S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “WWII”

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!

Book Review: Spy Mistress by William Stevenson

Spymistress

Rating – Three Stars

Stevenson introduces Vera Atkins—her nome de guerre, and recounts her exploits as a senior operator in Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). This deep black outfit trained and sent agents into occupied Europe and Southeast Asia to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance—and to work with local resistance groups. For example, in France it was the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI), or simply the Marquis.

Vera Maria Rosenberg was born in 1908 in Galati, Romania to well-to-do Jewish parents. Exceptionally well educated in the most prestigious school in Europe, she had an affinity for languages and used sex as her opening gambit to cultivate influential men. In 1937 war clouds covered Europe. Vera immigrated to England, changed her name, and destroyed all references to her Jewish heritage. It’s unclear how she became involved in the SOE. Nonetheless, she quickly rose to become head of the “F” Section (French). She was responsible for recruiting agents, seeing to their training, and making assignments into Nazi controlled France. No need to recount the details here. Suffice it to say that she executed her tasks with assiduous efficiency. At war’s end, senior intelligence officers credited the FFI’s campaign against the German Army as the equivalent of having the effect of two infantry divisions.

I’ve done additional research into Atkins’ activities. The Gestapo (Nazi’s secret police) captured far too many of her agents—tortured and killed them. Some they turned into double agents sending false information to SOE. One question unanswered is, was Atkins herself a double agent? Perhaps a triple agent? We do not know. She died in June 2000 at age 91.

In recognition of her outstanding work, King George VI awarded her the honors of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). The French government awarded her the Croix de Guerre and the distinction as a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

I do not know what to make of this book. It’s a hodgepodge of facts, names, and events without coherence. Atkins’ story is lost in the helter-skelter. For instance, the work and travails of the important agent named “White Rabbit” is scattered over several non-consecutive chapters. Often times, Stevens will begin an account of an agent’s activities then without reason, he changes the story to some non-related event. He may or may not continue the original in some later chapter.

Stevens made his literary mark with his outstanding book titled A Man Called Intrepid, published in 1976. In 1983 he published Intrepid’s Last Case. I read this book and was seriously disappointed. Unfortunately, I must relegate Spy Mistress as another disappointment. Buried in chaos of this book is a compelling story that ought to be told. Perhaps another author will accept the challenge.

Review © Martin Shelton

The Doolittle Raid

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and five other Japanese cities—one of the most audacious, brilliant, and important actions of World War II.

Background. In a surprise maneuver, aircraft from the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, 7 December 1941 that destroyed the our Navy’s battle fleet. Fortunately, our aircraft carriers were at sea conducting exercises and were unharmed.

Following the Pear Harbor attack, allied forces were reeling backwards as Japanese forces advanced deep into China; they conquered Hong Kong, Wake, and Guam. In the Philippines, American forces had retreated to the island stronghold of Corridor in Manila Bay and it was soon to fall. In southeast Asia, they occupied Vichy French Indo-China without opposition. Their aircraft sunk the British battleships, Prince of Wales, and Repulse in the South China Sea. Shortly Malaysia and Singapore fell. Burma and Thailand fell next, and the Japanese were poised to invade India (“The Crown of the Empire”). In the naval engagement of the Java Sea, the Japanese sank our heavy cruiser USS Houston, and our auxiliary aircraft carrier USS Langley. Eastward, they captured the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Timor, New Guinea, and vast areas of the central and southern Pacific: the Marshall, Caroline, and Gilbert Islands. The Japanese’s next scheduled conquest was Australia. (Most of its army was in Egypt fighting Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Africa Corps.)

American armed forces were in retreat throughout the western Pacific. The British and Commonwealth forces fell back to India. A Japanese submarine shelled the Elwood oil refinery near Santa Barbara. American moral was at the nadir as the war news became more and more negative. President Roosevelt demanded that we strike the Japanese homeland to boost American morale and put the Japanese Imperial Staff on notice that their day of reckoning was coming. The president’s charge was an impossible task. That is until Lieutenant Colonel James (Jimmy), Doolittle of the US Army Air Corp, devised a daring plan.

In the morning of 18 April 1942, in very heavy weather and pitching seas, sixteen Army Air Corps, North American “Mitchell” B25 medium bombers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Colonel Billy Mitchell was first off with only 400 feet of flight deck ahead of his aircraft. Flying at low-level to avoid detection, the B25s hit targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka. One B25 was forced down in Japan and the crew taken prisoners-of-war (and three executed), one landed in neutral Soviet Union and the crew interned, and the remaining fourteen aircraft crash-landed in China. President Roosevelt awarded James Doolittle the Medal of Honor.

