Nimitz at War Audio Book Review

Nimitz at War: Command Leadership from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay

Authored by Craig L. Symonds, Narrated by L. J. Ganser

Audiobook, 14 hours and 26 minutes

Published by Tantor Audio, June 2022

Language: English


In the military failure requires accountability, regardless if there is fault.  In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack the leadership in the Pacific was shaken up.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed over several more senior Admirals and selected Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to assume command of U.S. forces in the Central Pacific.  This was mainly a Navy and Marine force, Army General Douglas MacArthur would command the predominantly Army ground and Air Corps forces in the South Pacific.

Nimitz faced a daunting task – the U.S. Navy was demoralized by the defeat at Pearl Harbor and lacked the ships to take the Japanese head-on.  Even while the Allies prioritized the European Theater FDR and Admiral King demanded offensive operations against the Japanese.  Nimitz worked to rebuild the Fleet and morale while concentrating the forces available in a series of strikes to keep the Japanese off balance.  These culminated in the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the stunning victory at Midway.

Much of the book deals with Nimitz’ leadership style and the constant pressure to find the right men to command the carrier Task Forces.  Nimitz preferred to build up his subordinate commanders, giving them all the support he could to accomplish a mission and then turning them loose to do the job without interference.  He did not attempt to micro-manage operations from afar but trusted his Admirals to make the right decisions.  For security reasons the Task Group commanders generally would not contact Nimitz’ headquarters once an operation had begun – often the first reports of a strike would come from intercepted Japanese communications.

I was surprised how much of the job of command boiled down to politics and managing personalities.  In addition to inter- and intra-service rivalries, there were constant pressures from MacArthur over allocation of resources and operational command, and pressures from within the Navy over who should be given command of Task Groups and amphibious operations.  There was also a constant stream of dignitaries visiting Nimitz’ headquarters, all of whom expected to meet with and be entertained by Nimitz and his staff.

This book in well researched and written, and gives valuable insights into both Nimitz the man and the day-to-day pressures of command at the highest levels.  I can recommend this book without hesitation.

The Long Walk Audio Book Review

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom

Authored by Slavomir Rawicz, Narrated by John Lee

Audiobook, 9 hours and 34 minutes

Published by Blackstone Audio, May 2007

Language: English


Slavomir Rawicz was a Polish cavalry officer who fought against the German invasion in 1939.  After Poland was partitioned he found himself in the Soviet zone of control near the Ukrainian border.  He spoke Russian, which was the pretext used by the Soviets to arrest him on charges of spying.  An elaborate show trial resulted in his being found guilty and he was sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian labor camp.

The journey to Siberia was made packed into cattle cars for the most part, the last several days on foot through the snow with lines of men chained behind trucks.  Several died along the way.  The camp was little better, but the men were permitted to build barracks which provided shelter.  Their main endeavor was the production of skis for the Red Army, which earned them an increased ration of bread.  The prospect of spending the next 25 years in the camp did not appeal to Rawicz.  He enlisted the help of six other prisoners, and one night they slipped through the wire in a snowstorm.

They had each saved enough rations and basic supplies to last a week, and between them they had an axe and a knife.  Their plan was simple – walk south.  Together, this is what they did for almost a year, covering roughly 4,000 miles of inhospitable terrain.  They passed through the Siberian steppe, the Gobi Desert, the foothills of the Himalayas, and eventually reached British controlled India and salvation.

This is an epic story of survival, well told and engaging.  The author shares numerous fascinating details of their journey and what they did to survive, what they ate, the people they met and their customs, and the will to persist and keep going day after day.  There is a movie adaptation called “The Way Back”, but after reading the synopsis and seeing the trailer for the film it is evident it does not follow the book except in the most general terms.  I quite enjoyed this book, and can recommend it without hesitation.

