Book Review: SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth by Steve Snyder

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[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruthis the story of the author’s Father in World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot and his ordeals after being shot down over the Franco-Belgian border in February 1944. The book itself is 335 pages of text with an extensive sources list and index.  The text is divided into 40, mostly short, topical chapters. The narrative describes the journey of the author’s father to … Read more…

The Battle of Berlin – 16 April – 2 May, 1945

Brandenburger Tor in einer Trümmerlandschaft am Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Mai 1945).

Throughout 1944 the German armies on the Eastern Front had been pushed westward across Poland and into Germany proper.  During the winter of 1944-1945 the front had stabilized roughly along the river Oder and inside historically German territory.  In front of Berlin three Russian Fronts (1st & 2nd Byelorussian plus 21st Ukrainian) faced two greatly understrength German Army Groups (Army Group Vistula & Army Group Center).  A Russian Front and German Army Group are roughly synonymous units within the army structure although at this point in the war German Army Groups were pretty much army groups in name only often being the size of reinforced Corps or even divisions due … Read more…

The Problem with Elite Units? Or is there a Problem?

I was thinking about this the other day while watching The Pacific on DVD. The Pacific is a pretty good series although I found Band of Brothers to be better based on pure entertainment value. What made me think about elite units was a short piece in one of the episodes where they show a picture of what to me looked like some Marine Raiders. That got to me to thinking about Rangers, Green Berets, SAS/SBS, Commandos, UDT, Spetznaz, and other historical elites and whether they represented a good investment for the militaries that create them. My gut reaction is that in general they are not although there is a role for such … Read more…

Book Review: The Revenge of Geography by Robert D. Kaplan

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In line with my current grad program pursuing an MA in International relations I have been reading a lot of books about current or semi current events. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert Kaplan is one of these books.  The book is an examination of geopolitics.  That is, it takes a look at politics through the lens of geography.  The thesis being that while regimes may change the places people live and the terrain of those places generally does not and thus to a large extent geography has a somewhat deterministic effect on politics.  This is actually a … Read more…

Book Review: Death Dealer-The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz by Rudolph Höss

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In my office at home I have one shelf on my bookshelf full of books with sticky tabs on the back indicating that I want to read them but have not yet found the time.  When I get the chance I take one down and read it.  Some are books I have had for years and some are new.  This is one of those books. I think like every aspiring historian, I went through a WWII phase in my youth where I read every book about WWII and all its aspects I could find.  Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz by Rudolph Höss has sat on my … Read more…

Book Review: House of War by James Carroll

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House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power is one of those books that when you are done reading it you cannot quite decide if it was worth reading or not. If you want to know what history looks like, particularly American history, from the perspective of someone who sees evil and nefarious dealings in just about every single action taken by the United States then this is the book for you. I never thought I would see the day when the Marshall Plan would be described as economic warfare but it is in this book and that is just one example. I found it difficult to … Read more…

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

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[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 … Read more…

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

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[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 … Read more…

Book Review: No End Save Victory by David Kaiser

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[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] No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War is one of those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII.  Oddly, this period is mentioned in every … Read more…

The Battle of Pfaffenheck – 15-17 March 1945

I recently read The Armored Fist a unit history of the US 712th Independent Tank Battalion in WWII.  One of the events described in detail in the book is the Battle for the town of Pfaffenheck in between the Rhine and Moselle rivers in March of 1945.   The event that stuck out at me from the battle was the destruction of an American tank, which killed the driver, Billy Wolfe.  I had the opportunity to visit the town in March, 2014 shortly after the 69th Anniversary of the  battle.

The Battle of Pfaffenheck was fought between soldies froom the 357th Infantry Regiment of the US 90th IN Division, the 2nd Platoon of C Company 712th Independent US Tank Battalion, and German troops of the 6th SS Mountain Division North (Gebirgsjäger).  The 6th SS Division has an interesting history itself.  The unit spent most of the war fighting in Finland and when that country made peace with the Soviets the 6th SS made an overland trek through Sweden to Norway where they transferred to Germany and fought in the Vosges Mountains of northern France over the winter.

Pfaffenheck
Locations of actions in the battle for Pfaffenheck

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Book Review: The Armored Fist: The 712th Tank Battalion in the Second World War by Aaron Elson

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[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 Armored Fist: The 712th Tank Battalion in the Second World War is one of the best unit histories I have read from WWII.  It is not a traditional unit history in that it is not simply a list of engagements fought, enemy killed, and casualties suffered.  It is a compilation of the recollections of the unit’s members put into chronological order from their first combat to the end of the war.  This is not traditional battle history, instead it is the story … Read more…

The Makin Raid of 1942 and the Recovery of the Marines Lost After the Battle

Makin Burial

In August 1942 the 2nd Marine “Raider” Battalion raided what was then called Makin Island in the Gilbert Archipelago of the South Pacific.  The present name of the island is Butaritari in the island nation of Kiribati.

In 1942 the island had a small, roughly 160 man garrison, and was the site of a Japanese Airfield.  The raid was conceived as a way for the Marines to gather intelligence on what and how many Japanese forces were stationed in the Gilbert Islands.  The plan was for 211 men from companies A and B of the 2nd Marine “Raider” Battalion led by LTC Evans Carlson to land on the island under cover of darkness, neutralize the small Japanese garrison and ransack the island for anything of intelligence value before destroying the facilities and leaving the island.  The Marines would land from two submarines the USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut using small rubber boats equipped with outboard motors.

View of Makin Island from the Periscope of the USS Nautilus Before the Raid
View of Makin Island from the Periscope of the USS Nautilus Before the Raid

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WWII Animated Day-by-Day

Below is an animated map of the progress of WWII day by day from 1 September, 1939 to October, 1945 when the last major units of the Japanese military surrendered.  It provides a fascinating view of the way in which the fortunes of the went back and forth.

Book Review: The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge

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[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 True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Müller-Hill is one of those rare books that come out of war.  A diary written by someone to satisfy themselves with no expectation that it will ever get published.  As such, it provides an almost unique view into the mind of the person writing it.  The vast majority of war memoirs are self-serving and written to make a point.  Diaries tend to be less so, and this one … Read more…

The Crete Campaign: 20-29 May, 1941

German Plan for the invasion of Crete, May 1941

Last Spring I did a presentation to my local Military History group about the Crete Campaign of 1941 and figured that since I now have the time I would put something up here about it as well because I find the whole campaign to be a comedy of errors by both sides in this misguided, ill-conceived, and poorly executed excuse for a battle. First, we should examine the strategic situation in May of 1941.
In May 1941 England had been run out of Greece with its tail between its legs and was using Crete as both a staging ground for evacuation and they were hoping like hell they could hold it and stop the Mediterranean, or at least the eastern part from turning into a German Lake. For their part, Germany did not know what to do. They were in the last stages of planning the attack on Stalin’s Russia set to commence in June but in the meantime they had all these troops hanging out in Greece with nothing to do. The possession of Crete would have conferred no strategic or even operational advantage to the Germans as the British still controlled Malta and the British navy still controlled the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

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