Surgeon on Iwo Book Review

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Surgeon on Iwo

By James S. Vedder

Hardcover in dustjacket, 211 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Presidio, Book Club edition

Language: English

Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches

Dr. James S. Vedder was the ranking medical officer assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment.  On 19 February 1945 the 963 men of the Battalion assaulted the island of Iwo Jima and were in continuous combat for over a month.  Over 700 of the men of the 3rd Battalion became casualties, those who were not killed outright passed through Dr. Vedder’s aid station.

Vedder was in charge of the Battalion’s Navy Corpsmen whether assigned to the aid station or the Marine platoons as well as the other Doctors and Marine litter bearers.  He was effectively the chief medical officer and senior administrator for an outdoor emergency hospital which moved, often under enemy fire, and saw a continuous flow of trauma patients.  Problems of personnel, supply, transportation, and casualties among his own men were his to resolve.

This is a day-by-day first-person account of the battle for Iwo Jima from the medical viewpoint.  It is not for the faint of heart.  The clean single bullet wound where the hero clutches his chest and says, “They got me!” is Hollywood trope.  Combat wounds are often severe and traumatic, Vedder describes in detail the process of stabilizing the casualties and evacuating them from the front lines to the hospital ships offshore.

The backdrop for this is two armies fighting over a small volcanic island and all the hardships which that entails.  There are several books written about the amphibious battles of the Pacific War but few from this perspective.  This is a fascinating read, recommended.

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics Book Review

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics

Osprey Elite Series Book 154

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Adam Hook

Paperback, 64 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing, March 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846031362

ISBN-13: 978-1846031366

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

The development of the helicopter gave military tacticians the potential to move troops around the battlefield in unpresented ways. Natural obstacles or enemy defenses could be avoided by flying over or around to more suitable positions, opposing forces could be cut off by “vertical envelopment”.  Early helicopters were underpowered and therefore lacked the range and payload capacity to make them militarily useful for transporting large formations of troops or heavy equipment, but by the late 1950s new designs were emerging which made combat applications more practical.  The U.S. Army began organizing Airmobile formations, with helicopters effectively being used as flying trucks to move soldiers around the battlefield; the USMC saw the helicopter as another way to move Marines ashore during amphibious assaults.

These new formations saw their first widespread tactical application during the Vietnam war, where ultimately more than 12,000 helicopters were deployed.  In addition to troop transport types such as the UH-1 Huey, specialized gunships, observation, and heavy-lift helicopters were developed and incorporated into operations.  While they gave unprecedented mobility on the battlefield, helicopters were vulnerable to enemy fire, particularly when inserting troops into a landing zone.  A total of 2,066 helicopters would be lost during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics describes the transformation of the helicopter from a novel aviation vehicle into a vital tactical asset.  This is a standard Osprey Elite Series book, well-illustrated and an excellent primer in operations and tactics of Airmobile warfare.  It provides useful insight into what all those helicopters in Vietnam War movies are doing, or at least supposed to be doing.  Recommended.

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Under a Blood Red Sun Book Review

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Under a Blood Red Sun: The Remarkable Story of PT Boats in the Philippines and the Rescue of General MacArthur

By John J. Domagalski

Hardcover in dustjacket, 304 pages, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index

Published by Casemate, October 2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612004075

ISBN-13: 978-1-61200-407-5

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches

At the beginning of World War Two the U.S. Navy had three Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons (MTBRON) deployed in the Pacific.  MTBRON One was assigned to Pearl Harbor, MTBRON Two was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone, and MTBRON Three was assigned to the Philippines.  Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley was the Commanding Officer of Squadron 3’s six Elco 77’ torpedo boats.  The Japanese attacked the Philippines on 08DEC41 local time, destroying much of the U.S. airpower.  U.S. and Philippine forces never recovered from the initial Japanese strikes and fought on the back foot for the next six months until the end of organized resistance.

