US European War memoirs

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fourtoe
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 29 Jun 2014 22:40

B Hellqvist wrote:Concering Wilson's memoir: IIRC, he arrived to Normandy one almost exactly one month after D-Day. One of the parts I remember is his account of the fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, and the terrible losses his unit sustained. Also, how after months on K rations, his stomach gives him trouble when he got a proper meal... You didn't mention MacDonald's "Company Commander" in your list above, but that's a really good account by another junior officer, also with some fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, albeit not as harrowing as that Wilson experienced.
Company Commander's been on my radar for awhile now. I know Larso read it and felt it lacked what others had to offer but said, "for some reason [he] kept on wishing [he'd] found this book when [he] was 15" which makes me think that I'd get a kick out of the book.

The thing is that I'm also a big audiobook fan and I KNOW I saw this book floating around as an audiobook somewhere on the Internet - so I'm holding out. That is what sorta happened with If You Survive, at least, in regards to my recently reviewing it. I read the book years ago but only started to recently give more considered reviews for war memoirs. So I didn't want to review it and wasn't going to until I saw it on Audible (which I had a bunch of unused credits for at the time) and, well here we are.

Part of my interest in these books is "the hunt" (for a lack of a better phrase), too. It's interesting searching about for these types of accounts and finding a rare memoir, without a lot of information or play on the internet, that's also really good is the best part. Company Commander is definitely a classic that I need to check out, but for awhile I'm looking for something like Fear is the For or Normandy 1944: A Young Rifleman's War which Larso was lucky enough to find a few years ago.

fourtoe
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 19 Jul 2014 07:59

From The Bronx To Berchtesgaden: The Combat Memoir of a WWII Hero by Murray Soskil

3-4 stars: A blur of an action-packed memoir of a two time Silver Star recipient who fought during the last 6 months of the war.

(Note: This is the first review I haven't already posted on Amazon. This is because I have some issues with the book that might be too critical to post on such a public site like Amazon. So I'd like to know what you guys think about some of the claims made in the book that I later note before I make an official review.)

Soskil joined the army after receiving a few deferments for working in wartime factories and being married. He was originally assigned to an ordinance company in 1942, but after basic training the war became more demanding on infantry troops which eventually lead to Soskil joining the 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division as a rifleman. He landed on the coast of France as a replacement and fought in numerous engagements all the way up until the end of the war, at which time he earned the rank of sergeant, one Bronze Star and two Silver Stars.

Soskil's account is short and focuses almost exclusively on his time in combat: it starts on page 33 and focuses on combat all the way until page 157 (there are several pictures in between, as well). He's in a lot of combat and experiences many close calls but manages to leave the war without any physical wounds. He is also upfront about his personal deeds in combat - describing his own actions in enemy engagements and the actions he performed that resulted in his earning medals for valor. AND this account isn't sweeping, that is, there isn't a lot of "info dumping" or time spent on broader troop movements or decisions made by the higher ups -- this is an combat account from a seasoned infantryman through and through.

So why am I not awarding this book 5 stars/so hesitant to review this book at all? Well here's why, starting with my least controversial observations:

Soskil is up front about his combat deeds but this is delivered in a plain or simplistic manner. It's not compelling or riveting, and given without much reflection or introspection. The overall narrative structure is rather messy, as well. Soskil will talk about his unit's trek across Europe (general fighting movements and conditions on and off the front lines) but then he'll speak of specific engagements with no set-up, making the account confusing. One thing that might be an issue of reading the Kindle version is that It seemed like he was reaching the end of his time in combat bit after 50% of the book but he suddenly starts talking about winter fighting and continues from there to the end of the war.

And though there's a lot of combat, it is filled with similar experiences that are delivered too frequently with little variance. Some things stand out in this book, but only a few and not at all comparable to other combat accounts that I have read. Books I was reminded of or books you might enjoy OR similar but better books like this one would be: LUCKY INFANTRYMAN, ETCHED IN PURPLE and especially A FOOTSOLDIER FOR PATTON, which is like a longer, more extensive and fleshed out account from a soldier who had a similar combat experience and saw a wide range of unique instances like the ones described in this review (mostly below).

