Jyllandsposten (national daily)
Thomas Harder: Anders Lassens krig
By HENRIK GADE JENSEN
Published 10.11.10 kl. 20:42
Anders Lassen had a short, but dramatic life as a soldier in WW2. He hated the Germans of all his heart.
Denmark does not have many heroes, but one of them is Anders Lassen, the only non-Commomwealth citizen to be awarded the Victoria Cross during WW2.
Lassen died in Northern Italy in 1945, only 24 years old, and Thomas Harder – an expert in Italian history and culture – describes his short, but dramatic life, in a factual and detailed manner.
Anders Lassen was born in 1920 into a family of landowners in Southern Zealand. His father and forefathers were soldiers: When the USSR attacked Finland in 1939 his father joined the Finnish army, and his great-grandfather, Emil Victor Schau and six of his brothers died in the Schleswigian Wars 1849-1864.
Anders Lassen went to sea and sailed for the shipping company A.P. Møller (Maersk), but when Germany occupied Denmark in 1940 he joined the British armed forces. His extensive service in the Mediterranean takes up the greater part of the book.
In the Aegean
Lassen participated in raids against German garrisons in the Aegean and fought together with local partisans on Crete. In 1945 he went to Italy where he fought the retreating German army. At Lake Comacchio, South of Venice, he was killed during an attack on a German machinegun position – leading his patrol from the front, fighting fearlessly and killing several enemies.
»Killed two by deliberate and calculated shooting«, reads an entry in Lassen’s hunting log written after a raid on a German position. Harder shows us that Lassen didn’t actually succeed in killing those two particular Germans, but Anders Lassen fought his war with a clean conscience, and his courage and his efficiency impressed those around him.
He went to war to »butcher bastards « and he rejoiced in »every German pig I’ve killed «. One wonders whether there would have been room for him in today’s Danish armed forces.
The ultimate biography
As opposed to his British comrades, Andy, as they called him, was unable to communicate with people in his home country. During the first war years he was ashamed that the Danish government collaborated with Germany, but in 1943, when resistance spread, he wrote that »I’ve never been so happy in all my life, and I’d never had, nor ever hoped to receive, such a great reward for the little bit of good I’ve done in this war«.
Four books have already been written about Anders Lassen, but Thomas Harder’s is the ultimate biography. His book about Lassen’s life is based on almost 10 years of extensive archival research and interviews with those who knew Lassen.
Harder’s style is matter-of-fact with no attempts at dramatization or motive-guessing, but the events narrated are so exciting that it’s easy for the reader to visualize Andy’s battles. Harder’s book is a fine and fitting monument to one of the proudest figures of recent Danish history.
”Anders Lassens krig” is published at a time when Denmark is at war in Afghanistan where Danish soldiers have lost their lives, and it may also be seen as a reminder that war is a costly affair, and that those who gave their lives must never be forgotten.
Militært tidsskrift [defence and military history magazine]
By Poul Grooss, Captain (Royal Danish Navy), Centre for Military History, Danish Defence Academy.
Among the many books on WW2 which have appeared in recent years this one is something special, for a number of reasons: The author is Danish, he is phenomenally capable, and the main character is Danish.
The book’s main character is Anders Lassen, but Harder’s book is not a biography. By way of introduction the reader is told about Anders Lassen’s childhood, youth and family. The book is entitled” Anders Lassen’s War” and carries the subtitle ”9 April 1940 – 9 April 1945”, and it follows a number of different “tracks”. We follow the young man who went to sea in 1939 and observed the war from a distance. On the 9th of April 1940 [when Denmark was occupied by Germany] the main character is personally engaged in the war. He is very patriotic, and he develops a very strong and fanatical hatred of the Germans. He enlists in the British armed forces, and is selected – on a somewhat confused background – for a form of secret service which even his recruiters don’t know about.
Lassen comes into contact with the SOE and the ”Commando-environment” and here he finds his proper place. His military training, which comprises i.a. parachuting, shows him to be very talented as a commando soldier. In the early part of the war Britain tries to compensate for its inferiority in regular forces by creating “irregular units” with the main purpose of tying down strong German forces which might otherwise have been employed elsewhere.
This is where the different ”tracks” come into play: The author manages to describe the conduct of the war, the overall strategic decision-making at Government level, the operational dispositions and, especially, the British situation. In order to compensate for their lack of land forces the British face the Germans with perceived threats based on deception, often at the strategic level as well as at the tactical level.