Under a Blood Red Sun is the story of Bulkeley’s MBTRON 3, told against the backdrop of the overall battle of the Philippines.  In many ways the story of the PT boats parallels the stories of the aviation groups at the beginning of the Pacific War – lack of support, lack of supplies, worn out or defective equipment, and always fighting a delaying action against superior enemy forces.  In many ways mechanical issues and uncharted coral reefs were more formidable opponents than the Japanese, more boats were sidelined for operational issues than battle damage.  The determination and ingenuity required to repeatedly overcome these mechanical issues and put the boats back into service is every bit as interesting as the combat actions.

The best-known PT Boat exploit of the campaign was the evacuation of General MacArthur and his staff from Corregidor to Mindanao in March 1942.  From there the General’s party was to fly out of Del Monte on B-17s for Australia.  After the evacuation Bulkeley’s remaining boats were to continue the fight against the Japanese, a mission which was to proceed until attrition and lack of replacement parts had rendered the squadron ineffective.  At that point the surviving personnel joined other commands until forced to surrender, a lucky few making their way out of the Philippines to Australia or continuing on as guerillas.

Bulkeley was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions during the campaign.  A fictionalized account of MTBRON Three’s actions was dramatized in John Ford’s 1945 Hollywood film “They Were Expendable”.  Under a Blood Red Sun is a more factual assessment of the PT boat’s actions, where unreliable torpedoes, contaminated fuel supplies, and accidental groundings are as great a foe as the Japanese.  I found this book enlightening and an enjoyable read, and have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

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Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper Book Review

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Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper

By Martin Pegler

Hardcover in dustjacket, 333 pages, well-illustrated, notes, and index

Published by Osprey Publishing, October 2004

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1841768540

ISBN-10: 1-84176-854-5

Dimensions: 7.9 x 1.3 x 10.3 inches

Ever since the first human hurled the first rock mankind has placed a premium on those who could aim a projectile accurately at the longest possible range.  Any group which could damage their enemies before their enemies could damage them enjoyed a significantly higher probability of not only defeating their opposition but also living to fight another day themselves.  The sling, the spear, and the bow were eventually replaced by the firearm in the 1500s, but early firearms were inaccurate, unreliable (especially in wet weather), and slow to reload.  The standard military tactic was to overcome the limitations of the single musket by gathering dozens or even hundreds of soldiers together and firing in volleys against similar masses of opposing soldiers, the volleys often being followed by a charge with the bayonet.

Not all muskets or musketeers were created the same, and some were much better at hitting their targets than others.  Shooting competitions were organized which helped disseminate both knowledge and technical advances.  It was soon realized that individual sharpshooters could be a useful augmentation to the massed fire of standard military formations and the concept of the specialized sniper was born.

This book traces the evolution of the military sniper from the first employments during the 1500s to today.  A major part of the history is devoted to the technological development of the rifle, and later the telescopic sight as improvements in accuracy extended the range of the rifle past the limitations of open sights.  The author describes the evolution of the equipment well, and many of the illustrations focus on the different weapons, optics, and ammunition.  The tactical employment of sniper teams and their tactics are detailed, as well as the counter-sniping role.  Throughout the author has related accounts of how snipers were used in various conflicts and utilized anecdotal descriptions from the actual combatants when available.

This is a good primer on the history of military sniping, being well-written and well organized.  It does not bog down in excessive technical descriptions of the weapons and optics involved, but highlights the evolution of the weapons in a logical manner.  The use of first-person accounts keeps the narrative interesting and keeps the reader looking forward to the next page.  An excellent book which I can recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

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Typhoon Wings of 2nd Tactical Air Force Book Review

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Typhoon Wings of 2nd Tactical Air Force 1943–45

Osprey Combat Aircraft Series 86

By Chris Thomas

Softcover, 96 pages, 40 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing, September 2010

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846039738

ISBN-13: 978-1846039737

Dimensions:  7.3 x 0.3 x 9.9 inches

The Typhoon was designed as a fighter but was mainly used as a ground attack aircraft.  It enjoyed great success in that role, the Royal Air Force fielding twenty wings of the type at the time of the Normandy invasion.  The type had a troubled development history which only got sorted out with great difficulty, and even then with some compromise.