I would still give Soskil a 4-star rating if I were to leave the review as it is so far but now for some of my slightly more serious concerns with the book.

Because the Kindle version is pretty cheap, the book as 59 reviews and an average of 4 stars. However, seven of those reviews are negative scores and many of the top reviews are very vague, two sentence reviews that don't give you a lot of information. After reading some of the negative reviews I was a bit worried but checked out the book anyways because it was so cheap and a short read. But once I read the book I was put off by a few instances Soskil described. The one that sounded the most dubious was his description of GIs taking female German soldiers and raping them, with one example resulting in one of the German women actually castrating the GI before he could perform the deed. I was reminded of a similar scene in the Peckinpah flick Cross of Iron...

The rest of the issues collected together, also bother me: he is constantly in combat and at times it seems like he is parroting what a regimental history probably chronicled, he talks about witnessing several war crimes, like that mentioned above and general SS atrocities: civilian torture (more castrations) and executions, shooting medical personnel, the shooting of prisoners, etc. etc. Soskil also fights with a lot of different weapons: he used a Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, carbine, M1 Garand and .45 pistol but he also went on satchel charge runs to bunkers and was apart of a machine gun squad. And going back to my concern arising from the reviews: several of these passages are highlighted by others who have bought the Kindle addition of the book (a feature of the program), so I'm not the only one who noted these issues.

So what though? War crimes happened and though lurid, some of Soskil claims are not novel. Maybe I've read too many USMC memoirs* -- plus, Soskil has the medals and citations proving his valor in battle (which I don't find dubious at all but mention because it is an example of how one can verify their combat experience) but all of it together cause concern and make me unsure about recommending this book with a 4 star rating.

If you guys think my concerns are warranted enough then I would give this book 3 stars but let me know if you think I'm being too nit-picky or haven't given enough material to justify such hesitancy.

*Marines seem to specialize and stick to one trade like a machine gunner or an engineer for satchel charges and I don't know if that's consistent with the army.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 19 Jul 2014 12:06

Interesting review. The guy seems legitimate but there's nothing to stop someone writing 90% fact and 10% fiction. There are certainly a few lurid details in some of the other memoirs listed above. None of those mention rape as far as I can recall but there were certainly crimes mentioned. Wiki says that 14,000 rapes were reported from England, France and Germany and you'd have to think a lot of others went unreported. 152 US servicemen were tried, with 29 hanged. Apparently 139 of those were black servicemen and given they were very much in the minority, most attacks surely were committed by white soldiers. An army as big as the US liberation force would've had its share of felons to start with, I imagine drunkenness probably was a big part of it too. So I guess I'm saying it's quite possible it happened as he says. In fact, German women soldiers seem a very likely target too.

As for the shift in roles, Urgang? from Etched in Purple, started as a medic but was switched to rifleman and stayed one.

At this distance it's impossible to know if we're getting total credibility. Much earlier in this thread, I've given Foley 5 stars for his awesome 'Visions from a foxhole'. Another guy who served in the 94th wrote to me to say don't believe everything Foley says. I've come across outright lies in The Dennis Olson story. Another guy claimed he escaped from a POW camp and stole an ME109 to fly back to England! That only happens in Biggles. Hard to say how many 'stars' to penalise it? I think the details you give are more valuable than the rating. It sounds like a four star book but with a few qualifiers.

fourtoe
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by fourtoe » 20 Jul 2014 04:17

Larso wrote:Interesting review. The guy seems legitimate but there's nothing to stop someone writing 90% fact and 10% fiction. There are certainly a few lurid details in some of the other memoirs listed above. None of those mention rape as far as I can recall but there were certainly crimes mentioned. Wiki says that 14,000 rapes were reported from England, France and Germany and you'd have to think a lot of others went unreported. 152 US servicemen were tried, with 29 hanged. Apparently 139 of those were black servicemen and given they were very much in the minority, most attacks surely were committed by white soldiers. An army as big as the US liberation force would've had its share of felons to start with, I imagine drunkenness probably was a big part of it too. So I guess I'm saying it's quite possible it happened as he says. In fact, German women soldiers seem a very likely target too.

As for the shift in roles, Urgang? from Etched in Purple, started as a medic but was switched to rifleman and stayed one.

