Category Archives: 20th Century

Book Review: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 by Richard Overy

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 is one of those books that is going to end up a standard work for a long time to come.  It is the single most comprehensive history of the Allied bombing of Germany and occupied Europe during WWII that I have seen since the strategic bombing survey published by the US government in the immediate post-war years.

I have a review copy of the book so the page counts may be a little different in the published version.  The book itself is 561 pages with 78 pages of notes, a 26 pages bibliography, and an 18 page index.  It is divided into six chapters.  The first three chapters are a chronological account of the air war over Germany and the last three are thematic dealing with the logic of bombing and the campaigns in Italy and the occupied countries.

Every book about the war talks about the bombing campaign and most take for granted that it was effective at least partially in reducing Germany’s war-making ability.  This book examines the war in detail and tries to establish the effectiveness, if any, of the Allied bombing offensive.  The answer is mixed at best.

It has always struck me as odd that despite the expenditure of hundreds of tons of bombs and the devastation of the center and surrounding regions of most industrial towns in Germany, german war production continued to increase throughout the war.  Indeed, the most productive war of the month in terms of number of tanks and aircraft constructed was march of 1945.  Given that, how could it be said that the bombing campaign was successful as many historians and the leaders of the campaign claimed?

The point of bombing was not to kill civilians, but to reduce the war making capacity of Germany.  What Dr. Overy makes clear is that while industrial capacity was negatively affected in the wake of many raids, what was lost was regained and then some so rapidly that production halts were temporary at best.  he attributes this to two causes; one, bombing accuracy was abysmal, and two, the Germans were very good at repairing damage and getting production lines running again.

It was considered a good raid by the british if there bombs fell within 5 miles of the target and three Americans thought within 3 miles was good.  Bombing accuracy was so bad because the bombers flew very high to avoid AA fire and in the case of the English, they flew at night.  The lower the bombers flew, the more accurate they were but they also suffered horrendous losses at low altitude due to AA fire and German fighters.

Added to bombing inaccuracy, was the depth and responsiveness of the German Civil and Air Defense Systems.  The Germans had a multitude of agencies tasked with dealing with raiding damage and the German people themselves pitched in to make things good.  The striking thing is that the Germans could have been even more effective if they had streamlined their civil defense organizations and avoided having a plethora of agencies trying to do the same thing.

The story of the bombing of italy shows that where the germans were very good, the Italians were very bad and italian civilians suffered as a result.  Of special interest is the discussion of the bombing of occupied countries and the response of the occupied people to the destruction and loss of life inherent in being bombed to get their freedom.

This is an outstanding book and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they are knowledgeable about the Allied Bombing campaign of WWII.  The book dispels some myths and puts the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of strategic bombing in context to who the war was won and the Nazis defeated.

Book Review: D-Day – Minute-by-Minute by Jonathan Mayo

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Next Week is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day the Allied invasion of Europe.  I would guess that most people don’t think about it and if they do the picture that comes to their mind is a scene from Saving Private Ryan.  The movie gives a good idea but the words of those who were there are priceless gems in my opinion.

D-Day: Minute by Minute is a description of the events of D-day in the order in which they occurred taken from transcripts and interviews of those that were there.

It gives the reader a sense of the disordered perspective the average participant has in combat. All is chaos and confusion and it take courage and determination just to keep going, much less fight effectively.  It says much for the soldiers, sailors, and airman of the allied armies that they persevered despite the chaos of the landings.

The book itself is separated into three chapters that cover the period leading up to D-Day, the 5th of June, and D-Day itself.  By far the greatest portion of the book is dedicated to D-Day, 198 pages.  There is brief introduction and a postscript that details what happened to the people whose stories are told in the main narrative.  It also includes a 16 page, very tightly packed bibliography.

The minute-by-minute format is very appealing for an event as momentous as D-Day.  It gives the reader a sense of how the day played out and what I thought was more important, that the issue of whether the Allies would succeed or fail was in doubt until late in the afternoon.  One of the best things about this book is that although it focuses on retelling events from the Allied perspective it does not ignore the Germans fighting them and the recollections of several of the Normandy beach defenders are included as well.

