A few years ago, I read Craig L. Symond’s The Battle of Midway (Pivotal Moments in American History) and saw Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully referenced in it. I took a look at the book on Amazon and it had a plain simple cover, giving it the feeling of an academic work, so I added it to my reading list but didn’t put it very high on the list. Recently, I finally got around to reading it.
Shattered Sword presents a new way of looking at the Battle of Midway. It is well researched and well documented with extensive endnotes and a lengthy bibliography. It is detailed yet captivating. Most of all, it presents strong arguments, backs up those arguments with documented sources, and effectively turns the traditional narrative of the Battle of Midway on its ear. The authors explore doctrine, strategy, planning, and tactics from the Japanese perspective; in doing so, they don’t just challenge the conventional wisdom about the battle and its after effects; to borrow from the title, it shatters them.
To put it mildly, this book is not what I thought it was. It is not a dry academic work, it is well written in a witty, conversational style. You’re not only getting a completely new understanding of the battle, you’re being entertained. It truly is hard to put this book down. Very seldom do you come across a book that presents an all-new way of looking at a historical event, but this book fits that bill. I’ve purposely not included any of Shattered Swords’ conclusions in order not to spoil the book. Buy it read it, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll come away with a whole new understanding of one of World War II’s important battles. I also think that those interested in military history can come away with important lessons, one of them being not to apply one side’s doctrine and operational practices to its opponent, analyze both sides’ actions in the light of their respective doctrines. It’s helpful to have about the Battle of Midway previously and have an understanding of how the US Navy fought the battle, but this truly is a five-star book and one that anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of World War II must read.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a one-volume history of World War II but it turns out that Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings really isn’t a conventional history of the war. Instead of writing about the chronology of the war or battles, Hastings writes about the human experience of the war. He writes about what not only soldiers, sailors, and airmen experienced but what civilians experienced as well. A recurring theme is the cost of the war in the east versus the cost of the war in the west; the cost of the war in the east was higher, especially in lives and the Soviet Union usually carried the biggest burden in fighting Germany. Often, World War II histories seem to gloss over things the Allies did wrong and mistakes they made, but Hastings is also balanced and honest. He points out that while the Axis were guilty of war crimes, the Allies’ reputation was lily white either. This is a book that, in my opinion, should be required reading on the war because it lays out the human cost of World War II and puts the war in perspective. It’s a long book, but one that I highly recommend.
Command Missions: A Personal Story by Lucian K. Truscott Jr. is a book that I would like to rate higher than I have, but technical issues in the Kindle edition that I read prevent it. Truscott is an admirable figure and there is much to learn from him in this book. I found his account of his career and postings during World War II to be a terrific account of the war from a staff and command perspective. His account is even-handed, even in regards to others with whom he obviously had issues with. He wrote about successes, mistakes, and failures, taking responsibility when it was his fault and often crediting others with successes. Reading this book, you learn not only about his experiences but about what went into planning and commanding an amphibious assault or a campaign and you learn lessons in leadership and command. The big problem is that the Kindle edition is so beset with technical errors in the conversion from print to digital that it is distracting, you constantly have to reread passages to determine what Truscott meant, not what the digital conversion put on the page.
I highly recommend this book, but don’t bother with the Kindle edition, find it in print. If I had read the print edition it would easily be a five star review, but the conversion issues reduce the Kindle edition review to a three – they’re that bad.
D DAY Through German Eyes – The Hidden Story of June 6th 1944 by Holger Eckhertz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
D Day Through German Eyes is a short book that was begun in the years after World War II and completed more recently by the author’s grandson. It is composed of interviews, a total of five – one for each of the landing beaches, that the author, a German journalist did with members of units he had visited prior to the Normandy Invasion. The key is that all five of the interviews are with platoon level officers or enlisted men, not staff level officers, so you get a frontline view of the invasion, not the view from a behind the lines command post. All of the interviewees seemed to be frank and open, expressing what their motivations and impressions were.
I strongly recommend this book as an additional point of view of the D-Day invasion of Normandy for those who are already familiar with the battle. Much of the literature on the topic is from the Allied point of view and from a higher ranking point of view; getting the perspective of German soldiers who were at the tip of the spear is enlightening. Of particular interest to me was the final chapter in which conclusions were drawn from the soldiers’ testimony. It definitely expanded my knowledge of June 6, 1944.
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The Vatican Pimpernel: The World War II Exploits of the Monsignor Who Saved Over 6,500 Lives by Brian Fleming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Rome Escape Organization led by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty is a part of World War II that I wasn’t familiar with. Well researched/documented and well written, Fleming tells how Monsignor O’Flaherty, other Priests, Vatican Personnel, Italians of various ages and classes, and escaped POWs assisted, hid, and fed thousands of escaped Allied POWs, Jews, and others who were being hunted by the Fascists and Nazis in Rome and surrounding areas. It is a story of war, politics, deception, and bravery. The story of Monsignor O’Flaherty and those who assisted him is tale that reads like fiction; if you aren’t familiar with this part of World War II, I highly recommend reading this book! Even if you’re not a Military History fan or enamored of war books, this is still a book worth reading.
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