At this distance it's impossible to know if we're getting total credibility. Much earlier in this thread, I've given Foley 5 stars for his awesome 'Visions from a foxhole'. Another guy who served in the 94th wrote to me to say don't believe everything Foley says. I've come across outright lies in The Dennis Olson story. Another guy claimed he escaped from a POW camp and stole an ME109 to fly back to England! That only happens in Biggles. Hard to say how many 'stars' to penalise it? I think the details you give are more valuable than the rating. It sounds like a four star book but with a few qualifiers.
Yeah, I agree with you. As I was writing this I also realized that there wasn't as much controversial stuff in it as I thought but I figured I ask about it on a forum interested into all this stuff, haha.

I'll give it a 4 stars but leave out most of my qualms when I write the Amazon review.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 06 Dec 2014 22:59

Hero for a Day by Keith Christensen

Christensen served with the 14th Armoured Division from late 1944 to D-day. He followed this with further service in Korea and another 20 years in the army reserve. Prior to combat in Europe he was in the ATSP program, the 89th Chemical Battalion and the 201st Inf Regt. This later unit was utilised by the army to trial new foods and equipment. As such he was solidly trained when he managed to get himself posted to active duty. After entering the replacement system in France, he was assigned to C/19th Armoured Infantry Battalion in mid December 1944.

The author devotes several dozen pages to his WW2 experiences. His initial actions are patrols and outposts before he is wounded in the Battle for Hatten in mid-January 1945. He never fires a round and the division’s tank elements suffer heavily. He returns after three weeks recovering and joins in the division's drive through Germany. There are many towns, most defended and there are a steady stream of actions and casualties. Christensen is one of just a handful of memoirists who specifically state their contribution to this. Most of his combat is on foot but there are a few occasions where he writes of firing the halftrack's 50 Cal on the enemy. His most deadly day is in Rohrback where he uses his BAR to create a killing field. In war, he states, movement brings death and a group of Germans moved way too much.

Christensen bases his account on his own recollections, assisted by the battalion history, which he sometimes disagrees with. Other times, he cannot remember anything regarding a particular episode. He ascribes this to age and possibly exhaustion at the time. There is little on the broader picture but there are accounts of near misses, lucky breaks and the opposite: blue-on-blue deaths and the killing of prisoners. Brutality begets brutality. Towards the end he is involved in the liberation of Hammelburg POW camp. While these WW2 pages are briefer than I expected, the author recaps on these events in his conclusion. By the end he is a sergeant. There is then some material on the occupation.

For Korea, Christensen is a 2nd Lt and is posted to the still segregated G/24th Regt in August 1951. He is involved in a few actions that he relates. Then after that unit is desegregated he is assigned to D/27th Regt, which later serves time guarding POWs. This is quite a challenge. Following Korea, Christensen joins the reserves and over the next 20 plus years has a variety of postings and commands. Much of what he has to say here concerns his philosophy and attitudes.

The author is a very forthright man. He is very strongly spoken about army bureaucracy, hypocrisy and flawed polices. Especially where actual combat veterans are not given their due. He is also very open about sex and his success at finding it, though this is not gratuitous. He has a very strong stance that the actions of young men in war (especially on killing) can only be understood by other veterans. Basically, if you’ve not been in his shoes, you’ve got no right to criticise. I largely concur. There are also significant chapters on the VA, politics, PTSD, justice, even Jewry. Again, some strong points are made and some are likely to rub some readers the wrong way.

For a long book (300 pages) devoted to military service, the combat component is fairly modest. The openness about killing enemies (‘I dropped at least 2 dozen men’) is very rare though (maybe one man in 50 memorists reveals a ‘score’ in my experience). There are still quite a number of interesting stories of life in the military and life in general through the decades covered, though strangely Christensen, who writes of his wife of 63 years quite often, never mentions her name! He touches on religion a little (he was Lutheran – like me) but this is a very minor theme. There is some repetition, a few typos, a very useful glossary and a few rants. As an account of armoured infantry combat, it comes in behind that of Paul Andert’s ‘Unless you have been there’, but the frankness of Christensen’s memoir places him ahead of plenty of others on my list. The author has indulged himself with this book but he certainly earned the right to write his life’s story and views of the world as he sees fit. Generally recommended. 3 ¼ stars.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 07 Feb 2015 22:22

From Bloody Herrlisheim to a Slave Labour Camp by James E Muschell

The author served in the 43rd Tank Battalion of the 12th Armoured Division. This unit arrived in the ETO in November 44 and was involved in attacks on the Siegfried Line before getting caught in front of the Northwind attack. As the title implies, the author is captured and spends the rest of the war as a prisoner.

