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Today we present brief notes about four entertaining WWII memoirs:
Anderson, Col. Clarence E "Bud" with Joseph P. Hamelin. To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1999
Chuck Yeager looked up to "Bud" Anderson "like the Pope" and called him the "best fighter pilot I've ever seen," which should give some indication of Anderson as a man and as a P-51 driver. This edition of Anderson's 1990 memoir (with a new Afterword) tells the story of his days as a pilot in Europe, Korea, and Vietnam. In Europe he flew 116 missions and qualified as a triple ace with 16 1/4 air-to-air victories, and much of that air-to-air action is captured in these pages as Anderson describes sweeps and dogfights and aerial kills and the painful loss of friends and comrades.
I poured a long burst into this fellow, watched the tracers reach out and claw him, watched the .50-caliber incendiaries flash all over him. The canopy flew off, the pilot began to climb out, and then he settled back into the cockpit. Closing in, I could see fire in there. Then the Folke-Wulf rolled over and fell to earth, making a tremendous explosion.
Gause, Damon. The War Journal of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause: The Firsthand Account of One of the Greatest Escapes of World War II. New York: Hyperion, 1999
Rocky Gause was a young American officer in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. Following a series of adventures he managed to escape from Bataan by swimming to Corregidor, later swimming back to the mainland when the island fortress fell. He joined up with another escaping American officer, was nearly killed by a German resident, and fled in a small boat with his companion. Eventually they made their way to the coast of Borneo and more than 3000 miles through Japanese-controlled waters to the northwestern coast of Australia, reaching Allied territory in October 1943. This reads like the screenplay for a big-budget Hollywood war flick.
I was pushing the crude raft feebly from behind when the Filipino turned to me and blessed himself. He was about four feet away, hanging on the poles when he spoke. I'll never forget the tone of his voice or the words: "Sir, my game is up!"
Thamm, Gerhardt B. Boy Soldier: A German Teenager at the Nazi Twilight. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2000
Gerhardt Thamm as a fifteen-year-old boy served in 1945 in the German Army. Not the Volkssturm or Hitlerjugend, but as a guide and then an infantryman in an unidentified unit of the Heere in the waning months of the war on the Russian front. Because his unit had no maps (and apparently no one in the army had them) of the German terrain on which they were fighting, young locals such as Thamm were used for scouting and guiding patrols. But they also defended every meter of the Reich against the advancing Soviets. Thamme was wounded by a mine and sent home until his leg healed, then rejoined his unit just in time to make his way west, away from the Soviet advance as the war ended, but was captured and served as a POW laborer until he managed to escape to the British zone in 1946.
Lothar and I had been in the forward position a week or two. In a few days we were to be relieved. We looked forward to a hot shower, delousing, and clean uniforms. Early that morning several artillery rounds impacted in our area. There was much shouting and rushing around as everyone quickly grabbed warm clothing, guns, and ammunition and rushed out of the bunkers. Lothar and I were the last to emerge. Small arms fire was all around us, bright white flares rose in the sky. We heard the heavy sound of a diesel engine as the Vierling, a quadruple 20-mm antiaircraft gun on half-tracks, came out of its hiding place in the barn. Men scrambled aboard as the machine rumbled past us into position behind the cemetery wall, belching stinking diesel smoke. Even before we reached our position at the stone wall, the four barrels of the Vierling started to throw a hail of explosive shells into the attacking Soviets. Four or five machine guns in the cemetery wall fired short bursts. Lothar and I started firing. Empty shell casings flew everywhere. There was smoke, flashes of light, collapsing figures bleeding in the snow. The entire scene seemed unreal; it seemed to vibrate in front of us. Just as suddenly as it began the attack came to an abrupt halt as the Soviets ran out of troops. The snow was black and red from powder, smoke, and blood. Where just moments ago there had been incredible noise, now there was silence. No one had given the command to cease firing; seasoned troops knew when it was all over. They left the few retreating Russians dragging their dead and wounded back to their position-- but the stench of cordite and the smoke lingered on.
Grossjohann, Georg. Five Years, Four Fronts: The War Years of Georg Grossjohann, Major, German Army (Retired). Bedford, PA: Aegis Consulting Group, 1999
Georg Grossjohann enlisted in the German Army for a 12-year hitch in 1928, but he ended up serving a few years longer than anticipated. This service found him involved in the Polish campaign, the campaign in France in 1940, the Russian front, and back to the west in 1944 and 1945. During this time he was gradually promoted from platoon leader to regimental commander, ending the war as a Major. Following the German surrender he hid out in a remote ski lodge until eventually taken into captivity by the Americans. One of his most interesting observations relates to an unauthorized withdrawal he made with his regiment late in the war.
As it turns out, Oberstleutnant Gumbel could not allow my breakout. He was, to a certain extent, bound by the directives of the 338th Infantry Division. Now, his relief and joy were tremendous. This illustrates a peculiar phenomenon that I believe was prevalent in the German Army during this time.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 10 February 2000
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