Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East Book Review

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Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 312 pages, photographs, references, and index

Published by Casemate February 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612002676

ISBN-13: 978-1612002675

Dimensions:  6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches

Like so many of the modern world’s current political problems, the on-going turmoil in the Middle East can be traced back to diplomatic missteps in the aftermath of the First World War.  Those decisions remain with us and are still costing lives on a daily basis over a century later.  In the first twenty pages of this book Oscar E. Gilbert traces the modern history of the Middle East which imparts on the reader an understanding of the basis for the conflicts which have plagued the region.  This chapter is concise and exceptionally well-written, it alone warrants the purchase of the book and is worthy of periodic re-reading.

The bulk of the book focusses on the use of Marine armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, both the M60 and M1 Abrams main battle tanks along with the lighter LAV-25.  The dominance of the better trained and equipped Marines during the conflicts with the Iraqi Army, even when outnumbered, are well described.  The use of armor in the drawn-out counter insurgency operations also offers many insights, such as the use of the vehicle’s impressive array of sensors.  Tactics used during the Battle of Fallujah illustrates the value of armor in clearing an urban environment, an arena where tanks are generally considered to be at a disadvantage.

The book is well researched and interspaced with first-hand accounts taken from interviews with the participants.  This is an engaging read, made somewhat more poignant by the recent decision to eliminate tanks from the Marine Corp’s inventory.  This is the second of Gilbert’s Marine tanks histories which I have read, and I can recommend them without hesitation.

Surgeon on Iwo Book Review

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Surgeon on Iwo

By James S. Vedder

Hardcover in dustjacket, 211 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Presidio, Book Club edition

Language: English

Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches

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

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

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

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

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics Book Review

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Vietnam Airmobile Warfare Tactics

Osprey Elite Series Book 154

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Adam Hook

Paperback, 64 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing, March 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846031362

ISBN-13: 978-1846031366

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

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

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

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

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Battleground Pacific Book Review

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

By Sterling Mace and Nick Allen

Hardcover in dustjacket, 330 pages, illustrated

Published by St. Martin’s Press, May 2012

Language: English

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

Dimensions:  5.7 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches

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

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

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

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

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

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