Beyond Band of Brothers Book Review

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

By Major Dick Winters with Colonel Cole. C. Kingseed

Hardcover in dustjacket, 292 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Penguin, 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-425-20813-3

Dimensions:  6.1 x 9.1 x 1.2 inches

Dick Winters was an officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was part of the 101th Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles”.  On the night of 06 June 1944 he was the leader of 1st Platoon of East Company.  The C-47 carrying the Company’s command element was shot down by German flak over Normandy.  All aboard were killed, leaving Winters as acting commander of Easy Company.  On the first day Winters led an assault on a battery of four German howitzers which were shelling American troops on Utah Beach.  Even though outnumbered four to one, the American assault was successful.  Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the action, the U.S. Army’s second highest award.

The second combat jump for the 506th PIR was into Holland in September as a part of Operation Market Garden.  By now Winters had been promoted to Captain and was officially in command of Easy Company.  Again Winters led an assault against a superior enemy force, using a Platoon to route what was later discovered to be two Germany Companies.

The 101st Airborne was rushed to stem the German assault in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge.  The paratroopers were rushed into the line in Belgium by truck, with no time to draw proper cold weather gear or extra ammunition.  Constant attrition resulted in Winters being assigned first to the Executive Officer position of 2nd Battalion then as it’s Commander.

Beyond Band of Brothers is an autobiographical account of Winter’s service in the Army, from his enlistment before the war, through training and combat, and his eventual discharge from service.  His story will be familiar to most as he was featured prominently in Steven Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and the HBO miniseries of the same name.  The story is worth telling in Winter’s own words and gives several insights from his perspective.  I was surprised to see Winters give considerable credit to Captain Sobel’s contributions to the 506th PIR and Easy Company in particular during training, despite the obvious conflict between the two men.  Highly recommended as a companion work to Band of Brothers and a very interesting read in its own right.

Band of Brothers Book Review

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest

By Stephen E. Ambrose

Hardcover in dustjacket, 331 pages, index

Published by Simon & Schuster, June 2001

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 0743216385

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0743216388

Dimensions: ‎ 6.3 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches

To state the obvious, this is the book which inspired the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg HBO mini-series of the same name.  More broadly, it also inspired several other veterans to come forward and record their experiences in the Second World War, including others who served in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The success of Band of Brothers led Hanks and Spielberg to produce the companion series “The Pacific” for HBO, which drew on the memoirs of three U.S. Marines.

The book follows the Company E of the 506th PIR from its inception, through training and deployment to England, and eventual combat.  The Regiment dropped behind the invasion beaches at Normandy as part of the 101st Airborne Division.  After rebuilding it made its second combat drop in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.  While recuperating from that campaign it was unexpectedly rushed by truck into Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge to counter the German offensive in the Ardennes.  At the end of the war the Regiment was occupying Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps.

The book follows well with the miniseries, both in tone and detail.  There are some differences in anecdotes related in each, but these fall into the “what to leave in, what to leave out” dynamics of the different formats and are not contradictory in any way.  Ambrose is a thorough researcher and an excellent writer blessed with a compelling story, this book will not disappoint the avid military history fan nor someone with a casual interest.  Recommended without reservation, whether one has seen the miniseries or not.

The Ship That Would Not Die Book Review

The Ship That Would Not Die

By F. Julian Becton, RADM USN (Ret) with Joseph Morschauser III

Softcover, 279 pages, appendices, photographs, and index

Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, April 1987

Language: English

ISBN-10‏: ‎ 0-93312-687-5

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0-93312-687-9

Dimensions: ‎ 6.0 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches

The USS Laffey (DD-724) was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer built for the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.  At 2,200 tons, they were the largest and most heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyers to see combat during WWII, the Gearing-class was a derivative with a 14-foot hull extension amidships to increase range.  Laffey was commissioned on 08FEB44.

The author was Laffey’s Captain from her commissioning through the end of the war.  He was already an experienced officer, having seen combat aboard the USS Arron Ward (DD-483) in the Solomons, where he was with the original USS Laffey (DD-459) when she was sunk during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  He was assigned to the new Laffey as Prospective Commanding Officer during her construction and the training of her crew.

