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Bando, Mark. Breakout at Normandy: The 2nd Armored Division in the Land of the Dead. Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1999
Tucked away in Normandy is a stony tract of ground called "la lande des morts" (which in English would be known as the "land of the dead"), named for a battle fought there during the Hundred Years War. Mark Bando has discovered another battle fought there, this one by the US 2nd Armored Division, which previously drew little attention in either accounts of the division or of the Normandy campaign. On the night of 29-30 July 1944, elements of 2nd Armored found themselves blocking the German escape route as thousands of men and their AFVs attempted to withdraw from the Allied bag. The result was a confused, bloody nighttime engagement of columns of Germans intent on escape versus determined American roadblocks and strongpoints. The action truly turned the ground into "la lande des morts" for a second time.
Rocky Nawrocki: Bill managed to enlist when he was only fifteen and in Normandy he was briefly captured and used as a human shield on a German tank before escaping. Although the evidence is sketchy, he might have been involved in an incident in which he shot prisoners before eventually being evacuated for combat shock.
Christian Tychsen: The charismatic SS officer was acting commander of the Das Reich Division when killed in an ambush in Normandy. Bando pieces together the events surrounding his death and even tracks down some of the "souvenirs" removed from his uniform.
Robert Lohr: Called "Fat Ass" by his buddies, Lohr was a 6'4", 240-pound BAR man who was seriously wounded in a firefight with Fallschirmjaegers. Evacuated from the battlefield, he was mistaken for a German because of his unusual camouflage uniform and hobnailed boots. Eventually he regained consciousness and was moved from the POW ward.
Hulon Whittington: Sergeant Whittington was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Normandy but was later wounded and returned to the States. Like a surprising number of the men whose stories Bando tells here, Whittington eventually took his own life.
John Wong: "Probably the most unique troop leader in this battalion was the commander of C Company's 1st platoon, Lieutenant John Wong, a 5-foot, 11-inch Chinese American from San Francisco."
The stories of these soldiers and many others are woven together along with an up-close-and-personal narrative of tactical operations to bring to life this little-known action. Bando looks at the battle from the perspective of the men who fought it, including details about the unusual camouflage uniforms issued to many 2nd Armored men at this time (uniforms that on more than one occasion caused them to be mistaken for German soldiers in similar camouflage smocks), the wild uncertainty of fighting unseen enemies in the night, and the hellish carnage of fighter-bomber attacks against German columns attempting to move in daylight.
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Reviewed 27 February 2000
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