Tribe Audio Book Review

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Authored and Narrated by Sebastian Junger

Audiobook, 2 hours and 59 minutes

Published by Hachette Audio, May 2016

Language: English

ASIN: B01D57FNZG

Sebastian Junger’s Tribe is a natural sequel to his War.  Soldiers in combat develop a communal bond in which each puts the welfare of the group above his own, often resulting in what we would commonly refer to as bravery.  Throughout human history people have naturally formed themselves into communities with an upper number of approximately 160 individuals (not coincidentally, a historically Company-sized unit many armies).  Above that number, the community divides into two groups which are often allied, but separate.  All the members of the group are known to the others, and conduct themselves broadly for the benefit of the group as a whole.  Withholding resources from the group, or taking more than one’s share of the resources are considered among the most serious of offences, punishable by banishment or even death.

Contrast the natural inherent instinct for humans to form small tribal groups with the structure of modern societies.  Nations are huge, neighbors do not know neighbors.  Those who take from the community through manipulating Government programs, theft, or outright fraud go unpunished or are even applauded far more often than not.  There is little opportunity for an individual to feel he or she has done something important, or even belongs to a community where a sense of brotherhood exists, with the one notable exception often being military service.

The yearning for a sense of belonging is intrinsic and strong, its absence is a primary driver in PTSD among veterans.  Benjamin Franklin noted that European settles captured by Indian tribes assimilated into Indian culture, and even when ”rescued” would slip away to re-join their tribes, while the reverse was not true.  Junger cites several examples of groups forming tight bonds when faced with life-threatening adversity, and individuals missing the bonds they formed after the crisis had passed.  Humans appear to need the shared adversity at some level, mental health facilities in Paris during both World Wars were nearly empty, and in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks both violent crime and suicide rates dropped sharply.

It appears Junger became interested in the topic of PTSD among returning veterans after writing War, and some of the statistical background for Tribe appears in his earlier work explaining the bonds of small units in the military.  The implications for broader society are thought-provoking.  This is a short work, but a natural follow on after reading War, highly recommended.

War Audio Book Review

War

Authored and Narrated by Sebastian Junger

Audiobook, 7 hours and 21 minutes

Published by Hachette Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B003LTOIIC

Author Sebastion Junger was a journalist and documentarian who was embedded with a detachment from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment.  In 2010 the men were assigned to an outpost in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley named Restrepo after a Medic from the unit who was killed.  Junger’s job there was to observe and record.  He lived alongside the soldiers from the unit, went where they went, slept where they slept, and ate what they ate.  He did everything everybody else there did except engage the enemy.

Some military units perform better than others, and the reasons for this have been studied and debated for centuries.  Often units which outperform others are said to have “esprit de corps” or better “unit cohesion” or even the nebulous “right stuff”.  Trying to pin down what these terms mean (and how to duplicate their requisite virtues) is like trying to squeeze water.

Junger comes closer than any other author I have read in identifying what makes soldiers tick.  Shared experiences (the more arduous the better) develop into a sense of brotherhood within the unit, until each soldier identifies more as a part of the unit than as an individual.  At that point the soldier fears failing his comrades more than death or injury to himself.  Throughout the book the soldiers are introspective about any events which have gone wrong, or even could have gone wrong, and what they might have done differently to prevent it.  Everything in that environment is important, any mistake, however small, could potentially result in injury or death to someone.  Each soldier’s greatest fear is letting their comrades down, their greatest security is knowing everyone has their back.  The feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves is what they miss when returning to the civilian world, and one reason so many have trouble adjusting.

This is a seminal work and one of the top-tier books on what makes a combat unit effective.  Junger just nails it.  I will read this book again to see what I’ve missed.  My highest recommendation.

