S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “WWII”

Book Review – Triumph at Imphal-Kohima: How the Indian Army Finally Stopped the Japanese Juggernaut

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Rating – Two Stars

Callahan reports on the little known yet profoundly important British India/Japan campaign in 1944. The Imperial Japanese Army launched an invasion of India’s eastern frontier. Streaming out of occupied Burma, the former British crown colony, they achieved initial success and threatened the capture of the key Indian city of Imphal in Manipur State. The Fourteenth Indian Army, under the command of British Lieutenant General William Slim, crushed the invading Japanese and began the conquest of Burma. This Indian Army was composed of revitalized Indian divisions, Gurkha Rifles battalions, and British elements.

Of note is the several-hundred-word account of the Bengal radical Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army, allied with the Japanese.

Unfortunately, Callahan’s account is inept. His narrative is far too detailed for the lay reader, and it’s too befuddling for the military cognoscenti. His failure to include large- and small-scale maps that depict the geography and military movements is an egregious blunder that negates, in large measure, the value of this book. His narrative lacks chronological coherence—the narrative wanders back and forth in time and we do not get a clear understanding of what is happening with who, where, and why. It is repetitive to a crippling fault. It is seriously overwritten—there’s far too much detail that’s irrelevant to the primary story and beclouds the essential points.

The author’s failure to split frequently his text into paragraphs hinders comprehension. Some paragraphs are a page long and others longer. And, frequently, Army element numbers (XIV, for example) suffuse through the pages to an inordinate extent, to the point that they become noise in our reading process. Well-planned tables would have helped clarify this printed din. Images of the key persons would augur well for engendering reader empathy.

I wonder why the editor at the University of Kansas Press did not exercise more control over this narrative. It had the potential to be a much-needed and valuable account of this crucial battle that threatened the East India Company Raj.

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Book Review – Unbroken

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Rating – Five Stars

Unbroken is an intensely gripping book. I read page after page after page until my roiling mind demanded that I quit. I could not. Unbroken is a dismaying book. I wanted to toss it into the trash to relieve my emotional distress. I could not. My empathy was too intense.

I continued reading and reading about the horrifying images Hillenbrand penned of the dehumanizing tortures and starvation diets the Japanese guards inflicted on our Allied prisoners of war during World War II. (The war in the Pacific raged from 7 December 1941 to 2 September 1945.)

Her storytelling skills engender intense and disturbing emotions. Perhaps I should note that I am a retired naval intelligence officer and one of my specialties was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). I had some experience in Operation Homecoming in early 1970—the repatriation of our prisoners of war from the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

Hillenbrand’s gripping narrative of Louis Zamperini (1917 to 2014) is adroitly compelling. Zamperini was a distance runner who ran the 5,000 meter race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He finished 8th. As the Pacific War loomed, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier in a Consolidated B24 Liberator squadron. In a search and rescue operation in May 1943, his B24 crashed into the ocean.

Zamperini, Russel Allen Philip, the pilot, and Francis McNamara, waist gunner, survived and drifted in the Pacific in lashed-together rafts for 47 days. I’ll not detail their struggle for survival in this review—suffice to say, their schemes to garner food and portable water were exceptionally innovative. On the 33rdday, McNamara died. After 47 days, Zamperini and Philip were gaunt and covered with saltwater sores. Their raft drifted onto a small island in the Marshall Islands and Japanese naval personnel captured them. The pair had drifted about 2,000 nautical miles.

I’ll not detail more of Hillenbrand’s narrative. It’s up to you, dear reader. In summary, I do not recommend this book for the “weak of heart.”

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Book Review – Lindbergh

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Rating – Four Stars

Berg presents a comprehensive biography of Charles A. Lindbergh, the famous hero and the infamous blackguard. The pioneer aviator, world traveler, political activist, intrepid warrior, zealous environmentalist, and international celebrity. Accordingly, this tome is heavy in weight and content.

Berg’s writing style is refined and empathetic. In this meticulously detailed litany of Lindbergh’s accomplishments and foibles, we learn more about Charles Lindbergh than most of us need or want to know. Nonetheless, the author reveals the key points in this aviator’s life in engaging fashion.  I’ll not repeat all of them in this review. However, following are some that I found particularly interesting:

  • His solo flight from New York City to Paris in May 1927 in the Ryan M1 aircraft—dubbed “We”
  • His marriage to Anne Spencer Morrow in 1929
  • The kidnapping and murder of his firstborn son, twenty-month-old Charles Augustus, in March 1932, and the trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper and murderer
  • His and Anne’s exploratory flights in their custom-built Lockheed 8 Sirius for Pan American World Airways in the 1930s
  • His de facto mission as the global ambassador for aviation development

Of singular import were his visits to the Third Reich in the late 1930s, and his proclaimed admiration for Germany’s advanced military aircraft. At a dinner party on October 18, 1938 at the American Embassy in Berlin, the Nazi Air Minister, Field Marshal Hermann Göring, presented Lindbergh with the Verdienstkreuz der Deutschen Adler or “Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.” This swank medal was a Maltese cross surrounded by eagles and miniature swastikas. High-ranking German officials awarded this medal to foreigners who were considered sympathetic to the Third Reich.

