Category Archives: World War II

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

[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 of one unit’s participation in the war from the worm’s eye view of the average soldier.

The book itself is 256 pages of text divided into 41 mini chapters each detailing a specific incident from the unit’s history.  There is no index or bibliography.  in the middle of the book is a small section of photos taken by unit members during the war.

The writing style is engaging and you get a sense of what it was really like to fight a tank in the ETO of WWII.  while reading you get the impression that instead of reading the book you are actually sitting there listening to one of the veterans recount their experiences.  there is an immediacy to the stories that is missing from most accounts of warfare.  I thought that one of the best things about reading it is that the reader gets a very god impression of just how confusing combat is and how little each individual participant knows of what is going on in a firefight.  Each person focuses on their job in combat and only the leaders have a good overview of the situation and often they do not have even that.  that facet of combat comes out clearly in the stories of the tankers of the 712th.

This is an outstanding book and well worth reading.  I highly recommend this book.


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

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

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

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

[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 in particular as it was written for the specific purpose of allowing the author to vent his spleen of thoughts and opinions that he simply could not openly express in Nazi Germany without risking death or imprisonment. The book is 186 pages of text and covers the diary entries from March, 1944 to June, 1945.

What is striking about this diary is that it was written by somebody who was part of one of the vital aspects of the totalitarian regime that kept the Nazis in power, a military judge.  Müller-Hill is remarkable in that although he was a military judge, he was not a hanging judge as so many Nazi era judges were.  Indeed, he boasts in the diary that he never sentenced a man to death although he was pressured to do so.  He always managed to find a sentence that avoided the firing squad.

Werner Otto Müller-Hill had served Germany in World War I and was 54 years old when World War II started in 1939.  His age and experience color his observations throughout his diary and he constantly compares the Nazis to the Kaiser era.  This is interesting because he is someone with intimate knowledge of both eras.  He makes several predictions in his diary that turned out to be prescient.

However, the most striking thing that comes out when reading the diary is how Müller-Hill struggled to reconcile his role in the Nazi war machine with his own conscience.  What comes out is the internal debates of an ordinary man who knows he serves an inhuman regime but finds himself powerless to do anything to stop the destruction of the country and people he love.  He does what he can but knows that will never be enough.  This book is a step to putting to rest the myth of a Germany full of Nazis and goes far toward showing that some, if not most, Germans were opposed to the regime but unable to do anything because of the iron grip of the police apparatus the Nazis built.  If anything, the lesson to be learned from this diary and the Nazi era is not that Germans are evil but that if tyranny is not stopped early resistance can become almost impossible.  This diary represents the story of one person who could not fight openly yet still resisted the regime in whatever way they could.

The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge is compelling reading and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in World War II and the Nazi era in Germany.

The Crete Campaign: 20-29 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. Continue reading The Crete Campaign: 20-29 May, 1941