Lieutenant Dangerous Audio Book Review

Lieutenant Dangerous: A Vietnam War Memoir

Authored and Narrated by Jeff Danziger

Audiobook, 5 hours and 43 minutes

Published by Steerforth

Language: English

ASIN: B0979N77JY

Jeff Danziger is probably better known as a political cartoonist, but earlier in life he was drafted into the U.S. Army and did a tour in Vietnam.  Like many draftees, he was a reluctant participant.  His story is not an epic tale of combat heroism, Danziger readily volunteers that one of his primary motivations was to wait out his term of service without having to deploy to Vietnam.

To that end, he parlayed his high aptitude scores into assignments to a series of specialized training schools, all of which he hoped would preclude him having enough time left to actually be sent overseas.  He attended a year-long program to learn to speak Vietnamese, an irony not lost upon him.  While he was able to master the basics, Vietnamese is a tonal language and his instructors spoke the Southern dialect, not the version predominantly used in the North by the NVA.  An opportunity for Officers’ training presented itself after language school, and Danzinger was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.  Then on to more training as an Officer.

Rotations to Vietnam were to last a year, and with a year left in his time in the Army Danzinger’s machinations failed and he was sent to Vietnam as an ordinance officer.  Eventually he sent a letter to his Representative questioning why the Army trained him in the Vietnamese language but employed him replacing artillery tubes, which resulted in some chewing-outs but reassignment as an Intelligence Officer.

In the wide range of Vietnam memoirs in print today, this one is unique as it was written by someone who had no real desire to serve and makes no bones about it.  It is cynical but honest, and Danzinger’s style is very tongue-in-cheek which makes it an enjoyable read.  There are several “why are we doing this?” moments which will be familiar to anyone who has been in the military.  This is a different perspective on military service, written by someone who was just trying to get through their enlistment.  If you’re looking for a combat memoir this is not your book, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-1945 Book Review

Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-1945

Series:  Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 13

By Henry Sakaida, Illustrated by Grant Race

Softcover, 96 pages, appendices, 40 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing, April 1997

ISBN-10: ‎1855325292

ISBN-13: 978-1855325296

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.8 inches

The Osprey Aircraft of the Aces currently numbers over 140 volumes and is still growing.  This volume on the JAAF is one of the early efforts in the series and was published twenty-five years ago.  It is noteworthy for two reasons; First, English language references on the Japanese military during World War Two are comparatively rare.  This is especially true of histories of individuals or even specific units.  Second, the format of this book deviates from most other books in the OAoA series.  The typical formula is a chronological narrative with anecdotes from pilots or official reports interspersed with a general history of the war.  In this book the text is comprised of individual biographies of the pilots, each approximately one page in length.  Photographs of the pilots and their aircraft accompany each subject.

In some ways author Henry Sakaida has provided us with a poor man’s version of Hata and Izawa’s Japanese Army Air Force Units and Their Aces, 1931–1945.  This is not entirely accurate, as Hata and Izawa offer a more comprehensive history, while Sakaida’s work is a more accessible introduction, and adds aircraft profiles which are of great interest to modelers.  Both works are valuable additions to a reference library and complement each other nicely.

Illustrator Grant Race has rendered forty excellent aircraft profiles, almost half of which depict the most common JAAF fighter type of the Pacific War, the Ki-43 Hayabusa “Oscar”.  These are particularly useful for modelers who are interested in building aircraft flown by ace pilots and are provided with captions with all the relevant details.  There are also six color renderings of JAAF pilots in a variety of uniforms and flight gear.

The book is still easy to find today, and often at very reasonable prices.  It represents an excellent value, especially considering the general lack of information on Japanese aircraft available to English readers.  Highly recommended for all JAAF enthusiasts.

Aircraft Carrier Hiryū Book Review

Anatomy of The Ship The Aircraft Carrier Hiryū

By Stefan Draminski

Hardcover, 336 pages, bibliography

Published by Osprey, July 2022

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1472840267

ISBN-13: 978-1472840264

Dimensions:  10.3 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches

The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryū 飛龍 (Flying Dragon) was built to a modified Sōryū design.  While the two ships are often referred to as near-sisters, the Hiryu incorporated a number of revisions intended to strengthen her structurally, improve seakeeping, and reduce top weight.  The most obvious visual difference is that her island was located on the port side of the ship.  Only one other aircraft carrier, Akaki, was fitted with a port-side island.  At the time of her commissioning, Hiryū was the fastest aircraft carrier ever built.

