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Topic: Great books on World War II

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Subject: Great books on World War II
Date Posted: 8/24/2011 8:22 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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I amended this opening entry over a year after I started this forum. For some, it may seem like I am describing every book I read about World War II as a "great book." Like many of you, I am addicted to reading, especially history. I usually have five books open at once and at least two are always about World War II. As such, I go through several books on World War II every month. As a result, the books I choose to write about in this forum are those I feel really stand out. Hopefully, you will agree with me. Now back to my very first entry:

I just finished The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield, a history of the conflict in Alaska and the Aleutians during World War II. This is an outstanding non-fiction book written by a novelist about a campaign that so few of us know anything about.  The result is an easy and enjoyable read.  You might want to read the review I just left on this book for more details on why I consider it to be in the same category as The Candy Bombers and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.

These three books help you understand why the men and women who served our country during World War II are known as The Greatest Generation.  Just don't look for my copies to be posted here.  They have a treasured place on the bookshelves in my den.



Last Edited on: 5/20/16 3:06 PM ET - Total times edited: 11
Date Posted: 8/25/2011 4:45 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2009
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All three are on my reminder list.  I'm keeping an eye out for used copies of each.  Thanks for the heads-up.  I may have to look at Powell's. 

Date Posted: 8/26/2011 10:53 PM ET
Member Since: 10/9/2006
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I loved The Thousand Mile War!  And the one on the tin can ships at Leyte Gulf is great, too.  That one I checked out of the local library.  Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas deals with the character of 4 commanders and how that affected their decisions during the Surigao Strait and Leyte Gulf.  I must admit that I find the story of WWII to be an infinite journey.

MIght I humbly suggest the books of Joseph Balkoski, covering the American beaches on D-Day and the story of the 29th Infantry Division? 

Omaha

Utah

Beyond the Beachhead

From Beachhead to Brittany

From Brittany to the Reich



Last Edited on: 8/26/11 10:57 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/26/2011 11:20 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Beyond the Beachhead

Sounds like a wonderful story of the Blue and Gray division. I grew up in Maryland which supplied many of the National Guard units that helped form this division.  Looking at the cover depicted here, I have the feeling I've read this book.  Now I need to go see if I have it in my library, otherwise I need to place it on my WL.  Thanks.

Later: Yes, I've read this book, and now the second volume in the triology is on my WL.



Last Edited on: 9/8/13 12:48 PM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 10/25/2011 10:34 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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The Longest Winter by Alex Kershaw

Ever wonder why we won the Battle of the Bulge when 250,000 Germans and their tanks hit our soldiers like ten tons of bricks?  It was the litte guy that won it for us, proving once again that the German soldier wasn't the finest combat soldier of World War II, despite what Stephen Ambrose said.

A small 19-man Intelligence platoon was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The lieutenant commanding was only 20 years old and most of his men were not much older.  They were one of the first American units hit. When they radioed back and ask what they were to do, they were told to hang on and fight. Years later the lieutenant said that if they had been older, they were have fallen back, but they were so young that they thought they had to do what they were told.

Attacked time and again they killed hundreds of Germans and held up a key part of the German assault. Only when they ran out of ammunition did they surrender.  Surprisingly, they all survived the POW camps. When liberated at war's end, they went home as fast as they could without telling their story.

Years later, John Eisenhower wrote his book about the Battle of the Bulge, The Bitter Woods. During his research he was told the story by one of the men he interviewed and checked the story and then the role that platoon played in holding up the German advance.  He included that story in his book and acknowledged how important a role that platoon played. It then became common knowledge to the U.S. Army and the honors and medals began to flow to these men.

A wonderful story of what may be the finest small unit action of World War II.



Last Edited on: 9/8/13 12:49 PM ET - Total times edited: 5
Date Posted: 12/15/2011 7:03 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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If you have read much on World War II, you know that without Enimga and Magic, the war might have turned out differently.  Ordinary generals look so much better when they can read the enemy's secret mail, as the Allies did with Enimga (code name for reading the German code) and Magic (code name for reading the Japanese code).  It was not until decades after the war that our ability to read a lot of the enemy's message traffic was revealed. And who do we have to thank?

For Magic, it was some unusual American Navy folks in Hawaii, but for Enimga we need to thank the Poles. The Germans estimated that the odds against  someone building a coding machine such as they were using were so high, that people today would have a better chance of winning the Lottery EVERY WEEK!

