Monday, 10 September 2018

Weird War Two by Richard Denham

It seems that there is no end to the publishing cottage industry that is books on World War Two. There are tomes and tomes brought out every year and one wonders whether one day we’ll reach saturation point - that there’ll be nothing left to say or the reading public will just get bored. I doubt we’re there yet as this title, Weird War Two is testament. 

A collection of weird facts and stories from the second world, some more definitely concrete, some more myth, this is a very readable book that’s easy to dip into. To be sure nothing here is new as such, the author hasn’t trawled through recently released archives to discover some surprising and long buried revelation; nor has he interviewed elderly survivors of a previously unknown massacre (I don’t think he has at any rate). But he doesn’t claim to. Instead he has collected little known factoids, some amusing, some strange, some sinister, but all what might be described as a little weird (hence the title).

Despite the fact that I doubt any of it is new as such (and Googling a few examples that I didn’t know of, I wasn’t surprised to find they were indeed already known), it’s unlikely readers won’t learn something here. For an explanatory subtitle could well read: “little known and surprising facts of World War Two.” I doubt many know for example that the Russian strapped explosives to dogs trained to run under German tanks or that the Japanese tied bombs to balloons and then sent them on their way to the US west coast. Other ideas for bomb delivery included bats and cats (both of which in the end were never utilised). 

It’s not just bombs that the author writes about. The Nazi’s obsession with the occult has been debated for decades – and has led to numerous appearances in mass entertainment, from Indiana Jones to Marvel’s Captain America – but whereas Hollywood might exaggerate the Nazi’s interest, what is known and revealed here is that Heydrich Himmler sponsored an exhibition to find the descendants of Atlantis. There are more sinister section two, aspects of the holocaust and the Nazi’s vicious anti-Semitism are dealt with, as is Unit 731, the Japanese military germ warfare department which murdered thousands of allied POWs in experiments. While the title and concept of this book might seem relatively light-hearted, I must credit the author with treating these aspects with the seriousness and sensitivity that they deserve and at no point does he treat the atrocities committed with flippancy.

As mentioned, Weird War Two is a compendium and each chapter are self-contained factoids. This makes it a perfect book for dipping in and out of. There are many deeper and more weighty tomes on the war but for a quick and easy read, and one that will teach even the most knowledgeable a thing or two, this is highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars 

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