Hiryū was commissioned on 05JUL39 and led a very active service life.  She supported the Japanese invasion of Indochina and the blockade of China.  Then she was one of the six aircraft carriers of the Kido Butai which attacked the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  She and Sōryū were then detached to bolster the attack on Wake Island.  After rejoining the Fleet in Japan, they next supported the invasion of the Duch East Indies, and then attacked Darwin and Java.  The Kido Butai then raided the Indian Ocean, sinking several Royal Navy ships including the aircraft carrier Hermes.  She was one of the four Japanese fleet carriers sent to support the invasion of Midway.  After U.S. Navy dive bombers hit the Akagi, Kaga, and Sōryū, Hiryū remained unscathed and was able to launch two strikes against the USS Yorktown (CV-5) which took her out of the fight. Her reprieve was not to last long, as she was in turn hit by dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown which led to her sinking.

Imperial Japanese Navy warships are fascinating, and any new additions to the published works are welcome, particularly in English.  For this book author Stefan Draminski was able to access surviving copies of shipyard drawings from Hiryū’s construction. He has used these to produce detailed line drawings and 3D renders of the ship’s hull and fittings.  Several of these are useful for modelers working on other IJN subjects as many pieces of equipment were common to other ships as well.  The cover lists 600 drawings and 400 3D renders.  I didn’t count them, but that sounds about right.  Several of the drawings are sections of the ship which reveal the internal structures.  There are also several full-page renders which show the aircraft spotted on deck for each wave of the Pearl Harbor strike.

Overall, a beautiful book on an interesting ship.  For the sheer volume of information it is quite a bargain.  It is easy to get lost in this book and spend hours going through the pages.  Highly recommended for all Imperial Japanese Navy fans.

Every Man a Hero Audio Book Review

Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day, the First Wave at Omaha Beach, and a World at War

Authored by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice, Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

Audiobook, 7 hours and 39 minutes

Published by Harper Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B07PDHWXJF

Ray Lambert grew up during the Great Depression in Clanton, Alabama.  From a young age, he helped with the family lumber business and held a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet.  Eventually the lack of job prospects drove him to enlist in the U.S. Army, which was then mobilizing as Europe moved closer to war.  Lambert had some experience working as a veterinary assistant, so naturally the Army selected him for training as a combat Medic.

He was assigned to the First Division, 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, “The Big Red One”.  People skills and a knack for finding the right job for each of his men soon led to promotions and increasing responsibilities, and soon he was filling senior enlisted billets.  He was responsible for the training and organization of the battalion’s Medics, as well as selecting sites for the forward aid stations.  The need to closely follow the combat troops as they advanced meant that the aid stations were never more than a few hundred yards from the fighting, and the Medics were as exposed to enemy fire as the Infanty they supported, and often more so as they had to remove the wounded from the battlefield.

Lambert participated in all three of First Division’s combat landings – North Africa, Sicily, and Omaha Beach at Normandy.  By the time the Division landed at Normandy he was a combat veteran and already had two Silver Stars for bravery and three Purple Hearts for wounds.

The book was written when Lambert was 98 years old, one of the few remaining men alive who had landed at Omaha Beach.  It covers his life both before and after the war, but focused on his experiences in the army.  He does a good job of including world events and “the big picture”, providing context but not wandering too far from the matters at hand.  The narration is top quality and gives the impression of a man sitting on his front porch telling his life story.  In spite of the title, the Normandy landing is not the only focal point in his narrative, and his experiences in North Africa and Italy are just as important and cover more pages.  This is an outstanding first-person narrative, I can highly recommend it both as a combat tale and as the life story of an average American living through some of the roughest times in our history.

