US European War memoirs

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Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 13 Feb 2010 12:32

Doing Battle by Paul Fussell

Subtitled: the Making of a Skeptic. Back Bay Paperback, 1998. 310 pages

This is Fussell’s life memoir rather than one focused solely on war-time experiences but his time in the army had a marked impact on everything that came after and the exploration of this is engrossing.

Fussell served, very reluctantly, as a junior officer in F Co, 410th Infantry Regt, 103rd Infantry Division. He first sees the front in the Vosges and is stunned to find German dead who are clearly children. He is not impressed with his unit in general (it was ‘lazy’ and rarely dug foxholes) and more specifically with the mediocre officers who issued unimaginative orders safely far from the front line. He wasn’t so fortunate himself and he very much participates in battle, being attacked by 6th SS Mountain at one point. He does succeed in inflicting loss on the enemy before in turn becoming, in his view, an almost pre-ordained casualty himself. This episode is used to commence his narrative as well as introduce his ongoing theme that war was an utterly irredeemable tragedy. It also left him with considerable guilt regarding his personal conduct on the day. There was also a bizarre sequel, where he was rejected by his unit on his return, the amazing reason only revealing itself in the 1990s.

To put Fussell’s military element in perspective, Pearl Harbor happens on page 65. There is then the business of basic and then officer training, much of it sharply and deliciously ridiculed, with the irreverencies of soldiers highlighted. And he notes the irony that the hard training he despised, trimmed his considerable flab and made him feel physically fantastic. He is wounded on page 143 and is out of the army on page 171, but with a hatred so intense that he readily assisted later youths to avoid service in Vietnam. He reflects that there were many ways to be guilty in this period.
With his themes established, Fussell indulges himself by flashing-back to his childhood. It is quite a privileged one too, his family is not affected by The Depression and he receives a full and extensive education. Then follows adolescence and junior college, where he recounts his enthusiasms, ROTC, dating and so on. There are a few startling things to be found here, it is a book very much for adults. There are also some extremely funny passages too and this continues throughout. Fussell is adept at identifying the ironies in life and satirises them mercilessly. Some of this is confronting though and Fussell has viewpoints that some will find awkward.

Principally, Fussell loathed the army. He detested the way it treated human beings and as an extremely intelligent individual he saw ever so clearly that he himself was totally expendable. Regardless of his education, his background, his potential as a person, he was now simply fated to fight and statistically be a casualty in a war that no longer made sense. As time went on this savage cynicism develops and spreads. His politics are influenced accordingly and he grows to see other injustices and hypocrisies in American society. He was on many fronts a very angry young man.

He stays angry too. When he becomes a professor of English Literature, working in a number of esteemed institutions, he finds much to be critical of. He feels confronted by the same ‘institutional fraud’ he encountered in the army and he rails against it. He is sometimes scorning of colleagues but he also goes on to describe himself as “impudent, insolent, sarcastic, and ostentatiously clever and supercilious”. No arguments there (and it is intriguing to think what sort of person he might have been without his military service). He could easily be written off as a snob but the self depreciating humour mollifies this sufficiently for me (on the outbreak of war, “the Fussell family deplored having to black out the windows of the beach house.”) His professional qualifications shine through with his prose. His vocabulary is formidable (must be something to reading all those old books and poems!) He quotes extensively and while some points were over my head (I felt almost inadequate at times), it is a densely considered, powerfully delivered summation of Fussell’s life journey. But it is a journey that is always shadowed by the dread days of 1944-5. Fussell utterly refuses to let the ‘Good War’ view gentle his rage. But when he can quote its impacts on innocents, like the horrendously burned little British boy (a story that haunts me) his point is powerfully made. It is war and the damage it does to people that he hates.

The way he explores this is fascinating. Fussell sees similarities between the infantry and Labor in a Socialist sense but Nazi Germany forced the war on to the world and he was one of many who just had to ‘suck it up’. Yes the army and the society that produced it was imperfect. Yet people sometimes have to deal with the circumstances that confront them, not the circumstances they would prefer. He seems to ignore this and fails to sheet the responsibility to where it really belongs. Rather he rails against the organization that he participated through. It is a absorbing perspective. Perhaps he sees the first as making excuses and he sticks to his truth unflinchingly. This honesty is evident elsewhere, he is also quite hard on himself for various failings and mistakes.

Interestingly, he strongly approved of the dropping of the atomic bombs (as a young officer , now with 45th Division, on his way to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan), noting caustically that those who decried this action, ‘while certainly demonstrating the fineness of their moral weave’ also exposed their considerable personal distance from the infantry in the front line.

