S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “Nazi”

Book Review: The Decisive Campaigns of the Desert Air Force 1942 – 1945

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Rating  – Four Stars

Evans relates the large-scale accomplishments of the Royal Air Force in the Cyrenaica, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns in World War II. His matter-of-fact style, presents the Desert Air Force’s (DAF) campaigns in a chronological, military style order. I would suggest that this book is for the military aficionado—clearly not for the casual reader.  It’s a dry recitation, laced with a few personal tidbits. 

He offers several maps, however, not enough of them and not annotated in pertinent detail enough—making it nettlesome to follow his narrative. Such especially is the case in his narrative of the Eight Army’s campaign in southeastern Tunisia. For example, on page 73 he discusses the Army’s capture of the strategic Tebaga Gap in March 1943. Unfortunately, Tebaga Gap is not spotted on the relevant map.

The RAF’s command of the sky over Cyrenaica and its perfected close air support technique were the deciding factors in the Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s British Eight Army’s successful breakout at El’ Alamein in December in 1942. The key to victory was the DAF’s total quashing of supplies for Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps’ Panzeramee. In particular, it was the sinking of the two Italian supply ships in the harbor at Tobruk, Proserpina and the Tergestea that was the death knell for the retreating Afrika Korps. Allied air power had won the air war over El’ Alamein.

Following, it was the DAF’s supremacy of the air that enabled allied armies to crack the Nazi’s Gustav strategic defensive line at Monte Cassino in May 1943; and the Gothic Line in the Po Valley in April 1945.

Overall, I rate this book four stars and a fine addition to a military historian’s library.

Read more by S. Martin Shelton!

Film Review: The Woman in Gold

the woman in goldDetails. Released April 2015. Orion Pictures. Actors: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Donald Bruke, Kate Holmes, Mana Altman. Director, Simon Curtis. Writers: Alexi Kaye Campbell.

Background. During the Anschluss of 1938, Nazi Germany overthrew the government of Austria. Following, the Austrian and German Nazis looted Jewish possessions: art, jewelry, furs, and silver, anything of value.

Synopsis. This film is liberally based on actuality. Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an elderly Jewish refugee from Nazi Austria, attempts to recover four valuable paintings by the now world-famous artist Gustav Klimt that Nazi thugs looted from her family. In particular she wants the painting titled “The Woman in Gold,” a portrait of, Adele Bloch-Baurer I, her aunt. After the War, the paintings were on display in the Austrian State Gallery. Over the ensuing years, “The Woman in Gold” became Austria’s equivalent of France’s “Mona Lisa.”

In 1999 Altmann, the now American citizen, employs the attorney E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to plead her case against the implacable Austrian Government. Her motivation is to publicize the Nazi’s unmitigated genocide and illicit art theft and to seek some matter of justice and restitution. Eventually, Schoenberg, through extended, legal machinations, wins his case through an arbitration panel that declares that the paintings the property of Altmann. She returns the four paintings to the United States and they are now on display at the Neue Galerie in New York City.

Critique. On the whole, I enjoyed this film. On a scale of one to five, I place it at four. It engendered intense empathy in me as it stimulated my recalled these events from World War II. Helen Mirren is exceptional as Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann. Ryan Reynolds does a yeoman job as E. Randol Schoenberg—thought he’s bit stoic at times. The miss en scène is skillfully portrayed with excellent cinematography, background locations, costumes, props, etc. Directing, and editing are first-rate. And, as noted art direction is superb.

Several plot points piqued my interest.

  1. During the Austrian Nazi government regime, Maria Altmann and her husband board an aeroplane in Vienna bound for Cologne—in the heart of Nazi Germany. Next, she is in the United States without her husband. There is a large hole in this scenario. What happened to her husband? And how did they (she) escape from Nazi Germany?
  2. The transitions from present day to 1938 are exceptionally well executed. However, after a time they became timeworn.
  3. I must admit that I was somewhat annoyed that the Schӧnebrunn Palace was shown several times as some other building and not always the same building. I reckon that’s artistic prerogative.

BOOK REVIEW: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

killing pattonKilling Patton is a compelling tale of World War II’s greatest general: George S. Patton (1885 to 1945).  The manuscript reads easily—almost as an adventure novel.  We are propelled into the story as a participant as our intense empathy builds. Importantly, one does not have to have a keen knowledge of the War to follow Patton’s exploits. The authors lead us with guiding words that sets the perspective and the scene.  I would suggest that Killing Patton is the superior of the other three “Killing” books they’ve written.  It’s a must read.

