Archive for the ‘war’ Category

On 17 September 1944, General Kurt Student, the founder of Nazi Germany’s parachute forces, heard the growing roar of aero engines. He went out on to his balcony above the flat landscape of southern Holland to watch the vast air armada of Dakotas and gliders, carrying the British 1st Airborne and the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. He gazed up in envy at the greatest demonstration of paratroop power ever seen.

Operation Market Garden, the plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond, was a bold concept: the Americans thought it unusually bold for Field Marshal Montgomery. But the cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were cruel and lasted until the end of the war.

The British fascination for heroic failure has clouded the story of Arnhem in myths, not least that victory was possible when in fact the plan imposed by Montgomery and General ‘Boy’ Browning was doomed from the start. Antony Beevor, using many overlooked and new sources from Dutch, British, American, Polish and German archives, has reconstructed the terrible reality of this epic clash. Yet this book, written in Beevor’s inimitable and gripping narrative style, is about much more than a single dramatic battle. It looks into the very heart of war.

Don’t miss hearing Antony Beevor talk at the Auckland Writer’s Festival Saturday 18 May 2019.  Click here for details.

Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

Antony Beevor

Viking

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

For many World War II armchair generals, no subject is likely to generate a vigorous discussion than Operation Market Garden – the attempt to capture a series of bridges in the Netherlands in late 1944. Devised by the recently promoted Field Marshall Montgomery, the aim was to capture a bridgehead over the Rhine in the Netherlands and pursue the Germany army into Germany. Needless to say, the operations did not go as planned.

Beevor starts the action a few weeks before the actual period in question, as the situational background is important in understanding the decisions behind the plan. He then follows the planning and implementation of the operation as envisaged. The last chapter is devoted to the aftermath of the operation and the German response. Those that know about Operation Market Garden and the film, A Bridge Too Far, will be aware that it failed.

Beevor, as part of his research, sought answers as to why. Blame is firmly attributed to Monty and his senior commanders. Beevor consulted documents from multiples sources, including Dutch and German, before writing this book. These two sets are important – both were witnesses and participants to the plans as executed. The Dutch army also had an Army Staff College who would have failed Montgomery for implementing a plan so simple and obvious as running directly up the road and straight for the Arnhem bridges.

I enjoyed Arnhem: it is a good read and the action reporting is balanced (it seems confusion abounded on both sides early in the battle). While the title is Arnhem, that city is not the sole focus, as fighting continued along the entire 120km route. It was the target, however, and despite later claims the operation was 90% successful, in this case the miss may as well have been a mile. Read it. I thank Penguin for supplying a review copy.

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A groundbreaking history of the first, horrific day of one of the most notorious, bloody offensives of all time, from its inept planning to its disastrous execution.

It took several million bullets and roughly half an hour to destroy General Sir Douglas Haig’s grand plans for the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. By day’s end 19,240 British soldiers were dead, crumpled khaki bundles scattered across pasture studded with the scarlet of poppies and smouldering shell holes. A further 38,230 were wounded. This single sunny day remains Britain’s worst-ever military disaster, both numerically and statistically more deadly than the infamous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in 1854. Responsible were hundreds of German machineguns and artillery batteries waiting silently to deal death to the long-anticipated attack. Someone had blundered.

Working back from the “butcher’s bill” of mass casualties on the battlefield, to the inept planning in London’s Whitehall, the author penetrates the “fog of war” to explain how and why this was a human disaster waiting to happen. Told fully from both the British and German perspectives for the first time, this book sheets home blame for the butchery (a total of almost 60 thousand casualties) directly to widespread British intelligence and command failure. It further finds the outcome was very definitely a German victory over a so-called British defeat, and, again for the first time, identifies how talented German commanders mostly outclassed their opposite numbers and inflicted the galling bloodletting. Taking that terrible first day of battle as his focus, Andrew Macdonald casts new and damning light on the true causes of the disaster.

First Day of the Somme: The complete account of Britain’s worst-ever military disaster

Andrew MacDonald

HarperCollins

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The Battle of the Somme during WWI got off to a poor start for the British army, resulting in their worst one day military losses ever. Naturally, this has attracted many authors and historians, New Zealand historian being the latest. His book benefits from examination of not only British but also German archival documents.

The Somme Offensive needs to be placed in context of the overall military and diplomatic situation of the war. MacDonald does this, as well as examining the geography and weather leading up to and on the day. Both were important. Equally important was the intelligence the Germans had gathered observing British preparations and interpreting the behaviour of the forces opposite them. If General Haig had wanted a surprise attack, events beyond his control prevented it.

MacDonald examines the first day of the battle from both British and German perspectives, with diary entries adding colour. The Germans, for their part, after suffering several days of bombardment, were itching for revenge. Surviving the bombardment depended on the quality of the German commander.

