THE END of World War Two in Germany is summed up in one cartoon. Drawn by Giles and featured on the cover of the Giles Annual for 1945-46, the cartoon shows immaculate and be-medalled, monocle-wearing Nazi top brass, surrendering to a war-worn Tommy holding a mug of tea. The setting is a smoke-blackened, cratered street in a smashed city. With its subtle humour, this cartoon is, for many, indicative of the end of the war in Europe.
Peter Caddick-Adams recounts the last 100 days of the war in 1945: Victory in the West. He has used a lifetime worth of research, an understanding of men in battle and immense readability to tell a story the Giles cartoon could only hint at.
There have been books on the end of the war, on the battle for Berlin and the implosion of the Nazi State. You might read Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light, Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle or Florian Huber’s Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself. But there is no book like 1945.
The book deals with two major points. Firstly, there were so many different horrors awaiting the advancing Allied forces. Starting at Breendonk and ending at Bergen-Belsen, the further the Allied armies advanced into Hitler’s Reich, the more unsettling discoveries were made. The discoveries soon constituted a torrent. Labour camps, concentration camps and POW camps were overtaken, sometimes with the inmates already marched away and the smell of fresh paint in the air – all efforts by the Germans to hide their crimes.