Captured German officers, among the thousands who rushed to surrender to the Americans and avoid the Soviets in the last weeks of the war. Photo courtesy of the George C. Marshall Foundation.

The eBook:

Buried In Paper:

Fascinating and Poignant Stories Revealed in Actual World War II Documents

The 79th anniversary of the victory in Europe

Click here to read a chapter from the book describing the panicked rush of German soldiers and civilians to surrender to the Americans and avoid the Soviets in May 1945.

The Internet has made hundreds of thousands of pages of World War II documents available to anyone. But finding the interesting stories in the mountains of mundane, day-to-day documents generated by armies every day is a challenge.

“Buried in Paper” finds those needles in thousands of haystacks. Military history researcher and former journalist Mike Hanlon dug into more than 10,000 pages of documents covering the Western Allies’ race across France and Germany in the last months of the war and uncovered amazing stories of heroism, tragedy and humor.

Among the book's 71 stories are:

  • The return of eight German nurses across enemy lines in France, and what the American and German officers discussed during the transaction.
  • A captured document offering tips for German interrogators in how to extract information from English and U.S. soldiers, and whose information could be trusted.
  • An intelligence report predicting the German Ardennes offensive (which wasn’t taken seriously by Allied leaders).
  • A heart-breaking diary found at the end of the war written by a South African soldier who had been held prisoner for four years.
  • The incredible story of a 500-lb. bomb stuck on an American fighter-bomber’s wing and how his wingman saved the day—and nearly got himself killed.
  • What happened when a German armored vehicle mistakenly joined an American convoy in Belgium.
  • What the Germans ordered their soldiers on the front lines to do on U.S. Election Day in 1944.

Each of the 71 chapters starts with a brief introduction, explaining the chapter’s topic and its significance. Next are actual screenshots of the primary source document that tell the story, enhanced for easy viewing. The screenshots range from a single paragraph to dozens of pages. Finally, there’s a link to the document in an online database, so the reader can see the context in which the document appears.

Each chapter stands on its own; you can flip to any one and start reading without needing to have read any other chapter.

This book is perfect for historians looking for colorful vignettes to enhance their accounts of the “grand sweep of armies” across Europe, but it’s also aimed at the casual reader with an interest in World War II who just wants a good story.

From the book's introduction:

"The soldiers who wrote these reports never expected they would be read 70 years later; in many cases they were written immediately after a battle or incident and the writers had no idea what was coming next. As you read the actual reports in this book, remember that many were written on the fly in a French farmhouse or a tent in a muddy field, perhaps as artillery pounded away nearby.

"What is immediately impressive in these reports is the clarity of the writing. The army had some excellent writers, and their work is on display here. This might be the last war whose reports are easily understandable by the layman."

About the Editor

Mike Hanlon spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor at three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, most recently the Chicago Tribune. After seeing the Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Black Hawk Down” online series in 1997—and the revolutionary way the newspaper was able to mix text, video, audio, graphics and hyperlinks to tell a story—he left the newspaper business and went back to school to learn web site design. Hanlon is currently design director at a tech firm he helped found and lives with his wife, Marcia, outside Chicago. He can be reached by clicking here.

The cover of Buried in Paper

The PDF version of "Buried in Paper" is now available for free! Click the button below to download it. (It's a 125-megabyte download; if you have broadband, it should take only a few seconds.)

© Copyright 2017, Mike Hanlon. All rights reserved.