Book Reviews

Discussion on World War 2 in general.
Ricky
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Book Reviews

Postby Ricky » Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:32 pm

Have you read an interesting book on WW2 (or anything relating to topics discussed on this forum)?
Have you read a very bad book on WW2 (or anything relating to topics discussed on this forum)?

Please share it with the forum - write a review of the book, highlighting the main areas discussed in the book, good and bad points of the book, and your personal opinion of the book and post it in this section!


Existing Reviews:

"Death Traps" by Belton Y Cooper Review by Ricky

"From Normandy to Baltic sea by battle tank" by Ernest Hamilton Review by Comet fan

"Steel Fist - Tank Warfare 1939-45" by Nigel Cawthorne Review by Ricky

"British Anti-Tank Artillery 1939-45" by Osprey Review by Ricky

"Armegeddon" by Max Hastings Review by Cholbert

"The Modelmaker's Handbook" by Albert Jackson and David Day Review by Simonr1978

"Armored Vehicles of the Argentine Army" by Dr Georg V. Rauch Review by Scaramouche

"World War Two Military Vehicles, Transport & Halftracks" by Pat Ware Review by Ricky
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Wed May 29, 2013 5:13 pm

Where are these getting posted? D'ye want the reviews right here in the thread?
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Ricky » Thu May 30, 2013 11:27 am

Yes - I don't think our 'Library' section still exists.
"Study the past, if you would divine the future"
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:11 pm

Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45
Prit Buttar
2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England and Long Island, New York, USA
978 1 84908 190 0

Friends and acquaintances of Dr. Buttar have been anticipating this book for some time. It was with great pleasure that I tore open the package when it arrived in the mail. It seemed a bit daunting as I flipped through it, glancing at its complexity and depth. Even so, I waded in gladly.

Dr. Buttar goes far back in history to set the stage for this campaign, reaching back to 1226 to lay the groundwork. The Introduction traces the histories of Prussia, Poland, France, Russia and Sweden to weave the tapestry for the modern campaign. Discussing earlier wars and the combat throughout the area, he explains how it came to be that places like Danzig could be so important to Germans in general and Prussians in particular. The eastern threat to Poland is also covered, with a brief discussion of the Treaty of Riga, signed after Polish forces defeated those of Lenin. The author then discusses pre-war machinations by Hitler and other Nazis, as well as the Soviets. The remainder of this introduction covers briefly activities of the military and civilian authorities in both occupied Russia and Poland. In this manner, the stage is set for the reader to comprehend what was going on in Prussia as the Soviet juggernaut rolled in.

The second chapter is also an introduction of sorts. Here, Buttar introduces the soldiers who will be fighting on each side. Each side is described in terms of training, equipment, and morale. Factors contributing to those elements are also discussed. Comparisons are made to the armies their fathers and grandfathers fought in. As each side is described, they are also compared. In this chapter, the author has cut through most of the myth, misconception, and faulty “conventional wisdom” on both sides of the wire. Here, too, he begins using one of the most important tools to convey the story of this campaign, introducing individuals. Through the copious use of letters, diaries, reports and other documentation on both sides, Buttar puts faces to the war. In this chapter we begin to meet and to learn about individuals on both sides. Not just the generals, either. Throughout the book, we are granted the opportunity to see the war through the eyes of junior officers, NCOs, rankers and even civilians on each side. In my estimation, this technique is extremely valuable in a book like this since it brings home the fatigue, suffering, and horror felt by everyone who fell under the shadow of the war.

Chapter Three starts the campaign. The city of Memel was important to the Nazis, mostly for purposes of propaganda. It was one of the first cities outside Germany with a predominantly German population that was brought “home to the Reich.” Somehow there was an appropriateness that it was one of the first major cities to fall. As he does in the subsequent chapters, Dr. Buttar does an outstanding job of showing the struggles of both sides to accomplish their objectives. The Red Army struggles with command and control issues. The Wehrmacht struggles with Hitler and supply problems. We are taken inside command posts, to listen to the frustrations of commanders trying to follow their orders. At the other end of the scale, we ride along in tanks and rush through fields and neighborhoods with the troops. This allows Dr. Buttar to not only relate the campaign from a strategic perspective but at the same time to see the campaign from the mud. Many if not most campaign and battle histories concentrate solely on unit movement and engagements. Here, the human element becomes a major factor in the story. Certainly, he is not the only author to utilize this technique, but he has done a fine job here.

While Dr. Buttar’s technique may be stimulating and exciting in other chapters, it will bring one up short in the chapter on Nemmersdorf. Although the chapter covers more than just the fate of this village, it is here that we are first introduced to the bestiality and horror that was inflicted on the civilian population of Prussia, and later Germany proper. While this is not the proper venue for discussion of the justification or condemnation of these acts, the information is presented along with Goebbels’ rapid exploitation of the situation for propaganda purposes.