Muschell's account is straight into the action. He is a loader/assistant gunner in a Sherman tank. There is no personal background, though we learn he can speak German, so he was one of many Americans with German ancestry. There's a little bit of divisional history too. All up though, there are only 40 pages prior to his capture, with most devoted to the battle of Herrlisheim. The author does recount a few interesting stories of earlier battles but as he reveals he had five tanks shot from under him, there was quite a bit more to be said. With Herrlisheim there was quite a bit of detail. His unit loses half its tanks the first day and on the second the remainder are cut-off and wiped out. They face the 10th SS Pz Division and it is quite proficient and brutal. He was beaten up during interrogation and he and his fellow POWs are lucky to avoid a Malmedy style execution.

Muschell is unlucky enough to be suspected of being Jewish and he is assigned to a work detail rather than being allowed to sit the war out in a POW camp. He has a pretty horrendous time in Hannover. It is heavily bombed and he is guarded by very brutal SS guards. There is virtually no food and he suffers considerably from trench foot. The worst part was a horrendous train journey that almost defies belief. He is freed in early April and aside from his journey home, his story basically concludes.

The first thing to say, is this is quite a short book. There are only 70 odd pages of text, though there are another 70 of pictures and copies of German rules towards POWs. These photos are primarily of dead inmates of Landsburg Concentration Camp, which was liberated by the 12th Armoured. These were taken by fellow soldier Robert Hartwig and I've never seen them before. Some are more gruesome than normal, being of victims killed by axe. The Concentration camps were evil places but it boggles the mind that the Nazies here resorted to this method of execution. There were a few other things of note regarding his combat service. He didn't think the up-gunned Sherman was much of an improvement and on one occasion, a German officer pretended to surrender only to use the process to scout the US position and call in artillery! So, all together there are some worthwhile stories but I really wanted a fuller story. Muschell is a solid writer but it's a bit of a missed opportunity as there are so few accounts by US tank men. 2 ¾ stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 24 May 2015 11:42

The Point of the Arrow by Willis Irvin Jr.

Willis was a very keen young soldier. He was a student at The Citadel and after basic training he is trained in armored operations. Frankly, he can’t wait to get into an operation unit. Yet, after apparently landing on D-day with his armored replacement battalion and joining the 2nd Armd Division, he does a variety of non-combat jobs, including latrine digger, grave registration and Intelligence. Finally, even though his MOS is tank driver he is posted to I/41st Armd Inf just prior to the Battle of the Bulge.

Irvin’s first combat is downing a German plane, which he describes as a bi-plane but identifies as a FW190? There are a few hairy moments in his initial duties and he participates in dealing with some SS who attacked a crowd of Dutch civilians. All the time though he is thrusting for a full-time front-line role. This comes just in time for the Bulge. Most of the men in his unit are fresh replacements which spells out the scale of casualties even armored infantry suffered. Travelling in freezing open halftracks doesn’t help either.

At the Bulge, Irvin’s main action is Lamormenil. They attack and defend and he wins the Silver Star. This is mainly for assisting wounded but he is also in the firing line. There is street fighting and tank attacks. The author also has a religious experience amongst it all as well. Some of his other actions are also notable. There are a handful of distressing stories, the shooting of prisoners for instance. The Malmedy Massacre was well known by all US troops and many took private revenge. Overall though, things aren’t too visceral and Irvin doesn’t go into too much detail on his Grave Registration work. Indeed, he seems to have coped well with a task that many would’ve found too awful.