The Last Fighter Pilot Audio Book Review

The Last Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Final Combat Mission of World War II

Authored by Don Brown, Narrated by Robertson Dean

Audiobook, 4 hours and 40 minutes

Published by Blackstone Audio, July 2017

Language: English

ASIN: B07453C67Y

Captain Jerry Yellin flew P-51 Mustangs with the 78th Fighter Squadron, 15th Fighter Group.  In March 1945 the Group moved to Iwo Jima.  The island was not yet secure, and the pilots slept in foxholes at night and flew close support missions for the Marines during the day.  The Japanese defenders proved to be determined and resourceful, with many hiding out in extensive tunnel networks after the Marines had passed them by.  One of the last organized counterattacks was against the pilots’ bivouac area, with Japanese infantry infiltrating the area at night and throwing grenades into the tents.

The primary mission of the P-51 groups operating from Iwo Jima was Very Long Range (VLR) missions to Japan to protect B-29 Superfortress raids.  These were long endurance missions flown almost entirely over the vast, empty expanses of the Pacific.  While there were numerous search and rescue assets assigned (including submarines operating just off the Japanese coastline) weather was always a factor and losses in transit were common.  Over Japan the Mustangs covered sectors around the Superfortress formations, intercepting or driving off the opposing Japanese fighters.

After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima (06AUG45) and Nagasaki (09AUG45) there was a lull as planners waited to see if the Japanese would accept surrender terms.  After a few days it was decided to resume operations, and Yellin’s squadron was assigned to conduct a fighter sweep against a Japanese airfield.  While the Mustangs were hitting their target the Japanese announced the surrender, although the pilots did not receive the recall notice.  Leaving the target, the formation entered a cloud bank.  Yellin’s wingman, 1Lt Phillip Schlamberg was not with the formation when they emerged.  Yellin had just led the last official combat mission of the war, and Schlamberg was the last casualty.

This is a rather short book, but a good one.  The long-range escort missions over Japan have received little attention in the book world, although there is some excellent gun camera film of the fighter sweeps in color available on line.  Recommended.

House to House Audio Book Review

House to House: An Epic Memoir of War

By SSGT David Belavia with John Bruning, Narrated by Ray Porter

Audiobook, hours 9 and 20 minutes

Published by Blackstone Audio Inc, August 2007

Language: English


SSGT David Belavia was a Squad Leader assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.  In November 2004, they were assigned to take the city of Fallujah, Iraq, in what would become known as the Second Battle of Fallujah.  The city was held by as many as 3,000 insurgents representing several Iraqi and Islamic terrorist groups, bolstered by Jihadists from around the globe.  The civilian population had largely fled, and the insurgents had taken the opportunity to fortify the city.  They had turned many of the houses into fortified positions, blocking off stairways and turning interior rooms into bunkers.  These ambush houses had been modified to funnel assaulting troops into kill zones.  Other houses were booby trapped, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were placed along the streets.  Some buildings were completely packed with explosives and large quantities of flammable materials, turning the whole building into a huge IED.

Belavia’s Squad was part of a Mechanized Infantry Platoon which was centered around an M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and two M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles.  Each of the Bradleys carried six infantrymen as dismounts, with an imbedded journalist and USAF Forward Observation Team jammed in for good measure.

As the title implies, the Second Battle of Fallujah was fought house to house.  The American way of war emphasizes a doctrine known as Combined Arms.  Infantry and armor fight as a composite unit, maximizing the strengths of each.  These units can call in support from aircraft and indirect fires from mortars and artillery.  All this is designed to maximize the firepower which can be brought to bear against an enemy while minimizing the enemy’s opportunities to engage friendly forces.  Urban combat reduces the effectiveness of this doctrine by requiring small groups of infantrymen to enter into close-quarters combat where employing the supporting assets is less practical.

There is little build-up to this book, it begins with a firefight and soon the unit is on its way to Fallujah.  The squad is engaged continuously from the beginning, and soon the men are exhausted, hungry, filthy, and suffering from ailments and injuries large and small.  Each structure they enter is potentially an ambush or wired with explosives.  The ultimate assault in the book is a chamber of horrors where the author fights several insurgents at close quarters in a fortified house.