In order to keep this from becoming an essay, I will not treat the next ten chapters individually. The author has broken down the continuation of the campaign into individual sectors, following the overall chronology of the campaign. Throughout, along with his treatment of the fighting as mentioned above, he also describes what is going on elsewhere in Europe, in order to illustrate how this campaign affected and was affected by the rest of the war. While the final year or so of the war in the east is often seen as the victory of an unstoppable Soviet juggernaut, Dr. Buttar shows that this was in fact not the case. As a symptom of the Soviet system, there is often confusion in the conduct of the war. Objectives are assigned and reassigned based not on military ability, but rather political and social standing within the hierarchy. The Soviet supply system, while considerably stronger than the German, was overstretched and overworked. Units were depleted, without proper rest and refit, but expected to still accomplish their missions.

For the Germans, likewise, the end of the war was not just one continuous march to the rear. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and the frontline units could expect little in the way of replenishment of any type. Yet for the most part, these men fought very well for Germany. This, in spite of the handicaps put in their way by Hitler. Although they were eventually beaten, they were able to put up a resistance and even counterattacks, that their opponents certainly did not expect. In the midst of defeat, there were a number of individual successes, in spite of everything else.

One can easily come away with the opinion that ideology aside, both the Soviets and Nazis had certain similarities. Both of their leaders seemed often treat the war like a big wargame, moving units around the map with the expectation that everything would go just as they envisioned. Both seemed to forget that while it was easy to move a divisional marker to a new city on the map, the reality of that unit’s movement was rather more involved. Neither of them seemed to remember that there were humans, with all their frailties, represented by those counters. Neither seemed to remember that there were others, noncombatants, that were not represented on their maps, but still should have been taken into consideration.

The final chapter of the book, that deals with the post-war period can leave one with mixed feelings. The aftermath of the war is covered, from Whitehall and Washington, all the way down to the imprisonment, mistreatment, and abuse suffered by individuals. The courage and heroism displayed by some is to be lauded, while the sadism and brutality of others, on both sides, is to be condemned. While one cannot condemn each individual in the Red Army, the list of murder, rape, looting and other indecencies is far too long. It cannot be argued that the Germans treated their occupied territories far from pleasantly, one can only wonder at any perceived justification of the horrors wrought on the German populace.

This was a very good book, and I’m glad to have it in my library. It does a very good job of covering an important part of the end of the war. Going beyond the “official” stories, Dr. Buttar has brought together an impressive array of sources to tell this story. The reader must be forewarned, however. This book is not light reading, by any stretch. It deserves focus and attention to get the most out of it. Don’t try to read it while the kids are watching television in the same room. Dr. Buttar has put a great deal of effort into this tale, and you will take a lot out of it.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:11 pm

Stalin’s Secret War: The NKVD on the Eastern Front
Rupert Butler
Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, England
ISBN 978 1 84884 053 9

This subject is one that hasn’t been written about overly much. Most of the horror stories of the NKVD are anecdotal, but Mr. Butler has changed that with this book.
This book is an interesting overview of the NKVD during WWII. Broken down into 10 chapters, the author manages to tell that organization’s story from 1918 onward. While the first chapter opens during the Great Patriotic War, Butler flashes back for key characters, showing how they influenced the rise of the NKVD. The machinations of Stalin mostly, as well as his co-horts, are shown to the reader in order to understand the development of this organization. Key players such as Beria are introduced along with some lesser-known names, showing how the Bolsheviks and their organs freely wielded fear to maintain their control over Russia and the Soviet Union.
The second chapter discusses the massacre at Katyn. The author goes into background, based on memoranda and letters, showing the prelude as well as aftermath of the massacre. This chapter also covers mass murder in the Ukraine, the GULAG, and even Trotsky’s murder.
The next two chapters open up areas that have been discussed elsewhere, but not usually brought together. The author shows not only how the leadership of the Soviet Union struggled to maintain its own priority, but how the various departments such as the NKVD strove to out-do others in their desire to show their loyalty. Usually, this led to suffering by others, including the army as shown here. Not only the regular army felt the pressure of the NKVD. The fourth chapter shows the massive influence of the NKVD in the formation, development, and operations of the partisans throughout the region. This progression comes to a head in Chapter 5, which discusses the battle for Stalingrad, and the NKVD’s role there.
Chapter 6 delves into spies and counter-espionage. This includes not only the “dirty tricks” developed and practiced by Soviet intelligence, but the efforts of both active and passive intelligence gathering. It is always interesting to read about how intelligence impacts operations, with or without an ideological taint. This chapter melds with Chapter 7 in that Poland’s situation is discussed in both. Operation Bagration was not only a massive operation, but it was conducted with an eye to the future of Europe, with Poland as a key element. This is also shown in the eighth chapter, which focuses on the Balkans. These chapters make it clear that Stalin wasn’t overly concerned with liberating eastern Europe from “Hitlerite” occupation, but with spreading Soviet hegemony.
Chapter 9, Anarchy in Berlin, will challenge the reader. There can be little doubt in anyone’s mind that Germany trod occupied Soviet lands with a heavy foot. Their record of abuse and atrocity is well known. So, on the one hand, it’s difficult to feel sorry for people who felt the revenge of the Soviets when they advanced into Germany proper. Even so, those who felt the wrath of the Soviets were mostly the innocents, who had no influence on what had been done by the SS and Wehrmacht. In truth, whether revenge was justified or not, much of the horror visited upon the civilian populations was beyond the necessary.
The final chapter deals with the NKVD post-war. With a new raison d’etre, the organization went through several changes and in more than just name. As a result of the Soviet system, its leaders had to fight for their political as well as mortal lives. More energy was devoted to enemies within, along with stamping out embers of resistance in occupied territories, both real and imagined. Having spent so long focused on the front with Germany, the NKVD learned to widen its range to include more of the world.
In a previous review of one of Mr. Butler’s books, I wrote that I was disappointed in the lack of depth plumbed in SS-Wiking. With this third book of his that I’ve read, I’ve come to understand and appreciate his approach. He has written here an interesting overview of an infamous organization. Using references, footnotes, and a bibliography, he has provided direction for those who would learn more of the NKVD. For those with merely a passing interest, he has provided a sound basis for familiarity and basic knowledge. While I can’t say that it is mandatory for a good personal reference library, anyone interested in the Ostfront should at least read it.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:12 pm