Patton was not a man of subtlety or tact: he was narcissistic, proud, boisterous, forthright, aggressive, disrespectful, stubborn, insubordinate, and the most successful American general of the war.  His highly successful campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Western Europe are text-book examples of his motto, “Attack.  Attack.  Attack.  And attack again.”  A captured German officer told his American captors that, “General Patton is the most feared general on all fronts.  The tactics of General Patton are daring and unpredictable.”

It was during the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945) that exemplified the best, and perhaps the most, important example of Patton’s aggressive tactics.  In late-December, he thrust his Third Army from southern France to Belgium to relieve the Battling Bastards of Bastogne—the men of the 101stAirborne Division and other elements that were fighting heroically to fend the German Wehrmact and SS Division that have this crucial town surrounded.  It was freezing cold, snowing, and sometimes raining. Accordingly, there was no American air support.  The inclement weather had slowed down Patton’s advance.  He prayed to God and chided him, “I am beginning to wonder what’s going on in Your head.  Whose side are You on anyway.”

Meantime at Bastogne: the American forces suffer many casualties, ammunition was low, and hope for relief was fading. German General. Lt. Gen.Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwit sent a note to General Anthony McAulife demanding that he surrender.  McAuliffe’s reply, “NUTS!” The weather cleared, and on 26 December, elements of the Third Army relieved Bastogne.

During the Battle of the Bulge, a German SS Division captured several hundred Americans near the town of Malmedy.  The SS soldiers machine-gunned the Americas—only two soldiers escaped this massacre.

Patton speaks his mind and the aftermath be dammed. He offends his superiors: General Dwight Eisenhower, General Omar Bradley, President Harry Truman, and the British.  He believes that Eisenhower is a fool, Bradly is ineffectual, and President Truman is gullible.  Patton says, “Truman just doesn’t like me.”  And Truman says, “Patton is a braggart who struts around like a peacock in his showy uniform, with polished helmet and bloused riding pants.”  General Eisenhower tells President Truman that, “Patton is a mentally unbalanced officer, and suffers from bouts of dementia.”  General Marshall orders that Patton’s telephones be tapped.   The head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), William (Wild Bill) Donovan answered “Yes” to the question from a subordinate’s question, “Shall I kill him?”  All the while, the Soviets are spying on Patton.

Patton has an abiding distrust of the Communists and the duplicitous Joseph Stalin and says so loudly and to anyone nearby.  He states that after Germany surrenders, we should continue our war to defeat the Soviets.  He makes deadly enemies on both sides of the conflict.

He escapes two attempts on his life.  On 18 April 1945, while flying in an L-5 Sentinel aircraft, a Supermarine Spitfire (a British fighter) with Polish markings made two aggressive attacks. The L-5 pilot took desperate evasive tactics and pushes his aircraft close to the ground.  The spitfire plows into the ground.  Records indicate that no Polish spitfires were in the area on 18 April.  The Soviet army does have several squadrons of Spitfires.

On 3 May, Patton is riding in an open air jeep.  A German peasant’s ox cart with a sharpened pole extending in front of the cart slams into the jeep.  The pole misses Patton by inches.

On 8 December, Patton is in the back seat of a sedan en route to a hunting trip.  A large army truck smashes into the sedan head on.  Patton suffers serious head injuries.  He is taken to a hospital in Heidelberg.  On 21 December Patton dies.

I do have some negatives.  The authors spend too many words on numerous back stories that are only marginally relevant.  For example, long discourses about Adolph Hitler and his activities inside his bunker: ditto re President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and the USSR, the Great Depression, Winston Churchill and the Parliament, William Donovan, excruciating details re the Auschwits-Birkenau Extermination Complex, Anne Frank and the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals.

My greatest disappointment is that the authors skipped details of the German surrender.  They should have described this monumental event in detail—the defeat of Germany was the central theme of their book—the raison d’être for this story of Patton. Perhaps they could have deleted some of the back-story text to make room for this scene.

Here are the highlights of the German surrender.  On 7 May 1945, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodel, on orders from Admiral Karl Donitz signs the unconditional surrender document. General Dwight Eisenhower signs for the United States of America. All German military activities cease on 8 May, (Victory in Europe Day, VE-Day).

Thoughts About D-Day, 6 June 1944

We thank and honor the men who landed on the Normandy beaches on June 6th 1944.  All are heroes.