The Laffey had a busy war.  She first saw combat off Normandy during the invasion, and shelled German defenses at Cherbourg.  From there she sailed to the Pacific, joining Task Force 38 for the invasion of the Philippines.  She first encountered the Japanese Kamikaze there, and was with the USS Ward (DM-16) when she was sunk at Ormoc Bay.  She then escorted the carrier groups during strikes against the Japanese home islands and off Iwo Jima.

The Laffey is best remembered for her ordeal on the radar picket line screening the landings on Okinawa.  On 16APR45 she was attacked by a large formation of Kamikaze aircraft, an estimated twenty-two singling out Laffey.  Ultimately, she was hit by six Kamikaze and four bombs which caused extensive damage and fires, and also jammed her rudder.  With the assistance of salvage tugs she was able control her flooding and was towed from the area.  She returned to the States under her own power and was eventually repaired, but her war was over.  Laffey served until 1975, and is currently preserved as a museum ship in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The book is written in autobiographical style.  Becton describes the day-to-day operations of the ship and makes a special effort to mention as many of his crew by name as possible.  I was surprised to see a number of factual errors which somehow crept into the narrative – some ships’ armaments are improperly described, aircraft mis-identified in a caption, apparent confusion between a Landing Ship, Dock (LSD) and a floating drydock (AFDB), and a US Navy officer said to have survived the sinking of HMS Hood.  Minor issues in their own rights, but they call into question other details.  In spite of that, this is an interesting story and well worth reading.

Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H in 1/72 Scale

This is the Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H in 1/72 scale, kit number 5017 released in 2018.  I replaced the hull Schürzen with sheet plastic and I added Zimmerit made with Mr. Surfacer 500.  A nice kit and loads of camo schemes to choose from.  Decals are from Kagero Top Colors 32 and depict a Panzer IV from the 116th Panzer Division in Normandy, August 1944.  I found the mixed camo patterns of the hull Schürzen and the rest of the vehicle interesting.

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Liberation of Paris 1944 Book Review

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Liberation of Paris 1944: Patton’s race for the Seine

By Steven J. Zaloga, illustrated by Howard Gerrard

Osprey Campaign Book 194

Paperback, 96 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing April 2008

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846032466

ISBN-13: 978-1846032462

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.3 x 9.9 inches

A campaign to liberate Paris was a battle neither side wanted to fight.  From the American viewpoint, Paris offered little of strategic value.  With the bulk of Germany’s combat strength in France bottled up in the Falaise Pocket, Patton’s 3rd Army was facing little in the way of organized resistance; the only thing slowing him down was finding enough fuel to continue his onslaught.  Attacking Paris would bog American divisions down in urban warfare, and divert much needed logistical capacity away from the spearheads driving deeper into France.

From the German perspective, there was little front-line combat strength with which to mount a meaningful defense.  The German General, Dietrich von Choltitz, was able to form ad hoc units from staff and support personnel based in Paris, but these were not seasoned combat troops.  Armor was scarce, consisting of obsolete French tanks taken over by the Wehrmacht for garrison and policing duties along with a few Panthers, replacements meant for other units which were requisitioned for the defense.  Under orders from Hitler to burn Paris to the ground rather than let the Allies take the city, Choltitz had little means and no desire to raze one of Europe’s great cities.

The French had other plans.  De Gaulle wanted very much to be seen as the liberator of Paris.  This would instantly give him political legitimacy as the leader of the French people after the war.  Leclerc’s French 2e Division Blindée, patterned after and equipped as an American armored division, provided him the means to realize his ambition.  For their part, the French Resistance (FFI) was divided along political lines.  The Communist faction wanted to start an uprising at the earliest opportunity, while the other factions were more pragmatic, observing the results of the premature Warsaw Uprising to the East.  In any case, the FFI was short of weapons.  This only worsened after the Germans confiscated the revolvers of the Paris police force.

In the end, an uprising by the FFI forced everyone’s hand.  They seized several buildings and erected barricades, and as expected were met with some resistance from Choltitz’ garrison forces.  Fearing the situation might get out of control Eisenhower changed his plans and dispatched de Gaulle with Leclerc’s 2e Division and the American 4th Infantry Division.