The first chapter deals with the technical and production issues which plagued the introduction of the Typhoon into service.  There were substantial issues with the type’s Napier engine from both the reliability and availability perspectives, the issue got so bad at one point that there were several hundred Typhoon fuselages in depots without engines, as these had been cannibalized to keep the operational squadrons going.  Another more famous issue was a series of structural failures which resulted in Typhoons disintegrating in flight.  The fault was eventually traced to elevator flutter which caused the tail assembly to fail.

The remaining chapters describe the exploits of the men and units which flew the Typhoon in combat.  This is standard fare for the Osprey aviation books but the anecdotes are impressive nonetheless.  There is also the expected color profile section which is a highlight of the series, in this volume there are a total of forty profiles, all in the Dark Green and Ocean Grey over Medium Sea Grey scheme.

Author Chris Thomas mentions three bits of information which I found particularly interesting from a modeling perspective.  First, Typhoon units carried underwing markings in 1943 which were similar to the Normandy “invasion stripes”.  Second, Typhoons were configured with either bombs or Rocket Projectiles, and these versions were usually concentrated together in squadrons of the same type.  And third, a note at the beginning of the Colour Plates description section designates the tailplane and propeller configurations by serial number.

This is a typical Osprey Combat Aircraft series volume and delivers all the goodies readers have come to expect.  I found the chapter on the design and production problems and their solutions particularly interesting.  Overall a nice package and a welcome addition to the series.

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Tigers in the Mud Book Review

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Tigers in the Mud, The Combat Career of German Panzer Commander Otto Carius

By Otto Carius, translated by Robert J. Edwards

Softcover, 231 pages plus documents, appendices, and index; illustrated

Published by Stackpole Books, 2003

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-8117-2911-7

Dimensions:  8.9 x 6.0 x 1.1 inches

Otto Carius began his war as a loader on a Panzer 38(t) in the 21st Panzer Regiment at the start of operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Sadly only the first few chapters are devoted to his time with the 21st Panzer Regiment.  The narrative mainly focusses on events after January 1943, when Carius returned to Germany for officer’s training and eventual assignment to Schwere Panzer Abteilung 502, a Tiger unit.

There Carius was a platoon commander in the 2.Kompanie.  He was often right in the thick of the action, as the Tigers were used to bolster defensive positions against attack or to counter Soviet penetrations of German lines.  The Tigers were almost always outnumbered but seldom out matched, their superior armor making it quite difficult to put one out of action permanently.  But with the armor protection came weight, and the Tigers had to be driven carefully to avoid becoming mired in unsuitable terrain or suffering mechanical failures.  Both problems were common.

While scouting the terrain for his Tigers Carius’ motorcycle was ambushed by Soviet infantry and he was shot several times, his life being saved only by his speedy evacuation to a field hospital.  During his convalescence he was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross by Himmler.  Subsequently he was assigned to the 512th Battalion in the West which was equipped with the massive Jagdtiger tank destroyer.  By this time the war was coming to an end and the situation was hopeless for Germany.

This book is regarded as a classic account of German armor on the Russian Front, and rightfully so.  First-hand accounts are very interesting, Carius writes well and recounts a detailed description of life in a Tiger platoon.  The time in the 21st Regiment’s Panzer 38(t)’s is only given the most basic recounting which is a shame.  The reproductions of award documentation and after action reports are an interesting bonus.  Carius is highly critical of how poorly Germany treated its former soldiers after the war, he alludes to this several times throughout the book, something which I had not considered – sad, but not entirely surprising in retrospect.  A very interesting memoir which I recommend highly.

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Shattered Sword Book Review

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Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

By Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

Hardcover in dustjacket, 640 pages, appendices, notes, and index

Published by Potomac Books, November 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1574889230

ISBN-13: 978-1574889239

Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.8 x 10.0 inches

The Battle of Midway is regarded by many historians as the turning point of the war in the Pacific.   Many articles and books have been written about the battle.  Most of them are wrong.

