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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Review: The Sledge Patrol: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival, and Victory by David Howarth

The east coast of Greenland is a vast wasteland inhabited only by a few intrepid hunters. Technically a Danish colony, some 2200 miles away and geographically part of North America, the Greenland governor decided to cast the island’s lot with the allies, after Denmark was overrun by the Germans. It was of strategic importance to the United States and Britain who needed weather reports in order to predict weather over Europe. I didn’t realize just how far north the country is until I looked at a globe. It’s a forbidding country, uninhabited by only a few natives, and with severe weather.

A small group of Arctic-loving Norwegians and Danes protected the vital radio and weather equipment under very difficult circumstances. Ironically, the German captain sent to invade and seize the station was an Arctic climate lover himself and was sympathetic to those who lived and worked there. One cannot help but admire the hardiness of these folks who thought nothing of walking, often with hardly any supplies but a rifle to ward off polar bears, hundreds of miles in horrible conditions, thinking nothing of it.

The culture of these Arctic lovers and Eskimos was the antithesis of what was going on in the rest of the world. To survive they needed to be able to help each other and to count on that assistance. The prospect of shooting someone else or anything not for food was completely foreign to the Eskimos, especially, who had no comprehension of why the fighting was going on hundreds of miles away. The entire Greenland “army” consisted of nine (!) men tasked with patrolling an immense coastline. That they ever ran into anyone else is simply astonishing.

David Howarth has done a service of showing us how WW II was truly a *world* war and how it affected even desolate parts or the globe. Fascinating. I suspect some of it was fictionalized as the internal monologues and thinking of some of the participants must have been impossible to document.

N.B. The Wikipedia article on Greenland is quite interesting. It had been populated by people from Iceland until the Little Ice Age of the 13th and 14th centuries when settlements were abandoned. Study of bones shows the populace had been very malnourished. Growing anything must have been close to impossible. One theory, though, holds that they failed because of their Euro-centric thinking driven by the Church and large landowners, when to be successful they should have adopted the culture and ways of the Inuit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland The article on Greenland in WW II (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland_in_World_War_II) provides additional detail and led me to Sloan Wilson’s Ice Brothers which I will start this afternoon. (Gotta love Kindle and credit cards.)

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