This is a remarkable book. It is insightful, extensive, exceedingly literate yet deliciously profane at times and as a memoir, approaches WW2 with a very different focus. Fussell has a clear point that he wants to make and he does so powerfully and relentlessly. He reveals with great clarity how the war impacted on his life and it is very valuable. As for his personal revelations of combat, these are sufficient to establish his credentials but they are less extensive than in the memoirs at the top of my list. Even so, his contribution to this topic is extraordinary. War can be hell in many ways and many days. Highly Recommended.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 13 Mar 2010 09:11

‘The Way it Was’ by Charles R. Castellaw

CC Publishing, Springville, 2003. Paperback 289 pages.

Charles joined the E Co, 2 Battalion, 30th Infantry Regt of the 3rd Division just after it landed in Southern France. He served in the drive through France, the Vosges and fought at the Colmar Pocket before being evacuated with trench foot.

It is a strange book in some ways. The first chapters dealt with Charles upbringing on a poor farm. There was some fascinating detail on farm life at the time, making cheese, killing and preparing hogs and much else.(I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff, it informs me of how my grandparents would’ve lived and makes me eternally grateful I’m able to just visit a shop for the basics of life!) He also wrote about the community, church and racial relations – quite good ones in fact. People helped people.

He went into the military upon finishing school, choosing the infantry because their uniforms looked the best! He recognized that to survive and return to his sweetheart and his farm he needed to train and learn hard. He was quite a determined character and as he progresses he choose to obey the orders that made sense and discard those he didn’t believe in – something that saved his life on a few occasions. The odd thing is though, that after a start that was very personal, he then spends 200 pages writing a virtual divisional history. He covers regimental, battalion and even company movements – sometimes including the orders. He writes of objectives, names towns, hill elevations and even the times of attacks. Many of these engagements then include, casualties, POWs taken, the number of tanks involved – the works. He seems also to recount the exploits of all Medal of Honor winners (including Audie Murphy’s) as well as divisional elements that received Distinguished Unit Citations. It is quite interesting at times – the campaigns the 3rd fought are so overshadowed by actions elsewhere. But Castellaw’s own story is barely evident. He only occasionally intersperses the narrative with recounts of his own activities – perhaps 10 times? A few times this involves dealing with German positions with phosphorous grenades but it is strange to read so little of an author’s own deeds in what seems intended as a memoir. We do learn a little about Castellaw as a soldier though. He flees when under fire the first time, yet he later becomes the effective leader of his platoon – and indeed when he leaves, he is the last one left of all the members present when he joined it. Again, this informs that the 3rd’s march was not a walk in the park and the casualties, even into 1945, were surprisingly heavy.

He concludes with the difficult readjustment he experienced when he returned home. Nightmares plague him and his life goes in directions he hadn’t intended. He is by no means unsuccessful but it was interesting to see the effects of the war on an ordinary man. Castellaw is not one for emotional sharing and his writing is only of a straightforward manner. So given his reluctance to share too much in the way of his experiences this book does not sit high on my list. I do feel though that it would be of benefit to those interested in the actions of the 3rd Infantry Division. So my recommendation – Of some interest.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 17 Apr 2010 01:45

'Bootprints' by Hobert Winebrenner

Camp Comamajo Press, 2005. Hardcover 308 pages, including index’s. Co-author – Michael McCoy

Hobert served as a sergeant in the 3rd battalion of the 358th Infantry Regt of the 90th Division. He fought in Normandy, the drive through France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland and finished in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, aside from a few weeks recovering from wounds during Normandy, he was in the line from the start to the end of the 90th's combat tour of Europe.

Hobert sees a lot of combat. He sees extensive fighting in the Hedegrows and more deadly still, mans a machine gun on the leading edge of the Falaise ‘shoulder’. He clearly personally inflicted tremendous carnage on the enemy here. This occurred at other times too, particularly in the battle for Dillingen (where he wins the Silver Star), where he called down mortar fire as a German breakthrough threatened. In being involved in so many fights, as well as serving as a scout and participating in several river crossings - it is quite remarkable that he survived. There were some very close calls and he was fortunate to be spared after being captured briefly in Normandy. While this incident revealed German mercy it also gave light to an example of German brutality. In my reading on this thread, I have come across many examples of American roughness and Hobert’s experience here is a reminder that both sides could conduct themselves viciously. This is illustrated again later with the punishment handed out to some Hitler Youth snipers.

While it is mostly clear enough what happens in instances like this, Hobert can be sparse with the details at times. He does not write specifically on killing, though he reflects on its necessity and notes that liberating concentration camps hardened the heart. So he is very much a front line soldier, though thanks to being spared himself, he also spared Germans when he could too. On the issue of prisoner taking, Hobart recalls finding several dead Americans who had been executed with their souvineered German pistols. Many veterans on this list have written they took care not to be caught with such things but this is the first time I’ve come across an explicit example of retribution. There are quite a lot of interesting recollections like this.