The Myth of the Eastern Front
by Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies II
*

In the very beginning, during the introduction and first chapters, I noticed a flaw in the presentation. In the introduction, it is mentioned how most of what Americans read of the war on the Eastern Front is from the German, rather than the Russian perspective. While there’s no doubt that’s true, we must recognize why that is. It’s because for many years, those were the only good accounts available! Should we have not read anything until the Soviets let their books out?

Very little history was allowed to leak out from behind the Iron Curtain for decades. It was suspected, and later recognized, that even what was coming out was skewed, as the materials were edited for proper Soviet content. So, we can’t be faulted for not reading what wasn’t available!

The first chapter is entitled “Americans Experience the War in Russia, 1941-1945,” which is quite descriptive of the contents. But even there, it starts out missing a vital fact. The chapter discusses several examples of American visits to the USSR, as well as a media campaign to educate Americans on life in Russia. The chapter describes how the general attitude of Americans was massaged and turned into a favorable one. But there is a major hole in the subsection “The Russian-American Relationship 1917-1941.”

In one paragraph, the authors go from 1917 to the 1930s. They completely gloss over American attitudes towards the Communists/Bolsheviks during the first years of the regime. Not only is the negative attitude towards Communists not discussed, but the fact that the US had troops in Murmansk and Vladivostok from 1918-1920 is omitted. This was technically an invasion of their land, and the authors don’t even factor it into the relationship! So we have an initial chapter about international relations that is presented as merely educating one country about another, when in fact the former had sent armed troops into the latter twenty years previously. This in fact, in my opinion, affects one of the authors’ biggest complaints later.

The second chapter discusses the Cold War, and the growth of a “lost cause” mythology. Now, while I can see similarities in lost causes, I think the authors were wrong in comparing the Confederate States of America to Nazi Germany. While both may have “lost cause” mythologies built up around them, the American perception of these two opponents is radically different. The residents of the secessionist CSA were originally Americans. They were us! I can’t help but see this as being rather different from befriending a former opponent as far away as Europe.

What got me about this chapter was the hypocrisy of it. The US, especially the military, was damned for their efforts to learn more about the Soviet Union from the people who had fought them most recently. Our former ally was now a potential enemy (and a formidable one at that). The responsible thing to do was to learn as much as we could about this opponent. In the military, it’s known as gathering intelligence. Every responsible leader does it! The hypocritical part, as I see it, is that the authors praised the US for doing the same thing for the Soviet Union that they condemned when it was done for Germany! Never mind the fact that if the USSR did come west, Germany was going to be the main area fought over. In truth, this section did more to alienate the authors from me than any other.

There was another part of the second chapter that I found disingenuous to the point of lying. Halder, as Chef des General Stabs, was decried for having offensive plans for the east drawn up long before Hitler ordered them. This right here clearly illustrates that the authors’ knowledge of the military is limited, or that they just chose not to include information that would undercut their point.

Any General Staff, High Command, or the like has contingency plans drawn up at all times. It is responsible preparedness. In the US, these plans were known as the Rainbow Plans*. These plans included potential operations against nations that were considered our allies, or at least not un-friendly. The operative word is ‘contingency.’ To criticize Halder, as the personification of the General’s Staff, for having plans for potential operations anywhere in Europe is misleading, or at a minimum, ignorant.

As for claiming that German soldiers, from Private through General tried to hide things in their memoirs, I thought it was a little harsh. It is human nature to minimize one’s own culpability for failure. So, to a certain extent that is to be expected in any autobiography or memoir. Very few of us are willing to air our faults for the world to see. That isn’t something we can ascribe to any nationality. Certainly, the generals are going to lay more of the blame for loss on Hitler’s meddling, but will we ever know how much of that is actually true? There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Hitler’s taking personal control of orders down to divisional level hurt the Army’s ability to fight. While I don’t think Germany could have actually won the war, it certainly would have gone much differently if Hitler had let the professionals do their jobs. Again, I considered this to be twisting reality to suit their goals in this work.