The amazing thing about this book is that the whole thing is explained so simply and with such a grasp of the big picture – and what is even more remarkable: It is done correctly! Even the use of military terminology is faultless, which is very rare in the book business. The author’s research must have been very thorough and time consuming. The book has extensive notes and a large number of good illustrations. This makes it easy for the reader to understand the dispositions made, even though the people involved back then were not supplied with many details. They were just given orders.
Through the many ”tracks” the reader learns about the relationship between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the conduct of the war, the need to relieve the Eastern Front, general supply problems, choice of operational areas, training problems, weapons, etc. The book is full of good details and examples. For instance the author mentions that when Hitler decided to move an armoured division from the Eastern Front to the Mediterranean area this required 160 trains and 9 ½ days!
After the initial sketch of Anders Lassen’s situation and an account of his training as a commando, we follow his adventures in Africa and later on the French Channel Coast. From there he moves on to the Mediterranean where a critical situation in the Aegean is solved through the employment of small commando units. Here Lassen reaches the rank of Major and earns the Military Cross (a decoration for gallantry given only to officers)”with two Bars”, i.e. three times.
The description of Lassen is based on available material, and the reader is able to form an opinion of a man who – had he survived the last month of the War – would probably have found it very difficult to adapt to a life in peacetime. The author does not mince words when he describes life among the commandos. One of the first books about Anders Lassen was written by his mother in 1947, and Thomas Harder probably draws a more nuanced picture of Lassen. His account is full of fights, women, an abundance of liquor, a relaxed attitude to money (other people’s/the Government’s), a probable abuse of amphetamine, guns, knives, and explosives in huge quantities.
Having said this, it should also be said that the book gives us a picture of a young man who wanted to contribute to the liberation of his country. He had really wished to be trained as a saboteur and be parachuted into Denmark, but his work for the Allied cause came to be done done faraway. His last, heroic deed in Northern Italy in April 1945 cost him his life, and posthumously – as the only non-Commonwealth citizen during the War – he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest British decoration for valour. With his skill, professionalism, and courage he brought Denmark honour, and it is a good thing that Thomas Harder has erected this memorial to him.
Berlingske Tidende (national daily)
The inconvenient Hero
By Bent Blüdnikow
Sunday, 14. November 2010
5 out of 6 possible
He was a magnificent warrior, but not always a pleasant person. Thomas Harder’s new book brilliantly tells the tale of Anders Lassen, the Danish WW2 war hero who died in battle and was awarded the Victoria Cross. And the author does nothing to conceal that Lassen’s was a fragmented personality.
As the only non-Commonwealth citizen during WW2, Anders Lassen was awarded the highest British decoration for bravery in battle, The Victoria Cross, in recognition of his death-defying commando raids in Greece and Italy. His comrades, who fought at his side, never doubted his incredible courage, his natural gift for determined fighting, his strategic skills and jesting camaraderie even in the heat of battle, and he died during one of his commando raids in Italy shortly before to the end of the war. Today a bust in his honour is placed in front of the Danish Resistance Museum, thus reminding us, that even Danes were indeed able of heroic acts during the war.
But Anders Lassen, who is the subject og Thomas Harder’s new biography, »Anders Lassens War 9. April 1940 - 9. April 1945«, wasn’t just a nice bloke with a gift for fighting. He was a split personality, a fact which Thomas Harder’s book does nothing to conceal.
Anders Lassen was born 1920 as the son of Army Captain Emil Lassen. The family was upper class with a history of adventure and great military performances. Members of the family had fought bravely during the 19th century Schleswigian wars, and young Anders was raised in a spirit of strong patriotism. When WW2 broke out he was working as a young seaman on a Danish merchant ship, but he and his shipmates mutinied and shortly after he joined the British Armed Forces. It quickly dawned on the British, that young Anders was born to do secret commando raids behind enemy lines, and soon he was thrown into numerous dangerous missions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In Thomas Harder’s biography, one of Anders Lassenss Italian comrades is quoted ad saying: “He had the character of a first rate soldier and reacted in a flash. I never saw Andy hesitate to open fire, and as such he could have been labeled a killing machine; but that was the only way to survive.”
Also, one of Anders Lassen’s British officers wrote about him: ”A very youthful looking person with a gentle voice; which gave a somewhat false impression of him! I still believe that he was one of the toughest and bravest men I have ever had the honour of knowing. Even in the SBS (the British Special Boat Service), which were handpicked, hardened men who hit the Germans hard with everything they had at each given opportunity, he succeeded in standing out. I can’t imagine any higher praise.”