Following VE-day there is a lot on the occupation. Irvin has some interesting responsibilities and opportunities. There is a bit too on relationships and again a surprising amount of detail at one point which conflicts with his generally chaste conduct. So, there is honesty and insight of an extraordinary time to be young. The book is a large A4 size one. In some ways it is like a scrapbook with many copies of letters and other documents. Some of these are even in French and German. There are a heap of pictures and newspaper articles too. Altogether it’s a wide ranging look at a young man’s life in astonishing times. It’s a bit raw at times, with repetition and little by-ways but the author is entitled to tell his story his way. Curiously, this often includes referring to himself in the third person? So, worth a look for the full picture. The combat element is in the 3 ¼ star range.

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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Jun 2016 12:56

Soldier, Policeman. Patriot by David E. Teich Sr.

Teich volunteered for the army mid 1942 aged sixteen. He trained as a mechanic and was duly assigned to 744th Light Tank Battalion. Here he trained as a gunner and learnt to drive all the battalions vehicles, including their M3 and later M5 light tanks. Against his will though, he was made a medic. It was in this role that he went with his unit to England and then to battle in Normandy.

The hedgerow fighting was difficult for everyone. Teich had occasions where he sought the wounded, without knowing where the front line was. He quickly learned the realities of battle and bravely undertook his job. He operated in conjunction with a halftrack ambulance and litter bearers. This and other much less important jobs was not what he’d come to war to do. A clever ploy however saw him transferred to the battalion’s recon platoon and he served with this through the rest of the drive through France and in Germany. His role is essentially that of an infantryman. He is involved in patrols and scouting and there are several fascinating stories, including his associations with British forces. It is not a long section of his book though.

After doing a few odd jobs, Teich rejoined the army. First the Air Corps, then he did OCS, with a whole heap of interesting postings and experiences along the way. As an officer he was assigned a platoon of M4A3E8 tanks in the 44th Tank Battalion. With the Korean War going badly some armoured officers were being reassigned to the infantry but Teich manages to get sent to the 6th Medium Tank Battalion, attached to the 24th Infantry Division. It was in this role that he engages in some desperate combat against the North Koreans. The situation is a mess, some orders are crazy, so he does what he has to. There is some very close quarters combat here and this part of the book is much more detailed than the WW2 phase. Following the war he stays in the army for a while and has some very interesting postings, particularly to Germany.

After the service, Teich gets involved in policing. This is quite a lengthy part of the book because he has a huge variety of roles and experiences. There are heaps of interesting anecdotes. Even better, is the learning process. He writes of his decisions and actions, not all of which were met with applause from his employers. It is fascinating reading of his integrity in the face of buffoonery. There is also a little on his family challenges and this gives the full picture of a brave and patriotic man who lived an extraordinary life.

The text is quite readable. Cindy Butts writes Mr Teich’s recollections down in the first person. This all reads well enough with only a curious failure to capitalise the names of military units a jarring note. This book is probably best read by Americans who are interested in members of the Greatest Generation. The policing section is longer than the military phase, so there’s a lot to learn altogether. But in terms of WW2 in the ETO only a few dozen pages.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 24 Aug 2016 11:34

Road to Huertgen: Forest in Hell by Paul Boesch

Boesch was the MG platoon leader for 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment of the 8th Division. He sees action in Brittany in the advance to Dinaud and in the siege of Brest. He then goes to the Huertgen Forest and is heavily involved in taking the name-sake village itself.

I’m not sure if it’s particular to the Kindle edition but this memoir starts off in battle and finishes the same way. So there’s no background on the author or training, list of postings etc. You do learn though that he was older than most (born in 1912), adored his wife and was a competitive wrestler. All of the book then is a very detailed account of his combat service.

Boesch’s combat is at the sharp end. He leads his MG platoon from the front and is on the receiving end of more than his fair share of retaliatory fire. It is interesting to read of him positioning his guns for best effect and the decisions he makes as a man manager. His account of action against Brest is about the only one I am aware of. The defences are strong, though he doesn’t write of Ramcke’s paratroops specifically. Interestingly, he is extremely critical of the sanitation of the Germans? He also gets shot up by his own airforce.

