The Baltimore Connection


165 pages
ISBN 0-88795-032-9





Reviewed by Sidney Allinson

Sidney Allinson is a Victoria-based communications consultant, Canadian
news correspondent for Britain’s The Army Quarterly and Defence, and
author of The Bantams: The Untold Story of World War I.


During World War II, there was no more bitter battleground than in the Balkans. In Yugoslavia, the brutality of Axis occupation and the excesses of guerrilla warfare were worsened by a number of simultaneous civil wars — fought by resistants and collaborators, Communists and Royalists, Serbs and Croats, Moslems and Catholics. For five years, these factions and the Nazis clawed at each other so savagely that one in nine Jugoslavs had been killed before V-E Day dawned.

The Baltimore Connection is about one young man caught up in this struggle. He happens to be a German sailor, a bewildered individual tossed about in a senseless local conflict without any will of his own. A glance at the book jacket biography shows how closely some of the fictional story follows the real-life experiences of author Wolfgang Franke. This personal knowledge is the book’s main strength, providing authentic details and a sense of the period that helps support the evolution of the story.

The reader gets a vague feeling that the title’s implied premise itself is in the end not delivered. However, the main theme of the book is intriguing: the protagonist is ordered to take on the identity of a dead American airman who has the same name. Thus disguised, the young Alex Ripley is handed the job of assassinating an intrepid British agent, one of those hundreds of latter-day Lawrences who did in fact play such a key role in Balkan resistance movements. The almost father-son relationship that develops between the two men is well handled, forging an affection that later becomes the youth’s lifeline.

Another relationship used to explain the passions of the time is that between Ripley and a young Communist who becomes one of his captors after World War II has officially ended. Through their conversations, we learn a good deal about East European attitudes then, and the mind-set of those who embraced Lenin as a device to achieve more nationalist goals. Re-betrayed, Ripley languishes in some of the work camps where many Germans were held for years before being repatriated from countries they once occupied. His only hope is provided by the efforts of the British agent to free him. These drawn-out efforts are perhaps at times a little too prosaically true-to-life to be exciting, but then the story is rescued by a satisfying enough conclusion.

One minor irritant is the book’s use of incorrect terms and units of the British army. Such ignorance makes one wonder how, after all this time, an author with military experience would still not have familiarized himself a bit more with what was once the other side.


Franke, Wolfgang E., “The Baltimore Connection,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed September 23, 2023,