DEATH IN ITALY
Thomas Harder’s new book offers a number of battle scenarios in which Anders Lassen performed the art of war with excruciating efficiency. .
Be it in the Dodecanese, in Crete or in Italy, he led his men with incredible bravery, skill and deadly efficiency. In the island of Santorini Anders Lassen and his men landed in order to clean the island of Germans and Italians, in total a force of approximately 50, and together with his second in command, Kasoulis, Lassen decided to attack them in the town of Thira.
With Lassen as point man the 12 men tiptoed up the stairs in the building, where both Germans and Italians were based. On Lassen’s command, the door was kicked in and the attack launched, however the enemy were prepared, and Lt. Kasoulis was instantly killed and several others wounded. The raiders pulled back and Lassen lead the remaining group to the back of the building, where they found their way into a dining room with three doors, which they kicked in and threw in grenades into the three rooms. Most of the defenders were killed, but Lassen, who was devastated by Kasoulis’ death, still went from room to room and threw grenades into all of them. Only when he was convinced that all enemies were dead, he stopped the bloodbath and gathered his surviving men on the terrace in front of the building.
This was one of his minor attacks, but it serves to illustrate his uncompromising attitude towards the enemy. After a large number of daring missions, Anders Lassen was promoted Major. In April 1945 he and his men were sent on a patrol in Italy with the purpose of attacking the German positions at the Northern part of the Lake Commachio, thus giving the impression that the 8th Arny’s main attack northwards would be launched in that area.
The Germans discovered Lassen’s patrol on a narrow pathway on a dike and opened up with everything they had. The small force was about to succumb, but suddenly Anders Lassen made a move singlehandedly and in a hail of bullets he managed to destroy two of the three German machine gun positions. The group continued forward even though several were wounded and a few had been killed.
Andes Lassen was the point man 100 meters ahead of the remaining group as another pillbox surrendered, but as Lassen moved forward to accept the surrender, yet another machine gun position started firing and wounded him mortally. In spite of his wounds, he still managed to throw a couple of grenades into the position, killing the remaining Germans.
For his bravery on this foggy morning in Commachio Anders Lassen was awarded the highest British Order, The Victoria Cross, which is now on display – together with his many other medals – at the Danish Resistance Museum.
A SPLIT PERSONALITY
So, had Thomas Harder’s book been just another celebration of a brave Danish hero, this would have been an appropriate place to end this review. But it is so much more, as Lassen doesn’t quite fit into the mold of the typical WW2 Cartoon hero. Actually he sometimes appears to be a man who wasn’t all that agreeable. Or maybe he was the kind of hero, who today would be reported to the police and/or frozen out by the ‘right’ kind of people in the establishment.
Varinka Wichfeld, who would later distinguished herself as a brave resistance fighter, met him as a young man and wrote of him, that she thought him ‘unpleasant, brutish and aggressive’. A colleague of his while sailing on the A.P. Møller-Maersk ship as a young man wrote, that ’Andy was a smart kid, but he often used his superior physique to persuade the others to do as he wished’. He shared the racist attitude of his times, maybe even more than most, and in his hunting log, he wrote about the ‘black bastards’ after his adventures in West Africa early in the war.
He seduced and charmed the panties off a large number of singers, high class women and wives wherever he went and it’s quite evident, that he was enormously self assured, bordering on arrogant.
One of his British comrades in arms wrote about the SBS: ”We were all arrogant bastards, but ‘Andy’ even more than the rest of us.” He could fall into fits of white hot anger, so even his closest friends became scared. He was convinced that it was his right and duty to kill the Germans he met in battle, so none of these killings could have been of any moral concern to him. He even wrote that he had an urge to ‘butcher the bastards’ and ’…now I know for the first time that I have truly fought for Denmark and every German bastard I killed was an enemy of my Country!”
AN INCONVENIENT HERO
Thomas Harder has based his book on four previous biographies, but has also delved deep into the archives himself and added vital new evidence to the portrait of this extraordinary man. It is a detailed and extremely well written book about the wild life of a young man who lived only to be 24 years old. Had he lived, he would probably not have been by the politically correct elites, and many would have considered him an anachronism. But what are we to do with inconvenient heroes? War is a bloody business, and even though spin doctors work round the clock to make it look decent, brutal actions must often be carried out in a manner, which is regarded as barbaric seen from the point view of our civilized society.