I think that the authors also failed to give enough credit to the common soldiers. They scorn the thought that front line German troops would have patched enemy wounded, or given them food and water. This seems to be a common act, though, crossing any lines of nationality. There are too many accounts of soldiers doing this, regardless of the enemy. There are too many accounts extant to simply scoff at Germans mentioning it for possible self-aggrandizement. The rear-echelon elements, on the other hand, are a different story.

The last three chapters have one thing in common that minimizes their possible value. I think the authors have missed the point on one major issue. The key here is “military history.” They criticize people who are interested in the TO&E, or rather, Kriegsgliederung. Apparently, it’s not acceptable to be primarily interested in uniforms, equipment, tactics, weapons, vehicles, campaigns, or strategy. I don’t study political history or sociology. I’m curious about how the Wehrmacht achieved the victories that it did, while throwing away other possible victories. I’m interested in how some weapons systems performed well, while others didn’t. So their condemnation of people like Yerger and Rikmenspoel are petty. Those men, and men like them, study certain facets of the war more deeply than others, and comprehend them better, which makes it easier to explain to the rest of us. They don’t deny the politics and ideology of the Reich. That is simply not the area they choose to study. To label them as gurus is insulting to them, and to those of us who read their books. That insinuates some kind of cult, with us readers as mindless followers. What then would the rest of us label anyone who takes this book as gospel, without doing any research of their own?

I understand that war is an extension of politics. However, tactics, weapons, and equipment are apolitical. Thus, any ideological goals of the Nazi Party have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on my studying of Waffen-SS uniforms and accoutrements, or the awards system of the Kriegsmarine. Himmler’s machinations for political or personal gain are immaterial when discussing the activities of the 2nd SS-PANZER REGIMENT. Wargaming the Afrika Korps’ campaigns to see if there might have been a way for them to march into Cairo, or a successful sortie by BISMARCK, are experiments in military science. Politics and ideology simply are not a part of that. I see no condemnation of wargames about ancient empires here.

As for condemning reenactors who do Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS impressions, perhaps they should have taken that concept a little further. What about other eras? The Federal Army of the United States was instrumental in destroying the culture of the Native Americans, including the use of biological warfare, but those who reenact the Union Army are ignored in this book. I have seen of those who reenact the Roman Legions. The Roman Empire was one of the best at subjugating other nations, and exploiting them for all that could be sent back to Rome, but they are ignored in this book. There are those who reenact English armies from various eras, yet the soldiers of this, one of history’s largest empires, are given a pass. In my own personal opinion, I felt that aiming this antipathy was aimed at the targets of personal prejudices rather than the focus of a purely academic study.

This book wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did find passages of value, but these were far outnumbered by misleading, politically-correct pages that showed a distinct lack of knowledge regarding military history, military science, or the military in general. They have done themselves a disservice by not finding out more about their subject matter before they wrote this book.

*The Rainbow Plans:
Red - Britain and Canada, with different territories assigned variants of that color: UK "Red," Canada "Crimson," India "Ruby," Australia "Scarlet" and New Zealand "Garnet."
Black - Germany.
Brown - Philippines.
Citron - Brazil.
Emerald - in Ireland in conjunction with War Plan Red.
Gray - invading a Caribbean republic.
Green - Mexico
Gold - France and French Caribbean possessions.
Indigo - Iceland.
Lemon - Portugal.
Olive - Spain.
Orange - Japan
Purple - a Central American republic, or possibly Russia (There may have been two different Purples).
Silver - Italy.
Tan - Cuba.
White - domestic uprising in the U.S.
Yellow - China
Violet - intervention in Chinese domestic events.
From http://en.wikipedia....ki/Rainbow_Five
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:12 pm

HITLER’S ARCTIC WAR
By Chris Mann & Christer Jorgensen
Published in the US by St. Martin’s Press, NY
ISBN 0-312-31100-1
**

I have just finished reading this book, and I don’t recommend it. Reading it, I felt the book was more about how the Red Army, with some assistance from England, was able to counter “Hitler’s Arctic War!” I’ve never seen so many pictures of Soviet mortars!

I’ve not gone back to dig for textual comparisons. There are a couple of sections, though, that sound very much like a simple regurgitation of Ziemke’s book, “The German Northern Theater of Operations: 1940-1945.” At least one chapter starts out by recounting information from other chapters in a manner that made me think of an essay collection. Almost like the two authors worked on different chapters, then didn’t bother to compare their work.

One of the first things that drew my attention was the photos. Specifically, a photo of an HJ formation, captioned as Gebirgsjager! That wasn’t bad enough, but it was done twice! That wasn’t all, though, with the photos. I went back and counted, just to see if somehow I had misjudged what I was reading. Bearing in mind this book is about the Germans, there are more photos of Russians here than there are Germans! Actually, of the 150 photos I counted in the book, only 57 of them are of German subjects. Of those, several are from different theaters. There are 3 photos of Quisling, and only two of Hitler. Yet, the book is about Hitler’s campaign?