This is an outstanding book and should be required reading in High School history classes.  I doubt that will happen though.  Everybody, whether history buff or not, should read this book.  I highly recommend it.  That it has been released near the 70th anniversary of the landings is appropriate as it gives voice to the generation that fought there and is rapidly passing away.

The House on Pooh Corner

The below photo is the House at Pooh Corner (Our name) in Bosnia in the summer of 1996 as my platoon was returning to our camp after spending the day guarding some UN folks who were excavating a Mass Grave nearby.   I was deployed to Bosnia in 1996 with 3/4, later 1/4 Cavalry out of Schweinfurt, Germany.  I ran across this photo last night and decided to post it today.  I am not in the picture because I am behind the camera.

The House on Pooh Corner
The House on Pooh Corner

The picture is not very good quality because I had to scan it, digital cameras still being in the future except for the rich in 1996.  I used about 30 disposable cameras back then that I would take the pictures with and then mail them off to get developed.

Here is the story behind the name of the building. In the winter of 1995-1996 as my unit first came into the sector we did a lot of patrolling to familiarize ourselves with our AO and to keep an eye on the people to make sure they were not going to keep being stupid. As you can perhaps imagine there is not a toilet in a Bradley CFV so we had to find somewhere to do our business. Probably 40%-50% of the houses in our AO were either abandoned or partially destroyed and this house was one of the one’s that had been abandoned. We never did find out who owned it before although by the time we redeployed someone had moved in.

Well, the house got its name because it was abandoned and on a route we drove fairly often because we knew the road was un-mined. I can’t remember who first used it to take a dump but eventually everyone in our platoon had taken a dump in the house and some with christened it he House at Pooh Corner. It was ideal because it was large and still had a roof of sorts so you would not get snowed and/or rained on while inside and it was easy for the rest of the section or platoon to secure. It eventually turned into an almost regular break area for us. We also used the name as shorthand because everybody knew where the house was at so we could reference it on the radio.

I look back and find the story hilarious now and thought I would share it. This is the kind of stuff soldiers do when they are bored.

 

Book Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop – The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

I picked up Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces because the book looked interesting and I was shocked at what happened in Boston during the search for the two bombers.  The sight of police officers kitted up like my platoon and I was in Iraq on TV pulling people out of their homes at gunpoint and then searching those homes without a warrant shocked and dismayed me.  Therefor the title of the book was at a minimum intriguing and I decided to read it.

The book itself is separated into 9 chapters in what is essentially chronological order.  There are 31 pages of endnotes by chapter and an index. The book is a history of policing in America with particular emphasis on the rise of SWAT teams since their inception in the late 60’s in Los Angeles.  While the book is obviously biased, that is to be expected from the title.  This is an advocacy book after all.  What concerned me was how well the author made and presented his case that American police departments are becoming less about fighting crime and more about becoming a quasi paramilitary force that ignores constitutional protections when convenient.

I thought that the book does make a pretty good case that police do look at citizens as the enemy.  If you have had any run ins with law enforcement recently from a traffic stop to airport security, much less had your house invaded by a SWAT team it is evident that police take an us and them mentality.  Personally, I find it amazing that SWAT teams have become so prevalent and as the book makes very clear, there is no basis for them as the vast majority of the time SWAT raids turn up no weapons, and often nothing else.

There are many examples in the book of SWAT raids gone wrong but SWAT is not the biggest of the problems detailed in the book. The biggest problem the book points out is two faceted and that is the way in which law enforcement has been politicized and how compliant courts have stood by and even encouraged law enforcement to ignore the 4th Amendment against unlawful search and seizure. Law enforcement has always been at least somewhat political but the author in m opinion, rightly  highlights how the “war on drugs” has been used to criminalize a large segment of society for victimless crimes.  Even more disturbing is the way in which judges apparently rubberstamp requests for no-knock warrants and then if something goes wrong or even the wrong house is raided neither officers nor departments are held to account.

There are situations where the use of a SWAT team and paramilitary tactics and methods are appropriate.  What this book says is not that SWAT teams need to be eliminated but that using one should be the exception and not the rule.  Mr. Balko makes a very compelling case for the overuse and abuse of both SWAT teams and no-knock warrants.  I highly recommend this book for its in-depth look at the way in which the Constitution is essentially being ignored in the pursuit of at best ill-defined law enforcement goals.

 

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.