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Ghost RIders

Ghost RIders

Mark Felton
ARRSE Rating
2 Mushroom Heads
This book tells the story of a daring operation by US soldiers to repatriate the Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School to Austria from their wartime home in Czechoslovakia before the Red Army could acquire them. The reason for this being that bloodlines hundreds of years old could have been lost as starving Soviet soldiers did what came naturally, or the Communist Regime started its own version of the Riding School. It’s a great tale, and had scope to be told at a rattling pace, with side stories of General Patton and his seeming instability, the relationships between officers in the German, American and Cossack Forces, and the individuals who lived through this ‘interesting time’. The author is a ‘well-known British Historian’ who has written ‘numerous books on military history’ so I was quite looking forward to a good read, despite this not being my usual choice of volume (one of Auld-Yin’s ‘surprise parcels’).

The first disappointment was the fact that it is written in American. Obviously for an American market as US Troops did the deed, but written by a Brit, and using Amerenglish was not a good start for me. For instance the 2nd Battalion was referenced throughout as the 2d Battalion, which reads as the Tuppenny Battalion to a person of my age. I assumed that ‘packs of Luckies’ were Lucky Strike cigarettes, but younger readers may assume differently! The second was the constant repetition of facts, sometimes even on the same page. For instance having described a briefing, including listing the vehicles and armour available for a mission, the author then felt the need for another paragraph stating what the force DIDN’T have. Despite this idiot-level approach, some abbreviations (IPW for one) were used without explanation or expansion. Also the language style is repetitive, and frustrating when you want to get on with the story and see how the various problems were solved.

I learned just how clever Stalin had been when agreeing the new European boundaries with Churchill and Eisenhower before hostilities ended – According to the author, US Troops could have taken much more of Czechoslovakia as the German Armies were spread so thinly, fighting on too many fronts.

I liked the research which the author had done, which included photographs, letters and documents from the survivors and their children, and notes about what happened afterwards to the main protagonists. The photos are included in the book and are fascinating. I learned that General Patton had finished fifth in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics, an aspect of his life that had hitherto passed me by. Some of Patton’s less-than-sensible military operations were also mentioned, which was interesting too.

I was intrigued at the reasons the horses had been moved from Austria to Czechoslovakia, and the genetic work being done on horses by the Germans at the time, which seems to contradict that being done on humans in other areas of the Reich.

Overall it was a book with potential to be a cracking good read, with a little-known tale of a cheeky yet successful venture behind German lines into what was intended to be Communist Territory, relying on good relationships between men supposed to be enemies. I found it a frustrating read, yet admire the men involved, and thank them for their efforts to save not just horses, but British and foreign POWs and German soldiers and civilians from the advancing Communist forces.

Five mushroom heads for the men involved, two for the book.

(IF anyone would like to read it, a small donation to Holidays for Heroes and a PM to me will ensure it arrives through your letterbox. Not one I shall read again!)

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