An Army at Dawn Audio Book Review

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943

Authored and Narrated by Rick Atkinson

Audiobook, 7 hours and 2 minutes

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B000083F5T

America entered the North African campaign with the Torch landings in November 1942, the first offensive for the Americans against the German and Italian armies.  America was new to the war but full of confidence, even though the commanders and their Divisions were untested.  The most complex of military operations are opposed amphibious landings, and Torch would be the first combat for the troops as well.  Adding to the complexity and confusion would be the opposition – Vichy French who were former allies, but who were obliged by the terms of France’s surrender to defend North Africa and who had a rather complex relationship with the British.

An Army at Dawn examines the North Africa campaign through a political lens.  Eisenhower, himself untested in combat, was appointed Supreme Commander and found himself in command of Gibraltar as well as Allied forces from a number of countries.  Most of the foreign units and their commanders had seen considerably more combat than their American counterparts.  Further complicating matters were the French, whose Generals were insisting on military control of Allied forces and administering the population and infrastructure of their colonies, all the while contesting the loyalty of rival French factions.  Adding to this, the inexperienced American Army, while eager and learning quickly, made numerous blunders and saw several officers replaced.

The author relates several of the battles of the North African Campaign, but omits others – Kasserine being one.  In some cases the engagements are followed in detail which gives a good feel for what the average infantryman encountered in North Africa, but these battles are related almost as anecdotes rather than unfolding in a series to determine the outcome of the campaign.  One does get the feel for the fluidity of the war in the desert though, with units sometimes rushing across great distances with only vague ideas of what they were to do when they got to their destinations.

This book is useful to illustrate the complexities of command at the upper levels, where Generals and their staffs vie for power and influence.  The political roles played by military commanders was surprising, not only within their own governments but with Allied governments as well – a real tightrope which had to be negotiated at the same time as managing the armies.  At times this appeared to be more important than the fight at hand and added another level of complexity to an already complex situation.  This book is not a typical military history of a campaign, but adds much more of the perspective from the senior command level than usual.

13 Hours Audio Book Review

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi

Authored and Narrated by Mitchell Zuckoff

Audiobook, 7 hours and 43 minutes

Published by Hachette Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B00MMIOGL2

Most Americans are broadly familiar with the attack on the US Diplomatic Compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  Libyan Jihadists conducted pre-planned, coordinated assaults on the Diplomatic Compound and nearby CIA Annex.  The security for the compounds was known to be inadequate to repel a concentrated attack from even a lightly-armed force, and repeated requests to improve security had been rebuffed by the State Department.  After the attack, false narratives and political mis-direction, only a few months before the November elections, resulted in Congressional hearings where the Secretary of State’s testimony consisted of the words “I don’t recall” more than fifty times.

But this book is not about Washington politics or the lack of accountability which persists to this day, as the author explains at length in his preamble.  This book is about the six Global Response Staff operators who were hired to provide security to the American diplomats and CIA agents in Benghazi.  These GRS members were not mercenaries as they are sometimes portrayed, they are highly trained ex-Rangers, ex-Marines, and ex-SEALs who continued to serve after leaving the military.  While vastly outnumbered, they fought without outside support for thirteen hours.

The author conducted interviews with the surviving GRS operators to reveal a minute-by-minute account of the actions of these men as the events unfolded in Benghazi that night.  The story is told entirely from their perspectives as they fought for their lives and to protect the Americans they were sent there to defend.  This is a gritty narrative of a small group of highly-trained soldiers defending against a larger, but less professional, assaulting force.  If you are looking for a “boots on the ground” account of a prolonged small unit action, I can recommend this book without hesitation.

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War

Authored by Steven Pressfield, Narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner

Audiobook, 14 hours and 1 minute

Published by Penguin Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B00K5WIJV0

The Six Day War began on 05JUN67 with Israeli air attacks against Egyptian airfields which destroyed most of the Egyptian Air Force.  In preceding days, Arab forces from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, reinforced by expeditionary forces from Iraq and Saudi Arabia had been massing on the Israeli borders, and Egypt had closed the Straights of Tiran to Israeli shipping in violation of the UN agreement.  Arab radio broadcasts were openly calling for the invasion of Israel and the destruction of its people, and terrorist incursions were increasing.  Surrounded and facing numerically superior forces, the Israeli government determined the best chance for survival of the country laid in launching a preemptive strike.