Shattered Sword examines primary source material to tell the story of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese perspective.  Furthermore, the analysis does not just start with the battle, but examines the Japanese plans from a strategic perspective and shows the effect of the Imperial Navy’s doctrine on the conduct of the battle.  The internal competition with the Imperial Army had a much larger role in Japanese naval operations than is generally realized, and this had huge implications in both the campaign planning and distribution of forces.

The authors also take a deep dive into the design and equipment of the four Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway and how these factors affected the operation and employment of the air groups.  By determining what was possible for the ships and crews to do, they have ruled out several persistent myths about what the Japanese did do and have set the record straight.  Doctrine also plays a huge role in the decisions which are made in any engagement, as navies fight as they train.  An Admiral decides what to do when, doctrine determines how those orders are to be executed.  Here again the authors have been able to show why the Japanese fought as they did.

The surviving records have provided several details which are not present in other works on the subject.  The authors have been able to pin down the times of launch for individual aircraft as well as the names of aircrew.  From this they have been able to determine the number of Zeros over the Japanese fleet at any given time during the morning of 04JUN42.  This also conclusively dispels the myth that the Japanese were launching their own strikes against the American carriers when the Dauntless’ dives began.  There are also a few surprising facts revealed in these records, such as the ineffectiveness of the Japanese anti-aircraft fire, which only accounted for two American aircraft.

I am confident that this book will be the definitive history of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese perspective for the foreseeable future, at least in the English language.  There is room for the story to be told from the American viewpoint with the same scholarly rigor and level of detail, but that history is more readily available to the reader even if it is not compiled in one volume.  This is not a quick read, but well worth the time for anyone wanting to understand the Battle of Midway.  Recommended without reservation.

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Battleground Pacific Book Review

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Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey in K/3/5

By Sterling Mace and Nick Allen

Hardcover in dustjacket, 330 pages, illustrated

Published by St. Martin’s Press, May 2012

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-250-00505-2

Dimensions:  5.7 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches

Sterling Mace grew up in Queens during the Great Depression.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor he failed the U.S. Navy eye exam but was able to bluff his way through the second time and was accepted into the Marines.  He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 5th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Company K.  When he joined the 5th Marines they were rebuilding on the island of Pavuvu, after having fought at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester.  His first combat operation was the assault on Peleliu.

Mace was a BAR man on Peleliu, an island which had no natural source of fresh water but an abundance of heat, insects, and Japanese defenders.  Company K was intended to be on the island for three days but due to the ferocity of the Japanese defense they were in combat for thirty.  Mace describes the constant combat as well as the deprivations of fighting in an inhospitable environment with no relief and little support.  Those Marines who survived the campaign emerged emaciated, their uniforms in tatters.

The 5th Marines were rebuilt and redeployed for the assault on Okinawa.  This was a very different campaign in many ways.  The amphibious landing was unopposed, the Japanese defenders withdrawing into prepared positions for a battle of attrition.  There were civilians on Okinawa, and rear areas where there was relatively little chance of encountering the Japanese.  The Marines were much better supported and supplied compared to earlier campaigns in the Pacific, but Kamikaze attacks put the Fleet offshore at much greater risk than previously encountered.

If readers find some aspects of Mace’s account familiar, there is good reason.  Eugene Sledge was a Marine mortarman who was also assigned to K/3/5, the same Company as Mace.  Sledge authored “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa” which was one of the books used as the basis for the HBO / Tom Hanks production of “The Pacific” miniseries.

This book is well worth a read and goes by quickly.  I did find the writing style a bit distracting, it often wanders from a straight description of events into metaphor, striving for the poetic.  More pages are devoted to Peleliu than Okinawa.  I can recommend this book, but read “With the Old Breed” as well.

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To Hell and Back Book Review

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To Hell and Back, The Epic Combat Journal of World War II’s Most Decorated G.I.