The detail given above is considerable but this is put into the shade by what follows in the Huertgen. Even the truck trip is conveyed in graphic ways. The terrible weather and worse terrain confound the American efforts in the battle. They are shocked at the appearance of the men they are replacing, also the number of dead that lie around. The thick forest deadens the sound of shells, robbing men of vital seconds to find cover. And the German mines and artillery threaten to make every step your last. As it continues, Boesch is given command of G Company when all its officers become casualties. This is just in time for the assault on Huertgen village itself. He doesn’t know his men, they don’t know him and his superiors are bizarrely out of touch. It is astonishing how everything unfolds. They are trapped in open ground. Men crumble, others run. Somehow Boesch stays alive until finally help comes and they gain the village and begin house-to-house fighting. It is one hell of a battle.

I’ve been aware of this book for quite a while. I’m surprised though at its low profile. I think it is the equal of ‘Company Commander’ or ‘If you Survive’ in terms of action and the role of a frontline officer. Boesch writes of it all, the heroes who stick to their duty, the awful casualties, friends in combat, those who can’t cope and killing the enemy. It is very much an account of combat. It is graphic in parts but not excessively so. There is no foul language but the foulness of the situations is very clear. Highly recommended! 4.25 stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 22 Sep 2016 11:03

Recon Trooper by Hugh West

West is a slightly older man, a teacher and married, with no real inclination to be a soldier. Yet he is drafted and spends the next two years training with the 14th Armoured Division before they arrive in Alsace in 1944. There as a member of the 94th Recon Sqn, he sees battle from Hatten to the end in Germany.

While nominally a signaller, West actually undertakes quite a variety of rolls in the eight months or so his division is in action. This includes operating a bazooka in Hatten, a remarkably violent battle, which saw significant German forces attacking. He stalks tanks and then spends a lot of time being shelled and even trapped in a burning house. There are numerous patrols, both mounted and unmounted, seeking the Germans and trying to find suitable roads and bridges in the drive through Germany. His war concludes with another major action against tank school units at Cruessen where he acts as artillery spotter.

West’s war is quite an extensive one then. He notes, reluctant as he was, that those two years of training gave his unit a cohesion that was crucial in battle. He personally also is able to operate from a halftrack, which proves particularly useful in his side-line of looting. He is quite meticulous in sending these items home to his wife. He is noted for his thoroughness and is given a few interesting jobs to conclude his military service. Then, sufficient points accrued, he happily goes home.

Through his story there are numerous little nuggets of interesting information. West is also prepared to write on the grisly nature of combat. A lot of their combat too was facing counter-attacks, which are mostly broken by artillery. They also received ongoing attention from the Luftwaffe. More than most, this account gives a good account of how the mechanised and well supported American army defeated the Germans. He was fortunate not to have to slog like an infantryman. Few of them had a halftrack they could sit in with the running engine keeping them warm! Even so, he faces PTSD when he returns. He writes of its onset, including delusions he experienced and then the post war effects; physical consequences and impacts on his career. Of interest - 3 stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 Oct 2016 11:58

'Youth Interrupted' by Karl Lindquist

Lindquist grew up in Nantucket, doing odd jobs and sailing. His mother taught him to be independent and he was. He was able to attend Exeter on a scholarship (and was well enough regarded to be the first student ever to be allowed to switch out of Latin classes into German) and did well enough to make the ASTP program when the army drafted him when he turned eighteen. His first train journey, through America, was an eye opener. The squalor he saw in the South in particular. He only spent a few months at Maine University before the program was terminated and he was transferred to G/104th Regt, 26th Infantry Division.

The 26th went straight to France, landing in September. Its first action was the following month and Lindquist had an astonishing combat baptism. No one really knew what to expect and there is amazing blundering - from both sides. The sounds of battle and simple field craft are ignored. Poor discipline leads to unnecessary casualties and Lindquist finds himself rescuing the wounded virtually by himself. It is all pretty much a disaster. (Robert Kortluck writes about this action in ‘Before their time’.) Lindquist also experiences a traumatic jolt from killing.

In short order, Lindquist’s platoon is destroyed and he transfers to the medics. He felt very poorly served by his leaders and this was mostly to get away from them. He names names too! Lindquist was very intelligent and easily spotted some of the foolishness of army life. This was highlighted by the medal ceremony he attended to receive his Silver and Bronze Stars.

This is a fairly short book but it has some strong elements. Lindquist himself is a decent man and he does his duty. His combat experiences subsequent to his ‘baptism’ are not as detailed but there are still a number of interesting things to read about being under fire and the randomness of death. Lindquist’s experiences as a youth are also of interest in a time when the world was quite different. Recommended. 3 ½ stars.