Yet the Polish reverse engineered the machine and cracked the code. Many books on WW II now acknowledge this. However, I just finished reading A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron Forgotten Heroes of World War II  by Lynne Olsen and Stanley Cloud, which goes far beyond this. How many of us know that the Polish fighter pilots in the RAF during the Battle of Britain were responsible for downing 20% of all German planes, and that one Polish squadron was the top scoring squardon in the RAF, or that the top ace in the RAF was actually a Czech pilot who flew with a Polish squadron, and that some mostly British fighter squadrons were commanded by Poles?

The author goes even further, describing the two Polish army corps, one in North Africa and Italy and the other in northern Europe, that received high praise from the Allied leaders.  Many of these men and women had to go to extraordinary lengths and distances to join the Allies. Some even had to escape through Germany.

Yet, due to politics and not wanting to upset the Communists and Joe Stalin at the end of the War, the Poles were not even allowed to march in Britain's WW II Victory Parade. Why did Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill and Atlee turn their backs on the Poles? We hear much about the massive civilian deaths at Dresden and the two Japanese cities that were a-bombed, but did you know that more Poles died during the 63-day Home Army uprising in Warsaw than all the Americans who died around the world in four years of war?  Why, when the United Nations met for the first time, was Poland, the only country to fight the Germans from day one of the war until the Germans surrendered six years later, not invited? And how did President Roosevelt deceive the press and the leaders of Polish-American organizations about his "Support of Poland," so he could appease Joe Stalin while still cornering the Polish-American vote for election to his fourth term?

Granted that the authors have a point to make here, but the book is well researched and a good read! If you, like I, are interested in the history that is not taught in the schools or our popular press, then you will want to read this book. You may not want to believe it all, but it will give you a much better appreciation of the tremendous contribution of the Polish people in winning the war and saving Western civilization.



Last Edited on: 4/21/13 10:15 PM ET - Total times edited: 6
Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 12/16/2011 5:48 AM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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THomas, I added that book to my TBR, it sounds really interesting.

Have you read  Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain. I just read this a few months ago and is very interesting. You can find videos online where the surviving Code Talkers are interviewed. Of the thousands of Native men serving in the U.S. Military, only a handful had the distinction of being United States Marine Corp Code Talkers. Code Talkers were a group of Navajo soldiers who communicated intelligence from one officer to another over radios using thier native language in the Pacific arena from 1942-1945.  Sworn to secrecy, the story of the Code Talkers remained classified until 1968.

Not many people know a lot about the soldiers working behind the scenes to break codes and save the lifes of thousands of soldiers. Also if you are interested in information on code breakers, the store of the Battle of Jutland from WWI is really interesting. The British intelegence community had broken the codes and knew the Germans were goign to attack, but the leading officer didnt trust his code breakers and didnt follow through on the information.



Last Edited on: 12/16/11 5:57 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/16/2011 11:41 AM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Navajo Weapon

polbio,

Yes, I have read about the Navajo code talkers. As a former Marine I am big into USMC history, and  have two books on Indians in the U.S. military service. I also saw the Nicolas Cage movie on these code talkers and thought that it was pretty bad, especially when they received orders to kill the Navajo's in case they fell into enemy hands. Never happened.

I have a small shelf in my library of books about the World War II codes and the efforts to break them. I find this topic fascinating. I rented the movie about Alen Turning (played by Derek Jacobi). The movie was pretty disappointing as it spent far more time on his homosexuality then on his code breaking efforts.



Last Edited on: 12/16/11 3:22 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 12/16/2011 3:17 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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I have not seen either movie. I havent read an aweful lot about WWII, I have always been more drawn to WWI and earlier wars. I have read a lot of books dealing with the Civil War. I have a bunch of WWII books on my shelf which I plan on reading this year. I added many that you suggested to my wish list.

Date Posted: 12/16/2011 3:39 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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polbio,

As an aside, since you are interested in World War I, have you read The Ravi Lancers? It is a novel about an Indian regiment (only the commander was British) that goes to France to fight for Britain. It was written by John Masters, who spent much of his military career in the British Indian Army and wrote two great books about his life there (including fighting in India and Burma during WW II).  Most of his novels are very good and several were made into movies.

I have read several books on WW I (including Make the Kaiser Dance) , but, for whatever reason, I am not as interested in that war as I am in WW II and the American Civil War. 

Back to John Masters... His two autobiographical books are Bugles and a Tiger and The Road Past Mandalay. These are well written and cover the time before WW II and during. Most people don't know that the largest British army in WW II was the 14th which fought in the India-China-Burma theater.  Its commander, Field Marshall Viscount  Slim, was one of Britain's greatest soldiers and wrote Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945. The soldiers there fought under horrendous conditions and really deserved more credit, but they called themselves "The Forgotten Army" for a good reason, as all the attention was on the European Theater.