Although the Israelis initially hoped to limit the conflict to the Egyptians and to avoid having to fight on multiple fronts, the Jordanians quickly joined in, followed by the Syrians a few days later.  Ironically, the widening of the war was due in part to the Jordanians and Syrians believing Egyptian propaganda broadcasts, which claimed the destruction of the Israeli Air Force in the initial attacks and minimized Egypt’s own losses.  The widening of the war resulted in the Israelis repeating their aerial assaults against their new foes, with similarly devasting results to the Arab air forces.  On the ground, Israeli troops displayed remarkable local initiative and exploited opportunities to seize the West Bank, the Golon Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Siani Peninsula.  The most significant victory from a cultural standpoint was the taking of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, where Jews had been forbidden access for over two thousand years.

To write this book the author interviewed more than sixty Israeli combat commanders, soldiers, and politicians.  The story is told in a narrative style from the perspectives of the people involved, in their own words.  It is not meant to be a comprehensive history of the entire war, but focusses on the way things unfolded in specific actions, minute by minute.  The main stories are the strikes on the Arab airfields, a recon company in an armored brigade, a helicopter squadron commander, and the paratroopers who fought in Jerusalem and entered the Old City through the Lion’s Gate.  The planning and political considerations prior to and during the war are also revealed, again in the participant’s own words.

This is a fascinating story, and the author has chosen an excellent way to tell it.  I would recommend that the reader has some familiarity with an overall history of the Six Day War to help put some of the actions into context, even a superficial treatment such as the Osprey Campaign volumes would be sufficient.  Even without that, the stories of the individuals involved are well-told and engaging.  Recommended.

Fighters of the Iron Cross Book Review

Fighters of the Iron Cross: Men and Machines of the Jagdwaffe

Written by Jerry Crandall, Illustrated by James Bently and Thomas A. Tullis

Hardcover in dustjacket, 360 pages, bibliography, and index

Published by Eagle Editions Ltd, 2021

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-9761034-7-8

ISBN-13: 978-0-9761034-7-9

Dimensions: 9.3 x 12.3 x1.2 inches

Jerry Crandal is well known to scale modelers and aviation enthusiasts as the publisher of Eagle Editions books and EagleCals decals.  This book contains much material which will be familiar to anyone who has purchased his Jagdwaffe decals, as the pilots profiled here also flew many of the subject aircraft.  This is no coincidence, as the author has fostered personal relationships with many Jagdwaffe pilots over the years.  He has conducted extensive interviews and preserved documents and photographs, several of which have not been published previously.

This is collection of the stories of twelve Luftwaffe pilots, much of them told in their own words.  Included in each are copies or transcripts of original documents, along with several photographs from the personal collections of the Experten.  These are reproduced clearly on glossy paper, making them especially valuable for modelers.  The real prizes of this work are the full-color aircraft side profiles which accompany each chapter and the detailed notes which explain them.

The binding is in a large format, and is well-printed on glossy paper.  The layout and quality of the artwork will be familiar to anyone who has purchased Crandall’s previous publications.  While not cheap, this is a substantial book and a top-quality work all around, so you get what you pay for.  If you are a Jagdwaffe enthusiast you will be delighted by this book, highly recommended.

Pilots profiled:

Hauptmann Karl Leonhard

Major Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber

Feldwebel Horst Petzschler

Oberleutnant Manfred Dieterle

Leutnant Herbert Schlüter

Leutnant Karl Albert Helm

Major Rolf-Günther Hermichen

Oberleutnant Gerhard Thyben

Leutnant Elias Paul Kühlein

Feldwebel Hans Langer

Feldwebel Oskar Bösch

Leutnant Willi Unger

Major Wilhelm Moritz

Major Georg-Peder Eder

Regrettably, Jerry Crandall passed away on 12JUN22.