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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 24 Nov 2016 12:20

The Making of a Paratrooper by Kurt Gabel

Gabel immigrated to America from Germany as a youth. He was into sports and motor cycles. When the war came he promptly stepped forward and volunteered for the paratroopers. There follows a remarkably detailed account of training. The conversations are no doubt novelised to an extent but the actual events and the para personalities seemed to have been burned into his memory. First, there is a very severe culling process. More than half his group don’t even get to paratroop school. The 513th Para Regt had been authorised to raise itself along unique, somewhat experimental lines. As a starter, the cadre really sought those with the most determined attitudes. They were then trained in the sub-units they were going to fight with, by the men who were going to lead them. Aside from the intense physical training, what stood out to me was the emphasis on concurrent activity. They were always seeking to maximise the learning that could be done. Even the five minute breaks on marches were used to rehearse lessons taught.

In September 1944, after the 513th was trained to the peak of efficiency, it went to England as part of the 17th Airborne Division. Its combat debut came in the Battle of the Bulge, when it and the other airborne units were rushed in to fill the huge gaps punched by the German offensive. Gabel’s entrance to combat is remarkably disorganised, almost bumbling. This though was mostly due to the monumental confusion that existed. The regiment was strongly attacked, including by tanks and suffered significant casualties. This was despite the superb condition of the men. These qualities were strongly evident in their ability to hold and to tacticly withdraw under extreme pressure. Gabel is separated from his battalion and fights with anyone who will take him. He relates some astonishing stories here. He even takes part in Lt Calhoun's famed bayonet charge. His detailed narrative is extremely engrossing, displaying the fitness, discipline and fighting spirit of the paratroops.

Though a late comer to the war, the 17th Airborne suffered significant casualties in this and it's subsequent airborne landing in Operation Varsity. The 513th suffered the most and by some measures, even more than many regiments in the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. These details are noted by the editors as Gabel died before he could write of his involvement of his experiences in Germany. This was very unfortunate as this is one of the more informative of the airborne memoirs, including those of the 82nd and 101st. Given that very few accounts were written by men from the 17th, it would have been great to get Gabel's full story, including of his service in Korea and Vietnam.

As it is, we have an excellent contribution to the genre here. Gabel’s background as a youth in the militarised Third Reich, allows him to make some fascinating insights into the differences between the German and US armies. He could speak German (and was in Bn HQ for Varsity) and this allows him to relate details about prisoners taken. It doesn’t seem likely that Gabel recorded every day activities and conversations to the degree that allowed him to recount them to the extent that he does here, so I imagine he has taken some poetic license. It doesn’t sound like a novel though, it is just a very immediate narrative which makes for a compelling read. I would recommend this as one of the top five airborne accounts in terms of explaining the nature of a paratrooper's experience. 4 stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 25 Jan 2017 11:36

Shavetail by William L. Devitt

Devitt was a Minnesotan boy. Having attended St. Thomas military school, he is automatically commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the army. Then aged just twenty, he is assigned to E/330th, 83rd Infantry Division as a replacement officer in August 1944. He finds it a bit disconcerting to be appointed to command men who had already seen extensive combat in Normandy. Fortunately there is some time to aclimatise to his new situation and get to know his men.

He entered the front line in the Huertgen Forest in December, when his unit replaced the 4th Infantry Division, whose men looked like ‘zombies’. They then spend over a week in the same foxholes being shelled. When they finally move forward the company has suffered 36 casualties and hasn’t seen a live German. His first experience in attack is successful but deadly. There is confusion about the front line, leading to an unexpected clash. There then follows much more extensive fighting in the houses and streets of Untermaubash. At the conclusion, there are only 40 men left out of the 180 who entered the forest.

Devitt’s unit is then transferred to Belgium for the closing stages of the Battle of the Bulge. He is wounded very early in this phase though and goes through the casualty process to England. The book concludes with his experiences of post-war trips to Europe and a couple of chapters dealing with acquaintances and their experiences on D-day.