 



Last Edited on: 9/8/13 12:55 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 12/17/2011 8:01 AM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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IT is true. The European theater is more talked about, though, in recent years the Pacific theater has gotten a lot of attention in books and movies. I remember reading a while ago, about an airlift, part of the "hump", taking place in the India-China-Burma theater. I hadnt realized there even was a "theater" over there.  I tend to find more interest in Air and Naval Warfare, which is why i have so much interest in WWI. The airplane developed so fast during that time and WWI was the first major war with battleships and submarines (and air craft carriers). American History in general is fairly new to me (sad to say since i have lived here all my life). I spent most of my twenties studying Ancient History. I pretty much read from any time period, but have been focusing on American wars the past few years. The more I read the more I find to read, lol. I will check out John Master's book.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 1/22/2012 6:38 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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Thomas,

Do you know of any good WWII books about the Battle of Crete or other Mediteranean battles?

Thanks,

Kat

Date Posted: 1/22/2012 7:07 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Kat,

Somewhere around here I have a book on the battle for Crete, but I can't find it. I do have Ill Met By Moonlight (Ill is ILL)  about the British commando raid to capture the German general commanding Crete.  I think this is a hard book to find.

If you want to know what happened in the Med for Americans, read An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson. The first is about the conflict in North Africa and won the Pultizer Prize for History. The second is on Sicily and Italy, and many historians say that is was just as good as the first.

A couple of good historial novels centered in the Med are The Heights of Zervos by Colin Forbes (who writes like Alistair McLean); and A Walk in the Sun by Harry Brown, probably one of the finest novels to come out of the war.  Douglas Reeman also wrote a lot of naval fiction that took place in the Med. A Walk in the Sun was made into a great WW II movie, and is one of my favorites

There are also two histories by the British historian Correlli Barnett. The first is Engage the Enemy More Closely, a large tome about the Royal Navy in WW II. But you can just read the chapters about the Med. He also wrote The Desert Generals, which lays to rest forever the arugment about who were the best British Generals to command the Eighth Army in North Africa (and it wasn't Montgomery).  For the latter, get the "New and Enlarged Edition" which contains information from declassified documents released decades after the war.

I've read all of these. Sorry, I can't help more.

Tom

 



Last Edited on: 9/8/13 1:02 PM ET - Total times edited: 8
Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 1/22/2012 7:35 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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Thats ok Thomas. Thank you for the suggestions. I put the Atkinson and Barnett books on my wishlist.

Date Posted: 1/26/2012 8:23 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Here is another good one:  Danger's Hour by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy.

A fascinating account of the development of American carriers and the evolution of Japan's Kamikaze defense using its best university students. Sometimes you have to wonder what the Japanese leaders were thinking?  Both sides are shown from the perspective of individual American sailors and Marines and their Japanese foes.

The USS Bunker Hill was a fleet Essex-class carrier, designed not to be sunk, but two Japanese university students almost accomplished the impossible off the shores of Okinawa in 1945.

The courage of the young Japanese pilots who wanted to live so badly, but sadly agreed to give their lives for their people, is matched by the Americans on the carrier who, knowing they were going to die, stayed at the posts as the ship burned so that other men might live.

Most of the text is taken from letters and diaries of and interviews with the men from both sides. This is a real human story of the courage it took to go to war and to face death, to watch your friends die beside you knowing there was nothing you could do to save them, and, hardest of all, to order men to stay at their posts, when both you and they knew that those orders meant their deaths.



Last Edited on: 12/8/12 5:07 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 3/15/2012 8:22 PM ET
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I just finished reading: The Flame Keepers: The True Story of An American Soldier's Survival Inside Stalag 17.

An 8th Air Force engineer/gunner's B-17 is shot down in early 1944. His story of his capture by the Germans, the trip to Stalag 17 and his experiences there is perhaps the finest and most inspiring POW story I have ever read.

Ned Handy goes into great detail about the workings of the camp; the interactions, often competitive and sometimes hostile, among the POWs; and their relationship with their German captors.

Only sergeants are in this camp, and the leaders rise to the top of the organization structure of each barracks and the entire camp. Some men are willing to cooperate with others, while other men refuse to do more than just exist.  The planning of food distribution, entertainments, and escapes is unlike anything you may have seen on TV or in the movies. The only exception is the movie Stalag 17 with William Holden. 

There must have been something special about  Stalag 17 as this great movie and the above great book came out of our soldiers' experiences there. The script for that movie was actually written by two Army Air Corps POWs who survived that camp by writing about their experiences, staying alive in the hopes that their script would be made into the great movie it became.