As a general rule, the day’s events are mapped out from north to south, although one British Corps is seemingly discussed out of order. The book would have been stronger to have this corps lead. Completion of objectives set by Haig improved the further south one went. This was due to a number of factors, not least German strategic appreciations. MacDonald also comments on and compares French performance during the battle with that of the British.

Military disasters are not usually due to one cause, and MacDonald goes to great lengths to prove this. He also examines the broader length of the Battle of the Somme, demonstrating that what started as tragedy ended as an Entente victory. For those interested in WWI, this is a worthwhile book and I thoroughly recommend it.

Hitler is determined to start a war.

Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.

The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there.

Munich.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Führer’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries; Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now, as the future of Europe hangs in the balance, their paths are destined to cross again.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

Hutchinson

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Simon

Munich, Robert Harris’s latest offering, is a political thriller set during the ongoing political foment of late 1930s Europe. The story is told from two points of view: one is Hugh Legat, a Foreign Office staff member attached to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s office; and the other is Paul Hartmann his counterpart and former friend in the German Foreign Office in Berlin. Paul is also a member of the anti-Nazi German opposition – resistance being too strong a word.

The latest crisis is Hitler’s proposed invasion of Czechoslovakia due to settle the Sudetenland transfer once and for all. That invasion is opposed by the British, French and Czechoslovak governments, and also by large parts of the German regime because the German army, and the German populace in general, is unprepared for war.

Munich the novel centres round the four day period covering the diplomatic negotiations, and attendant espionage efforts of the German opposition, held in Munich that prevented the outbreak of war in 1938.

I found the novel to be an easy and enjoyable read as it re-emphasised the personal nature of Anglo-German relations and the horror of another major European war held by most political leaders of the time.

 

Ardennes 1944 Hitlers Last Gamble

For most English speakers with an interest in World War Two, the German offensive through the Ardennes, or Battle of the Bulge as it is sometimes called, in December 1944 is well known and has given rise to a number of myths. The first is encapsulated in the title. Several myths are busted in this volume – those familiar with the film Hart’s War will spot one or two – which is good (both the volume and the myth-busting), but the titular myth, of offensive being Hitler’s last gamble is not examined.

Through a history that examines the course of the campaign from both sides and the top and bottom of the military hierarchy and some of the political factors, Beevor follows the Ardennes offensive over a broad timeline, explaining the general tactical situation on both sides and how it had developed since the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in August 1944 and the Liberation of Paris directly after. Thus the Allies were getting set to develop offensives both north and south of the Ardennes when the Germans struck. Beevor explains why the route which had been so successful in the 1940 invasion of France was decidedly not in 1944.

From the start there are three major players, the Germans, the Americans and the weather. The latter favoured nobody. The Americans were anticipating a spoiling attack somewhere along the front to disrupt their own offensives but the scope of the German thrust caught them off guard. The Germans failed Map Reading 101 at the planning stage. This is all explained well in the book. And while this was mostly an American-German battle, the British and Commonwealth forces were involved on the northern periphery.

Once the action starts, Beevor devotes a chapter to each day until the end of Boxing Day, 1944. Movements on both sides of the lines are examined, along with the constraints each army, commander or unit faced. In some cases these were considerable. Beevor also shows why Bernard “Monty” Montgomery is such a divisive figure when discussing the prosecution of the war in Europe. Some American generals do not escape unfavourable judgments, and likewise with the Germans.

In sum I would recommend this book to all who have an interest in the Allied liberation of NW Europe and the shock the only major German counteroffensive caused.

Penguin-Viking, London 2015

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Stoker Munro, Survivor

Some people go through war with nothing major befalling them. Others include Stoker Lloyd William Munro, HMAS Perth. He survived two shipwrecks (once by the Japanese, once by the US Navy), several Japanese prisoner of war camps and the infamous Burma Railway. Naturally, we need to understand how someone can survive this chain of harrowing circumstances.

Spiteri interviewed Munro approximately 60 years after the war, with the story starting in mid-February 1942 and ending approximately three years later. The story is mainly told in the first person, with Munro recounting life as a POW under the Japanese. Conditions were highly variable, depending exactly where a prisoner was: Changi in Singapore was quite good until late in the war, as was Cambodia and Saigon. I got the impression that generally speaking, the Japanese allowed the POWs a fair degree of liberty if they were involved in work gangs, if only because of the paucity of Europeans in SE Asia.

Munro seems to have accepted what was happening to him as not being personal, but naturally he was upset by the loss of many friends, most of whom died from disease – tropical medicine was still not great during the 1940s, especially without modern drugs. He was also determined to return home. This determination helped him survive the two shipwrecks, especially the second. Surprisingly, Munro persisted with the RAN even after being shipwrecked a third time (this time by the RAN).

I enjoyed this book, with its harrowing tale told simply. It was passed around at work, and given good comments by all who read it. Well done, David Spiteri.

HarperCollins

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Least We Forget……

Posted: April 25, 2015 in war
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anzac

Gallipoli 1915 – 2015

Posted: April 19, 2015 in war
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