This time around we look at four freshand assortedreleases: two books closely related to others previously reviewed, two stand-alone titles, one on air units, one on ships, two on ground operations, two focusing on American forces and operations, one British, and one German, with two published in the USA, one in the UK, and one in the Netherlands.
Jaffee, Walter W. The Tankers from A to Z. Palo Alto, CA: The Glencannon Press, 2008
Acknowledgments; photos; insignia; line drawings; tables; Bibliography; Tanker Index; General Index
Appendices: Liberty Tankers; Legislation, Agreements, and Programs Affecting Tankers
Captain Jaffee sails again. After producing a splendid book on Liberty ships and another on Victory ships, this time around he has published the ultimate reference tome for T-type tankers, following much the same structure and format as his previous titles.
While not strictly speaking a book about World War II, the bulk of the vessels and the bulk of the book belong to the WWII era. Among his thirteen chapters, Jaffee devotes one specifically to tanker losses during the war. For example, the story of USS Neosho, lost as a result of Japanese air attack during the Battle of the Coral Sea, occupies almost two pages and includes basic specifications (hull number, builder, date keel laid, date keel launched, date delivered, engine, operator, type, armament, voyage when lost, cargo, master, and complement), two photos, and a lengthy paragraph covering Neosho's history. This entry matches the presentation of information in The Victory Ships.
The book actually opens with an introductory chapter about the emergence of the petroleum industry, a chapter on the evolution of American tankers, and a chapter dealing with US shipyards. These are followed by four chapters covering five specific classes of tankers: T1, T2, T3, T5, and T6 (with the latter two combined into a single chapter). These four chapters provide detailed information about each class and sub-class, including data such as tonnages, length, beam, maximum draft, speed, capacity, etc.
Two chapters cover losses. In addition to the aforementioned chapter on losses during WWII, Chapter 9 deals with post-war losses. The only slightly discordant note here is that the tankers listed in these two chapters don't appear to be listed in the main chapters. Indeed, the overall structure of the book makes it necessary to use the indexvery well done, fortunatelyto locate any specific vessel.
All told, the first nine chapters account for about 90 pages, and they're followed by the heart of the book, chapters 10 through 12, which examine over the course of a further 385 pages each individual tanker. These are constructed in the same manner as the three main chapters in The Victory Ships. Chapter 10 covers tankers owned by the US government, Chapter 11 covers tankers owned by foreign governments, and chapter 12 covers commercially owned tankers.
Chapter 10 deals with government-owned tankers in the same format Chapter 8 utilizes for WWII losses (such as Neosho), which in turn follows the same pattern as The Victory Ships. Chapters 11 and 12 include the same kind of information, but each vessel in those two chapters also gets a tabular compendium of data covering events such as being sold, renamed, or scrapped. In all cases, the entries include a variety of interesting tidbits such as fires, wrecks, groundings, and sudden jack-knifing.
The last chapter covers the post-war "mothball" reserve fleets while Appendix A revisits Liberty ships configured as tankers.
All in all, another solid accomplishment from Jaffee which should serve as the definitive reference for these ships for a long time.
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deZeng, Henry L. and Douglas G. Stankey with Eddie J. Creek. Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe 1933-1945: A Reference Source, volume 2. Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing Limited, 2008
Preface; Conventions; Abbreviations and Translations; Introduction; photos; color emblems; Index of Bomber Unit Identity Codes; Bibliography; Index
In the same way The Tankers by Walter Jaffee echoes his previous book, The Victory Ships, which we favorably reviewed and added to our Recommended Reading list, volume 2 of Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe follows in the footsteps of volume 1 which we reviewed very favorably and added to our Recommended Reading page.
The structure of volume 2 replicates the structure of volume 1, with each geschwader covered in its own chapter. (In fact, the page numbering here picks up where the first volume left off.) This book deals with Kampfgeschwader 66 through Kampfgeschwader 753 plus Kampfgruppe 106 through Kampfgruppe 806 and an assortment of Kampfgeschwader (J) units, Lehrgeschwader units, Erganzungs-Kampfgeschwader units, and so on. Essentially, these are all various flavors of bomber formations.
