REVIEW: The Last Battle – When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe (2013)

A Book by Stephen Harding

I first heard about The Battle of Castle Itter, the story that inspired The Last Battle, via a podcast called Lions Lead by Donkeys, and was utterly amazed that 1) I had never heard of this peculiar chapter of World War II history and 2) considering what happened, this has not as of yet been made into a movie of any kind. For those unaware, this is the only recorded instance where German soldiers fought alongside Allied Forces in World War II, pushing back against Waffen SS diehards that refused to accept defeat in any way. Holed up in an Austrian castle full of French celebrity prisoners, the exiled French Prime Minister, SS Defectors, and Wehrmacht troops, an American tank captain and his German lieutenants dig in deep to hold the line until help hopefully arrives.

“May 1945. Hitler is dead, and the Third Reich little more than smoking rubble. No GI wants to be the last man killed in action against the Germans. But for cigar-chewing, rough-talking, hard-drinking, hard-charging Captain Jack Lee and his men, there is one more mission: rescue fourteen prominent French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle high in the Austrian Alps. It’s a dangerous mission, but Lee has help from a decorated German Wehrmacht officer and his men, who voluntarily join the fight.”

Truthfully the actual Battle of Castle Itter was somewhat of a small skirmish, so this book only devotes a few chapters to it. The rest of the book goes into the backgrounds of the various players involved in the eventual engagement and the background of the castle itself for about three quarters of the pages. This makes the beginning of the book somewhat slow moving with the final act being the action-packed fight and it’s aftermath. Perhaps one of the craziest moments in the battle involved French tennis star Jean Borotra and an insane plan to get reinforcements for the increasingly weak defenders. He successfully scaled the castle walls, started a sneak mission through SS infested woods dressed as a peasant that would make Solid Snake blush, and his successfully intercepted a US tank battalion for assistance. Pretty soon the hundreds of SS soldiers were either dead or captured and all of the VIP prisoners were free.

The Last Battle is a short but fulfilling read that gives one of the least likely war scenarios in history a chance to shine. The book does fill a bit padded out with biographical information, but what we do have is mostly entertaining and interesting. The story definitely has earned it’s moniker as “strangest battle of World War II”, and that’s saying a lot considering some of the crazy stuff that happened then. If you are a military history enthusiast and yet to hear about this story, I’d definitely recommend checking this out.

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