In nations that were under Hitler's thumb during World War II, it was often difficult to know anyone's actual allegiance. There were those who truly believed in the Nazi cause, others who knew which way the wind blew, and some who put on a Nazi face while secretly fighting for the Allied cause. In the week between Hitler's death and VE Day, these different allegiances turned on each other as Allied forces swept in. The Last Battle is the story of one fight in World War II that you won't find in history textbooks.
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. Steven Spielberg, how did you miss this story?
You can read the story in an article at The Daily Beast, as excerpted from Stephen Harding's new book The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe. Link
(Image credit: Svíčková)