For each unit, the layout of information also replicates the pattern utilized in the first book. This includes name of the unit, emblem, andfor each individual component of the unitdata about formation, equipment, operations, losses, commanders, redesignation, disbandment, etc. See our review of volume 1 for examples of the layout and kind of information the authors provide for each unit. In sum, that amounts to surprisingly detailed thumbnail histories of each geschwader. Although presented on a unit-by-unit basis, the material also allows the reader to reconstruct overall Luftwaffe bomber OBs on each front for any period during the war.
In addition, both books in this set supply copious information about sources for further research on each unit. In particular, the end of each chapter includes listings for Archival and Unpublished Sources, Published Sources, and Further Reading for that particular geschwader.
In the first volume that information was a bit mysterious because no key was provided. As promised, however, the new book resolves the enigma in the form of an extensive bibliography which also includes the keys to the sources identified for each unit. For example, while the chapter on one geschwader might specify "SADL" as a source, the bibliography indicates that "SADL" is actually Seekrieg Aus Der Luft by Franz Kurowski published by Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn in 1979.
The new book also includes an index of personnel and an index of locations, both of which extend to both volumes, making it easy to track down particular officers, airfields, and so on throughout the text.
We were highly pleased with volume 1 of Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe, and volume 2 proves to be more of the same. Bring on the fighter units!
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Danby, Jeff. The Day of the Panzer: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2008
xxvi + 365 pages
Preface and Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; maps; organigrams; Epilogue; Postscript; Notes; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Rosters and Awards; Glossary; Tables of Organization and Rank Insignia
The last few years have seen an upsurge in a sub-genre of WWII-related books in which the children or grandchildren of wartime veterans attempt to unearth the "real" story about what happened to their fathers or grandfathers during the war. This qualifies as part of that surge.
Jeff Danby, according to the dust jacket of his book, began searching for details about the death of his grandfather in combat and ended up spending six years researching the battle fought by L Company of the 15th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division and its attached tank platoon and tank destroyers in southern France in 1944. The result is a book that blends measures of operational history, unit history, biography, veterans' anecdotes, man-to-man and tank-to-tank combat, and personal quest into a powerful, punchy story that sometimes seems more like an episode of a TV series than a work of non-fiction.
To begin with, Danby dubs the campaign in southern France in '44 "the forgotten campaign of World War II." Harry Yeide and Mark Stout quoted a similar lament in their First to the Rhine, although, given some of the strong titles on the invasion and push northward currently available, any forgetfulness about southern France probably has less to do with a shortage of sources and more to do with a shortage of attention span. The author also detests the term "Champaign Campaign" because it makes it sound like "...the massive campaign in which many good men lost their lives was nothing more than a marching cocktail party." (Memo to readers who drink champagne (which only comes from the Champaign region of France): Danby takes his military history personally.)
The Introduction covers an outline of the war and the situation in southern France prior to Anvil-Dragoon. The first chapter begins introducing soldiers such as Lt George Burks and Lt Red Coles and describing some of L Company's exploits in Italy. The second chapter recounts preparations for the landing and the third chapter puts L Company ashore. Throughout, Danby tends to write about individuals as though penning sketches of fictional characters. For example, "No longer the entertainer, the jokester, or the trinket salesman, [PFC] McNamara was now a one man army on a mission." Given the extent of the author's communications with the unit's veterans, all the quirky personality traits about which he writes are probably quite true, but the overall effect in a non-fiction book can be a little disconcerting.
The author's grandfather, Lt Edgar Danby, appears on page 117 and his military careertwo years without actionis quickly described. A few pages later the lieutenant arrives by C-47 in France on 24 August as a replacement commander for a platoon of the 756th Tank Battalion. The next hundred pages cover in considerably detail, from the perspective of almost everyone who fought and survived, the exact course of the action, as well as his grandson can reconstruct it, in which Danby lost his life. The engagement, fought on 27 August, took place three days after the lieutenant's arrival in France for his first combat assignment.
In addition to fifteen chapters covering L Company and its attached tankers and TDs, a lengthy postscript gives thumbnail biographies of all the men involved, including notes about the postwar lives of those who survived. Appendices include rosters and awards, organigrams, and insignia of rank.
