Stryker Combat Vehicles Book Review

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Stryker Combat Vehicles

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Hugh Johnson

Series: Osprey New Vanguard 121

Softcover, 48 pages, index, well-illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing July 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84176-930-4

ISBN-13: 978-1-84176-930-1

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.1 x 9.8 inches

The Stryker family of armored vehicles is one of the most common types in U.S. inventory with more than 4,400 having been purchased.  The standard configuration is the armored personnel carrier which carries a crew of two and nine infantrymen.  Other versions include a reconnaissance version, a mobile gun system with an unmanned 105 mm gun turret, a mortar carrier, command vehicle, and various supporting functions such as engineering, ambulance, and forward observation.

While the U.S. Army has purchased the Stryker in large numbers, it still remains controversial.  It is only nominally deployable using the USAF C-130, as it is a tight fit and so near the maximum permissible weight that the crew and combat load must be transported separately – up-armored versions cannot be loaded at all.  The recoil of the mobile gun system commonly overturned the vehicle in tests and so has not been fielded.  It is not amphibious like the Marines’ LAV-25; there are no firing ports or vision blocks provided for the infantrymen like the Army’s Bradly IFV.  Perhaps most inexplicable is the cost – at $4.9 Million per vehicle the Army could purchase either four Bradlys or five LAV-25s for the same price, and both of the other vehicles were better armed and already in production.

This book is in the format familiar to readers of the Osprey New Vanguard Series.  The descriptions are brief but adequate, the artwork and photographs are superb.  It is an enjoyable and informative read.  I was not familiar with the Stryker and picked up this volume in an attempt to figure out why it was purchased in such great numbers when there were some obviously superior alternatives already in service.  Now that I am more familiar with the Stryker, I am even more mystified.

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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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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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Company Commander Book Review

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Company Commander

By Charles B. MacDonald

Hardcover in dustjacket, 300 pages

Published by Infantry Journal Press, Washington, 1947

Language: English

ISBN: 0-7394-0225-0

Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1.0 inches

Company Commander is the memoir of Captain Charles MacDonald, the 22 year old commander of Company I and later Company G of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division in Europe during WWII.  MacDonald wastes no time with this book, it begins with him moving his company to occupy static defensive positions within the Siegfried Line.  His description of life in a bunker under intermittent enemy shelling is very visceral, it was a relief when the company was shifted to another position.

MacDonald’s company was one of the units thrust into the effort to stop the German advance during the Battle of the Bulge, where they were overrun by German armor.  “Fog of war” is an inadequate  description for the state of disorganization within the American units in the immediate aftermath, and there Captain MacDonald is wounded.

After recovering from his wound MacDonald is assigned to command Company G within the same regiment.  By this time the Allies are advancing into Germany, and the Americans are on the attack.  Village after village is assaulted in turn.  Eventually they find themselves on the outskirts of Leipzig where the local situation becomes confused and one of MacDonald’s platoon leaders presents him with a German officer and asks, “Want to capture Leipzig?”  What follows is one of the more unusual wartime anecdotes which you will read.  No spoilers here, but MacDonald’s adventures in Leipzig are surreal and often humorous.

I am a big fan of historical accounts from the perspective of the people who experienced the events first-hand, and this book certainly fits that description.  Leading one hundred and fifty men into combat at 22 years of age is an experience worthy of reflection.  Recommended without hesitation.

One note, MacDonald is the spelling throughout the book, but the dustjacket spells his name McDonald.

Sherman in the Pacific 1943-1945 Book Review

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Sherman in the Pacific 1943-1945

By Raymond Giuliani, twenty color profiles by Christophe Camilotte

Hardcover, 144 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Histoire and Collections May 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 2352502837

ISBN-13: 978-2352502838

Dimensions: 12.3 x 9.2 x 0.7 inches

This book is a photo essay of all US Army and USMC M4 Sherman operations in the Pacific War, from Taupota, New Guinea in October 1943 through the invasion of Okinawa which was secured in June 1945.  The photographs are arranged by operation, with each section introduced by a map and a brief paragraph giving an overview.  The author then lets the photographs tell the story.

The photographs are, in a word, spectacular.  They are the crème of the crop, sharp and in high resolution.  Often there are several views of the same Sherman showing the vehicle from different angles or at different times.  They are reproduced in large format on glossy paper, and the pages are piled full of pictures.  This is a modeler’s dream with crew stowage and modifications being clearly seen, and the vehicles are shown in many situations which would make excellent inspiration for dioramas.

The captions are well detailed and provide insight and context to what is seen in the photographs.  There are several instances of some awkward translations in the captions and while these make the descriptions read a little clunky they do not prevent the reader from grasping the meaning.  A minor (but avoidable) fault which I found easy to adjust to.

Interspaced among the pictures are twenty color profiles of M4 Shermans and the M32 recovery vehicle, which are displayed along with the photograph(s) which inspired the artist.  These are quality renderings and the photographs of the particular subjects only enhances the artist’s credibility.  This is a nice standard which I wish more artists and decal manufacturers would follow.