I was fifteen years old when we heard a radio announcer blurt that the Allies had landed on the beaches in northern France.  Involved were 130,000 Allied soldiers from USA, Britain, Canada, and the Free French.  There was no mention of casualties.  The news was all positive: we were going to liberate Europe from the Nazi scourge.

Meantime, Joseph Stalin’s Red Army was advancing swiftly through Belorussia with Poland in sight in the USSR’s version of their “liberation of Europe”—under the plague of the hammer and sickle of Communism.

In retrospect, I have concerns about the wisdom of the D-Day landing on the Normandy beaches.  These brave men stormed the beaches into the teeth of the German’s defenses: the Atlantic Wall orchestrated by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox)—perhaps the most skillful of all Third Reich’s generals.  The approaches to the beaches had a four-tiered defense system.

  • About 300 yards from the high-water mark were Belgian gates with mines attached.
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Belgian Gates

  • A line of spiked logs facing seaward.
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Spiked Logs

  • Thousands of underwater mines.
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Underwater Mines

  • A near continuous line of hedgehogs close to the beaches. 
Pas de Calais, Atlantikwall, Panzersperren

German Engineer with Hedgehog

On shore, were coastal artillery batteries in gun casement, tank traps, thousands of machineguns, mines, booby traps, two divisions of Wehrmacht well armed, and combat veterans from the Eastern Front (USSR).  In nearby reserve were two Panzer divisions.

Gun Enplacement

Coastal Artillery Gun Casement

Anti-tank trap

Anti-Tank Trap

 

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German Machine Gunner on Omaha Beach

Allied causalities at day’s end were over ten-thousand—dead, wounded, and missing!

Our causalities increased alarmingly in the following few days.  Not until late on 9 June did the Allies secure the beaches and begin their tedious and dangerous advance into Normandy.
I wonder if our invasion of Europe should have been in southern France?

To set the perspective for D-Day, let’s review a few key highlights of World War II to date.

  • 01 September 1939. Germany invaded Poland and France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.
  • 17 September 1939. USSR invaded Poland.
  • 10 May 1940. Germany began Blitzkrieg through the low countries and France.
  • 22 June 1940 France surrendered. Germany occupied Paris, the land areas around the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.  A puppet French government, headed by Marshall Henri Phillippe Pétain, was established in Vichy to govern central France and the area adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea—dubbed “Unoccupied France.”  Most of the French colonies in Africa and Asia were under the control of Vichy France.
  • 22 June 1941. Germany invaded the USSR.
  • 08 November 1942, Operation Torch.  American troops landed in Vichy-French North Africa.
  • 10 November. 1942, German troops occupied Vichy France.
  • 13 May 1943. Africa cleared of Axis troops.
  • 10 July 1943.  Allies invaded Sicily.
  • 03 September 1943.  Allies invaded Italy.
  • 04 June 1944.  Allies liberated Rome and are bogged down in the mountains north of the city.

I would speculate: even though Germany had occupied all of France in late 1942, our task might have been somewhat less horrendous if we had invaded France from the Mediterranean coast.  Few German troops were in this area and the terrain was more favorable for a fast armored breakout.

Isn’t speculation wonderful?

Putin, Chamberlain, and Hitler

On 2 March 2014, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin ordered Russian motorized infantry to invade the Ukraine’s CrimeanPeninsula.  Such a military incursion violates international treaties and specifically the Soviet Union’s/Ukraine’s treaty of 1954.  The Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, deeded the Crimea to the Ukraine as a gesture of good will to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s incorporation into Czarist Russia.

Putin’s rationale for his invasion was that he “…reserves the right to use all means…to protect Russian speakers in the country’s (Ukraine’s) south and east if they are in danger.”

On 15 March 1939, on Adolph Hitler’s ordered the Nazi Wehrmact to invade the Sudetenland, a province of Czechoslovakia. His rationale was to protect the German-speaking people of this province from the “accursed” Slavs.  Within a few days, the Nazis had occupied all of Czechoslovakia, in direct violation of international law and the 30 September 1938 Munich Agreement between Germany, Great Britain, France, and Fascists Italy; all without consulting the Czechoslovakian government.

This Munich Agreement was an appeasement treaty by Great Britain and France to avoid another world war over an insignificant country—created in the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.  “Peace for out time,” was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s proclamation.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and the world was engulfed in another world war.

I wonder if history repeats itself.

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