Hobert clearly saw more fighting than most on this list. He was directly involved in some very major actions and I think he conveys this pretty well, though not always (like Falaise) with the full specifics. It was interesting to read his perspective of the 90th Division – a unit that Max Hastings wrote proved troublesome. In Hobert’s view they fought well (as evidenced by Hobert himself) but he does write of the enormous casualties that meant it was frequently almost a ‘new’ outfit but without the cohesion that training together provided. He also thinks that they were mishandled by various commanders. He takes pride in their nickname – the ‘Tough Hombres’ and going by what Hobert reveals it seemed apt. The writing is steady and while I’d have liked more combat specifics it is certainly not sanitized – there are some grisly descriptions. There is a lot to like about Hobert’s book and about Hobert himself. A very worthwhile read.

PS – Hobert died last year, so he lived a full life. He was a deeply religious man and credited his war time survival to the prayers of his friends and family.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 22 May 2010 12:40

‘Noville outpost to Bastogne’ by Don Addor

Subtitled : My Last Battle
Trafford Publishing, 2004. Paperback, 191 pages.

Addor was a member of HQ Company of the 20th Armoured Infantry Battalion of the 10th Armoured Division. His story starts with the order to move towards the German Ardennes offensive and he proceeds to relate his experiences in the battle for Norville and the breakout towards Foy, during which he was severely wounded. He then writes at some length on his journey through the hospitals and of his recovery.

The battle of Noville was quite an affair. A lot of German armour was trying to get through it and the men of the 10th Armoured and 101st Airborne did remarkably well holding it as long as they did. Addor’s role was generally in communications, monitoring the signal equipment. He doesn’t write about firing his weapon a great deal but during a major German attack he puts himself in considerable peril to engage Tiger tanks as a bazooka loader. While the attack is eventually beaten off by tank destroyers (Addor counted over 20 burning German tanks at the end) he had demonstrated incredible initiative and courage, to the point the TD officer took his name in order to recommend him for the Silver Star. Unfortunately this officer was killed in the withdrawal to Foy, shortly before Addor himself was seriously wounded.

The next half of the book concerns Addor’s treatment and recovery. He has a few moments where things are quite grim and frankly he is lucky to only lose his leg. Despite this Addor remains incredibly positive about his prospects and given the narrowness of his escape, very grateful to have survived at all. He writes of the excellent service he received but also of some fairly quirky developments. Overall though, one is left with great respect for the medical system that treated the wounded. One is also impressed with the fortitude of Addor himself. Although a keen footballer and runner he displays no bitterness about his fate. He even takes the opportunity, when he arrives home, to visit schools and other places to help the war bond program by talking of his experiences. It is quite extraordinary for someone who was only nineteen.

Addor finishes with some other stories about his time in the ETO, so it is a broader account than it seems at first (altogether the combat passages make up about 40% of the book). Addor’s role is generally not that of a front line soldier, although he had a number of close calls and he was certainly courageous. The Noville passage is of interest and the action against the Tiger tanks is amazing but it is delivered in a fairly straight forward manner. I think this reflects the down to earth nature of Addor himself. He doesn’t let himself get too carried away and this unflappable manner holds him in good stead during the difficult months of his rehabilitation. Overall - Of some interest.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 12 Jun 2010 01:46

'The Last Kilometer' by A. Preston Price

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2002. Hardcover, 200 pages.

A slightly odd title for a US soldier, anyway Price served with 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regt of the 1st Infantry Division. He was a 2nd Lt observer for the 81mm mortar platoon, operating mainly with L Company. His first action is on Christmas Day on the Elbensborn Ridge during the Battle of the Bulge. He then continues with the division on its march through Germany.

As a mortar observer, Price doesn't come face to face with the German's a great deal in battle. He does call down many a fire mission on them though, inflicting various amounts of carnage. He is off course fired upon and has his share of narrow escapes but his exposure and involvement in battle is generally different to that of a rifleman. There are certainly times when he is very much in the thick of things, notably in the attack on Bullingen, where he sees dead men frozen in their battle positions - sometimes still kneeling. Here and in other places he describes well the carnage of war and the tragedies affecting individuals. He is a dutiful officer who readily involves himself in his job, without letting it dehumanize him too much. (Here the Germans are at worst `Jerries'.) At times he shows considerable intelligence in directing his mortar fire and he is proactive too.

Interestingly the book is written in the present tense, which I felt gave it a sense of immediacy. Price is an observant fellow and he outlines the difference impact on the ground between artillery fire and bombing for instance. I found his thoughts on the new snow boots interesting. Though greatly sought after, they had drawbacks too. He also writes about the professionalism of his unit and the attitude of the soldiers. Price was a fluent German speaker, so there are also some things he learned from the enemies perspective too. It was quite ironic that most of Price's officers had German names (Ritter, Schuler etc). I found this memoir to be a good step by step (or town by town) account of this phase of the war. It is a more genteel version than many, and given the authors role, there is a limit to the combat experienced. Even so there is much of interest. Recommended

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 09 Jul 2010 13:08

'One Soldier’s Journey' by James L. Thome

Privately published 2002. Paperback, 144 pages plus 20 or so more of appendices.

