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Here are brief notes about four recent reprints of some older WWII-related titles which are worth renewed attention:
Anonymous. Historical and Pictorial Review of the 28th Infantry Division in World War II. Nashville, TN: The Battery Press, 2000
Originally published in 1946, this is another in Battery's extensive (and highly commendable) series of WWII divisional history reprints.
The divisional histories published in the immediate post-war years seem to fall into two categories. Some, such as The 91st Infantry Division in World War II, are solid historical tomes which provide a thoughtful and permanent record of the unit's endeavors. Others more closely resemble souvenir scrapbooks, almost like a graduating class's photographic yearbook. With its amateurish appearance (no author cited, no page numbers, clumsy layout, crude sketches, no index) and rather personal style (Division prayer, lyrics and music to "Roll On, 28th," newspaper clippings, and letters of congratulations from Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Devers, etc), the book at first glance seems more like memorabilia than history. Upon closer examination, however, the text reveals substantial amounts of tactical detail covering the division's operations in Normandy, in the Hurtgen Forest, in the Battle of the Bulge, and elsewhere.
In the 109th Infantry zone, the front was being held by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. At 0800 hours both battalions reported strong enemy patrols operating on the west bank of the Our River near Viandon and Bettendorf.
Mitchell, Lt. Robert J. (compiler) with Sewell T. Tyng and Capt. Nelson L. Drummond, Jr. The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle as Told by the Men Who Fought There. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000
This slim volume was prepared by the U.S. War Department and originally published by Infantry Journal Press in 1944. The new edition from the University of Nebraska adds a fresh introduction by Gregory J. W. Urwin, award-winning author of Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island.
The conditions in which the campaign in the Aleutians in World War II were conducted certainly vied for the honor of "worst weather and worst place to wage war," and that cold, stark reality proves abundantly clear in The Capture of Attu. The first twenty-six pages of the book recount the operations at the operational/tactical level while the remainder of the book offers dozens of brief stories, mostly one or two pages in length, from the men who fought the battles. As would be expected from a book published during the war by the War Department about its operations and its men, this seems a bit sanitized but nevertheless a tantalizing glimpse of how American soldiers faced the climate, the terrain, and the enemy.
"Hey! Wake up and get the hell out of here! The Japs have broken through!" The sentry shouted his warning and dashed off to alert men in other tents. Grenades were bursting on Engineer Hill and machine guns sputtered; the clamor of the fight rose like a tide as the screaming Japs burst out of the fog and darkness onto the dazed rear echelon.
Koch, Brig. Gen. Oscar W. with Robert G. Hays. G-2: Intelligence for Patton. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1999
Not quite so old, Koch's book originally appeared in 1971. He was the G-2 -- Chief of Intelligence -- for Patton throughout the war and this is a volume about his service, and even more about the workings of his Intelligence staff, in North Africa, Sicily, and western Europe. The latter proves especially notable as Koch, unlike most other Allied intelligence officers, was alert to the possibility of the German offensive which became the Battle of the Bulge. Among other things, he discusses in his "Fog of War" chapter the mystery and the clues surrounding the Ardennes offensive, he describes how he concluded there would be no German "Alpine Redoubt," he examines Patton's style of leadership and military record, and he explains the functions of Intelligence and what makes a good G-2 officer.
One other thing about the prisoner's map had been of particular interest to the Third Army: it showed no symbol in the area of the Bavarian Alps where, rumor had it, the so-called Alpine Redoubt was being prepared as a fortress where Hitler and his staunchest supporters would make their last stand.
Beesley, Patrick. Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000 (Published in the UK by Greenhill Books)
The most recent of the four books described here, Very Special Intelligence was originally published in 1977 and was one of the earliest books to deal with Ultra and its influence on naval operations in WWII. Beesley's book is in many ways the most important of these four.
The author served with the Operational Intelligence Center from 1940 through 1945 and draws on his knowledge of its activities and successes, much of it newly declassified when the book was first released. This allows Beesley to reveal not only what the Royal Navy knew about German dispositions and intentions, but how the Admiralty came to possess such information and how it was used. In addition to the naval war as a whole and the U-boat campaign in particular, some episodes receive special emphasis, such as the hunt for the Bismarck, the Channel Dash by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the loss of convoy PQ17, and even German submarine operations in the Indian Ocean. Very authentic and enlightening material, with a new Introduction by W.J.R. Gardner (author or Decoding History: The Battle of the Atlantic and Ultra) and a new Afterword by Ralph Erskine. Also an enlarged and updated bibliography on Naval Intelligence in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Denning's raider expert, Lieutenant Hutchinson, R.N.V.R., could do little more than his predecessor to forecast the movements of the enemy ships once they were at sea, although he was able to accumulate even more detailed information about their characteristics and tactics, and to issue from time to time further Raider Supplements to the Weekly Intelligence Report. The best opportunity for locating and attacking the raiders and blockade runners occurred, of course, while they were outward- or homeward-bound in the Bay of Biscay or English Channel, and after earlier failures the British scored a success here in October 1942. The records of this operation are of interest in the way they reveal the interaction of various sources of intelligence: no single source gave, on its own, a complete picture, but in combination and with intelligent deductions by officers with deep background experience of German procedures, they revealed the enemy's plans clearly enough.
All four titles are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the respective publisher.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 11 June 2000
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