Captioning for the photos leaves a lot to be desired. Some of them are misleading, or just out and out wrong. According to one, 3.SS-Totenkopf was in Finland! One caption purports that a ski patrol is reacting to enemy fire, although the men are just laying in the snow, looking around, with their rifles strapped across their backs!

I purchased this book as a reference for a project of my own. I believe that it will be used more specifically as an example of what misinformation has been published, which can strengthen my own work.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:12 pm

The Germans in Normandy
Author: Richard Hargreaves
ISBN: 1 84415 447 5
****

Being a member of the same World War II forum, Feldgrau, that the author belongs to, I have been following the progress of this book and looking forward to it. I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed.
This work is in a style I've not come across before. It is not a history book in the normal sense. It is not a story of a campaign, and it is not a memoir. Somehow, the author has managed to split the difference between the two, producing something more of a hybrid. Through the extensive use of personal letters sent home by German soldiers, this is the story of the men who defended Occupied France against the Allied invasion of June 1944, and the battles that followed which culminated in the defeat of Nazi Germany, mostly in their own words.
Starting in the front matter, it is readily apparent that Mr. Hargreaves has done considerable research. He has culled his material from a wide range of sources, promising a historically accurate book.
The book is divided into twelve chapters. Each corresponds to a different phase of the battle for France. The first two chapters lead up to the invasion. Here one reads about the sense of anticipation felt by the average German soldier. The author provides background material on the units, as well as the preparations made by the Germans to defend against invasion. This helps the reader understand how so many of these men still felt confidence in themselves, their leaders, and their defenses. While one can feel the trepidation, one can still see that the soldiers honestly felt they had a good chance of throwing the Allies back into the sea.
Chapters 3 & 4 introduce the Allies. Here you will learn of the confusion and disbelief rampant during the first hours of the invasion, when the Allied parachute divisions dropped in France. Many if not most of us have seen movies like The Longest Day, but here we can read the reactions of the Germans in their own words, not what an author or a screenwriter ascribed to them.
The entire book goes on like this. Rather than the self-serving memoirs written by so many senior officers, we finally get to hear the words of the men who were in the trenches, behind the machine guns. While the author has used the writings of the field marshals and generals or their staffs, he has managed to unearth the writings of the Schütze and the Gefreiter, the Leutnant and the Hauptmann. Here is the value of this book. From different services, different units, and different sectors of the defense, we can now learn what those men were thinking as they faced the Allied onslaught. From the initial confidence, to doubt, to despair, it is all there.
For years, we have picked up fragments of this story. Thanks to Mr. Hargreaves, we now have a large piece that helps piece many of those fragments together to give us a better idea of who exactly were The Germans In Normandy.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:13 pm

Recon Scout
Author: Fred H. Salter
ISBN: 0-345-44693-3
****

Recon Scout is the author's story of his time fighting in Africa and Italy in WWII. It reads much like the author was sitting with you at a campfire, recollecting his younger days.
The book actually opens on a patrol in Italy, but then goes back to Mr. Salter's first days in the Army.
Enlisting underage, without his parents' permission, he went in wanting to be a cavalryman. He had read about, and heard enough about the cavalry to want to do it. Little did he know that the days of the horse soldier were nearing their end.
He doesn't tell much about his early life. When it has bearing, though, he'll tell about something that happened to him in his younger days so that the reader can see how past events influence our lives. Still, there's enough background information to get a pretty good feel for the man inside the uniform.
It was in September of 1942 that things started to change. The horses were gone, their role taken over by scout cars and light tanks. The author was now part of the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, headed for war. The rest of the book is a good recounting of his time in combat. We find out later that he had kept a diary of sorts, though it consisted more of short notes to himself than a real diary. Salter writes well of the trials and tribulations of a cavalry scout. What's was more important to me, though, was that he wrote about himself, and the men he served with.
One issue that has arisen of late in military history is the feeling that the Allies were all good, and the Axis were all bad. Slowly but surely, we are realizing that there were good and honorable men on both sides, as well as bad. As the author shows, these men were all human, subject to human foibles. Even good men can have bad days.
Reading this book, one can almost literally feel not only the horror of receiving enemy artillery, but the joy of living through the experience. We can also feel the pain of losing a comrade that wasn't so lucky. In the age of materialism that we live in now, we can understand the simple pleasure inherent in a pair of clean socks, a warm coat, or just a sunny day.
As a prior enlisted man, I found twisted enjoyment in how Salter wrote about the officers over him. The good ones were damned good, and one can see that when Salter held an officer in high regard, it was well deserved. There is also a strong indictment of those glory seeking officers who worked together to put medals on each other's chests, making themselves look undeservedly more important and gallant than they truly were.
The author doesn't leave himself out, either. There were several instances where he made decisions that came back later to haunt him. A loner by nature, he didn't like the responsibility for other men's lives that came with being an NCO, but he found a way to deal with it. He freely admits mistakes he made, even though he was able to justify them at the time. He shows how the experience of combat made an influence on him, and helped to shape his later life after the war.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the “average G.I.”
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:13 pm

IN FINAL DEFENSE OF THE REICH: The Destruction of the 6th SS Mountain Division “Nord”
Stephen M. Rusiecki
Naval Institute Press (2010)
ISBN: 978-1-59114-744-2
**** ½

This is an excellent book, on several levels. Not only did Rusiecki conduct meticulous research, but he wrote this tale very well.