Aside: In 1938 the Spanish Civil War raged—the Communist government v. General Francisco Franco and his fascist army. The Third Reich sent its Condor Legion, top of the line aircraft and experienced aviators, to support General Franco.

The Nazi medal would be Lindbergh’s shameful scarlet cross for the remainder of his life.

On his return to the USA, Lindbergh became an avid leader of and vocal advocate for the America First policy: no involvement in foreign wars, and Great Britain must stand alone against the Wehrmacht; if Britain should fall, so be it. Some of his rhetoric was tinged with anti-Semitic innuendos.

Now Lindbergh, the former hero of the world, became a pariah. He surrendered his colonel rank in the Army reserves and alienated President Roosevelt, all manner of politicians, the public, and some of his friends. Nonetheless, he continued his nonintervention policy until 7 December 1941—“a date which will live in infamy,” as President Roosevelt said in his declaration of war against the Empire of Japan in response to their surprise attack on our Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.

The forty-two-year-old civilian Lindbergh went to the South Pacific to work with our aviators on methods to extend the range of their aircraft. General Douglas MacArthur gave him carte blanche to fly any aircraft within his command. He flew several dozen combat missions in the Vought F4U “Corsair” with the Marines against Japanese targets on New Ireland and New Britain. Following that, he went to Hollandia and flew the Lockheed P38 “Lightning” with Army aviators against multiple targets in the Bismarck Sea environ. On one mission, he shot down a Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-5 “Sonia.” On a mission over Palau Island, it is “rumored” that he downed a Mitsubishi A6M5 Reisen “Zero.”  He continued his combat flying from Biak, New Guinea, Kwajalein, and Roni Island.

In a private ceremony in the Pentagon on 7 April 1954, Air Force Secretary Harold Talbott swore Charles Lindbergh in as a Brigadier General (President Eisenhower and the Senate had approved this commissioning).

The rest of the story is for you to read. On 27 August 1974, the 72-year-old Charles Lindbergh died from complications of lymphoma. He is buried on Maui on a cliff overlooking the Pacific on the grounds of the isolated, small Kipahulu church. I’ve visited his grave and it is a humbling and an awe-inspiring experience. Highly recommended.

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Film Review – Dunkirk

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Rating – Two stars

I enjoyed the first few minutes of Dunkirk. The narrative was presented in classic cinematic design—relevant, dynamic, kinetic action void of dialogue and supported by pertinent sound effects. “Here’s a winner,” I reckoned. Unfortunately, as the film continued, I became increasingly disappointed.

I do not know what to make of Dunkirk. Is it a historical fiction film based on the rescue of the British army from France, or an avant garde experiment? Nonetheless, as a straight narrative film it is seriously flawed. Notwithstanding the numerous technical errors, several egregious, I could not willingly suspend my disbelief while viewing this film.

Dunkirk does not engender empathy for its characters. One exception is actor Mark Rylance—the skipper of a small boat that putt-putts at an agonizingly plodding pace to the beach at Dunkirk. Other than him, I’ve no one to root for.

There is no antagonist, except some vague enemy who shoots from concealment, fires artillery shells from the ether (as it were), and flies Messerschmitt 109s and drops bombs from Hinkle 119s sans aviators. I’ve no one to fear or abhor. Who is the enemy that is causing the havoc at Dunkirk? I am bamboozled by why the producers did not identify the adversary—the German Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine. Am I to conclude that the filmmakers’ cultural-correctness negates history so as not to offend—anyone? Gadzooks! Without a defined antagonist, the narrative is palpably defective.

Compounding my disappointment is the negative ambiance that pervades Dunkirk. The mise en scène focuses excessively on sinking ships, downed aircraft, and dying and dead “tommies”—dying in all manner of horrors. Bedlam is a more fitting title for this epic extant. Admittedly, war is Hell. But to linger on its savagery is ghoulish.

My most serious objection to Dunkirk is the film’s dereliction in failing to communicate the critical importance and far-reaching consequence of the “Miracle of Dunkirk”—the evacuation of 200,000 British “tommies” and 140,000 French poilus from the beaches of France. This British operation was one of Word War II’s most critical actions. The film ignores the great triumph that it was. Had this operation failed, Britain would have been without an army and probably would have had to ask for terms with the Third Reich.

Background. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Wehrmacht Commander of Army Group A during the Battle of France, said, “Dunkirk was one of the greatest turning points of the war.”