This is a very gritty story, told with gallows humor and locker room language.  It is not for the squeamish.  It is fast paced, and there are several points where things could have gone very wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Recommended.

The Forgotten 500 Audio Book Review

The Forgotten 500

By Gregory A. Freeman, Narrated by Patrick Lawlor

Audiobook, 10 hours and 40 minutes

Published by Tantor Audio, September 2007

Language: English

ASIN: B000WDS674

The history of the Balkans has always been complex, and this continued to be the case during the Second World War.  Yugoslavia formed a brief alliance with Germany, but the military staged a coup.  Hitler saw this as a personal insult, and the surrounding Axis states invaded on 06APR41.  Yugoslav forces were overwhelmed and surrendered twelve days later.

Two resistance groups soon formed.  One was led by Draža Mihailović, a former army Colonel who had the support of the Yugoslavian government in exile in Britain.  Mihailović favored a strategy of forming a force in being and waiting to support an Allied invasion in order to minimize German reprisals against civilians.  A second group formed under Josip Tito, a Communist supported by the Soviet Union.  Tito took a more active stance against the Axis occupiers.  The two factions were soon fighting not only the Axis but each other.  British policy in Yugoslavia was influenced by SOE agent James Klugman, who soon shifted Allied support from Mihailović to Tito.  Later it was learned that Klugman was an avowed Communist and a Soviet spy.

Against this backdrop, Allied airmen were being shot down over Yugoslavia during missions to bomb oilfields in Romania.  Despite the official Allied policy against supporting him, Mihailović remained a staunch friend of the United States and went to great lengths to shelter American airmen from the Germans.  These airmen were gathered in the village of Pranjane, where they managed to contact their bases in Italy.  The OSS sent in a team to assess the situation and devise a plan to get the airmen out.  To their surprise, they found the villagers sheltering almost 250 Allied airmen, with more arriving daily.  It was decided to construct a secret airstrip and fly the airmen out.  In all, over 500 Allied airmen were rescued between August and December 1944.

The rescue was kept secret at the time.  Mihailović could not be given credit for helping the airmen and still preserve Klugman’s narrative supporting Tito.  The Soviet’s penetration into British Intelligence circles gradually became known after the war, Churchill later admitted that British wartime policy supporting Tito in Yugoslavia was his greatest regret.

The rescue remains relatively unknown to this day.  This is a great story, and a cautionary tail about how politics can be influenced by misinformation, with disastrous results.  A great read, recommended.

The First Wave Audio Book Review

The First Wave: The D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in World War II

By Alex Kershaw, Narrated by Paul Michael

Audiobook, 8 hours and 39 minutes

Published by Penguin Audio, May 2019

Language: English


This book tells the story of Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings in France on 06JUN44 from the perspectives of several of the men who were among the first to land.  The protagonists are the pilot of the Horsa glider which landed first at Pegasus Bridge; an American paratroop pathfinder; the Rangers who assaulted Pointe du Hoc; Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt III, the oldest man to land on Utah Beach; a French Commando; and a pair of Canadian Officers who commanded companies in the same Battalion.

This is not intended to be a complete history of the Normandy landings nor the German defenses, there are many other books which give the overall strategies and background of the preparations.  The First Wave gives the reader detailed accounts from the individual soldiers’ points of view.  Their objectives are very specific and their situations are quite confused at times, particularly those of the airborne units.  There is an old saying, “No plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy” and this doubly applies to large-scale amphibious landings which are among the most complex operations to coordinate.

Many of the units deployed for the landings stayed in combat for several weeks after the assault.  They fought until the number of casualties rendered the units ineffective.  The main focus is D-Day itself, but the author describes the continuation of the campaign to tie up loose ends for each of his subjects.