The first three chapters introduce the reader to the 6th SS Mountain Division, describing some of the key members, and its history from the beginning of the war up until spring of 1945. As the reader gets closer to March, more detail is provided to better acquaint the reader with what is going on. The third chapter also introduces the units that are going to factor into Nord’s demise, along with their leaders. It is in this chapter that Nord begins to come apart.

From the fourth chapter onward, the reader spends a good bit of time in various headquarters, German and American, from company level all the way up to corps. By making good use of records kept, the author is able to recreate the confusion, tension, excitement and trepidation in the various commands. It is here that the reader begins to understand how in fact Nord was able to function coherently as long as it did.

By pure coincidence, when Gruppenführer Brenner’s division fell back through the Palatinate, it happened to travel right along the boundary between two corps. Normally, this would not be a good place to be, as coordination of sub-units along a boundary like this can be difficult in good times. In running combat, as the corps drive into the enemy’s heartland, it gets even more confusing. Rusiecki has done a fantastic job showing not only the difficulties inherent in an operation like this, but clearly illustrating how the various units were able to work together in harmony to crush Nord.

At the same time, the author’s relationship with several veterans of Nord holds him in good stead as he is able to describe the German side of the battle all the way from the division headquarters, through the two elements of the division that separated in order to improve their chances of escape, down to the lowest rifleman. We are able to follow generals, colonels, lieutenants and privates as they slog their way through a cold, drizzly, miserable battle.

One of the good things about this work is its objectivity. Sadly, too many of the books on WWII, especially those that deal with the SS, are somewhat polarized. One side is often portrayed heroically, while the other is derided at every turn. Here, no one is demonized. Honor and courage are shown on both sides, as is fear and treachery. Nothing is held back. I expect that some will chastise Rusiecki for not showing the Nord men as slathering butchers. I would point out that Nord is probably the only division in the Waffen-SS that has been cleared of all allegations of war crimes. Two of those allegations are dealt with in this book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in any of the divisions involved, the Waffen-SS, the end of the war, or the war in general. It is informative, engaging, and a damned good read.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:15 pm

MISSING STICKS
John M. Taylor
Screaming Eagle Press, Lutz, FL (2009)
ISBN: 1879043009
EAN: 9781879043008
****1/2

Missing Sticks is historical fiction. Based on his knowledge of history, and his own experience as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, Taylor weaves a tale based on actual fact. In the cold, dark hours of the morning of 6 June 1944, 432 C-47 transports carrying the 101st Division crossed over the coast of the Cotentin Penisula in France. Between mechanical issues, navigational errors, and plain fear in the face of fierce antiaircraft fire, sixteen of those planes did not drop their troops as planned. Although later accounted for in reality, Taylor has created an interesting “what if” scenario, to show things that might have happened if some of those men had actually dropped into the areas in and around where they were supposed to land.

Initially, I thought that Mr. Taylor had created too many characters, and too many threads to the story. However, as I read along, I realized that these threads were carefully being woven into a tapestry. As the reader follows each key character, two things happen. One is that the reader gets an interesting look at the types of men who actually fought with the Screamin’ Eagles in Normandy. Most of the elements of the Division are represented here. The second is that the reader will get wrapped up in a very interesting story. Taylor skillfully puts quite a number of ‘hook’ in the tale, and every one of the hooks has a barb, making it very difficult to put down.

Unlike many historical fiction books, there is really nothing “over the top” in this story. This is no “SGT Rock” comic book. The heroes hurt, bleed, and make mistakes. They have plenty of faults and foibles, just like the real parachutists that dropped into the chaos of Normandy on that fateful day. This is a good book for a rainy day, when you don’t want to do anything other than be entertained for a few hours, and to remember the trials and tribulations of those who have gone before.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:16 pm

The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told
****
Edited by: Iain C. Martin
The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT
ISBN: 978-1-59921-017-9

This book was a very enjoyable read. Given fair warning in Colonel J.H. Alexander’s introduction, I knew I wasn’t going to get to read all the good Corps stories, but the ones presented were definitely worthwhile.

The twenty-three stories presented here span the entire history of the Marine Corps. To break them down, there are seven pre-20th Century, one from WWI, nine from WWII, one Korean War, four from Vietnam, one Desert Storm, and one from Iraqi Freedom.

The stories from the first 125 or so years do a very good job of laying the groundwork for an understanding of Marine pride, ethos, and courage. While Marines had served with valor during the American Revolution, it was Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon’s expedition “to the shores of Tripoli” that provide one of the early highlights of Marine Corps history. This expedition against superior forces, with U.S. Navy support not only helped immensely in the campaign against the Barbary Pirates, but served to provide Marine officers forevermore with their Mameluke swords, a treasured sidearm even today. Not the only Marine officer to provide gallant service, Lieutenant J.M. Gamble more than lived up to the original requirements for Marines, that “none shall be a Marine that he not be a qualified seaman first,” when the young lieutenant took command of a captured vessel, when there were not enough naval officers to take the command.

