US European War memoirs

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Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 May 2017 12:13

Dear Captain, et al. by Allan Wilford Howerton

Howerton entered the army under the ATSP program. He was not an enthusiastic soldier and is very disconcerted to find himself assigned to the 84th Infantry Division when the program was canceled. He endured the usual elements of army training, including culture clash with the regular soldiers. Even so, he is very fortunate to join and train with his unit from inception. This led to a remarkable bond that was vital to survival when they went to France in November 1944.

The author’s particular unit was K Company, 335th Infantry. Though it missed Normandy, it conducted significant actions on the Seigfried Line, the Bulge and the advance through Germany. Its baptism of fire is Lindern, which is a debacle and very costly. They faced good quality German troops with tanks and they made a heap of mistakes. In the end Howerton and the other survivors held their ground. The company was rebuilt and then seemed to go through the same process in the Bulge. The big actions aside, there was a constant need for replacements and the number of ‘originals’ steadily decreases.

This is a strong theme in the book. In fact it is remarkably detailed. There is very close attention paid to the company records and the notes made about the soldiers assigned to it. It is surprising how many men were evacuated with injuries or illness. Yes, trenchfoot being partly to blame but there seemed to be many other ways to become ill.

Howerton names names too. If there was cowardice, AWOL or a court-martial he spells it out. I guess this points to what was available in the company records but it is still very unusual to see. Most veterans prefer to leave such things in the past or at least hide identities with changed names. The extent of all this makes this more of a company history. The author is generally sparing regarding his own activities. This is partly because he is a radio operator, though this also gave him access to the leadership group.

Another element of this is memory. Some things he recalled were not borne out by the records. Even notes made at the time can be found to be incorrect. Also, the memories of men can differ, as he found in his extensive research; interviews, correspondence, phone calls, fifty years later.
The most intriguing aspect of the book was the level of detail about the movements of soldiers in and out of the company. There are the usual mistakes and horrors but it is not an action packed read in that respect. Indeed, at over 500 pages it is a bit of a slog. Overall – generally recommended.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Jul 2017 07:40

Load Kick Fire By Gene Palumbo

Both of the author’s parents were born overseas. They were typical immigrants, they worked hard when they came to America but they also experienced some problems, even discrimination from authorities. Yet, when war came, all four of their sons enlisted to serve their country. Gene had a typical upbringing and was something of a skater. Though offered the chance to join the USO he declined in order to fight. This he duly did in Italy, the invasion of Southern France and the drive from there to the end in Germany.

When Gene arrives in Africa he is assigned to B Sqn, 756th Tank battalion. They are equipped with Shermans and Gene is allocated the role of loader. His first action is at the Rapido River, which goes poorly. He is then involved in the fighting at Casino. His battalion is usually in support of the 3rd Infantry Division, though they help elsewhere as well. Palumbo write fairly interestingly of combat from a tank. There are close calls and dealing out destruction. There are a few blunt passages too about the effects of battle on human bodies. It was very grim stuff at times.

After a hospital stint he is unable to continue in a tank but lands himself a recon role driving a jeep. Here he scoots quickly all over the battle field, observing German positions, carrying people and munitions forward and casualties back. Again, it is very dangerous and there are other close calls and grim stories (be careful of going to reunions to research family history). He does get to see Audie Murphy in action at one point. He also reaches a point of collapse.

This is one of just a handful of US army tanker accounts. Even then, most of his front-line time is done driving his jeep. There’s a couple of interesting, even remarkable stories, none-the-less. Gene doesn’t bother writing too much of non-combat stuff so even though it’s a short book, it is mostly about front-line life and action. After the war he struggles with the return to civilian life. He recognises something is wrong and is able to get himself treatment, including group therapy. The post-war part is brief but an apt addition. Palumbo is no great writer but he is upfront about some harsh things. Overall then; interesting and adequately related. 3 ¼ stars

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B Hellqvist
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 10 Aug 2017 00:58

'Bloody Roads to Germany' by William F. Meller
Subtitled ‘At Huertgen Forest and the Bulge - an American Soldier's Courageous Story of World War II'. Berkley Books 2012. Hardback 196 pages.

Meller served as a sergeant in I Company, 110th RCT, 28th Infantry Division. He went from a fresh-faced 20 years old replacement to platoon sergeant in just a couple of months by not getting killed. On 16 December, 1944, he and his platoon (which was reduced to a squad), guarded a bridge over the Our River. Meller and his men became prisoners of war on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. They went into captivity and spent 3½ months as PoWs.