But Anders Lassen wasn’t solely a bloodthirsty warrior and an arrogant bastard. He also went to great lengths to help the local population in the Greek islands, he showed great concern and compassion for his comrades and men, and he was a loving son and brother. He possessed all these very human qualities and weaknesses, and that is exactly what makes this book so fascinating.
Dagbladet Arbejderen [Socialist daily]
Review by Bjarne Nielsen
26 November 2010
A Dane Goes to War
On the one hand he was a Rambo-clone. Om the other he was an ardent anti-Fascist. The book on Anders Lassen is both exciting and instructive.
Anders Lassen came from a military family with several war heroes among his ancestors. He spent his boyhood running around his parental estate of Bækkeskov near Præstø on Southern Zealand, playing Tarzan with bow and arrow. War-games and the woods were his element. Later on, Anders Lassen became the most decorated Danish soldier of all times. The story of his life is most unusual which justifies this blockbuster of a biography.
Anders Lassen left school to go to sea and the book contains many interesting stories from this period of his life. Lassen was only 20 years old in 1940 when he joined the British Special Forces to participate in the struggle against Nazism.
The book is packed with amazing stories of war. Among the most exciting are the accounts of the capture of the entire German garrison on the Channel island of Sark and of the fighting on Crete.
Anders Lassen was killed in combat in Northern Italy on April 9th 1945, the fifth anniversary of the German occupation of Denmark and just a few weeks before the liberation. As the only non-Commonwealth citizen Anders Lassen was awarded the Victoria Cross, and he received the Military Cross three times.
Thomas Harder’s book contains interesting chapters on how Lassen was trained for guerrilla warfare by the Special Operations Executive. The SOE was a sabotage organization invented by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”, but later on its task became to prevent the Communists from gaining power wherever possible, i.e. in Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, and Albania
As a member of the Small Scale Raiding Force Anders Lassen participated in several commando raids against German garrisons on the occupied Channels Islands, and as a member of the Special Boat Service he took part in even more attacks on German and Italian forces in the Aegean. On several Greek islands Lassen is remembered as a liberator.
Like Thomas Harder’s previous book, Den danske partisan [on the Danish Roman Catholic priest and monk, Arndt Paul Lauritzen (Paolo il Danese) who became a British spy and the commander of an Italian Catholic partisan brigade in 1944-45] the book on Lassen is well written and thoroughly researched, although it tends to glorify its subject. The main focus is on the period 9th April 1940-9th April 1945.
Anders Lassen’s krig weaves Lassen’s story into the wider context of politics, strategy, propaganda, intelligence, military technology etc. which makes it an excellent account of the war. The book offers a unique account of Lassen’s war within the great war.
Since childhood Lassen was Rambo-clone, and one may fear what various soldiers may make of his exploits. However the book is very much to be recommended, not only because it reminds us that in the struggle against Fascism everybody counts, but also because it gives an excellent image of a contribution to the war which has rarely been documented.
A number of books on Anders Lassen have been published over the years, of these his mother’s Sømand og Soldat (Anders Lassen, V.C.), published in 1949, is the most well-known. There is no doubt, however, that Thomas Harder’s book is to be recommended the most, as it places Anders Lassen’s struggle in a wider context.
A bust of Anders Lassen has been erected in front of the Resistance Museum in Copenhagen.
Ekstrabladet (National tabloid daily)
Biography - A Brave Man
Impressive biography of Danish war hero Anders Lassen
Thomas Harder: Anders Lassens krig 592 pages, 400 DKK. Informations Forlag
By Hans Engell (former Minister of Defence and former Editor in Chief of Ekstra Bladet)
If Anders Lassen had been alive today he would recently have turned 90. But Andy died in dramatic circumstances at the age of 24, in April 1945, on the shores of Lake Comacchio in Northern Italy. He approached a German machinegun emplacement – to receive the crew’s surrender – but was mowed down.
Lassen is one of our few great war heroes. After his death, as the only non-Commomwealth citizen, he was awarded Britain’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
A multifaceted character
Thomas Harder’s biography is the most thorough and sober work ever written about Lassen. Harder does not hide the fact that Lassen was a multifaceted character. He was a young, handsome, unruly and not particularly bright upper-class boy from an impoverished family of aristocratic landowners.
Prince Georg [himself an officer, Danish military attaché to London] described him as an “aggressive loner, who frightened people”. Lassen was a sailor in the Persian Gulf when Denmark was occupied on 9 April 1940. He fought and died in the Special Boat Service – a group of colourful, daring guerrillas in the Mediterranean.
