Surviving the Reich: The World War II Saga of a Jewish-American GI by Ivan Goldstein

In my second of three reviews I am doing on books about World War II, I decided to read about the experiences of Ivan Goldstein as a tanker in the 11th U.S. Armored Division in the European Theater.  Goldstein writes about his experiences in his book entitled Surviving the Reich: The World War II Saga of a Jewish-American GI.  Goldstein’s book is more about his whole life rather than just on his war experiences.

The book generally traces his childhood growing up in Denver, Colorado in a conservative Jewish family.  Goldstein grew up with a loving mother who did all that she needed to do to keep her family together (his father died when he was a child) – one of his mom’s relatives told her to put her boys in an orphanage.  Goldstein’s love for his mother shows throughout the book.  He not only values his family, but also his religion.

The book then describes Goldstein’s military service.  He ended up in Europe just prior to the Battle of the Bulge.  In his first battle, his tank was destroyed and he was taken captive.  In captivity, he lost more than 100 pounds and needed extensive rehab after his POW camp was liberated.  The last segment of the book covers Goldstein’s post-military career – including his reconnection with his destroyed tank in a Belgian town.

Continue reading

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

In the next several weeks I will be looking at several books about World War II – possibly the most studied war in American history (with the possible exception of the Civil War, but only because it is older).  The first book I read explores the Normandy Campaign – probably the most studied campaign in World War II.  So, you would wonder why someone would want to delve into this subject again.  But, Antony Beevor chose to explore this subject (I am glad he did) in his latest book entitled D-Day: The Battle for Normandy.

Beevor covers the usual in books about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign – the actual landings, the ensuing fighting to take control of the region, and the break out to Paris.  Beevor describes the actions and reactions of the Americans, British, Canadians, and Germans during the battles – from the generals to the privates.  However, Beevor also writes extensively about the French military forces (under that annoying and super-nationalist De Gaulle) and the French Resistance – how the former hindered operations and how the latter helped.  Yes, the French Second Armored Division helped with the drive to Paris, but their General, Philippe Leclerc, did not always follow orders.  Beevor succinctly points out that De Gaulle and other French leaders were more interested in their own interests rather than the interests of the Allies as a whole.

I like Beevor’s take on the different generals involved in the fighting.  He equally praises and criticizes all of the generals.  Obviously, he criticizes Hitler and his obstinacy in not releasing the panzer divisions to attack and crush the Allied beachheads.  But, he also questions Eisenhower and his bland performance.  He heavily criticizes (rightly so) British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery – several times his mistakes caused innumerable casualties for the British and Canadian troops.  For example, Montgomery’s tardiness in sacking mediocre commanders caused many men to be killed or wounded unnecessarily.  Beevor proves that Montgomery was not fit to command such a large body of troops – Army Group commander – because Montgomery’s pettiness put his interests in front of the greater goal.

Beevor honors the common soldier as they struggled to survive each day.  He compliments the Germans for doing so well at containing the Allies for as long as they did with the few resources they were given.  According to Beevor, citing statistics and studies, the average German soldier was a better fighter than the average Allied soldier – the Germans believed more of the propaganda their leaders fed them and thus were more motivated to fight harder.  Beevor also praises the Allied soldiers for their ingenuity in dealing with the hedgerow fighting in Normandy – for example devising the hedgehog apparatus for the front of Sherman tanks to plow through the thick hedgerows.

Although Beevor praises the foot soldiers from both sides, he does not hold back on criticizing them as well.  The blatant and nonchalant killing of prisoners was rampant on both sides – especially if the Waffen SS were involved as captors or prisoners.  As the fighting became more heated, it was not uncommon for prisoners to not make it to the rear alive.  Beevor also criticizes Allied soldiers, especially Americans, for their insatiable appetite for plunder – not just from the Germans, but from French civilians as well.  He mentions that tankers were the worst because they could easily store their loot in their tanks.

The book is 523 pages, but do not be discouraged by its size.  Beevor writes with an easy-to-follow prose.  He includes several pages of black and white photographs of the major leaders and action shots from both sides.