In Doolittle’s autobiography, I Could Never be so Lucky Again, he said, “… as a result of our raid, the Japanese were withdrawing fighter (airplane) units from the front lines to defend their homeland.” They feared more attacks on their homeland and wanted to push their front lines to Midway for a follow on invasion of the Territory of Hawaii. The Japanese Navy suffered a stunning defeat in the ensuing Battle of Midway. We sank four of their aircraft carriers and several other warships; and the core of their veteran aviators was lost. Historians now agree that the Doolittle raid …”induced the Japanese to extend their forces beyond their capability. (p. 293) The Battle of Midway was the turning point in the war.”

In 1959, James Doolittle retired as a Major General and returned to an executive position at Shell Oil Company. In 1985, Ronald Reagan promoted Doolittle to a full four-star general. Doolittle died on September 27, 1993, at age 96.

Short Biography. Doolittle enlisted in the Army in 1917 when World War I was in full force. He earned his wings, and despite his repeated request for overseas duty, he was assigned to training aviation cadets. He earned his Doctor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts of Technology in1925. After the first world war, he became on of America’s top racing aviators. He won the Schneider Marine Cup, 1925; Mackay Trophy, 1925; Bendix Trophy, 1931; Thompson Trophy, 1932, and many other. In 1989 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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).

Book Review: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

five_came_backMark Harris weaves an intriguing story of five top-notch motion-picture directors that abandoned their careers in Hollywood and joined the military to help win World War II by producing documentary, propaganda, and information films.  He has integrated numerous moving parts into a coherent tale with keen interest. It’s a heavy book that deserves a careful read. Loaded with key information, and a comprehensive index, Five Came Back is essential for the cineaste, WWII aficionados, and those of my generation who recall the great films of these five directors and the details of the war.  After the read, this book goes into one’s library as a great reference book re Hollywood and the War effort.  The directors are:

Director Spreadsheet

I have two concerns.  First Harris changes gears all too often without a transition.  For instance, in one paragraph he writes about one director and in the following chapter he talks about another director and there is no apparent relationship between these two chapters.  Nonetheless, a linear structure where he would discuss one director a time would be a disaster.  Often times there were relationships between two of the directors.  Secondly, I’ve spotted eight technical errors.  The list is at the end of this review—some significant, others nit picks.

The Office of War Information and General George C. Washington tasked Major Frank Capra to produce a series of film to inform our soldiers and civilians about the righteous of our involvement in the war.  He fought army bureaucracy for most of the war to produce and distribute the Why We Fight series of seven films.  The first picture in this series of documentary films, Prelude to War earned the Academy Award in 1942.  By the war’s end, all seven films were released.

 

whywefight

The army tasked (then) Lieutenant Colonel Frank Capra, to coordinate all army combat photographic efforts.  Accordingly, he commuted between Washington, DC and London through the War.

In discussing the power of propaganda films and the value of realism Capra said, “No war documentary can be made with absolute integrity and truth.”  Capra supporting John Houston’s staging and restaging the battle scenes in the The Battle of San Pietro. Capra’s comments reflected his understanding of the documentary film movement.  John Grierson, father of the documentary film, averred that the documentary film is a restaging of reality.  Eric Ambler (English novelist) commented on the staged battle scenes of San Pietro, “That nothing but falsification would be of any use, or even possible.” He reinforced his countryman’s philosophy re the documentary film.

In May 1945 the war in Europe was over: Capra was discharged, and General George C. Marshall pinned the Distinguished Service Medal on his blouse.

John Huston had conceived, staged, and restaged almost the entire film The Battle of San Pietro.  Houston, perhaps overprotective of his cameramen, was reluctant to have them in danger on the front lines.  Accordingly, he convinced the Army to supply the men and equipment he needed to produce this film.  It was a reasonably faithful reproduction of the actual battle.  Harris says that, “Houston would do most anything that would fit the army’s propaganda needs.”  Several years later, Houston would haggle with the Army to release his film Let There be Light.  This film dealt with the psychological problems of the returning serviceman.  The Army thought it to be too negative and reflect poorly on the soldier,

 

san pietro

Lieutenant Commander John Ford, a naval reservist, was called to active duty shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Tipped about the coming battle at Midway, he and his combat cameramen (mostly from Hollywood) deployed to the island.  During the battle, Ford documented some of the fiercest action with his handheld, 16mm camera.  His footage of the battle was captured totally impromptu.  Ford was filming the battle while standing near the Midway power house. He was wounded slightly in the arm when a Japanese bomb exploded near power house.  He assembled the raw footage and with keen filmic design techniques  produced the Academy award-wining film (1942), Battle of Midway.