The author is good at describing the many army terms. So it is a useful memoir for those new to the genre. Devitt gives reasonable insight into what he sees and experiences. For instance, the balance of taking risks personally and being alive to continue directing actions. He is honest and self critical in his appraisal of his actions and those of his men. Many comrades are named, some described in some detail, including some who don’t perform so well. He is though very quick to praise those who were courageous. There were several men whose loss affected him deeply. There is a bit of milder language and some clear descriptions of terrible wounds nut it is a very accessible read. Overall, of reasonable value for the account of battle in the Huertgen. 3 ¼ stars.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 28 Feb 2017 12:54

Granddaddy was Airborne! by Bart Hageman

The author grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky. On his entry to the army he was slyly asked if he was interested in the airforce and his acknowledgement was enough to have him assigned to the newly forming 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment. While this was part of the 17th Airborne Division, it was only the paratroopers who were volunteers. Glidermen and others could be assigned as needed. There were clashes between the two but in the end, many, including Hageman, volunteered to do the parachute course as well. As it was, he went into battle by truck, when the division was rushed to the front during the battle of the Bulge.

Hageman found himself doing his training at Camp Mackall, not far from his home. There are the usual training stories about being whipped into shape and then the combat training that followed. There is some interesting material on this phase, with Hageman being a bit of a prankster and also up for a fight. There are also the doings of leave. The most interesting part though is the glider training, as few memoirs have been published by men in this role. In August the division is sent to England, where more training and leave shenanigans take place.

Following the German breakthrough in their Ardennes Offensive, the division is quickly shifted to the crisis area. This occurs about the halfway point of the book. Hageman is a mortarman in ‘D’ company. Their first encounters with the Germans go poorly. They suffer quite a few casualties and are sent scurrying back. Hageman is wounded at the Our River but returns to his unit in January for another brief spell. While his combat account probably only takes up about 20% of his story, he writes with unusual candour of actions on the battlefield. Some things were very grim and he looses friends violently. He is quite scared and also quite lucky. Following this battle, loses mean the 193rd is disbanded and its men sent to their sister regiment in the division, the 194th.

There follow some chapters on processing through the hospitals and his return to civilian life. A couple of chapters look at other areas of military life of interest to the author. He reflects on his fears, PTSD and again, on the men lost. A few names are changed to avoid embarrassments. Overall this is a straightforward, detailed and entertaining account of involvement in WW2. It is one of only a handful of 17th Airborne Division accounts, so it is particularly valuable on that score. Hageman, who was involved with the veterans association after the war, also wrote another book that was more a general divisional history. 3 ½ stars overall.

Larso
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Location: Brisbane, Australia

Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 01 May 2017 02:53

Agony of Hell by Bert Craft

Craft was born in 1925 in Smith County, Mississippi, a proud descendent of a number of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. When called up in early 1944, he eschewed persuasion to join the Marines, reasoning that would see him in the Pacific and joining the army would likely send him to Europe, which he preferred. So it happened. Interestingly, many of the men he joined up with from his region and trained with in Alabama, were kept together as they were sent to France. On the 1st November 1944, Craft and a fair number of these, were assigned to C Co, 7th Infantry Regt, 3rd Infantry Division.

Despite being new to the Front, he is made a platoon scout and is promptly in a jarring clash. This is the first of many actions and given he is often in a scouting role, he is lucky to have survived. It is the first of many actions. He doesn’t write in detail of them all but it is a relentless advance and he is in heaps of combat. He has plenty of Germans to shoot at and has some very close shaves himself. He is active in the battle of the Colmar Pocket which you don’t read about much.

He has a dim view of officers and not unnaturally, a loathing of the Germans. He is very scathing regarding some individuals and names names. He notes though that he has changed some of them but it’s likely anyone who was there would know exactly who he was talking about. Aside from the combat, there are deaths through errors caused by fatigue. It is a grueling march all said.

It has to be said that Craft is not a good writer. The prose is pretty basic, things jump around a bit and it’s confusing at times. He can be a bit inconsistent too in how he refers to people. To the good though is the author’s candor in writing of his experiences. It is also good to see him entitle chapters with the names of the places he fought through. There are some disconcerting elements with fighting others and the rascism of many southern men. It is a short book but it is an interesting read where he goes into detail. 3 ¼ stars

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