If you favor personal accounts of military operations you will enjoy this book.  There is enough strategic overview to give context to what the soldiers are trying to achieve, but the stories are all first-person perspectives.  The author keeps the stories flowing, and there is no sense of interruption as he shifts between protagonists.  Recommended.

Double Cross Audio Book Review

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

Authored by Ben Macintyre, Narrated by John Lee

Audiobook, 12 hours and 39 minutes

Published by Random House Audio

Language: English


Tommy “Tar” Robinson was a Scotsman and a counter-intelligence officer with MI5.  He was responsible for uncovering, intercepting, and arresting any agents his German counterparts in the Abwer managed to smuggle into England.  Those that were captured were imprisoned, shot, or convinced to help deceive their German handlers as double agents, telling the Germans only what the British wanted them to hear.  In this great game Robinson had one huge advantage over his competition in the Abwer – he was reading their mail.  British codebreakers had deciphered the German Enigma machine, and their messages were forwarded to MI5 as Ultra intercepts which were referred to as “Most Secret Sources”.  One day while reading the message traffic he had a startling epiphany – all the German spies in England were actually working for him.

The greatest Allied secret of WWII was the time and place of the invasion of Europe.  Robinson’s double-agents (and their extensive, but totally fabricated networks of sub-agents) could be used to feed the Germans false information about the D-Day preparations.  The overall deception plan was known as Operation Fortitude, and the information to be passed along would be vetted by the Twenty Committee, which used the Roman numeral XX, a double entandre for double cross.  The five principal agents were “a dashing Serbian playboy, a Polish fighter-pilot, a bisexual Peruvian party girl, a deeply eccentric Spaniard with a diploma in chicken farming, and a volatile Frenchwoman.”

Author Ben Macintyre has found a niche writing histories of British espionage operations, deeply researched using de-classified records.  This is the third of his books which I have enjoyed.  This one requires the reader to pay attention to the storyline, as this is complex and interwoven.  Each spy has a handler on each side of the Channel, two code names, and a cast of supporting characters.  There are also sub-plots, secondary spies, and anecdotal asides such as the recurring intrigues of the carrier pigeon war.  The stakes could not be higher, if the deception worked the German forces would not be concentrated in the correct area and reinforcements would be held in reserve awaiting the “real” landings to come.  If they discovered the deception, the spies would have effectively revealed where the actual landing was to take place.  A fascinating book, highly recommended.

Damn Lucky Audio Book Review

Damn Lucky: One Man’s Courage During the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History

Authored by Kevin Maurer, Narrated by Holter Graham, interview with John Luckadoo

Audiobook, 8 hours and 20 minutes

Published by Macmillan Audio, April 2022

Language: English


John “Lucky” Luckadoo, like so many Americans, joined the military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  He trained as a pilot, and after completing flight school was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group as a co-pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress.  The Group deployed to England in June 1943, when the Eighth Air Force’s bombing campaign against Germany was just gaining strength.  A combat rotation was considered to be twenty-five missions, after completing those the crew would be rotated home.  Unfortunately, Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers all the way to many targets and the Luftwaffe was still a formidable force.  Statistically, the odds were against the bomber crews surviving to reach the magic twenty-fifth mission.

Aside from the fighters and the flak, flying itself is a dangerous endeavor.  In formations there is always the risk of collision, and weather is always a factor.  One under-appreciated aspect is the environment at 25,000 feet is inherently hostile.  Without the proper protection hypothermia or hypoxia can be deadly, and the crews had to function in that environment for up to twelve hours at a time.  On one occasion Luckaloo’s B-17 suffered relatively minor damage to the nose section over a target.  Unfortunately, damage to the metal skin of the aircraft directed a stream of freezing air directly under the instrument panel.  He had no choice but to leave his feet on the rudder peddles while the airstream progressively froze his legs throughout the return flight.  He returned frostbitten, but Doctors were able to save his legs.