Battle_of_Midway_(1942_documentary)_intro2

Ford was present at Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944) directing Coast Guard cameramen. No motion picture was made of the footage.  In a 1964 interview, Ford explained that the U.S. Government was “afraid to show so many American casualties on the screen.” At war’s end the navy awarded John Ford the Legion of Merit.  He remained in the Naval Reserve and the Navy promoted him to Rear Admiral in 1952 when he retired.

Ford’s relationship with the Office of Strategic Services (Forerunner of the CIA) and the Navy is unclear.  He seemed to be serving two masters.  What was the purpose of this dual chain-of-command?  Early on he said, “I am in command of the field photographic branch of the Office of Strategic Services.”  And, why was the OSS producing documentary film?

John Ford had contempt for actor John Wayne because Wayne had broken one vague comment after another to join the Armed Forces.  Wayne never joined.  I reckon they reconciled after the war:  they collaborated on a number of films, such as The Searchers.

Harris weaves an intriguing tale of William Wyler’s producing and directing the groundbreaking film The Memphis Belle—probably the “best” documentary film for the war.  Actually, it is a composite of several Eight Air Force, Boeing B-17 missions over Germany.  It’s suffused with real-time combat photography that is thrilling, chilling, and engrossing—much shot by Wyler.  It’s the story of the crews twenty-fifth mission—this time over the submarine pens at Wilhelmshaven.  On return, the Queen of England greets the crew, medals awarded, and their commanding officer reads their orders to return to homeland to train bomber crews for future raids on Germany.  What the film fails to discuss is the appalling loss rate of our B-17 and B-24 bombers: German interceptor aircraft, anti-aircraft “flack,” and foul weather took a terrible toll.  On average, the loss rate per raid was about fifteen percent.  Over Schweinfurt, the loss rate was fifty-percent.

memphis-belle

George Stevens joined the Army Signal Corps. His personal use of film cameras to document the historic event in Europe is one of the most interesting tales in this book.  For example, the scenes that Harris that tells about Stevens shooting film and directing his combat cameramen at Omaha Beach on “D Day,” the push through the hedge rows of Normandy, the Liberation of Paris, Stevens’ using a film camera to documented the army’s advance through France and Germany; and the liberation of the notorious concentration camp Dachau.  The horror of the scene at Dachau, affected Stevens deeply for the rest of his life.   On his discharge from the Army he was awarded he Legion of Merit.

george_stevens_dday_to_berlin

The five directors resumed their careers after the war: some more successful than others.  Their experiences in the war inscribed deep emotional scars that were harder for some to overcome than others were.  Nonetheless, all resumed successful careers in the fast-changing Hollywood environment.

Here are the errors I’ve spotted.

  • Calls the USSR “Russia” in Frank Capra’s trip in 1935.
  • Incorrectly refers to the 1935-1936 Second Italian-Ethiopian War as starting in 1933.
  • States that Newfoundland in 1943 was part of Canada.  No so.  At that time, Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire—not a part of Canada.
  • He says, “The Navy was still putting the crew (of the Boeing B-17 bomber dubbed “Memphis Bell”) through its paces…”  The crew of the “Memphis Bell” were in the Army Air Corps—not the Navy.
  • Notes that “The Americans, who were then pouring all of their manpower into the war in the Pacific.”  Not so.  President Roosevelt and Five-star General George Marshall, General of the Army, had decided that their first priority was to defeat Nazi Germany in EuropeThe Pacific war was clearly secondary.
  • Discussing the film The Negro Soldier–the telling of the black soldiers’ participation in the war—he notes that the army soldiers were dancing with the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Service).  I suspect that he meant to write “WAC” (Woman’s Army Corps).
  • In the scene in which Harris discusses the capture of the Ludendorff, single-track railroad bridge across the Rhine River, he states, “…the allies captured three bridges (across the Rhine).  Actually, Hitler ordered all bridges across the Rhine destroyed and all were except the bridge at Remagen.  It was the lone bridge still standing across the Rhine. Elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion captured this bridge intact on the 8th of March 1945, and soon General George Patton’s tanks were on the east side of the river and Berlin was his target.
  • Discussing William Wyler’s 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, Harris pens that the character Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews) walks among “…an airfield of now useless fighter planes.”  Actually, Fred is in the aircraft bone-yard for the Boeing B-17 bombers.

FIN

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.
belgian gates

Belgian Gates

  • A line of spiked logs facing seaward.
spiked logs

Spiked Logs

  • Thousands of underwater mines.
underwater mines

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

 

Germans-on-Omaha-Beach7

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?