Meller tells his story in a no-nonsense way, with the events before 16 December told as flashbacks. He saw action in the fighting around Schmidt in the Hürtgen Forest, and he's critical of the way the leadership squandered away troops in the hard battles. Life as a PoW isn't a picnic, though, and his experience of Stalag IX isn't like an episode of "Hogan's Heroes". Thanks to an unexpected friendship with an French African PoW, he doesn't starve as much as most other prisoners. One of the camp guards becomes the object of his hatred, and he decides to kill him when he gets the opportunity. When the day of liberation arrives, he sets out to find the guard...

This book is a rather fast read. The combat action is relatively detailed and conveys the horrors of war. It's in the depiction of life as a prisoner of war that the book shines, though. Meller pulls no punches. His feelings for the Germans (he's of German ancestry himself) ranges from compassion to hatred, making his story nuanced. There are a couple of discrepancies that a good editor could have sorted out, but all in all, Meller's story rings true. 3 stars.

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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Aug 2017 11:18

'Nineteen Days in June 1944' by Henry Grady Spencer

Henry Spencer was older than most of the men I have looked at here. In fact his military experience started with four years in the marines from 1932 before he became an officer in the reserve. This saw him rise to Executive Officer of the 1st battalion of 23rd Infantry Division, 2nd Infantry Division. This memoir though, is almost entirely concerned with the author’s military experiences in June 1944. This starts with the movement to the invasion port, the journey to Normandy, then action until he was seriously wounded.

The start of Spencer’s invasion is almost ludicrous. Instead of being allocated an LST, he finds a regular ship. This meant loading by crane – but nothing had been supplied for him to do this with! He had to deal with several more ridiculous situations to get his ship underway. He managed it and was soon anchored off Omaha watching the drama of the landing. This is quite incredible.

Once ashore, his battalion is assigned Hill 192 as its first objective. There is a foolish order to advance untactically, which promptly puts the battalion in peril of being wiped out by 3rd Falschirmager Division. Spencer gathers some cooks and drivers and does his best to rescue the beleagued force. Frankly, this is one of the more exciting battle accounts I’ve read in ages. There are attacks by the paras and furious fighting back. Spencer recounts a number of astonishing events, including several personal misadventures. At the end of the day, he is in command of the battalion.

There are a number of jolting experiences, including his witnessing the murder of German POW and the sacking of Fuller, his regimental commander (he sounds like a disaster, yet he redeemed himself at the Bulge with the 110th). He goes into some detail on the orders he gives and why and tries to learn from mistakes. He also does everything he can to have more automatic weapons issued to his men to counter the paras superior firepower. When they are next sent forward again, he clashes with his divisional commanders about their WW1 tactics and being too far back. This battle is again very vivid but more for the serious injury Spencer receives. The objective is not taken for another three weeks.

I hadn’t realised Spencer was of such a senior rank. Even so he is right in the front lines and as I said above, writes very vividly of the action he was part of. He spoke up to his commanders too but this was before the difficulties of fighting in the bocage against motivated Germans was appreciated, and he is ignored. His perspective on Colonel Fuller’s performance and sacking is fascinating. He is upfront about a lot of things he sees. While Spencer is only in combat for a short time, this is one of the more exciting accounts about battle in the hedgegrows. 3 ¾ stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Sep 2017 12:43

Love Company by John Khoury

Khoury’s family has an unusual background as Christian Turks from Syria. He began his service with enlistment in the Reserves, because it promised the completion of his college education. This started a service with a considerable variety of postings and roles. He was initially in armour, then transferred to the air-force, firstly as ground crew. He saw a lot of the States and writes fondly of the generosity of the people in those times. Then, along with many others, he is transferred to the infantry, joining L Company of 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division.

The 100th arrives in France in October 1944 and joins the 7th Army. Khoury’s first action is in the Vosges Mountains. He is under fire and shoots back with a sniper rifle. There is also the tension of recon patrols and the luck and bad luck of shelling and mines. They see more extensive action at the Siegfried Line before being hit by the Nordwind attack. Later they have to recapture towns like Bitche and Lemberg. In between, Khoury is evacuated for a while with trench foot. There is then the drive through Germany and occupation duties.

Khoury has very extensive front line experience. He writes of killing and becoming tired of it. Indeed, after returning from the hospital in January he is quite war weary and concerned about whether he could face combat again. Going out as point man on a patrol first day back shows him he can still do it. Even so, by the March offensive to recapture the ground lost in Nordwind, he finds himself in a ‘grim hypnotic state’. At least his trip through Germany was a bit quieter, though his company suffers its heaviest casualties in April.

