The Last Good War: A Novel

Paul Wonnacott


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Chapter 25: What's Fact, What's Fiction

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The Book

They were young lovers, caught up in World War II.

She was a mathematician who joined the early codebreaking efforts of the Polish Air Force. When war broke out, she escaped to England and became part of the Bletchley Park team that decoded Enigma intercepts--including the intercepts that helped the Royal Navy track down and sink the battleship Bismarck.

He was taken, by the fortunes of war, from his role as a Polish cavalry officer, through the fight against the Nazi invaders, to a Soviet prison camp, to Egypt, and then to England, where he prepared for the cross-channel invasion of Fortress Europe. In Normandy, he confronts an old nemesis--the Panzer officer who machine gunned his surrendering comrades on the first day of war.

The three main characters are fictitious. However, the novel is based on real historical events:

--The Polish interception of a German Enigma machine in 1929

--The treason of Hans Thilo Schmidt, who turned over Enigma manuals to the Deuxième Bureau in 1931

--Marian Rejewski's reconstruction of the internal wiring of the German Enigma rotors

--The early decoding of German messages, including the 1934 message that presaged the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler favorite Ernst Röhm was murdered

--The Polish disclosure of Enigma secrets to the British and French at a hunting lodge in July 1939

--The Nazi attack on Poland

--The escape of the Polish codebreakers--Rejewski, Rozycki, and Zygalski--to Romania; their spurning by the British Embassy; and their welcome by the French

--The development of early computers by Marian Rejewski, Alan Turing and National Cash Register, designed to decode Enigma messages

--The Sitzkrieg, or "Phony War," in the West in the winter of 1939-40

--The massacre at Katyn Forest

--The secret telephone calls between Roosevelt and Churchill. An employee of the U.S. embassy in London intended to send transcripts to U.S. senators to be used against Roosevelt in the election of 1940, but he was caught when he leaked the transcripts to Italy.

--The capture of Enigma machines and codebooks from German submarines U-33, U-559, and U-570

--The sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park, which played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic

--The accidental Luftwaffe bombing of a residential area of London, the RAF retaliation against Berlin, and the Blitz

--The heroics of the undisciplined but brilliant Czech ace Joseph Frantisek in the Battle of Britain

--The German attack on the Soviet Union

--The exodus of the Polish army from the Soviet Union to Egypt, and thence to Britain

--The death of Prime Minister Sikorsky in a plane crash at Gibraltar

--The ruse of Patton's "Phantom First" Army, which kept German panzers tied down at the Pas de Calais while the allies invaded Normandy

--The lightning thrusts of Patton's very real Third Army, which raced around the western German flank at Avranches and then surged eastward along the southern edge of the Germany army

--The macabre banquet of the German high command in France on the evening of the attempt on Hitler's life

--The closing of the Falaise Gap, trapping much of German Army Group West

The Author

Paul Wonnacott taught at Middlebury College, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University. He also served as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

His most important scholarly work was as co-author of Free Trade between the United States and Canada: The Potential Economic Effects, published by the Harvard University Press. This study helped to set the background for the U.S.-Canadian free trade agreement of 1989.