Harder has written a great and impressively well-told story.
When Denmark was occupied, Anders Lassen made the war his personal business. He made the same choice that Danish soldiers are faced with today. For that reason too, Harder’s book is ever topical.
Fyens Amtasavis [regional daily]
[Bo Jepsen is a journalist and a historian by training]
Thomas Harder: ”Anders Lassens krig 9. april 1940-9. april 1945”
It is only a couple of months ago that this newspaper wrote about a woman who had been awarded a prize by the Anders Lassen Foundation. The foundation sees Anders Lassen as a role model for the Danish Special Forces units. However, after reading Thomas Harder’s book one is not quite sure that Lassen is really a proper role model. Lassen is shown as a racist – at least by modern standards – a very violent person and probably also a drug addict. In the early part of his career Lassen worked in Africa training “niggers” in warfare. In his diary he wrote: ”I commanded more than 100 black devils.” One should add, however, that he also used the term “devils” about the Germans.
Beat Up his Men
Anders Lassen did not shrink from beating up the men under his command if they did not behave as he wanted them to. When one of his men did not salute him properly, Lassen beat up the man and kicked out his teeth. Lassen could have been court-martialled, but his men respected him too much to report the matter. However, some of them did complain that the members of his patrol “never got any Benzedrine-tablets because Lassen kept them all to himself”.
Anders Lassen was awarded three Military Crosses and one Victoria Cross and rose to the rank of Major in the British Special Boat Service. He was a “real war hero” who always led his men from the front in their countless raids against the Germans and Italians in the periphery of World War 2 – the British Channels Islands, Africa, the Greek islands – and he was eventually killed in front of a German machine gun position in Italy.
At War on Two Fronts
Historian Thomas Harder from the Copenhagen Business School has chosen to focus not only under Anders Lassen’s life, but also on the British Special Forces of which the Dane became such an important member. The book shifts back and forth between Lassen’s life and the history of the Special Forces and their battles, and this works extremely well. Harder is faithful to his large source material and whenever he runs into lacunae he does not try to fill them by inventing things or by putting forward fanciful theories. Furthermore, Harder is not afraid of depicting Anders Lassen, who was the eldest son of a distinguished landowning family, as a very complex character who was at war with himself as much as with any outside enemy.
At the end of the book Harder mentions that a Danish-British consortium is working on a motion picture based on Anders Lassen’s life.
Kristeligt Dagblad [National daily]
Jes Fabricius Møller | 22. december 2010
[Jes Fabricius Møller, ph.d., is assistant professor of History at the University of Copenhagen.]
Thomas Harder writes elegantly and unpretentiously about Anders Lassen who inspired Special Forces in both Denmark and Britain after WW2. However, Lassen was not the perfect role model for modern soldiers
Anders Lassen (1920-1945) “came from a good family”, as the expression was in those times. His mother, Suzanne Lassen, was the daughter of the great landowner Count Raben-Levetzau, and his father, Emil Lassen, had inherited a manor, but had been forced to sell it in order to buy out his brother and sisters. He then took over the manor of Bækkeskov between Præstø and Fakse, but the family had financial problems and often had to depend on Suzanne Lassen’s writing for their livelihood. Using Ander’s younger sister as her model she wrote and illustrated a series of very popular books about little Bente’s adventures on a great manor.
Anders Lassen did poorly at school. He was also unruly and violent. The family’s friendship with Prince Axel, the chairman of the board of the East Asiatic Company, got Anders’ brother, Frants, a good job with the EAC. Anders, however, could obtain nothing more than a job as cabin boy on one of the EAC’s ships. He went to sea in January 1939, at the age of 18. Life at sea suited him. He was a practical person whose presence of mind and energy stood him in good stead in critical and dangerous situations.
Anders Lassen left the merchant marine in Britain towards the end of 1940. In January he joined one of the British Army’s special commando units which had been set up to carry out pin-prick operations against the enemy. This was a pioneering venture. It was the first time the army tried to imitate the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and the early operations were undeniably characterized by accidents and mistakes.
The raids served a number of different purposes: Sabotaging important installations, gathering intelligence, taking prisoners, diverting the enemy’s attention, and, in general, forcing the enemy to spend valuable resources maintaining a high level of readiness.
Anders Lassen participated in his first real operation in January 1942, off the coast of West Africa, as a member of a small unit which, by stealth, “cut out” an Italian ship. He killed his first enemy in October that same year, during a raid on one of the German occupied Channels Islands. He used a knife.