In many ways this was a political battle for what France would become after the war instead of a battle fought to help win the war.  The Allies wanted to avoid fighting in Paris and even the German defenders did not want to see the city destroyed.  The various French factions were looking to gain political standing to advance their own goals in a post-war France.  As Clausewitz said, “War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.”

The book follows the standard format for Osprey’s Campaign series, and is heavily illustrated with maps, photographs, and artwork illustrating important incidents.  A good volume which I can recommend to anyone interested in the Liberation of France.

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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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Mine Squadron Seven Losses Off Utah Beach, Normandy Invasion

Mine Squadron Seven (MINERON 7) was comprised of eleven AM type minesweepers of the Auk and similar Raven classes.  In support of the Normandy Invasion, MINERON 7 was assigned the rather hazardous mission of sweeping the approach and landing areas off Utah beach.  Two of the eleven minesweepers would be lost.

The USS Osprey (AM 56) struck a mine at 1700 on 05JUN44.  The mine detonated alongside the forward engine room, at 1815 she was abandoned and sank shortly thereafter.  Osprey was the first Allied vessel sunk in the D-Day invasion.  Six sailors were killed, becoming the first casualties of D-Day.

Two days later the USS Tide (AM 125) activated a mine, likely a large influence mine air-dropped the night before.  The force was massive, witnesses stating that the ship was lifted clear of the water by the explosion.  The majority of her crew, including her Captain, were killed or injured by the blast.

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USS Osprey (AM 56), a Raven class minesweeper, seen before the Normandy invasion.  (National Archives)

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USS Osprey (AM 56) after having struck a mine at 1700 on 05JUN44, with a British MGB alongside making smoke to conceal the damaged ship.  The British vessel appears to be a Fairmile “B” gunboat.  The mine struck the forward engine room, at 1815 she was abandoned and sank shortly thereafter. (Francis Cinque photograph)

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USS Tide (AM 125) seen underway.  Note that she carries a second 3″/50 gun aft of her stack instead of the 40 mm guns more commonly seen on Auk class minesweepers.  (National Archives)

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Tide seen foundering after having struck a mine amidships.  The force of the explosion lifted the ship clear of the water and killed or injured most of her crew.  (National Archives)

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PT 509 and USS Pheasant (AM 61) coming to the aid of Tide, who is burning.  Her Executive Officer ordered her magazines flooded to prevent the fire from causing an explosion.  Photograph taken from the USS Threat (AM 124), who rescued many of the survivors.  (National Archives)

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A closer view of the damage to Tide.  Her keel is broken, her engineering spaces and all other spaces forward have been opened to the sea.  (National Archives)

 

Narrative by: Lieutenant Commander George Crane, USNR
USS Tide (AM-125)
Normandy Invasion
Lieutenant Commander George Crane, Executive Officer of the USS Tide when the AM class minesweeper was lost off Normandy, tells of his Neptune Operation experiences. As senior surviving officer he reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel and while in the Bureau gave us the recording. Commander Crane suffered a broken neck and some broken ribs in the sinking. Before joining the Naval reserve, Commander Crane, who is 41, was a member of the Nebraska State Tax Commission

This is Lieutenant Porter. We are in the Office of Naval Records And Library on 31 August 1944. Lieutenant Commander George R. Crane of the U.S.S. Tide has consented to talk informally this afternoon.

Commander, would you kindly tell us about your first encounter with mining by air a few days before D-day?

Comdr. Crane:

Two or three days prior to D-day while we were operating from the port of Torquay, on the southern coast of England, all 11 of the AM class of minesweepers were at Torquay inside of the breakwater there. This is a very small, a shallow harbor. In the evening the mine squadron was ordered out for night practice and approximately 30 minutes after we had left the harbor the German bombers came over and bombed the harbor of Torquay very heavily. A number of bombs fell inside the breakwater and still more outside the breakwater in the harbor and its approaches.