This is an interesting memoir of combat without being in the top rank. Khoury writes of shooting with his M1 Garand and firing grenades from it. There is quite a focus on the other members of his company, their achievements and when they became casualties or were transferred. There are some grim and ghoulish scenes recounted too. One is left though with the tragedy of war; the accidents and other unnecessary deaths. Some passages are quoted from the regiment’s history. So, a worthwhile read about service in a rarely heard of division. 3 ½ stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 29 Nov 2017 11:10

Tank Driver by J. ‘Ted’ Hartmann

When he was old enough for the army to be interested in him, Hartman was promised 6 months of college but was sent to basic training after 2 – the first of many times he experienced the army saying something and then doing another. After training at camp Roberts, he was chosen for the ATSP, which he participated in at Eugene, before that program was canceled and everyone there was sent to the 11th Armored Division. Hartman became a driver of a Sherman in B company of the 41st Tank Battalion.

While their training was done on old vehicles, they received new tanks and weapons in England. Hartman enjoyed the travel and leave and found England fascinating, except for all the rain. The division went across to Cherbourg on the 19th December, and it was intended to finish its training on the continent. However, the Ardennes attack led to a change of orders and they are sent to join Patton’s Third Army. They have an extroardinary, long and freezing road march. Hartmann notes the fresh American cemeteries and is almost sick at the sight of massed ambulances waiting for the next casualties.

They enter the battle and seem to lose a company commander each action. The most vivid action is the company’s ambush at Norville. While clearly involved in several battles, Hartmann as a driver doesn’t personally see or do much. There are close calls and urgent bailouts but the combat is not detailed. It is similar on the way through Germany, there are panzerfaust attacks and many villages burned but not a lot that is interesting. Hartmann commands his own tank at stages through here. The division drives into Austria and Hartmann sees Mauthasen Concentration Camp. They capture many Germans. At one point they are ordered to escort 18,000 of them back to the Russians.

The book concludes with some material on the occupation and Hartmann’s return to the battlefield decades later. I drove an M113 for several years and it was not in a war zone. When ‘buttoned down’ it is quite hard to know what is going on elsewhere. This comes through with Hartmann’s account. It does make things a bit slow paced though. I did learn some interesting things, especially about a tank unit’s support groups but overall this account is only modestly interesting. 2 ½ stars

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Dec 2017 07:41

Bloody Roads to Germany by William Meller

Meller arrives in Europe as a replacement. He is assigned to the 28th Infantry Division, astonishingly, the same division, regiment and company that his father served with in WW1. His account though kicks off with the first day of the German’s Ardennes Offensive. He is a Sargent commanding a squad, pretty much out on their own. A mist helps them for a while, then they are fighting for their lives and then they are captured. He then writes about his experiences as a POW but intersperses these with flashbacks to his combat experiences in the Hurtgen Forest. These consist of the shock of entering a combat zone, his first hours in the line, frequent clashes with Germans and their withdrawal to rebuild in the Ardennes. In the space of a few weeks, he is the reliable veteran. Everyone else is gone.

The switching time-frames is a little off-putting but works to off-set the sameness of the POW stint. There are some very unpleasant experiences through all the same. Men were very hungry and got ill. There were opportunities to be shot too. The combat sequences are quite interesting. The Germans are very effective soldiers. There are some very close calls and Meller writes of being very scared. He also writes of being angry, hating soldiering and enjoying it. Such was being in the army. Even so, it’s a little hard to get a fix on Meller. He seems a decent man, yet he also seems to threaten to shoot a lot of people? It was a pretty stressful time of course. All this said, his account is one of the few by a 28th man in its vital effort to delay the German's Ardennes drive. Interesting overall – 3 ½ stars.

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B Hellqvist
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by B Hellqvist » 02 Jan 2018 13:25

It seems like we got the same impression of Meller's book. I agree with your points.

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 03 Jan 2018 03:13

Indeed, I'm sure it was you that pointed me to it!

Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 01 Feb 2018 08:41

Innocent Killer by Robert L. Anderson

Anderson grew up on a ranch in Kingsburg, California. He enters the army in October 1943 as part of ATSP and is one of the unfortunates who found themselves in the infantry. In his case the 86th ‘Blackhawk’ Infantry Division. Contrary to the experiences of many others, he has a series of wonderful stories to start his account of army life. This continues when he arrives in Europe. He falls terribly ill but has the great fortune to share a hospital ward full of wounded airborne troopers. They intervene to have him posted back to his own unit, rather than become a replacement with a poor future. Anderson is an optimistic young fellow and seems to have the good fortune in receiving the best from others. It’s good too to see the army get some things right.

