World War II was so large and all-encompassing that one could spend a lifetime researching and barely scratch the surface of stories to tell. James Shipman, Amazon best-selling author of several historical fiction books, knows this and has a knack for picking interesting stories from this timeframe.
His latest book, Task Force Baum, is no exception as it tells a not very well-known story from the waning days of the war. I conducted an interview with the author of the book so he can talk about his latest offering.
This interview has been lightly edited for formatting and presentation purposes.
Hi, James! Thanks for taking time to talk to us today. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello. It is such an honor to be able to contribute to this site dedicated to our military and families. I'm a historical fiction author published by Kensington Publishing. I have five historical novels. My most recent title, Task Force Baum, is the subject of this interview. This book was published on November 26, 2019, and is available on Amazon.com, Barnes Noble, and other book sites. Hudson Booksellers, with stores in most of the airports in the United States, has a special paperback edition that is part of their great reads program.
As for me, I'm an attorney and mediator. I live in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle, with my wife and our blended family of seven (yes, that's seven) kids. Most of them are away at college. I'm a lifelong student of history and the military. My books have covered the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the American Civil War, and my last three books have all taken place during World War II.
Given your occupation as a lawyer, what prompted you to choose historical fiction over mysteries and/or legal thrillers?
I have a degree in history. I constantly read history, particularly military history, and that's what I have a passion for. When I write, I'm able to dig much deeper into the thoughts and experiences of the people I'm writing about. It's a delightful process, and I love doing it. The last thing I want to do is write about the legal world. That would feel like I'm working twenty-four hours a day!
Could you briefly tell our readers a bit about the historical 'Task Force Baum' and what happened?
Task Force Baum was an unauthorized raid ordered by General Patton late in World War II. He sent three hundred men and a handful of tanks fifty miles behind enemy lines to liberate an officer's POW camp. LTC Abrams wanted to send an entire Combat Command, but Patton overruled him. The raid was thrown together with no air support and limited intelligence concerning enemy strength, roads and bridges available, and the location and number of prisoners at the POW camp.
Coming close to the end of the war, this seemed like a rather obscure military action. When did you first hear of it, and what drew you to tell a dramatic version of this story?
I came across this reading, John Toland's The Last 100 Days. I'd never heard of this raid before and decided I had to write a book about it. I was in the middle of another project, and I set that aside and wrote this book instead.
Reading this book, it really did not feel like a 'war' book as much as it felt like a book about the people fighting this war. Was this your intent?
Yes. I think the one advantage of historical fiction over narrative non-fiction is the chance to see and feel the events as they unfold, rather than just reporting them. I also like to place imperfect people into the story and see how they act and react as the story moves along. I do not take liberties with real people. For example, Major Alexander Stiller and Captain Abraham Baum are depicted as the brave and hard-working men they were in reality.
One thing I was surprised about was I came away thinking this book was as much about Hauptmann Richard Koehl of the Wehrmacht fighting the Americans as it was about the rescue mission. What were your thoughts on giving his story as much attention as you did?
I like to dig into the Germans as people. I think it's a mistake to paint the Nazis as simple two-dimensional monsters. People are so much more complex than that. Some people are merely doing their duty. Others are acting one way and intending to do something entirely different. I'm sure members of your site who served overseas in wartime experienced that very thing when interacting with the communities and even the enemies they had to deal with.
What was one historical detail you learned in your research about Task Force Baum that surprised you?
I was surprised at how fiercely the Germans were still fighting on the Western Front in late March 1945. The narrative so often is that after the Bulge and particularly after we moved over the Rhein, German opposition collapsed, and the enemy focused on trying to hold back the Russians while surrendering to the English and the Americans.
I noticed two of your previous works were set in World War II. Is there something about that era which speaks to you specifically as a writer?
World War II is fascinating because it is so easy to see this as an epic battle of survival between right and wrong. Germany in World War II was fighting a war of aggression and perpetuating a massive genocide. This also was the only modern war we've fought where our own nation was in significant jeopardy (although more from the Japanese than the Germans).
If there were one era of time and/or specific event you would like to write about, what is it? Why?
I'd like to interview some Vietnam veterans and write either a historical novel or a narrative non-fiction book about that conflict. There is some great work out there already about the Vietnam war, but compared to World War II, I think there is so much that hasn't been covered.
Looking forward, could you share with us anything about your next project?
My next book, which will come out in December 2020, is about Irena Sendler. Irena Sendler was a social worker living in Warsaw, Poland, during World War II. She was the leader of a cell that smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them with Polish families during the Holocaust. Almost all of these children survived the war while their families were killed at Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Task Force Baum is now available for purchase with book retailers everywhere.