The filmmaker missed a beckoning opportunity to concoct a classic cinematic montage that would portray the frenetic activity of British naval personnel and subjects fueling and preparing private boats that could sail the forty miles from Ramsgate to France, and return with soldiers. En route was an armada of eight hundred self-propelled vessels—the “little ships of Dunkirk.” It was a mélange of trawlers, pleasure yachts, fishing boats, dinghies, Thames ferries, lifeboats, automobile ferries, and tugboats. Included also were Belgian fishing boats, Irish motor torpedo boats, and Dutch coasters.

The last scene in Dunkirk shows a rescued British soldier riding in a train, looking at a newspaper. He spots a transcript of Winston Churchill’s famous “Miracle of deliverance” speech to the House of Commons on 4 June 1940—”We shall fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender.” This was the most famous speech of the war. It boosted British subjects’ sagging morale and encouraged them to carry on. To my serious disappointment, the soldier read aloud this hallmark speech. How pedestrian.

Nolan missed another golden opportunity to salvage a smidgen of this flawed film’s ambiance. After the surfeit of death and destruction that suffused through this epic, it ought to have ended on a high point, a capstone. Consider a scene that would show the “little ships” flotilla closing on the English coast. On the sound track is Winston Churchill delivering his “Miracle of deliverance” oration. Didn’t happen.

The special effects in Dunkirk are spectacular. I wonder, however, if less technology and more plot and cinematic design would have produced a more tolerable film.

FIN

Complete text of Winston Churchill’s “Miracle of deliverance” speech to the House of Commons on 4 June 1940—the last day of the Dunkirk evacuation.

”We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

FIN

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Book Review – Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

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Rating – Three Stars

As usual, my simple mind is confused. I do not know what to make of this book. It’s not a history of naval aviation in World War II, and it’s not a personal memorial to all the lost fliers “that did not return” to their aircraft carriers. It is a salmagundi of stories of naval aviators mostly dying. It’s a compendium of personal insights into naval aviators—officers and enlisted men that did not return—mostly.

Aside: Bradley’s use of “boys” throughout the text is an abomination and insult to the men of naval aviation who fought the good fight in the Pacific Campaign—many of whom did not return. I was in naval aviation for my entire career in the United States Navy. Prejudice against such disrespect is entrenched in me.

Also, to my amazement, Bradley fashioned the Japanese soldiers as “boys.” They were men.

Bradley rants pointedly about the USA’s eeevil colonialism in the Philippines and the diabolical war we waged on the populace—the slaughter of innocent civilians, internment camps, and the scorched-earth policy. I wonder what this screed contributed to Flyboys—perhaps only that war is Hell.

His detailed account of the Doolittle Raiders’ bombing of Japan on 18 April 1942 is compelling.

Bradley gets credit for his excellent research. His exposition of the Japanese army’s  training, discipline, and inexorable top-down chain of command is keenly informative and explains, in large measure, the inability of the on-scene commanders and their subordinates to make any decision of import without approval from the senior military clique in Tokyo—the “Spirit Warriors.” Of particular note is his explanation of their total disregard for the lives of their men. They sent soldiers to isolated islands. Their orders were to kill the American devils and to die for the Emperor. Surrender or failure to die was dishonorable and brought shame to their families. It was the Bushido code updated for the Pacific War.

Here’s one example. Japanese high command sent 130,000 troops to the island of New Guinea. After our navy’s victory in the battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Japanese soldiers were trapped. No supplies could reach them and there was no escape. The high command lacked concern—it was the vagaries of war and these men would die an honorable death. Nonetheless, the soldiers fought the Australian and American forces until almost all of the Japanese were dead—either killed or dead of disease and starvation. It’s in this story that Bradley tells us how the starving Japanese soldiers killed their own to keep from starving to death.

Bradley’s writing style is easy, fluid, and empathetic. And, that’s part of the problem with his book—it’s too empathetic, too vivid. We become immersed in his stories—we are at the location witnessing the details of the hideous torture, barbaric assassination, and gruesome cannibalism of our naval aviators. We attend the Japanese officers’ dining table to share the thigh of an enlisted gunner’s mate. Naturally, the reigning general has first pick.

Flyboys is a book suffused with death, torture, and cannibalism. I reckon that these horrors happened, but Bradley doesn’t have to be so dammed graphic about the details. This is not a book for the squeamish, the prudish, or the honorable warrior—in fact, I feel it’s a book solely for the Judge Advocate Generals.

My heart is greatly troubled by Bradley’s narrative. I regret having read his book. I’ve not slept well these past few nights. His images are too powerful. Flyboys is too personal, too engaging. I don’t want to witness the ignominious fate of my shipmates.  

Note: Many of these Japanese criminals were convicted of crimes and hung from the gallows.

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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.

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Book Review: Spy Mistress by William Stevenson

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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).

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