It was very fortunate that we had left the harbor when we did because it would have been very easy to have bottled up all 11 of the AM sweeps in the breakwater area and had that taken place, some other plans would have to [have] been made for the assault sweep in the actual invasion itself. Following this raid the AMs, including the U.S.S. Tide, spent the remaining days until the actual invasion sweeping the harbors on the southern coast of England, including the harbor of Torquay,m clearing them in order to allow the ships to go out to make the sorties and the crossing of the channel for the actual invasion landings on the coast of Normandy. A number of mines were destroyed by the minesweepers and the harbors were cleared, of course, in time for all of the ships to go out and make the invasion sortie without incident.

Lt. Porter:

All right, Sir. A good many people have talked to us from various ships and commands involved in the Normandy operation and without exception from the highest echelons down they have spoken of the excellent work of the minesweepers. Could you give us an informal picture of that work as you personally experienced it, perhaps starting with the hour when you left for the Neptune operation finally?

Comdr. Crane:

Early on the morning of June 5 we left Torquay to make the channel crossing and make the clearance sweep preparatory for the invasion of France. In our particular group of ships were all of the 11 AM class minesweepers of a squadron. The early part of the trip was entirely without incident and apparently the Germans did not know that we were making the crossing or made no attempt to stop us. We proceeded until towards dusk when the first casualty to our squadron occurred and the Osprey [(AM-56)] was sunk.

We reformed our column and went on across the channel leading the huge convoy which stretched out as far as we could see behind us and as dusk deepened we streamed our gear for an “O” type sweep clearing a channel in toward the beach. We were operating off UTAH beach and this first sweep was uneventful, no mines were encountered. When we reached the area inshore which was to be used for the transport and fire support area we streamed “O” type gear from each side of our ships and went in for the clearance sweep of the transport and fire support area. The Tide was in the first line of advance in this phase of the sweeping operation.

Because of the fact that we found that the area had not been heavily mined as it was first thought it might have been, it was possible to decrease the actual sweeping operations at this time. Starting at six hours before H-hour we went in close to the beach and carried out the final phase of our assault sweeping preparation for the actual landings. We completed this assault sweep shortly before the loading of the landing crafts were started and when we had completed this phase we left the immediate area and formed a line of defense against E-boat and U-boat operations, protecting and screening the transports and other ships taking part in the invasion.

By this time, of course, aerial bombardment was very heavy and the firing from our own ships was tremendous. We operated in an area close to the Nevada [BB-36]. One of the things that stood out most in our minds at that time was the heavy firing of the Nevada. Every time her guns fired a salvo all of our ships felt as through they were going to be shaken to pieces and we knew from that, of course, that they were laying down a terrific barrage on the beach.

NAZIS DROPPED GROUND MINES

When the first landings started on the beach it was obvious that the Germans had concentrated their mining operations at that time, in a defense inshore, small obstacle mines to destroy landing craft and personnel as they came in. These were, of course, too far inshore for ships of our draft to reach and they could not have been destroyed by any sweeping, by minesweepers. As the day wore, on, enemy planes came over and during the afternoon of D-day and the night of D-day the waters in the areas of UTAH beach and adjacent to UTAH beach were heavily mined form the air. The Germans dropped ground mines and nothing could be done about that during the night of D-day.

During the night of D-day the minesweepers of the AM class, including the Tide were moved in close inshore guarding the Carentan estuary, where we were stationed to prevent the egress of enemy E-boats based up the river. There was some flurry of activity during the night in which it was believed that E-boats had made an attempt to come down the river and had been driven back. There was some firing but there were no casualties to the ships during the night time.

Early on the morning, which was June 7, we received an order to go close inshore in company with the Threat, which is the AM 124, and the Swift [AM-122], another of the AMs of our squadron, to make a clearance sweep of the area mined during the night. At that time it was believed that this area had been mined not only magnetically, but with moored mines, perhaps dropped by smaller craft during the night and so quite early on the morning of June 7th, we went in close inshore and made this clearance sweep for “O” type mines. No “O” type mines were encountered during the sweep and at 9:37 we recovered our gear preparatory to leaving the area and perhaps conducting other type sweeping operations.