By Audie Murphy

Hardcover in dustjacket, 274 pages

Published by MJF Books, New York, Copyright 1949 by Audie Murphy

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-56731-116-4

Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.0 x 8.5 inches

Audie Murphy attempted to enter military service after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but was rejected due to his small size and for being underaged.  Returning with falsified papers, he successfully enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the age of sixteen.  Assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, fought in Sicily, Anzio, and Rome.  The Division then landed in the South of France as part of Operation Dragoon.  By January 1945 Murphy had received a battlefield commission and was acting as the commander of Company B.  At Holtzwihr, France The Company’s position was attacked by a superior German force with armored support.  It was there that Murphy stopped the German tanks by calling in artillery fire and engaged the attacking infantry using the machine gun atop a burning tank destroyer.  Although wounded, he then led his men in a counter-attack.  For this action he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

To Hell and Back is Murphy’s story.  There is no pretext, the account begins in Sicily and ends with Germany’s surrender.  It is nominally an autobiographical account, but the book was actually written as a collaboration with Hollywood writer David McClure.  This is apparent as much of the book is detailed banter between Murphy’s fellow soldiers which will be recognizable to any reader who has seen a Hollywood Western or war movie from the 1940’s.  While the characterizations have been embellished the underlying story is Murphy’s, and it graphicly conveys the ordeals of a combat infantryman.  After the war Murphy became an actor, and played himself in the 1955 Universal adaptation of this book.

This book is a classic, not only as a combat account, but as an example of human perseverance under the worst of conditions.  If you have only one shelf of military history books, To Hell and Back should be on it.  This is a great read (or re-read if it’s been awhile), highly recommended.

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Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Kagero Monographs Book Review

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Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A, S, F, G

Series: Kagero Monographs Special Edition Book 12

By Krzysztof Janowicz, translated by Neil Page, drawings by Maciej Noszczak, profiles by Janusz Światłoń and Arkadiusz Wróbel

Hardcover, 272 pages, heavily illustrated, 26 color profiles, line drawings

Published by Kagero, February 2020

Language: English

ISBN-10: 83-66148-72-6

ISBN-13: 978-83-66148-72-7

Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.0 x 11.75 inches

Dozens of books on the Focke Wulf Fw 190 have been written.  Most modelers with even a passing interest in the Luftwaffe will likely have a few on their shelves.  In my case more than a few, and a new volume is published almost every year.  So the question arises, do we need another book on the Fw 190?  Need is probably not the best word, but there are a number of things to recommend this book.

The text begins with the technical history of the type, beginning with the evolution of the “A” series fighter variants.  “F” and “G” fighter-bombers follow and the differences between the mission optimization is addressed well as these were not all intended to have the same roles, the “F” series being what we might call close support while the “G” were optimized for longer-range strike missions.

The narrative then shifts to descriptions of the Fw 190 in service.  This is arranged by theater rather by unit and includes detailed descriptions of individual actions along with first-hand anecdotes from the participants.  These flow logically and are easy to follow.

The text is augmented by a huge number of photographs.  There are literally pictures on every page.  These are reproduced well and are nicely captioned.   Many of these are factory photographs of details and sub-assemblies which will be of particular interest to modelers.  The bulk are of the Fw 190 in service at the fronts, some of which are familiar, others not.

The major strength of this volume lies in the drawings.  This section opens with a selection of Focke Wulf technical illustrations showing the various internal systems.  This is followed by several pages of 1/48 scale line drawings of all the developments of the series, with supplementary details in 1/24 scale where useful.  Next is a series of 1/72 scale drawings, but this time attention is drawn to the changes between variants by shading the modified areas.  As if all this weren’t enough, these are three additional sheets of drawings included as loose inserts, one set in 1/48 scale and two in 1/32.  Rounding out the artwork are twenty-six full color side profiles, several of which are supplemented with color plan views.

All in all this makes a vey nice package for the Luftwaffe enthusiast.  The narrative is nicely written and there is a lot of visual interest in the selection of the photographs.  The drawings are very useful for identifying the plethora of modifications and will certainly help sort out the confusion in identifying sup-types.  The pricing of this book makes it very attractive and I can recommend it without reservation.

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