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Publisher's Summary

After the successful amphibious invasion on D-Day in June 1944, the Allies began racing east toward Germany and liberating France along the way. The Allies had landed along a 50 mile stretch of French coast, and despite suffering 8,000 casualties on D-Day, over 100,000 still began the march across the western portion of the continent. By the end of August 1944, the German Army in France was shattered, with 200,000 killed or wounded and a further 200,000 captured. However, Adolf Hitler reacted to the news of invasion with glee, figuring it would give the Germans a chance to destroy the Allied armies that had water to their backs. As he put it, “The news couldn’t be better. We have them where we can destroy them.”

In April 1945, the Allies were within sight of the German capital of Berlin, but Hitler refused to acknowledge the collapsed state of the German military effort even at this desperate stage, and he confined himself to his Berlin bunker, where he met for prolonged periods only with those who professed eternal loyalty, even to the point of death. In his last weeks, Hitler continued to blame the incompetence of military officers for Germany’s apparent failings, and he even blamed the German people themselves for a lack of spirit and strength. As their leader dwelled in a state of self-pity, without remorse or mercy but near suicide, the people of Berlin were simply left to await their fate as Russians advanced from the east and the other Allies advanced from the west.

The battle for Berlin would technically begin on April 16, 1945, and though it ended in a matter of weeks, it produced some of the war’s most climactic events and had profound implications on the immediate future. By the time the fighting mostly came to an end on May 2, Hitler had already committed suicide and the chain of German surrenders in the field outside of Berlin took off like dominoes. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 7, and news of the final surrender of the Germans was celebrated as Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) on May 8, 1945.

One of the most crucial aspects of the final fighting was that while some Germans gave up and others committed suicide, there were others holding out or trying to escape, and that produced one of the war’s most unusual scenes. World War II brought about the creation and breaking of a number of alliances, which meant German and Soviet soldiers coordinated together before bitterly fighting each other after Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941. Similarly, Italian soldiers began the war fighting the Allies until, in July 1943, Mussolini was deposed and Italian soldiers found themselves fighting with the Allies against the Germans. But neither of those situations truly compares to a skirmish fought in early May 1945, which featured Americans and Germans fighting together for the first and only time. And as if that wasn’t unbelievable enough, they were fighting the Waffen-SS.

At stake was an Austrian castle that had served as a prison for some of the most senior French prisoners of war, including two former prime ministers. The SS had been responsible for guarding the castle, but after the guards abandoned it with the war coming to an end, American and German soldiers who had already surrendered defended the prisoners at the site. Nonetheless, in early May, a Waffen-SS unit was detailed to retake the castle, almost certainly with the intention of executing the prisoners before all fighting ceased. Thus, the Battle of Castle Itter, an almost completely forgotten sideshow, would find Americans and Germans defending French prisoners against the SS.

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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