Five Days that Shook the World, Nicholas Best

Five Days that Shook the World, Nicholas Best

Eyewitness accounts of the final days of World War II from Audrey Hepburn to Spike Milligan

This book focuses on the five days from the death of Mussolini to the German surrender and the end of the war in Europe, mainly using eyewitness accounts to examine these events from the point of view of a wide selection of individuals who were directly affected by them. This includes some of the major military and political figures of the period, future leaders and celebrities and ordinary soldiers and civilians. Many are directly involved in the key events on these days while others saw their impact from a distance - to pick the two examples from the subtitle Audrey Hepburn from occupied Holland, Spike Milligan while recovering from wounds in Italy. Some of the more important figures didn't survive to leave their own accounts of these events (mainly the senior Nazis), so their activities are recreated from other sources, including other eyewitnesses.

The focus of the book is on the main events of these days - the deaths of Mussolini and Hitler, the various peace negotiations, the discovery of Dachau and Belson and the final German surrender. Best uses his eyewitnesses to tell this story, thus picking up on some interesting details that other accounts of the same period miss. The level of uncertainty in the last days of Germany comes across very clearly - as central authority collapsed and with Hitler isolated in Berlin it eventually became quite hard to tell who was in charge and who could legitimately negotiation surrender terms. Many of our eyewitnesses reported some fairly wild rumours, and on one occasion even the British press wasn't entirely sure if the fighting had ended.

I am always amazed by just how delusional many of the senior Nazis were in the last few days of the war, with so many of them seeming to think that they would have a role to play in post-war Germany. Himmler is probably the worst - here we see him go from moments of despair to periods when he seems to have believed that he might stay in charge of the police after the war! Surprisingly Admiral Donitz seems to have been just as deluded, and here we see him being convinced not to seek death in battle as he would be needed in post-war Germany! The idea that both men would simply be arrested doesn't seem to have occurred to them. Other Nazis weren't so deluded and there are plenty of examples of people attempting to slip away as the end came.

This is an utterly compelling book and an addictive read and I thoroughly recommend it.

Part 1: Saturday 28 April
1 - The death of Mussolini
2 - In Berlin
3 - Himmler sues for peace
4 - Nazis on the run

Part 2: Sunday 29 April
5 - Chaos in Italy
6 - Himmler looks to the stars
7 - Belsen
8 - Operation Manna
9 - Dachau

Part 3: Monday 30 April
10 - The United Nations
11 - Assault on the Reichstag
12 - Curtain call for Lord Haw Haw
13 - The Americans take Munich
14 - Italy
15 - Hitler goes to Valhalla

Part 4: Tuesday 1 May
16 - The Germans want to talk
17 - The Nazis regroup
18 - May Day in Russia
19 - Operation Chowhound
20 - Donitz speaks to the nation

Part 5: Wednesday 2 May
21 - The news is out
22 - The Nazis consider their positions
23 - Surrender in Italy
24 - Berlin falls
25 - Now that the Fuhrer has gone
26 - Germany surrenders

Author: Nicholas Best
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 312
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2012

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