Overall this is an outstanding treatment of the subject and a valuable reference for anyone wanting to model these vehicles.  If you can find a copy pick it up, you will not be disappointed!

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The Fighters Book Review

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The Fighters:  Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq

by C. J. Chivers

Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, indexed

Published by Simon & Schuster August 2018

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1451676646

ISBN-13: 978-1451676648

Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The Fighters follows the stories of six American military personnel through their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In some cases this is a single tour, in others there are multiple deployments.  The progression of both wars is viewed through their personal perspectives, and those perspectives and the wars themselves change over time.   The protagonists are:

  • a Navy fighter pilot, flying F-14s and later F/A-18s from carriers
  • a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine platoon
  • an Army OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter pilot
  • an Army infantryman
  • a Marine platoon commander
  • an Army Special Forces sergeant.

The stories are very personal and often tragic.  Chivers pulls no punches and gives the reader the whole story, both the good and the bad.  The book is arranged chronologically, so the chapters follow one individual and then shift to another, later returning to the original person on a later deployment.  It is thoroughly researched and very well written, just as you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  I can recommend it without hesitation to anyone interested in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

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Allied Armor in Normandy Book Review

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Allied Armor in Normandy

By Yves Buffetaut, illustrated by Jean Restayn

Paperback, 128 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Casemate, June 2018

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612006078

ISBN-13: 978-1612006079

Product Dimensions: 7.0 x 0.5 x 9.8 inches

The size and format of Casemate’s “Illustrated” series naturally invites comparison to Osprey’s long-running catalog.  Both publishers aim squarely at the modeling / wargaming / history communities with affordable paperback volumes focusing on a specific topic.  Both are well illustrated with photographs, artwork, and profiles of the men and vehicles involved.  They are also prevented by size from presenting much more than a brief overview of their subjects.

This Casemate volume can be considered to be a cross between an Osprey Campaign book and a New Vanguard vehicle monograph.  The first third of the text explains the organization of the American and British model armored divisions.  The Breakdown of the Regiments and Battalions comprising each Division is then listed which quickly devolves into a laundry list of units.  The remaining two-thirds of the text explains the landings at Normandy and the subsequent Allied Operations culminating in the breakout during Operation Cobra in August 1944.

Interspersed throughout the text are several black and white photographs, which are relatively large and printed clearly.  There are also several color illustrations of selected vehicles.   These are divided into two-page spreads, each showing three vehicles along with captions and marking details.  The vehicles are illustrated in profile and perspective views.  There are also brief one-page biographies of several of the commanders involved.

There is little in the way of personal anecdotes or detailed reports of specific actions, outside of summations listing losses at the end of an engagement.  This generality carries over to the profile captions – while the type of vehicle and unit is identified, there is no detail provided concerning any actions it may have fought in nor the fate of the vehicle or crew.

The overall impression is of a potpourri of content which never forms a cohesive whole, it simply tries to cover too much material in too little space.  The result is a book which jumps around too much to ever establish a flow.  Still useful, but could have been better.

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The Cavalry of the Wehrmacht Book Review

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The Cavalry of the Wehrmacht 1941-1945

By Klaus Christian Richter

Hardcover in dustjacket, 208 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd January 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0887408141

ISBN-13: 978-0887408144

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.8 x 10.2 inches

Some of the lesser-known formations in the Wehrmacht order battle consisted of traditional horse cavalry units.  After the First World War the Reichsheer possessed eighteen Cavalry Regiments totaling 16,400 men.  These were organized along the lines of standard infantry regiments with integral supporting formations such as artillery, communications, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft.  Cavalry brigades fought in Poland, Holland, Belgium, and France.  Several of these units were amalgamated to form the 1st Cavalry Division in October 1940.  The division fought during the invasion of Russia, but was reorganized to form the 24th Panzer Division during the winter of 41-42.

At this point the remaining cavalry strength of the Wehrmacht was disbursed into divisional reconnaissance battalions, 85 in all.  These units were valuable due to their mobility, being faster than standard infantry and often able to maintain mobility on terrain which proved impassable for motorized transport.  These units were often used as mobile reserves, used to plug penetrations in the lines.  In 1943 Cavalry Regiments were reformed from these units.  These continued to fight during the long withdrawal of German forces back into the Reich, surrendering to British forces in Austria at the end of the war.  The Waffen-SS formed two cavalry divisions of its own in 1942 which fought in the East until destroyed in the defense of Budapest in February 1945.  The Cossacks also had cavalry divisions which fought alongside the Germans against the Soviets.

This book tells the story of the German Cavalry units using a rather large selection of well captioned photographs.  There is a focus on the organization and equipment of these units, covering the horses and their tack as well as the cavalrymen and their armaments.  The supporting arms are not neglected either and there are several photographs of the various vehicles assigned.   The cavalry units also possessed bicycle troops, which proved quite mobile where the roads were good but suffered greatly in the Russian mud.

This is a unique insight into an unusual branch of the German Wehrmacht which doesn’t generally get much attention.  Recommended.

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