Thome was drafted at age 22. He did quite well in training and was offered the chance to become an officer, which he did. Following this he was assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division but with expectations of high casualties in Normandy he is sent to England as a replacement officer. Between postings he does a variety of jobs, including a short stint as Prison Warden. His trip overseas is quite comfortable compared to that experienced by the ordinary soldiers. England is interesting, he noted with surprise the large number of willing ladies and picks up on a few amusing contradictions in their thinking. In late June 1944 he is posted to L/315th Regt of the 79th Infantry Division.

Normandy is a fairly intense experience. He is virtually company commander from the start. He makes some fascinating observations. It seemed to him that men he saw reading the Bible featured more often on the casualty role. He also felt that most of the time only 30% of his men were committed to engaging the enemy, with the remainder being in various states of reluctance. He also recognized the vital importance of quickly promoting from the ranks to replace NCO casualties. When he realized his 2nd Lt casualties were always high he investigated to find that his senior Sgts had been telling them they had to lead from the front. He set the Sgts ‘straight’ and things improved for everyone.

Thome is not above ignoring or reinterpreting foolish orders, especially as his CO never seemed to leave his bunker (at times he wouldn’t even leave his bunker to urinate, designating an orderly to venture out and dispose of it for him!). He served through until VE Day, including against Von Luck’s 125th Regt at Rittershoffen (where I think Von Luck played the church organ when the Americans finally fell back?). He is never wounded but has his clothing cut and ripped by bullets and shrapnel at times. Unfortunately he rarely gives any detail on these occasions. He also never writes about firing his own weapon but he won 4 Bronze Stars, so he was very much someone who got involved. He certainly saw the tragedy of war and includes some very sad stories. In the end he is one of the lucky few to be repatriated promptly (well, in order to invade Japan) and he is able to return to civilian life quicker than most.

Thome’s memoir is more the details of his army experiences rather than of combat. On that level it is quite readable. There are quite a few interesting stories of the process, including experiences with Negro soldiers. For instance, there were several black officer candidates on his course but in the peer marking stages they always seemed to be marked last, so none managed to graduate. So there is new material in that sense. It is also a quick read, the text amounts to 144 pages (with copies of various documents in the appendices) and the chapters are all quite short. It appears given his length of service and his decorations that he did more than his share of fighting but he has included only the bare details of it here. My recommendation therefore – Of some interest. 2 ½ stars

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 18 Sep 2010 01:29

'You can’t get much closer than this’ by A. Z. Adkins

Co-authored by Andrew Z. Adkins III. Casement, Havertown, PA, 2005. Hardcover 258 pages including indexes.

Adkins served with H Co, 317th Infantry Regt of the 80th Division from its arrival in Normandy in early August 1944, through to VE-Day. He is a 2nd Lieutenant with the 81mm mortar section and as such spends a lot of his time in front line contact with the Germans. While this book was published 16 years after his death by his son, it is based on a very extensive war-time diary and is presented here in a typical first person manner. Interesting, while the title appears to refer to closeness to combat, poignantly it actually refers to closeness with comrades.

It is an action-packed read. Adkins was continually forward spotting targets for his mortars. He is exposed to frequent direct fire and several times engages German troops with his personal weapon. He is stalked by German tanks, at risk of being cut-off in German counter attacks and under heavy fire in night river attacks. These battles are violent, featuring heavy casualties and horrific injuries. His unit and its neighbours are hammered. They dish out a lot in return but it is clear that in this division’s case the march to victory was long and bloody. Adkins recollections of the Ardennes are particularly confronting. He manages to convey the awfulness of operating in the freezing conditions in a very vivid way.

Also of much interest was his criticism of American command, particularly at battalion level. There were also the astonishing revelations that he fought all those months in basically the same set of clothes and on the barest of rations. How such things were allowed when so many rear area troops lived in virtual luxury is beyond my comprehension. Adkins also has more to say about German conduct than most. He several times writes of underhand German tricks, where they used the Red Cross or white flag to reposition troops or conduct vital observation, to the Americans later detriment. Adkins also specifically relates another example of US soldiers caught with souvenir German pistols being executed when captured. The unit responded by ceasing to take SS men prisoner, actions that several former Russian POWs travelling with them gleefully helped with. These events, in the last months, emphasize that the war while obviously winding down, still had many bitter moment to offer. These are epitomised by Adkins role in liberating Buchenwald, where he witnessed many horrors first hand, including Ilse Koch’s tattooed skin collection.

There is little wasted breath in this memoir. After a short stint in training, Adkins is in the thick of battle. In a way it was reminiscent in tone and style to an episode of the TV show ‘Combat’. Adkins sees a lot and inflicts quite a bit of damage with both his mortars and his personal weapon. Sadly he also suffers in return, with wounds but in particular with the loss of friends and it is to these that the title pays homage. A strong memoir of combat in the European theatre. 4 stars.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 09 Oct 2010 03:09

‘Bob’s Story’ by Bob Moranda

Writers Club Press, NY,2001. Co-author George E. Moranda (brother). Paperback, 352 pages.