The 86th arrives in Cologne in late March. Anderson even has his picture taken with the famous knocked out Panther in front of the cathedral. Then it begins its time in the line. While this consists of little more than a month of combat, they are constantly clearing towns and villages of German defenders and there is a remarkable amount of fighting. As they continue into Bavaria and Austria they are confronted by significant numbers of SS men. Some of these are very hard core. Anderson’s reason for having the word ‘killer’ in his title is also clear. While he is a radio man he is also a sniper and he writes of this frequently. Indeed, it gets to the point where he chooses to stop counting the number of Germans he kills.

So there is quite a bit of combat action. Some of this impacts on Anderson’s comrades too. One of the more confronting segments is where he stumbles onto Dachau. He sees the full horror and is filled with rage. This contributes to a lot more killing of Germans. Some of his friends are particularly vicious. It’s grim stuff. This is the case too when soldiers from both sides are caught with enemy equipment. A strength of the book is the detail on things like this.

Anderson became an ‘influential psychotherapist’ after the war (obituary, he only died in April this year). He is quite a good writer too. His descriptions are often excellent, whether he is writing beautifully of his parents or of the realities of soldiering. He also shuffles the timelines around a little, to good effect. The trigger for writing his memoir, a visit to a gun store, is particularly interesting. All together, this is a remarkably full account of battle for such a late stage in the ETO. (Indeed, almost a bit too much so??) He also goes to The Philippines in August when his division is switched to the Pacific theatre (though this is only mentioned in passing). Well worth a look. 4 stars

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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Ivanhoe » 29 Apr 2018 01:26

The Men of Company K by Harold Leinbaugh and John Campbell, first published 1985

Company K of the 333rd Infantry Regiment, 84th Infantry Division reached Europe in early November 1944, five months after D-Day, and was quickly ordered to Germany, where the Allied armies were advancing against furious resistance. Two members of the company present a vivid picture of the fierceness of front-line fighting in WW II as they follow the unit from Geilenkirchen through the battle for Würm back to Geilenkirchen and through the Battle of the Bulge to occupation duty. The authors avoid sentimental cliches in their depiction of a group of triumphant citizen-soldiers. It is a vibrant and moving account of combat infantrymen in battle. John S.D. Eisenhower wrote, "The Men of Company K is the best portrait of men in combat that I have seen—a portrait of the World War II GI as authentic as Bill Mauldin's but without the bitterness. An intimate picture of the GI as he was—weary, sardonic, quietly heroic, humorous, and damned competent."
(excerpts from Publishers Weekly)
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Larso
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Re: US European War memoirs

Post by Larso » 01 May 2018 10:50

Thanks Ivanhoe, I was wondering about that one.

On the Road to Innsbruck and back by William Bache

This is a memoir with a different tone to most on this list. Bache did not enjoy his time in the army, even likening it to being in a prison. While this is a perfectly legitimate view, it results in a much more cynical account than most. Also, in his youth, he had been enraged at the state of America in The Depression, blaming Capitalism and greed for the damage done to many people. Then he entered the army at Ft Meade, Maryland where the usual bastardisation experienced during training did nothing to help his mood. Neither did his subsequent transfer from a pilot’s course to the infantry.

Bache writes only of being a member of the 103rd Infantry Division, though I believe he was in the 409th Regt, where he was in the I & R platoon of HQ Co. He joins his division in the Vosges where he is involved in a few patrols and driving others about in jeeps. This allows him to see a number of senior officers and their ways, including his divisional general. There are a number of encounters with the Germans but Bache generally chooses to forgo firing on them. He seems to recognise a similar wretchedness in them and can’t help but sympathises with them. He’s no goose though and manages to survive a damaging tank counterattack at one point. There are several battle stories and the bloody loss of comrades. Overall though, it’s the anti-heroics that stand out. A few days before the end of the war he is seriously wounded and is very fortunate to survive a very brief captivity.

The author is an unenthusiastic soldier. He writes of many other soldiers being reluctant too, in fact much of what he relates portrays others in a poor light. They seemed to be either largely ineffective or too keen. There are cowards, blowhards, fools and those that were just clueless. Certainly such existed in every unit but the focus here is quite distinct. Bache has also structured his story as sixteen separate chapters, basically in the order he experienced things but this leaves some gaps too. A couple, the post war ones, are even a bit strange. People see the world in different ways I guess. Bache can write (I think he wrote short stories through-out his life?) and his point of view is perfectly valid and probably more common than we might expect but it will jar with some readers. So, not one to start with. 2 ¾ stars

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