In line with the sub-genre to which it belongs, the book doesn't closely follow the usual format of operational history, unit history, or biography. Instead, the author, in an effort to understand for himself exactly what happened, puts the reader in the middle of a raging battlefield populated with humans who far transcend the one-dimensional paper soldiers often found in military history. In some cases, the dialogue of the men in combat is rendered in quotation marks, such as "Well Ollie, it looks like we're the only ones here!"
Furthermore, Danby puts the reader inside the head of many of the GIs, describing not only what they saw and heard and said but also, sometimes, what they thought and felt. ("Where the hell did that come from?" Burks wondered as he pulled up, hollering and gesturing for his men to avoid the area.) That kind of connection brings a great deal of emotional impact to the story. However, even with the most scrupulously annotated sources, it also brings a feeling that for some readers might border on fictionalization. That approach is not exactly our cup of tea, but we realize we're in a minority in that regard, and The Day of the Panzer is likely to find a large and appreciative audience among those who enjoyed Band of Brothers and other books of that ilk.
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Gijbels, Peter and David Truesdale. Leading the Way to Arnhem: An Illustrated History of the 21st Independent Parachute Company 1942-1946. Renkum, Netherlands: R.N. Sigmond, 2008
Foreword; Acknowledgements; photos; sketches; maps; tables; Sources; Index of Persons
In the genre of ground unit histories, most books on the US Army deal with divisions while most books on the British Army tackle regiments. This unit history from the Netherlands focuses very narrowly on a single company of British paratroopers between the years 1942 and 1946. In that sense, it superficially resembles Jeff Danby's book.
Although it covers such a small unit, and paratroopers to boot, this is no Band of Brothers. Rather, it's much closer to a traditional unit history, more concerned with the operations of the unit than the activities of individual soldiers, andunlike Day of the Panzerseldom attempts to put the reader inside the heads of the men in battle. Nevertheless, as a result of a lifetime of diligent work by the unit's unofficial historian, the authors have had access to voluminous notes, correspondence, and interviews including almost every 21st Company Pathfinder who served at Arnhem. This wealth of source material allowed the authors, despite narrowing their topic to one small unit and for the most part one engagement, to produce a fully rounded volume of not inconsequential length.
The 21st Independent Parachute Company was formed in the UK on 25 July 1942 and soon began to fill out its ranks and commence training. As Pathfinders, the troops learned not only to parachute into battle, but also to erect the technical equipment for marking drop zones, as they would be going in ahead of the main drop and guiding in the transports carrying the main body of airborne forces. In May 1943 the unit moved by sea to Algeria and small numbers of men, operating in pairs, took part in Operation Husky. Along with the remainder of British 1st Airborne Division, the 21st landed by sea at undefended Taranto in Operation Slapstick in September, an operation for which their airborne navigational aids and expertise were singularly unsuited. Shortly after Christmas, the Pathfinders were back in England.
Given such minimal action in Sicily and Italy and complete non-participation in the Normandy campaign, the authors describe the first two years of the company's existence in about 60 pages. The bulk of the book comprises a sequence of chapters on Operation Market, in which the unit played an important role. This part of the story encompasses roughly 70 pages and delves into considerable detail. With so much source material on hand from such a high proportion of the 21st's veterans, the authors reconstruct the action practically on a minute-by-minute basis, well illustrated with photographs and maps. Of 185 officers and other ranks who parachuted into the target area (plus one man delivered by glider), 120 were successfully evacuated across the river, with the remainder killed or taken prisoner.
The unit took part in no further combat operations, but flew into Norway in May 1945 to assist in taking the surrender of German troops there, then moved to Palestine in October. Each of those duties is accorded a chapter. In September 1946 the 21st Independent Pathfinder Company was disbanded.
It's remarkable that a treasure trove of memories and photos from the veterans of such a small formation was so painstakingly collected, carefully preserved, and thoughtfully crafted after all these years into an excellent unit history. Great work by unit historian Fred Weatherley and authors Peter Gijbels and David Truesdale. Likewise, kudos to Robert Sigmond of Sigmond Publishing for continuing to produce outstanding books about Arnhem.
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers and their distributors for providing these review copies.