Three more stories provide glimpses of Marines in combat during the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. Sergeant John H. Quick rounds out the century with his courage under not only enemy fire, but friendly fire at the same time, as he uses semaphore signals warships offshore to cease their naval gunfire support.

Many books have been written about U.S. Marines in the First World War, but the presentation here of Marines and their officers in Belleau Wood shows the chaos, horror, confusion of the combat here.

Since the Marine Corps was at its peak strength during World War II, so it follows that the bulk of the “good” stories would come from this war. About a quarter of the book is covered by the exploits of Marines in the Pacific Campaign. Guadalcanal is covered with stories of an aviator and the Grunt. Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, bloody hells all, are featured. Two oft overlooked area of the Corps are also covered: Women and Navajo code talkers. While only a fraction of the well-known names of this conflict are presented here, these stories highlight very important points in our Corps’ history. So important are these battles that when I visited Iwo Jima with E/2/2 twenty years ago, there was an unusual sense of quiet reverence in our troop berthing area.

A report by Ernie Pyle rounds out the WWII portion of the book with an interesting look at Marines. Pyle had spent most of the war with men of the U.S. Army in Africa and Europe. When he moved to the Pacific and spent time with the Marines, his expectations and the reality he met are interesting to read of. Although the Army and the Marines drew their recruits from the same basic manpower pools, and though there were similaries in their technical and tactical training, Pyle was well-placed to see that there were indeed differences between the two. His observations from his unique perspective are of value to all who would study the Corps.

A story from the Frozen Chosin provides a seque into the Corps in the Cold War era. This deadly fight illustrates two very important points in the attitude of Marines. When the Marines determined they were surrounded, the feeling was that they had the enemy right where they wanted them. On the other hand, the care and effort put into recovering their dead and wounded during the withdrawal from the Reservoir clearly shows how important it is to Marines to look after each other, either alive or dead. This concept is revisited in Hue City when more men die in the performance of what they consider their personal duty to their fellow Marines.

The battle in Hue City is one of four vignettes presented from the Vietnam era, as Marines struggle to move through that ancient city. The siege of Khe Sanh, another hallowed moment in Marine Corps history is also explored. Unlike WWII, where the American public ‘knew’ so many Marines, there didn’t seem to be as many men who the public was aware of during this war. Carlos Hathcock was one of them, a sniper extraordinaire, and some of the reasons for this are brought out as he stalks his quarry in this story.

It is indeed a shame that there are only two stories from the latter part of the 20th Century in this book, where the capture of Kuwait City and combat in Baghdad are presented. It is of course not Mr. Hamilton’s fault. It is certainly not that today’s Marines fight with any less courage or elan than their forefathers did. The Marines who fought against Saddam’s forces to free Kuwait, or who fight even as I write this in Iraq (along side my youngest brother in the Army) and in the hills of Afghanistan instead suffer from the politicizing of their wars. The media no longer presents today’s version of the old newsreels to a caring public that follows “their” Leathernecks and Dogfaces around the world. Today, political disdain and public apathy relegate these brave men and women to a level of unimportance that they do not deserve. Their exploits go unrecognized save but by a few. I find myself hoping that Mr. Hamilton continues what he has started here, and includes more of the modern stories, so that more people can learn about Marines, and possibly figure out what it is that makes us tick the way that we do.

Is it worth reading? Most assuredly! Should one have any interest in military history, or the Marine Corps in particular, then this book will be most enlightening.

T.L. Houlihan
SSGT, USMC (ret.)
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:18 pm

Panzer Divisions: The Eastern Front 1941-43
** ½
By Pier Paolo Battistelli
Osprey Publishing, 2008
ISBN: 978 1 84603 338 4

Part of Osprey’s Battle Orders series, this is a very informative book, showing that the author has done a considerable amount of research into the material. It is broken down into eight chapters with the additions of a glossary, explanation of abbreviations, and a key to the vehicle silhouettes used in the charts throughout the book.

The first chapter is on the combat mission of the tank arm, with the second chapter on doctrine and training. While they are each rather short, one can see how initial successes affected later campaigns, both to the good and otherwise.

The third chapter on organization discusses not only the overall Panzer divisions, but their component unit types as well. This chapter almost made me put the book down. On the one hand, there is a wealth of information presented here. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons the author has tried to fill each sentence with as much information as grammatically possible. This makes for some very unwieldy and hard to read paragraphs. Quite often I found myself having to go back and re-read passages, trying to decipher what was being presented. This is regrettable because the information is first rate. The reader can gather considerable knowledge here, but it will take some effort.