Bob was drafted late in 1942, he did so well in training that he was selected for OCS, where again he did very well. He was sent to France in October 1944 and joined the 7th Armoured Division, where he was assigned to 38th Armoured Infantry Battalion as 2nd Lt of the MG section. While they operated halftracks, they usually dismounted to take up battle positions. This was particularly so when they are tasked with defending St Vith in the face of the Ardennes Offensive.

Aside from a few skirmishes and patrols, Bob’s battle is St Vith. One of his (and the editor’s) points is that it was a very important action that is virtually unknown. Generally, I think they have a point. Even to me though, the scale of the battle was surprising. Bob’s men and a few hundred others hold out for five incredible days against the fiercest of attacks by powerful German forces, including tanks. The editor has included quite a bit of commentary on the broader context and it is quite an exciting story. Bob’s personal actions though consist mainly of running about keeping the men going. The combined US force inflicts thousands of casualties on the attackers and absolutely disrupt their timetable. Eventually weight of numbers prevail and Bob is captured. He spends several months as a prisoner before being freed by Russian troops. He gets a chilling look at how they operated in a captured German town too.

Bob spends a significant part of his book describing his youth, friends and family. He writes of the various jobs he held and particularly of meeting his wife and becoming a father. It gives a good insight into the life of a young man at the tail end of The Depression. There is then quite a bit on training and shipping to the front, where he arrives on Pg 122. A recurring theme of Bob’s is the diabolical way the army uses its manpower. Despite extensive experience as a garage operator his skills are never utilized in this role and he is assigned as an infantry officer, where he does very well.

There is a charm to this memoir. Much of it is quite well detailed and this allows us to know the author and feel the heat of his experiences that much sharper. He has some very close calls, writes about killing and reveals some interesting things about his time in the army. This includes the resentment towards Patton for relieving their honourable commander and about those who failed in combat (and in one case still managed to gain senior rank in the post war army). By far though he is full of praise for his brave men and generally he writes more of their deeds than his own. So with his personal combat revelations on the slight side, I am only awarding 3 stars but there is a lot else that is engaging here and it rates 4 stars in every other way


Note - Regarding Foley's memoir, a couple of months ago a fellow veteran of the 94th Division wrote to me to say that he knew men who had served with Foley's unit and they say that he overstates his experiences and deeds (I had good reason to accept his authenticity). So perhaps just bear these concerns in mind and be cautious in accepting everything Foley writes at face value.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 30 Oct 2010 01:27

‘A Test of Faith and Courage’ by Oscar B. Ladner

Liberty & Freedom Productions, Gulfport, Mississippi. Hardcover, 372 pages.

Ladner was an extremely patriotic youth who virtually forced himself into the army in order to fight the enemies of democracy. An attitude like this, expressed so forthrightly is seldom encountered. It is also rare to find a veteran who will write so bluntly about his determination to kill his enemies. His approach is best summarized in his own words. “I prayed to my Almighty God in Heaven and promised Him that if He would keep me safe and sound and return me home all in one piece, that I would continue to fight tyranny and oppression as long as there was breath in my body.” The combination of believing he was doing God’s work and a youth spent hunting game and growing strong makes him a fearsome soldier.

Ladner’s enthusiasm for the cause sees him enlist as soon as he can. He even undergoes surgery to eliminate a medical issue that would normally have excluded him from service. Following training he is assigned to the 65th Infantry Division, which he joins at Saarlautern on the Seigfreid Line in early 1945. He is placed with G Co, 260th Regt. These events are related briskly and Ladner hits the front on page 19. Following a remarkably inept reception, where amongst other things he is left in the open under artillery fire, he decides to take matters into his own hands, and hunts down and kills the artillery observers concerned! It is astonishing! It sets the tone too. This is very much an account of combat. As Ladner pointedly writes, for the war to end and the enemies of his country to be defeated, he needed to kill as many Germans as he could. His actions are at times quite clinical and it is engrossing to read about his pre-action planning and thoughts.

This is further evidenced in the subsequent city cellar fighting, crossing the Saar and myriad other actions. Due to his proficiency as a soldier, Ladner is chosen to be a tank rider on the newly received Pershings. Here he is tasked to provide close protection from panzerfaust troops and to conduct clearances of villages and potential ambush sights. He is particularly proud of this role and writes that they were called ‘Patton’s Raiders’. They did such a good job that apparently even the German’s took to calling them ‘Patton’s SS Truppen’. He continues in this role until VE day, after which his unit pulls occupation duty in Austria. Some of the material involving dealing with German POWs is quite interesting indeed. There is though material that shocks. Ladner writes in some detail of the forced repatriation of Easterners back to the Soviets, who massacred them. I have read of this before but the scale of the practice suggested by Ladner here is very disturbing. His subsequent statement that this was kept secret by the American Jewish controlled media was unsettling for a different reason. A few other things he records on this topic slip into the outlandish. For instance he quotes at length the beliefs of a former Polish POW who claimed that wealthy Jews had funded the rise of the Communists. I'm no expert in these matters but Ladner seemed a bit too ready to accept this at face value. I am unable to say that Ladner is anti-semitic, and I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt given he fought willingly against the Nazies and with real hated of their ideology but it was all a bit odd though.