Last Edited on: 9/8/13 1:04 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 4/13/2012 10:54 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Here is a completely different book for you history buffs.  It is called Fighting for Life: American Military Medicine in World War II.

I am about half way through it and am very impressed. You would expect a book like this to be written by someone totally knowledgeable in medicine, but not so well read in current WW II military operational history. The author is well read in both. Not only does he present the difficulties, discoveries and advances in military medicine that were learned and became part of the operational side, or were learned and ignored; but he is up on much of the revisionist history of WW II in that he understands what really happened and not the myths perpetuated by some previous historians (or the U.S. government).

Best of all, he helps you understand why military operations failed or succeeded due to the use or non-use of needed medical personnel or equipment. He also compares the British and American medical systems and how sometimes we borrowed from the other fellow or didn't (and often suffered because of it).

For instance, in the New Guinea campaign, the Americans and Australians suffered 6,600 annual malarial cases PER EVERY 1,000 men. This means a soldier was in the hospital with malaria over six times a year. Imagine how that delayed our advance in the southwestern Pacific.

The author discusses the politics of medicine between and within the individual services, as well as the political problems between the high command concerned with the war and the medical high command concerned with saving lives and returning troops to the front lines. He covers both the Pacific and European theaters of war in detail.

If you are into WW II military history, you won't be sorry you read this book.

 



Last Edited on: 5/3/12 7:38 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/23/2012 11:21 PM ET
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And from another different angle: Brothers In Arms by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anrhony Walton. Of this book, the New York Times said, "A powerful wartime saga in the bestselling tradition of Flags of Our Fathers, Brothers In Arms recounts the extraordinary story of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first all-black armored unit to see combat in World War II.

To my thinking, this is first-rate history. It took the author a few years to do the research. Everything is documented.

Date Posted: 4/24/2012 9:07 AM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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And from another different angle: Brothers in Arms

I didn't read that one, but I did read Patton's Panthers by Charles W. Sasser.  This is also about the 761st Tank Battalion and is very good.



Last Edited on: 9/17/12 12:59 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/3/2012 12:44 PM ET
Member Since: 1/8/2009
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Picking up on the military medical theme, I recently read And if I Perish: US Army Nurses in World War II which chronicles the experiences of female nurses in the North American and European campaigns. Although there is a human interest element, it is also an attempt to credit women for extraordinary courage displayed in nearly forgotten service. The importance of medical preparation to the success or failure of military operations is also an important theme.

I have an unpostable copy if anyone is interested.

Subject: 12 O'clock high
Date Posted: 7/2/2012 3:58 PM ET
Member Since: 9/9/2008
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I am looking for the 12 O'clock high logbook 159393033X.by alan T Duffin.   I'm the only person on the wish list. If anyone has an unposted copy to send, lend or sell, please let me know.  Can't locate it in any local library and they are cutting back on interlibrary loans.

 

Thanks.

 

Sue

Date Posted: 8/14/2012 9:09 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 2,944
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I just finshed reading The Women Who Wrote the War, about female reporters and photographers just before, during and after World War II. The link is to my review of it. To get their stories these women often had to 'go to war' against sexism or the old fashioned beliefs of the men who ran military PR units and even the men who had hired them. The book follows dozens of women and their adventures in both the European and Pacific theaters. As an retired entomologist, one of my favorite stories is about the 'insects' that one woman encountered on an island in the Pacific (see review.) 

Date Posted: 8/30/2012 10:34 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Once Upon a Time in War by Robert Humphrey is about the 99th Infantry Division's actions on the European front in World War II. This is a marvelous book about a division that experienced 'only' six months of combat, but proved its worth by overcoming its stupid handling by the U.S. Army, which stripped it of thousands of men before sending it overseas, and by the uninspired leadership of its own senior officers. If you are looking for another book that proves the Germans were not the best soldiers of WW II, then add this one to your collection.

The link above is to my review.



Last Edited on: 9/3/12 11:28 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/16/2012 12:50 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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With the 41st Division in the Southwest Pacific is a rare tale of fighting in that theater of the war. The dust jacket description states that such books are rare from historians, yet alone from a lowly combat soldier. Today we realize that the reason for this was the almost total primitiveness of the combat men saw there. Once they returned home, their mission in life was to forget their experiences. One small tidbit relates the author finally arriving in California after two years of being overseas and having his first hot shower in all that time.

I won't state more, as the link above is to my review of the book.

 



Last Edited on: 12/29/12 10:33 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 9/17/2012 12:20 PM ET
Member Since: 5/31/2009
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Wonderful discuss!  I needed a list like this for my historical challenge reads.  Thank you all so much.

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