The Tide had just taken her gear aboard and had come to six knots speed when a tremendous explosion below decks lifted the entire ship completely out of the water. Officers and men watching from other ships stated that the ship was lifted a full five feet into the air. The force of the explosion broke the Tide’s back, tore a tremendous hole in her bottom, tore away all bulkheads below the waterline, and when I went below to ascertain the damage done by the explosion, I found that mattresses from the forward crew’s compartment were being swept into the after engine room on the flood of water which was sweeping in very rapidly. That meant that those mattresses had been carried through the forward crew’s compartment, the after forward crew’s compartment, the forward engine room, the refrigeration spaces, and into the after engine room. As soon as the damage had been ascertained below decks, which it was a matter of seconds only, I went to the bridge and found that there were practically no men of the crew able to be on their feet. All had been killed or wounded, and the greatest percentage of them very seriously wounded.

The Tide was obviously sinking rapidly, and since all of our radio had been knocked out by the force of the explosion, it was necessary to call for assistance by the use of megaphones. Fortunately for the survivors, the Pheasant [AM-61], another AM of our squadron, and the Swift were nearby and came in to help evacuate the casualties, as did the PT boat commanded by Commander Bulkeley. In addition, a Higgins landing boat from the USS Bayfield [APA-33] came alongside and evacuation of the wounded started immediately.

ORDERED MAGAZINES FLOODED

I had ascertained among the first things that the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Allen B. Heyward, of Charleston, S.C., U.S.N.R., was dead, He had died after I reached his side, with the request that I take over immediately.

At about this time, a serious fire broke out aft on the ship, and I ordered the magazines flooded in order to prevent explosion. Shortly thereafter, we were able to bring the fire under control, the magazines were flooded and the ship, which at first listed badly to starboard, now began to settle on an even keel. I, at this time, gave the order to prepare to abandon ship, taking all the wounded, and many of the badly wounded men themselves assisted in evacuating others to the ships alongside. In a few minutes, however, a more severe fire than the first broke out and it appeared that an explosion was imminent. The ships alongside, having taken as many survivors as they could take, then pulled away and the U.S.S. Threat, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Ferrell, U.S.N.R., came alongside to evacuate the remaining men. Commander Ferrell placed his ship to starboard of the Tide so that when the Tide started to capsize, as she did again, she toppled against the Threat; was held and then levelled off again, and we were able to get rid of some of the fuel in one of the tanks so that we reestablished a fairly level condition of the ship. The remaining 17 men on the ship were then evacuated to the U.S.S. Threat and I was taken from the ship to the Threat.

Immediately upon the evacuation of the last of the members of the crew and myself, a line was placed on the bow of the Tide and the U.S.S. Swift attempted to tow the Tide to the beach. However, as soon as a strain was put upon the line, the Tide broke in two and sank in approximately 40 feet of water. This was approximately three to four minutes after the last of the survivors had been taken off the ship.

Of the 97 men taken from the Tide, who were wounded, all were taken either directly to hospital ships or to other ships that took them to hospital ships in a very brief time. The men were scattered among some five or six ships. I, with the last 17 of the men from the ship, had been taken to the U.S.S. Threat, and we were later transferred to an LST which was a semi-hospital ship. We remained in the area for some 48 hours, during which we made a landing in Normandy; we were bombed by airplanes; we struck one small mine; and we were under fire from the beach. We were then returned to England, and by then the other survivors were already back in England, where they were scattered among the various Army and Navy hospitals throughout the country, some being taken as far north as Wales at this time. I myself was taken up in central England, not far from London, but to the north and west, and it was not until several weeks later that the men were in the main part reassembled in Naval hospitals and prepared for their return to the United States.

The first draft of injured men who came back to the United States, left England some five weeks after the sinking. There were 30 in this group, and then other smaller groups left until the last of the evacuations, which were in August. I believe all men, with the possible exception of two badly injured, are now back in the United States. During the time that we were in the hospitals in England, we were given very adequate care and, of course, upon their return to the United States, the men were hospitalized until able to go on convalescent leave. Most of them now are on leave and will shortly return to duty.