BOOK REVIEW: The Guns of Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944 to 1945 Volume III by Rick Atkinson

The Gun9780805062908_custom-1a6726df45b0775da6809e6dd65977262d795539-s6-c30s of Last Light, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2013, 877 pp.  Contents,            29 maps, photographs, Notes, 167 pp.; Selected Sources, 28 pp,; Acknowledgements, 6 pp.; Index, 26 pp.
Volume Three of Atkinson’s liberation trilogy details the exploits of the United States Army in North Africa, Italy, and Western Europe during World War II.

The other books in this trilogy are:

  • Volume I, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943
  • Volume II, The Day of the Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944.

Sixty-million people died in the six years of World War II, 1939 to 1945.  

The Guns of Last Light compels the reader to join the “dog faces” as they land at Normandy, slug through the hedge rows, liberate Paris, kill Germans in the Falaise Pocket, leak blood in the Hutgen Forest, are massacred in Malmédy, become a “Battling Bastard” of Bastogne, die at Arnhem, crack the Siegfried Line, capture the bridge at Remagen, liberate the death camp at Dachau, assassinate extra judicially the SS guards at Buchenwald, and witness General Alfred Jodl sign the unconditional surrender document on 7 May 1945—VE Day.

This is not a “West Point” type book.   Rather, Atkinson takes our hand and leads us through the key battles in central Europe as the typical GI or Tommy experienced it.  The empathy is intense.  The “gouts of blood” is appalling. The horrors of Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbruck, Buchenwald, and Dacau roil the soul.  On top, he details the Allied General’s strategies,  incompetence, bravado, contempt’s, and narcissisms.

The Last Prophecy, Jon Land Book Review

ImageI’ve seen this book many times past. Not exactly this one book but other books, films, and tales with the same basic plot: intrepid adventurers discover an ancient and secret writing or glyph well hidden in some exotic/dangerous/gruesome local. Only some obscure university professor/retired cryptographer/computer geek can decode this mysterious writing. Meantime, eeevil (keep “eeevil”) forces conduct a virulent campaign of violence and skulduggery to prevent the decoding and to keep the adventurers at bay: usually a handsome fellow and comely lass who initially are at loggerheads, then sure enough they find love, etc. Overcoming all hazards the pair get the text decoded and sure enough it details incantations to call Beelzebub to rise from Hades to purloin our souls, or reveals the scheme of some ancient religious order/military cabal/or space aliens plans to rule/destroy the world.

Back to the book. The Last Prophecy is seriously overwritten in codswallop: 414 pages of small print in the paperback edition. The flood of words becloud the thrust of an obscure and typically thin plot. The narrative lacks coherence making it difficult to comprehend—it wanders from local to local introducing different characters with agendas that seem to be disconnected. We are inundated with ornamental minutiae that muddle the narrative making this tome even more difficult to follow—it’s just so much unnecessary word filler. Another negative I have with this book is that the author suffused the narrative with screeds about how awful/brutal/inhuman the Israelis treat the downtrodden, deserving, and debauched Palestinians. Lastly, at last, the plot is contrived to a crippling fault in several scenes as the Deus ex machina saves our daring-do characters from a fate worse than death, or even worse.

Actually, stripped with extremely sharp editing, this book would make a straight forward, interesting adventure novella of 50K words or thereabouts.

Beretta 32 Caliber Semi-Automatic Pistol

The Beretta is a magazine-fed, semi-automatic pistol that fires the 32 ACP* caliber bullet.  Beretta first introduced this pistol in 1935, and produced approximately 500,000 copies in various models.  The Italian armed forced adopted the Beretta 32 ACP as the standard service firearm in 1937.  The German Wehrmact used the pistol in 1944 and 1945.

 

pistol

 

Specifications

This pistol has the capacity for eight rounds: seven in the magazine and one in the chamber.  Its semi-automatic function is a single-action, blowback process. It has a manual safety, and when the last round is expended, the empty magazine keeps the slide open. The Beretta M1935 model is made of carbon steel and the grip is plastic.

  • Muzzle velocity is 925 feet per second.
  • Weight is about 22 ounces
  • Length is six inches.

Intended for military use, Beretta designed the model 1935 with minimal parts for maximum reliability and ease of maintenance.  In particular, the feeding and extraction cycle is very dependable.  Its robust construction insures a long service life if properly maintained.

In my historical novel St. Catherine’s Crown, the female protagonist, Black Orchid, uses the Beretta 32 with deft skills.

  • ACP = Automatic Colt Pistol

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