Lassen was then posted to the Middle East. In the summer of 1943 he took part in a sabotage raid against German airfields on Crete, and was later hospitalized for jaundice, and other health problems. In October he fought in the Aegean where he suffered severe burns because of a clumsy attempt at cleaning up a latrine by means of petrol and a match. His wounds did not, however, prevent Lassen from distinguishing himself in battle once again.
The Greek islands were the theatre of Anders Lassens’ most important exploits. The high point of his career was his promotion to Major and his brief term as governor of Crete around New Year 1944-45. In February 1945 he was transferred to more regular military service in Italy. He was killed on the 9th of April that year. The following year he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Anders Lassen was seen a role model for the various Special Forces units that were created in Denmark and Britain after the war. A charitable foundation set up in his name is under the protection of the Crown Prince of Denmark. This is very much due to the fact that Lassen has been mythologized as one of the few who took up active resistance against the German occupation of Denmark.
Lassen has been contrasted to the general Danish indecision and lack of energy. This is apparent from the text on the book’s back cover: "When the Germans occupied Denmark on the 9th of April 1940, Anders Lassen felt himself called to go into British service." That text must have been written by somebody who has not read Harder’s book.
Harder documents, that as late as 1941 Lassen was not sure whether he ought to go to war or not. Only during 1942 he discovered himself as a soldier. After that it became more and more clear that his efficiency in the field was due to a brutal streak in his character and a lust for vengeance over the Germans.
Harder is cautious in drawing his conclusions, but there is much to suggest that Lassen broke the laws of war. Lacking as he was in academic knowledge and moral guidelines, he is a poor role model for a modern soldier, but he distinguished himself in an important part of the soldier’s trade: killing the enemy without getting killed yourself.
It is a long book. 100 pages for each of the last five years of Lassen’s life is a lot. The book is so long because Harder has chosen to tell the story of the British commando forces and general conduct of the war in parallel with the biographical chapters. Harder is a thoughtful and thorough hisatorian. The book is based on solid documentation, but also very detailed, because Harder wants to include everything if it can be documented. However, the book does not break down under its own weight. Harder is far too straightforward and stylish narrator for that; on the contrary, his book is a good read and a fine experience.
Two Different Books on World War 2
Fredericia Dagblad (local daily), 30 november 2010
World War 2 continues to inspire good authors and still interests many readers. Two new books about the war are very different, but have quality in common.
By ARNE MARIAGER firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the two books is the biography of an exciting, different person, but it is also very much about the war in which he chose to participate. The other one is a book on that same war, but at the same time a simplified biography of the two men who left their mark on the dramatic events. Each one, in its own way is among the very finest in the almost endless row of books inspired by World War 2.
The name Anders Lassen does not mean very much to many Danes. However, behind the name is the story of a real life hero. Anders Lassen was a Dane in Allied service. He fell at the front in Italy in 1945 and he was the only foreigner to receive the Victoria Cross during the war. He is the subject of "Anders Lassens krig", written by journalist and Italianist Thomas Harder.
[on Niklas Zetterling, "Hitler mod Stalin"]
The stuff that films are made of
Thomas Harder’s book on the war hero Anders Lassen is both moving and impressive. Harder has produced a piece of full blooded journalism. Strong, precise, with room for humorous anecdotes in the midst of all the seriousness. Harder’s book tells the story of the landowners’ young son with the restless soul, and it describes in detail Anders Lassen’s life as a soldier 1940-1945, when he joined the Allied cause and became a British commando.
Lassen went where things were roughest. He was much decorated – receiving three Military Crosses and, posthumously, the highest British award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. No other foreigner received this decoration. The book is as exciting as a thriller, but it is simply sober history writing. Told without sentimentality or pathos. A straight story, packed with drama. Harder’s research is exemplary and inspires respect.
The book on Anders Lassen is a piece of reality. But it is also tale containing more material than most suspense movies. If you saw the film on Anders Lassen, you would leave the cinema nodding to your girlfriend and saying: Great movie, but of course it’s a bit exaggerated! But no. That is how Anders Lassens life became. That is how he acted in the war that cost him his life shortly before the German capitulation.
And then you are left with the question: What would Anders Lassen have done in peacetime? What would he have done with his life had he not been a frontline soldier? The story of this young Dane is also the story of a man who fitted perfectly into the drama which he entered. But really not into very much else.
A marvellous biography, but also a great book on a war.