The main drawback though is the excessive repetition of information. It generally takes the form of a piece of explanation, which is then repeated by the first speaker in subsequent dialogue and then said again by the other person in the conversation! Sometimes it happens all over again a few pages later and at its worst it is extremely exasperating. It became so distracting in places I considered awarding only three or even just two stars in response.

On balance though, I have decided that the books strength – an astonishing openness about combat, mostly outweighs the drawbacks. Ladner’s bluntness in writing about killing is matched only by Don Burgett and Jim Megellas in my now extensive reading in this genre. Indeed, a couple of passages are so astounding they rocked me back on my seat! It is rare and refreshing to find such an unvarnished account presented in such a strident tone. I do hope though, that future editions are better edited so that the power of Ladner’s story can come through in a clearer manner.
4 stars for the combat.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 21 Nov 2010 11:45

'A Soldier’s Journal' by David Rothbart

ibooks Inc, NY, 2003. Paperback 304 pages.

Rothbart served with the 22nd Infantry Regt of the 4th Infantry Division. He was not an infantryman however. He served as an NCO in the regiment’s personnel section, which had the task of allocating replacements and processing various documentation regarding the men’s service, including casualty details. He is with the unit for the entire ETO campaign.

As the title implies this is a journal, with entries made most days, usually of a paragraph or two. The first half concerns Rothbart’s experiences in training. The journal format allows a fairly comprehensive picture of the process of being turned from a civilian into a soldier. Rothbart is very articulate and observant. He doesn’t repeat the details of every march or parade by any means but over the course of his journal reveals a great variety of experiences. He is no troublemaker so there isn’t much in the way of unsavory things – except where he touches on the experiences of others. The army here is not quite as harsh, if still somewhat blundering, than many other memoirs describe it.

While Part Two of the book deals with Rothbart’s stint in France and into Germany, his role did not see him involved in combat (he crosses Utah on 23rd June). He experienced shelling and bombing of course but he saw no combat as such. He does repeat some fascinating experiences of others. These include the finding of US troops ‘cut up’ by the Germans and the repayal in kind. There is also the SS youth who accepts the Jewish chaplain’s offer of last rites. But the value of the book is the author’s perspective as a personnel officer. It is remarkable to read of the incredible scale of the casualties – many companies had 1,000 men process through them in the course of the campaign. So insatiable was the demand for replacements that astonishing decisions were made. Men well into their 30s, still healing men, partially crippled men, court-martialed airmen are all sent forward to fill the ranks. Desperate days called for desperate measures but you really feel for the many men who were misused or over-used. There is also some interesting material on various regimental personalities, including its longstanding commander, whose heroics and foibles both inspire and stun.

Rothbart has a wry sense of humour and reveals quite a bit about the multi-cultural America of his day. There are people from many backgrounds and generally they pull together pretty well. A man in this role is unique in my memoir reading and there are some insightful things here. However his non-combat role also means there is a limit to how engaging this book is as a war memoir.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 11 Dec 2010 04:54

'Against the Odds' by Herb ‘Chick’ Fowle

iUniverse, Inc, NY. Paperback, 481 pages.

Herb was in a protected job and married but elected to join the army to do his bit. After training he was sent to Europe and joined F Co, 22nd Infantry Regt of the 4th Division while it was in the Hurtgen. Despite being a specialist rifleman he volunteered to be a machine-gunner and aside from two stints in hospital he served in this role to VE-day.

Herb was lucky to arrive in mid November and only had to spend a week in the Hurtgen forest until he was evacuated with trench-foot. He was stunned to see that even with his reinforcement of 18 men the Company strength was still less than 30. The next day it was down to seven. The issue of turnover was touched on in my previous memoir, coincidentally by a personnel officer in Herb’s regiment. It is astonishing how understrength the front line formations were. New men are continually arriving but in the intense combat of the time, this never keetp pace. Three men Fowle meets are returning from their second wounds and he barely gets their names before they are hit again. Even so, Fowle’s time in the forest is towards the end of the campaign. He is in one firefight and is shelled a lot but he is spared the absolute awfulness that occurred earlier.

