The faked passports which saved countless lives in the second world war

In the summer of 1942, the Polish poet Władysław Szlengel made a detour into light verse with ‘The Passports’: ‘I would like to have a Uruguayan passport/ Oh, what a beautiful land it is/ How nice it must feel to be the subject/ Of the land called Uruguay…’ Successive quatrains hymned the joys of Paraguayan, Costa Rican, Bolivian and Honduran citizenship before the final stanza declared that it was only with one of these citizenships that ‘one can live peacefully in Warsaw’.  The joke was serious. Szlengel was a Jewish man living in the Warsaw ghetto; and as Roger Moorhouse’s absorbing new book describes, Latin American passports were, or could

Operation Chariot succeeded because it was unthinkable

Eighty years ago, just after midnight on 28 March 1942, the British destroyer HMS Campbeltown crept up the estuary of the River Loire towards the heavily defended port of St Nazaire. Here lay an immense dry dock, the only facility on the west coast of France that German battleships such as the ferocious Tirpitz could use if they needed repair. Destroy the dock, and Tirpitz would be unable to sortie against the Atlantic convoys supplying Britain. The only way to do that, however, was to wreck the lock gate at the entrance. And that meant filling a ship with explosives, ramming it into the gate and blowing the whole lot