinion I had formed of Pope Pius XII vis-a-vis the Nazis was that he was strongly pro-German (from the time he had served in Germany as Apostolic Nuncio during the 1920s) and was largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews during the Second World War. In spite of his intelligence and long experience in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, Pius XII (he was Eugenio Pacelli prior to being named Pope in March 1939) had struck me as a 'cold fish.'
But after reading this book, I am beginning to realize that, perhaps, there was much more to Pius XII than met the eye. "CHURCH OF SPIES" lays out, in considerable detail, the history of the resistance movement against Hitler, which began before the war among a number of the German Catholic bishops and lay authorities (along with some members of the German military - e.g., the leadership of the Abwehr or military intelligence) and was given added (albeit indirect) impetus by Pius XII from the earliest days of his pontificate.
Besides Pope Pius XII, the book brings to the fore a number of courageous, resourceful and highly astute individuals from the ranks of the German Catholic hierarchy (as well as the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and Wehrmacht (German armed forces) who formed the bulwark of a true German anti-Nazi resistance. One of them who most stands out in my mind for his amazing bravery and uncompromising commitment to humane principles, is Josef Müller.
Müller, a First World War veteran and lawyer, had his first brush with the Nazis in 1934. He had been arrested by the Gestapo in February of that year and charged with "a treasonable conspiracy ... punishable by death." Facing his accusers, Müller asserted that there could be no compromise between the Church and the Reich because "each demanded 'the soul of the man.' " Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Schutzstaffel (later to be better known as the SS) was present at Müller's interrogation and asked him if it were true that Müller had suggested to his friend Heinrich Held (the prime minister of Bavaria, where Müller was active in the Bavarian People's Party) during the Nazi takeover of Bavaria that Himmler be shot. Müller said that was so, much to Himmler's surprise! Himmler hadn't seen that coming. He was very much taken aback by Müller's candor. He then offered him a place in the SS. Müller refused, stating that "I am philosophically opposed to you. I am a practicing Catholic, and my brother is a Catholic priest. Where could I find the possibility of compromise there?" Himmler was flummoxed and awed by Müller. He congratulated Müller on his "manly defense" and let him go.
Müller would later become a part of the resistance within Germany and serve as a go-between to Pius XII.
This book, which often read like an espionage thriller, gave me so much to think about concerning the anti-Hitler resistance that, hitherto, I couldn't have imagined existed in Germany to the extent that it did. After all, once Hitler assumed full control of Germany following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934, I had long thought after having previously read in years past many other books about the Third Reich, that the Nazis had established a binding, absolute hold over the country. Well, that hold wasn't airtight.
And now that I've read "CHURCH OF SPIES", I would like to know more about the role of Pius XII and the Church in fighting Nazism during the Second World War. My curiosity has been piqued. [As an aside, I am still troubled by the fact that a number of Catholic priests after the War helped Nazi war criminals escape justice in Europe and find sanctuary in South America. Did Pius XII know about or condone their activities? I would like to know the answer to that question. ]
I can't rate this book with 5 stars, however, because the author neglected to include any photos of the principal members of the anti-Hitler resistance. (I would've loved to have been able to place faces with the names of all the resisters that Mark Riebling mentioned throughout the book.) For that reason, I can only rate "CHURCH OF SPIES" with 4 stars.