He next enters the line by being rushed back from hospital to counter the Ardennes Offensive. He doesn’t see much here and shortly afterwards is off sick again – probably from pneumonia. On his return in early 1945 he is in the advance across Germany and sees a lot of small level action. He operates with tanks a little and is sees ME262’s in action. Some things that stood out were the finding of thirteen GI wounded who had been murdered by having their heads bashed in and the belief that the Germans had covered the roads in a substance (graphite they think?) to damage their sight. Fowle fires in battle on a number of occasions but is happy that he never saw someone fall from his efforts (though there was a night action where he clearly caused enormous carnage). He is a decent man.

The difference with this book is the enormous amount of dialogue. Fowle writes in the traditional linear format but pretty much has something to say about each day. Most of this he gleaned from letters he sent home with writing a book in mind. Generally the exchanges are on the gentler side – he elected not to get too ‘salty’ but I think it conveys the realities of front-line life reasonably well. The importance of comrades is clear and he implies that most US troops were decent men who did their job with a good attitude. There are certainly many memoirs that give a much darker perspective though. One thing that is very clear is that by the end, everyone was very weary indeed.

This is a long book, (Fowle spent eleven years putting it together shortly after the war), but aside from that (short) stint in the Hurtgen it has nothing that really stands out to me. There is though value in seeing a soldier’s daily experiences, in battle yes, but more so in coping with deprivation and weariness with the help of friends.
Of some interest. 3 stars

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 15 Jan 2011 09:42

‘Honor Untarnished’ by General Donald V. Bennett

Subtitled: A West Point Graduate’s Memoir of World War II

Forge Books, NY, 2003. Paperback, 304 pages.

Donald Bennett served for several decades with the US army, retiring as a Four Star General. This book briefly covers his youth during The Depression, his entry and various trials at West Point but the bulk is on his service as a battery and then battalion commander of M-7 Priests in WW2. Bennett sees combat in Tunisia, Sicily and North East Europe, including a second wave arrival on Omaha Beach.

Bennett had a better run than many during the 1930s culminating in acceptance to West Point. There is lots of interest here. There is remarkable insight into the sort of men the era and the Point produced. Bennett for instance took it very seriously and virtually adopted the Cadet Creed as his instructions for life. He was also increasingly aware of the changing world situation and his likely future in it.

After graduation Bennett is assigned to artillery and has the bizarre experience, in the age of Blitzkrieg, to command a horse drawn unit. It is fascinating to read his thoughts on this and his concerns for how the US could possibly defeat mechanized enemies. Fortunately he is posted to the 58th Mobile Armored Artillery, the first unit to receive the M-7 and is thrilled with the possibilities this weapon offered. His thoughts on how mobile artillery should operate are fascinating, showing his keen insight. He is able to put his theories to the test when he receives command of the 62nd Armored Artillery for Normandy.

Bennett is in combat a lot. In Tunisia he is shelled and attacked often by the Luftwaffe. He sees how professional the Germans are and sets out to improve his units accordingly. There follows the Sicilian campaign where he finds himself in the neighbouring tent when Patton slaps that soldier. Bennett writes Patton was cheered as he left! This occurred also when Patton fronted units to issue his apology. He is quite a fan of the Patton way of war. Indeed it is one of his themes that when at war, nations need to be ready to fight with determination. He laments the state of the US national spirit today but this is no long whine about ‘it was better in my day’, just an old soldier’s considered observations.

The combat highlight is Bennett’s participation on D-day. He goes in with the second wave, in order to better control his vehicles but is confronted by absolute chaos. He finds himself directing infantry and it is a dramatic chapter indeed. He also has a pivotal role in holding a shoulder of the Bulge. While his role saw him directing fire rather than firing a gun himself, he does encounter German ground troops and is in some very dangerous situations. He touches on some of the awful aspects of battle but his role means his experiences are generally different to those of the infantry.

Bennett is a good writer. He does his best to convey in modern terms how the events of the 40s hit home. He also has some pertinent things to say about his countries ignorance, then and now. I found this book to be absorbing. Bennett’s fresh, clear thinking on how to use the weapons at his disposal is also evident in how he has conveyed his thoughts to the reader. He has some stirring things to say about America and Democracy and what is needed when confronted by evil. Highly recommended.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 17 Jul 2011 03:39

Crack! and Thump by Charles Scheffel

Co-author Barry Basden
Camroc Press LLc, Llano Texas, 2007. Paperback, 231 pages.

Like many Scheffel went through some tough times in The Depression but grew up tough and athletic. He did ROTC in school, which duly led to officer training and indeed a training role for a while. He goes to England leading an independent company that was intended to serve with a British brigade and learn from the experience. As such he participates in the invasion of Tunisia, before managing to get his command reverted to American control. He is assigned to the 1/39 Infantry Regt of the 9th Infantry Division and serves with it through Africa, Sicily, Normandy and towards Germany.