The chapter on tactics is well presented, broken down into an analysis of several engagements, accompanied with nicely done maps. The chapter on weapons, however, has the same weakness as the organizational chapter. Again, the author has tried to cram too much information into his paragraphs making them rather unwieldy. The charts that are presented showing tank division strengths at various times ought to be informative, but even they are difficult to read. Still, this chapter has a lot of good information in it.

The chapter on command, control, communication and intelligence gives a pretty good look at what it took to ‘fight’ a Panzer Division. Starting with an explanation of Auftragstaktik, then discussing elements of command and control. This is followed by a section on unit status, which to me was very unwieldy.

Overall, I found the book useful, but difficult to read. My take was that the author had to deal with format restraints which caused the cramming of information. It is well illustrated, though, with both photographs and maps. While it isn’t something you can pick up to read in an evening, I would consider it a good reference.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:18 pm

Panther vs. Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944
*** ½
by: Steven J. Zaloga
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (2008)
ISBN: 978 1 84603 292 9

This book is primarily a side-by-side comparison of two of the most well-known tanks in military history, leading up to their meeting during the Battle of the Bulge. Granted, Shermans and Panthers had faced each other prior to that, but after outlining development, tactics, and crews, the author uses one particular engagement to compare the two vehicles.

The first three chapters are about the two vehicles themselves. There is a comparative chronology of development, followed by chapters on design and development, as well as technical specifications on the two tanks. While the first two chapters were easy to follow, what I liked about the third was that the reader need not be an engineer to understand it. The technical information was presented in an understandable manner, so that even a non-mechanical person could get the gist of it.

The section on the vehicle crewmen was interesting in that not only did it analyze the crew positions, but training, background and even ergonomics in the two different vehicles. There was even a brief comparison of tank aces between the US and German armies, though some will think that the Heer should have been highlighted rather than the Waffen-SS.

A short section on the overall strategic situation in the winter of ’44 led into the chapter on combat between the two protagonists. This chapter was broken down in specific engagements during the overall fight in the Bulge. In particular, the fight at Freyneux, Belgium on 24 December was discussed with a nicely illustrated birds-eye view of the fight, drawn by Howard Gerrard.

The final chapter is an overall assessment of tank combat in WWII. This chapter also had some interesting charts showing vehicle and personnel losses in Panther units and US 1st Army during Autumn 1944. To reflect the discussion of the different versions of the Sherman during 1944, there is also a chart showing the strength balances of 75mm and 76mm guns in the US 12th Army Group during the Fall/Winter ’44-’45.

I truly liked the illustrations by Jim Laurier. Throughout the book, there were side by side comparisons of the vehicles, their turrets, even their gun sights. This backed up the liberal use of photographs showing both vehicles in many different views.

This is an easy book to read, and would be welcomed by any reader with an interest in either of these fighting vehicles. I definitely recommend it.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:19 pm

MARAUDER MAN
By Kenneth T. Brown
ISBN: 0-7434-7929-7
Published by ibooks, New York, NY; Distributed by Simon & Schuster
**** ½

The book opens with background, telling about the author’s upbringing, and his early life experiences. It is interesting to know what goes into making the man who later goes to war. An interesting point that is examined throughout the book is the author’s Quaker background, and how a devout member of this peaceful religion reconciles himself with going to war. Surprisingly, he meets another Quaker during his adventures, and determines that they approached this dilemma in similar fashion.

What I really liked about this book is that the author does more than simply tell his story. He fits his experiences into the overall framework of the B-26 at war. He intersperses his own account with background material on the plane and how the aircraft went to war. He discusses the development of the aircraft as a machine, as well as how the aircraft developed as a weapon. By using archival matter and interviews with early B-26 crews, he is able to illustrate the development of tactics, and how the first squadrons overcame unusual circumstances with the aircraft itself in order to make it such an outstanding force against the enemy.

While discussing various aspects of crew training, the author all but gives you the text of the training manuals, explaining various procedures the crew had to go through to accomplish their missions. By the time his story gets into the war, the reader has a much better appreciation for what the crew is doing over enemy territory. You won’t learn how to fly the plane, but you’ll understand the concept a lot more.

He does the same thing in a chapter entitled The Anatomy of a Combat Mission. He explains the squadron make-up, as well as how the individual “elements” form “flights,” and how those fit together to eventually make up the “box” formation. You learn how the ordnancemen load the plane, how the navigator keeps them on course, and how the bombardier goes through the process of putting “steel on target.”

His own story covers many aspects often not mentioned in the history books. From primitive barracks to adventures in Paris, he is able to give the reader a much better appreciation for the actual life lived by airmen in forward bases. While it was still more pleasant than the infantryman’s accommodations in a foxhole, it wasn’t the warm, comfortable living that many of us associate with the air forces.

He doesn’t leave off with the end of the war. He talks about his transition to civilian life, blending back into a non-combat society. He likens this experience to a drug addict going “cold turkey,” as he left behind the stressors of combat. The reader is present when he is married, discovering the odd connection between his bride and the plane he flew in during the war. He also discusses what has done since the end of the war.

Not entirely what I expected when I picked it up, I quite enjoyed reading this, and very much recommend it.
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