This book follows Luckaloo’s career in the USAAF, both with the 100th BG and after his rotation back Stateside as an instructor pilot.  As the war ended he was working up with a B-29 group for deployment to the Pacific.  This is a well-written first hand account of the bomber offensive during the decisive period of the air war.  Recommended.

Born to Be Hanged Audio Book Review

Born to Be Hanged: The Epic Story of the Gentlemen Pirates Who Raided the South Seas, Rescued a Princess, and Stole a Fortune

Authored by Keith Thomson, Narrated by Feodor Chin

Audiobook, 9 hours and 41 minutes

Published by Little, Brown and Company, May 2022

Language: English


During the last half of the 17th century several European countries competed for dominance and riches in the New World, principal among these were the maritime countries of Spain, England, and France.  These countries established colonies and began to extract resources from the Americas, the most well known today being the shipments of Gold and Silver extracted by the Spanish.  The wealth contained in Spanish galleons and within Spanish settlements soon attracted the unwelcome attention of Privateers and Pirates seeking fortune and glory.  Thus began the Golden Age of Piracy.

This is the story of a group of 300 Englishmen who in 1680 embarked on an adventure to liberate Spanish Gold which spanned more than two years and both coasts of South America.  While the traditional stereotype of pirates involves seizing ships on the high seas, many of the objectives of this group involved trekking overland to attack Spanish settlements, often with the aid of native populations in the area.  One of the local Kings issued a Letter of Marque authorizing the group to act on his behalf and rescue his daughter, who was held in a Spanish fortress which conveniently was also used to mine and store Gold and Silver.

This a sprawling adventure.  The pirates captured settlements and ships.  They fought the Spanish, natives, and at times each other.  They survived adversity in the jungle and on the sea.  Their alliances were democratic, if things went against their fortunes they might hold a munity which would be considered more of a vote of no confidence today, the deposed leader either remaining with the company or parting ways along with his supporting faction.

Perhaps the most surprising element of this book is author Keith Thompson was able to draw on five surviving journals or books which were written by members of the group, along with official Spanish and English records.  A very literate group of buccaneers indeed!  Four members of the group were tried in England, where the legal distinction between a Pirate (operating independently) and a Privateer (operating on behalf of a government) could mean the difference between a hero’s welcome and a noose.  This is a very engaging book, enriched with details and observations from the pirates themselves.  Recommended.

Outlaw Platoon Audio Book Review

Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan

By Sean Parnell and John Bruning, Narrated by Ray Porter

Audiobook, 10 hours and 18 minutes

Published by Harper Audio, February 2012

Language: English


Sean Parnell was the commander of Outlaw Platoon of the 10th Mountain Division.  In 2006 they were stationed in Afghanistan, in the mountainous Hindu Kush near the Pakistani border.  Their mission was to support the local Afghan population and interfere with Taliban forces who crossed the area to shelter and resupply within safe zones inside Pakistan.  Among their opposition were experienced Taliban commanders who had learned their trade fighting the Soviets two decades before.

The Platoon operated out of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and patrolled in armored HMMWVs.  They were accompanied by Afghan interpreters (Terps), some more reliable than others.  Troops which never left the base were called “fobbits” by those who went out day after day, and there was friction between the groups.  There was also animosity with another Platoon which was not as aggressive as it should have been, but great respect for the Company commander, who could be counted on to rush to the aid of any unit in contact and bring the full array of supporting arms to bear while doing so.

This is a good study in small unit action and tactics.  Outlaw Platoon was in contact on several occasions, and many of these contacts were ambushes initiated by a skilled enemy who artfully exploited terrain to nullify American advantages in firepower.  Be warned, there are a few gruesome scenes, and there is no glossing over bad calls made in the field or on the base.  There is also no love lost for the Pakistanis, who gave moral and logistical support for the Taliban, and even participated in combat operations against American forces.

I have read several books written about similar units in Afghanistan.  This is one of the better ones, both in quality of the writing and sincerity of the story.  Parnell cares about his men, and that comes through on every page.  A good book, highly recommended.