I would highly recommend this excellent history of the Allied victory in the Normandy Campaign in World War II.

They Dared Return: The Untold Story of Jewish Spies behind the Lines in Nazi Germany by Patrick K. O'Donnell

Patrick K. O’Donnell explores one of the most intriguing stories out of World War II – clandestine operations led by ex-German Jews against Nazi Germany – in his book They Dared Return: The Untold Story of Jewish Spies behind the Lines in Nazi Germany.

The book generally describes the planning and execution of several operations conducted by the American Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency) against the Nazis in German-occupied Austria and Yugoslavia.  The operations centered around a group of Jewish soldiers who were German expatriates and who wanted to help the Allies defeat Nazi Germany – most of them had family members in the concentration camps.  O’Donnell focuses mainly on Operation Greenup – an effort to find out about and try to thwart the Nazis’ plan to build a heavily fortified area for their last stand against the Allies.

Continue reading

The Pacific War by William B. Hopkins

Caption: :en:SBD

Image via Wikipedia

I have read a lot of books on the individual battles fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but I have not read much on the strategy used by American political and military leaders – other than Plan Orange.  So, in order to learn more about the strategy, I decided to read The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players That Won the War by William B. Hopkins.

At a little less than 400 pages, this book is an excellent overview of the strategy and major personalities that shaped the American war effort in the Pacific.  Hopkins succinctly explains the various strategies in competition with each other on how to defeat the Japanese – some of these strategies were advocated by one armed service over another one.  For example, General Douglas MacArthur advocated that the main thrust of the American counterattack should start from Australia and move north with the U.S. Army taking the lead and the U.S. Navy taking a support role.  However, Admiral Ernest King (Chief of Naval Operations), with the full support of Admiral Chester Nimitz (Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet), advocated an island hopping strategy across the Central Pacific with the U.S. Navy taking the lead (Hopkins is very partial to this plan).

Hopkins also brings much-needed attention to the unsung heroes of the Pacific Theater – the cryptologists and the submariners.  The cracking of the Japanese military code and the information obtained – codenamed Japanese ULTRA – was a major intelligence coup that gave the United States a decided advantage over the Japanese.  The Americans used ULTRA to its advantage in many battles.  For example, Hopkins adroitly points out that the Americans knew where to send their precious carriers for maximum effect in the Battle of Midway.

Continue reading

World War II Japanese Tank Tactics by Gordon L. Rottman and Akira

World War II Japanese Tank Tactics by Gordon L. Rottman and Akira Takizawa is another booklet in Osprey’s “Elite” series, which explores the history of military forces, artifacts, personalities, and techniques of warfare.  The book is 63 pages, including a few pages of additional commentary at the back of the book.

The book is divided into the following parts: Introduction (covering the creation of the first armored unit in the Imperial Japanese Army in 1934 to 1941); Unit Organization (the most common unit was the regiment); Doctrine (from infantry support to spearheading assaults); Tactics (attack and formation movements at the various unit levels); Tank Troops (selection and training); Communications and Maintenance (radio and other methods of communication and maintaining the armored forces); and Battle History (examples of battles involving Japanese armor).

Any aficionado of armor warfare will appreciate this book.  The details in tactics and types of armor in the Imperial Japanese Army are excellent.  For example, there are diagrams detailing the various attack movements of platoon and company formations of tanks.  These visual aides, in conjunction with the text, help the reader have a better understanding of how the Japanese military leaders thought about the role of tanks in battle.

The authors argue that the Japanese Imperial Army never really embraced or understood the full potential of the tank.  A majority of the early battles that their tanks were in were against infantry, not armor.  Thus, the Japanese tank development never incorporated thicker armor.  As a result, when the Japanese did encounter armor later in the war, their tanks were sorely outmatched.

In addition to the detailed text, the book is full of color diagrams and black and white photographs (many from Japanese archives – never seen by Western publishers).

This book is an excellent reference for knowing and understanding how Japanese armor was used in World War II.