Published last week: The Last Battle by Stephen Harding.
In the waning days of WWII, American forces liberated Schloss Itter, a luxury extension of the Dachau Concentration Camp, housing 14 French VIP prisoners, including former Prime Ministers Ã‰douard Daladier and Paul Reynaud; Generals Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand; Jean Borotra, formerFrench tennis champion; Colonel FranÃ§ois de La Rocque, the leader of the right-wing Croix de Feu movement; AndrÃ© FranÃ§ois-Poncet, diplomat; Michel Clemenceau, son of Georges Clemenceau, and Marie-AgnÃ¨s de Gaulle, Resistance member and sister of General Charles de Gaulle.
As Andrew Roberts, at the Daily Beast, explains, the remarkable following events provide the perfect plot for a Hollywood war epic.
[O]n 5 May 1945â€”five days after Hitlerâ€™s suicideâ€”three Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. â€˜Jackâ€™ 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, Leeâ€™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?
The battle for the fairytale, 13th century Castle Itter was the only time in WWII that American and German troops joined forces in combat, and it was also the only time in American history that U.S. troops defended a medieval castle against sustained attack by enemy forces. To make it even more film worthy, two of the women imprisoned at Schloss Itterâ€”Augusta Bruchlen, who was the mistress of the labour leader Leon Jouhaux, and Madame Weygand, the wife General Maxime Weygandâ€”were there because they chose to stand by their men. They, along with Paul Reynaudâ€™s mistress Christiane Mabire, were incredibly strong, capable, and determined women made for portrayal on the silver screen.
There are two primary heroes of thisâ€”as I must reiterate, entirely factualâ€”story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovativeâ€”and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef â€˜Seppâ€™ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Ganglâ€™s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.