Four WWII Books Reviewed

Posted by on Jan 1, 2006 in Book Notes

Four WWII Books Reviewed

Churchill and America, Martin Gilbert (Free Press, 2008)
Utah Beach, Joseph Balkoski (Stackpole Books, 2005)
Hitler’s Raid to Save Mussolini, Greg Annussek (Da Capo Press, 2006)
Hell is Upon Us, Victor Brooks, (Da Capo Press, 2006)

Churchill and AmericaOne reason why the Allies prevailed in World War II was the close cooperation among them, particularly as compared with the more distant and strained relations among the Axis powers. A key factor in the success of this cooperation was the character, talent, and efforts of Winston Churchill. Martin Gilbert’s new book, Churchill and America, (Free Press) helps us understand this history.

Gilbert reviews Churchill’s close ties to the US, based on his American mother’s family, his extensive travels in America, his admiring view of America as the paragon of a free society, and his belief that Britain’s fate lay largely in its relationship with America. Gilbert also reminds us that, in view of previous periods of difficulty and even hostility between the two countries, the two powers’ close cooperation against German and Japanese aggression could not be assumed. Churchill had to work shrewdly and assiduously in the dark days of 1939-41 to woo the US to become involved on its side. And he had to keep at it to make the alliance work. Gilbert views Churchill’s success as key to the survival of democracy in Europe.

There are other reasons why the Allies won the war. Joseph Balkoski, in his case studies of the American role in the D-Day landings in Normandy, takes a detailed look at some of these factors: the Allies’ superb training, profound dedication, and application of overwhelming force, against which the German defenses had not been completed, and by which, on D-Day, the Germans were caught by surprise.

Utah BeachIn his Utah Beach, Balkoski emphasizes Field Marshall Montgomery’s insistence (with Eisenhower’s concurrence) on adding Utah to the original invasion plan to secure its western flank and to lay the basis for the capture of a major port, Cherbourg. (Ike and Monty also added Sword Beach and a parachute drop on the eastern end, to spread the German defenses and protect the central punch on Omaha, Gold, and Juno Beaches.)

Balkoski describes and explains the complex coordination of large-scale amphibious and airborne assaults at and behind Utah Beach. Along the way, he shows that the casualties incurred in the combined actions were higher there than commonly thought –about three-fourths as many as on Omaha Beach – and that they would have been much higher but for superb performance in very risky circumstances.

Balkoski covers the training for and execution of the preliminary air bombardment (much more effective than at Omaha), the great difficulties of the parachute drops, the off-target landing of the amphibious forces, and the heroic efforts of officers and men alike to press forward toward their objectives. He includes much personal testimony from participants, and provides helpful maps, photos, endnotes, bibliography, and a thorough index. This book, together with the author’s Omaha Beach and Beyond the Beachhead, yields a better understanding of Operation Overlord and is excellent preparation for a visit to the Normandy invasion zone.

Hitler's Raid to Save MussoliniGreg Annussek’s Hitler’s Raid to Save Mussolini provides a fascinating look at the relationship between the two western leaders of the Axis powers. Mussolini, who had succeeded in establishing a dictatorship within Italy during the 1920s and 1930s, had done little to build an effective military. After easy apparent “victories” in Ethiopia and Albania in the 1930s, and lining up as a junior partner with Germany, Italy suffered a series of defeats in Greece and North Africa that exposed its essential weakness. When the Allies took Sicily in 1943, Mussolini’s colleagues turned against him and the King put him under arrest. Italy declared continued loyalty to Germany while secretly trying to reach an accommodation with the Allies. Germany, aware of this risk and having suffered recent setbacks in Russia as well as damaging Allied bombing raids, decided to take control in Italy. It organized a glider raid to rescue Mussolini and restore his government, albeit a puppet regime under German control.

Annussek focuses on the Italian attempts to keep Mussolini hidden from the Germans and the events leading up to the raid. He also provides insight into larger questions: the uneasy Axis relationship during the period between Mussolini’s arrest and the armistice between Italy and the Allies, and the odd relationship between Hitler and Mussolini themselves. The contrast with the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt is striking. Mussolini admired Germany’s military power more than he admired its leader, while Hitler wished that his enemies could be cursed by an alliance of their own with Il Duce.

Hell is Upon UsVictor Brooks’ Hell is Upon Us takes us to the other side of the globe. Brooks reminds us that at the same time the Allies were making their huge D-Day landings in France, they (largely the Americans) also initiated an attack of similar scale and importance against the Japanese in the Marianas Islands, called Operation Forager. This first Allied penetration of Japan’s “inner perimeter” and capture of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam provided bases for the new B-29 Superfortress bombers to reach the Japanese mainland. And the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also part of this story, nearly annihilated the Japanese fleet.

According to Brooks, the campaign turned the tide decisively in the Allies’ favor and opened the way to Japan’s defeat. In addition to offering a solid introduction to this crucial operation, Brooks provides insight into the sometimes difficult relationship between Admiral Ernest King and General Douglas MacArthur, with their competing views on how to wage war against Japan.

The book review above was originally published in a feature titled “Book Notes”, published in the January, 2006 edition of Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies, Inc.  This note was written by Walter Ford Carter, member of the Normandy Allies Board and the team that leads its history-study experience each summer.  Walter, the son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter, a US Army battalion surgeon in the 29th Division who was killed in action on June 17 1944, is the author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.


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