Scheffel begins his war when the Germans were still able to contest things fully. His first ship is menaced by a German warship, the second by torpedo planes and submarines, with the third trip to Normandy being the most memorable of all! There are other occasions too when these arms inflict significant loss and the reader is reminded what a formidable force the Germans were. In terms of his own role he is an infantry platoon commander and he is required to encounter the enemy frequently. There are some astonishing stories here. Some are adventurous and others quite grim. Some of the choices he had to make were very hard. It is a sobering account of what infantry combat could mean. Though his early campaigns are fascinating, his actions in France after Cobra are probably the highlight. He is at a crucial point during the Mortain counter-attack and his battle involves calling artillery fire onto his own head-quarters. The intensity is incredible! There are other moments of extreme violence too, the final one sending him to hospital and out of the war.

While the battle experiences are worth the price alone, there is much more. I was particularly fascinated by his readiness to learn from British forces. There were things spelled out to him that saved his life. He made a point of passing these on too. He met generals Patton and Alexander and has interesting things to say of the experience. The author writes too of being a newly married man far from his wife. There is much to more too.

This is one of those books that is truly hard to put down. I have read upwards of 80 US war memoirs from WW2 and this is a standout. It is in the top 10 in terms of the dramatic experiences and clarity of what is happening. Because it is so engagingly written and has so many astonishing exploits it is now probably one of the top three in terms of ones I would highly recommend to others. There are some adult level passages but I felt these were very much in context and indeed, were deliciously delivered. The author lived through some very lethal times. In turn he was fairly deadly himself. It is in every way a compelling account of being a front-line fighting officer in WW2.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 13 Aug 2011 04:05

Jump : Into the Valley of the Shadow by Dwayne T. Burns

Subtitled : The WW2 Memories of a Paratrooper in the 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division
Co-author : Leland Burns
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2006. Hardcover, 233 pages.

Burns chose to join the airborne because he wanted to serve with the best. He fought in Normandy, Market Garden and the Bulge and remarkably, at the end of the war, he was one of only 12 pre-Normandy members still with the company and the only one to have not suffered wounds. Though trained as a machine gunner, he spends most of his war as a radioman. He fights and kills but not always with great detail. His participation in Normandy for instance is a little hard to follow. It does though convey the swirling, confusing nature of much of the fighting there. He writes quite a bit on other men in his unit, particularly the officers he admired.

While he kicks off with events leading up to Normandy, Burns, for a large portion of the book alternates between current happenings as a soldier and flashbacks to earlier events. This is primarily to give appropriate background to meeting people and the forming of his attitudes. It was a little distracting at times but overall it was a useful device to inform the reader of things as they became relevant.

This is a straightforward account of a paratrooper who did his duty and had a good share of luck. I really liked the title. It is a tweaking of the Bible passage and it nicely combines his religious faith and the very dire time he experienced in this very bloody campaign. I also liked the way he revealed his long distance relationship with his post-war wife. The war though is his focus. There are some graphic passages at times and it conveys both the excitement as well as the harshness of war. Overall I give it 3 ½ stars.

Larso
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Re: Rankings/recommendations for US ETO memoirs

Post by Larso » 16 Sep 2011 12:42

The Replacement by Robert Kauffman

Self published, 2011. Paperback, 198 pages.

Kauffman was drafted at the end of 1943, just after his Eighteenth birthday. His background was a pacifist Mennonite one but he is personally willing and very proud when he is accepted into the army. After training he is sent to England as a designated replacement for the casualties expected after D-day. He is duly assigned to D Co 36th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division in June.

The author experiences some combat in the Normandy hedgerows before being wounded in fairly amazing circumstances. He returns to his unit later in the year and this for me was the most interesting section of the book. While assigned as the operator of the rear 30 cal machine gun of his halftrack, most of his fighting and moving is by foot. He experiences the awfulness of winter fighting through his participation in the Battle of the Bulge and through into January when he is wounded again. Much of his personal combat results in him taking prisoners but there is quite a bit on street fighting and countering enemy patrols in the woods. He doesn’t reveal a lot of personal deadliness but he is very much in the front line and there is a lot of death around him.

While there are many combat memoirs from the airborne and infantry divisions, for some reason there are very few from the US armored formations. And in Kauffman’s area of service, armored infantry, there are just a handful. His perspective is quite interesting then. He works with tanks and operates from a halftrack – though in his case it was mainly used for transport. He writes quite a bit of the men in his ‘crew’ and the others in his unit. There are quite a few casualties but I think there is a difference in scale compared to the other infantry units. It seems they had more reliable access to supplies and when vehicles were being serviced, more time to rest. Even so, it was still tough and dangerous duty.

Kauffman’s book is reasonably well written, without being anything like a masterpiece. His style did grow on me and I really did lap up the winter fighting of the second half. The final chapters tell of his travels back to Europe in later years and friendships, including some with former enemies. There are some nice moments here. Even so, I have read many memoirs of war in the ETO and this entry is in the middle of the pack. It is of interest though, given Kauffman’s perspective as an armored infantryman. 2 ¾ stars

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