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It has been said that Schiffer Military History publishes high quality books about World War II faster than most people can read them, and it's certainly true that Schiffer publishes faster than we can review. Here are some abbreviated notes about a few of their many interesting 2000 titles, delayed only because there are so many to keep up with.
Wilson, Paul J. Himmler's Cavalry: The Equestrian SS, 1930-1945. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
Unlike some other studies of Waffen-SS cavalry units which have focused on combat, Wilson's work is a broader, quite academic study of SS horsemen with an emphasis on organizing, financing, and training the equestrian forces within the framework of social and political issues. The book covers the origin of the mounted SS in 1930 through the Nuremberg trials. The role of the mounted SS during 1939-1945 is dealt with in a single chapter of about twenty-five pages, a story largely revolving around Hitler's unsavory brother-in-law, Hermann Fegelein, who was executed by order of the Fuehrer in the closing days of the war. Despite the documented atrocities committed by the SS cavalry, the equestrian organization as a whole was, according to Wilson, the only arm of the SS acquitted at Nuremberg.
Ross, Kirk B. The Sky Men: A Parachute Rifle Company's Story of the Battle of the Bulge and the Jump across the Rhine. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
Few companies of the US Army in World War IIor any company-sized unit in any Armyhave been the subject of such an intense, highly detailed scrutiny. This particular company is F Company of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th U.S. Airborne Division, and the author tells the story of the men of F Company from their stateside training to their arrival in Europe to the Battle of the Bulge and their combat jump in Operation Varsity. It's a down-and-dirty account of teenagers trained to kill, and the author refuses to blink even the paratroopers behave in ways more commonly associated with the enemies of the Allies. With comrades dying ghastly deaths, with paratroopers crawling through piles of fresh human excrement, with orders to take no prisoners, this is the unvarnished reality of young men in the crucible of war.
Richards, Guy. World War II Troop Type Parachutes: Axis: Germany, Japan, Italy. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
To their credit, the folks at Schiffer have never shied away from publishing big, glossy, photo-heavy books on the most obscure military topics. (Remember Submarine Badges and Insignia of the World?) Guy Richards' book is another that can't be considered exactly mainstream. With only a minimum of text, it endeavors to document with photos and captions the parachutes (and some directly related equipment) used by Germany, Italy, and Japan during WWII. Most of the photographs were taken during the war, but some are recent shots of well-preserved chutes and equipment, with some shots in color. About forty pages cover Italy, fifty Germany, and thirty Japan. A bit, umm, specialized; but a gold mine for those with an interest in this subject.
Kurtz, Robert. German Paratroops: Uniforms, Insignia, and Equipment of the Fallschirmjager in World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
A bit less unusual, but still somewhat off the beaten track, is Robert Kurtz' treatment of German paratroops. Focusing almost exclusively on German paratroopers (with about eight pages at the end devoted to Italian and Japanese forces), but covering a much wider range of equipment, this volume is considerably meatier than Richards' book but still similar in approach. With a minimum of text, Kurtz offers page after page of photographs (some old, many new; some black and white, many color) of smocks and tunics and trousers and headgear and badges and just about any other paraphernalia imaginable, including "baby's cradles presented to families of paratroopers...when they had a child." Many close-ups of details like zippers and pockets. Quite useful for anyone trying to dress like an authentic fallschirmjaeger.
Ross, Robert Todd. The Supercommandos: First Special Service Force, 1942-1944. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000.
Most impressive of the lot is Robert Todd Ross' oversize history of the Canadian-American First Special Service Force. Ross opens with the rather unrealistic planning at the highest levels that necessitated formation of such an unconventional force, studies the formation of the unit and training of those who volunteered, and follows the Forcemen into combat. In their first operation, the landing on Kiska in the Aleutians, the Forcemen discovered the Japanese had already abandoned the island. In action in Italy and France, they would make up for the lack of combat on Kiska, and Ross describes all the actions through the unit's transformation into the 474th Infantry Regiment. The book also contains a number of sidebars (dubbed "Special Features") on topics such as uniforms and equipment (including several incongruous photos of the author decked out in period garb. [Well, it looks very much like the author, but he tells me it's actually his twin brother, Kirk B. Ross, and at this point I should confess I had no idea those two authors were related, let alone twins.]). Far more effort than usual has been lavished on the nicely executed maps. The Supercommandos is also heavily illustrated and very colorful without squeezing out the narrative, giving it, overall, a glossy, visual appeal that makes it a nice complement to the classic The First Special Service Force by Robert D. Burhans.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer Military History.
Reviewed 17 December 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Bill Stone
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