The Greatest War

the-greatest-warSuggested by Kung Fu Zu • This volume includes gripping accounts from American sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines who share their experiences from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of Bataan, up through the earliest battles on European soil.
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7 Responses to The Greatest War

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    This book takes historical facts and combines them with the memories of those who were fighting on the ground, in the air and on the seas to make a very compelling narrative. For the reader not drawn to academic tomes yet interested in WWII, this is a book worth reading.

    It gives a view of the war from 20,000 feet (both literally and figuratively) as well from several feet below ground in a fox hole.

    The most important message I gained from “The Greatest War: From Pearl Harbor to the Kasserine Pass” was America’s almost complete lack of preparedness for the strife. From poorly thought out defense plans to untested and faulty torpedoes, lives were wasted through failures of those in command.

    It took until 1943 for the country to finally get on a real war footing and un-lease the full power of the “Arsenal of Democracy” on the Axis powers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      So many books. So little time. But the point of this site to a large degree is sifting through the deluge to find the hidden pearls. This book sounds right up my alley…not too academic. Thanks for the review. I understand this is the first book in a series of three. I hope the other two are as good if you get to them.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Volume II deals starts at the invasion of Sicily, Husky in June of 1943 and takes the reader through the invasion of Southern France, operation Anvil/Dragoon in August of 1944.

    In between, one suffers through the early bomber campaigns undertaken from England in which the Eighth Air Force suffered, sometimes staggering losses. Churchill’s baby, the attack on southern Italy which resulted in the disaster which was Anzio, is also covered. (My uncle who joined the Army at the age of 16 or 17 was, under the auspices of Uncle Sam, given a world tour through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, South France and Germany, told me that Anzio was the worst he saw.)

    The Pacific campaign is given appropriate coverage with the miseries of New Guinea, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Kwajalain, Saipan and Guam clearly laid out by those who took part in the battles for these islands.

    But this book’s real theme is Operation Overload, the buildup, landing on D-Day and the many weeks during which Allied armies were bottled up in Normandy until the breakout came with operation Cobra.

    I know a fair amount about the subject, but I had either forgotten or never known the brutality which was on display in the north of France during those weeks. As infantry troops made their way off Utah and Omaha Beaches, many found the mutilated bodies of paratroopers who had be killed as they dangled in trees. Throats were slit, men were disemboweled and other means of torture were practiced. Not surprisingly, this infuriated G.I.’s. As a result, a fair number of German soldiers who surrendered were not taken prisoner. In one action, a G.I. describes how a number of SS troops on bicycles were slaughtered in an ambush made up of four or five American tanks. Once this was accomplished the tanks drove over the bodies of the dead Germans. Blood and guts indeed!

    Hearing from front line fighters also puts into perspective how badly human planning can go.

    Paratroopers are dropped 20-30 miles from their drop zones. American troops are bombed by their own Air Force because some ass-hole (read Leigh-Mallory) did not think to advise Bradley that his instructions, (regarding the bombers’ direction of approach to a road being used as the demarcation between the Allied and German troops), were not followed as it would take too long to approach and bomb from East to West as opposed to North and South.

    These Inter-service rivalries were sometimes extreme. There can be little doubt that the resultant lack of coordination between not only the Brits and Americans, but between the Army and Navy damaged the overall war effort.

    I will soon open the pages to vol. III and report back later.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I have finished the third and final volume of this series.

    This volume, like the others, devotes chapters to specific battles, areas and periods of the war, moving back and forth between the European and Pacific campaigns.

    Chapter one starts with a narrative about the submarine war, mentions Burma and then moves to the mess that is called Peleliu. The next chapter starts with the breakout from Normandy and describes the major gains made by the Allies through the summer and fall of 1944. And so it goes.

    A five hundred page book cannot cover a huge amount, so much information regarding many battles is left out. But the Battle of the Bulge, MacArthur’s return to and campaign in the Philippines, as well as the Battle for Okinawa are chronicled in some detail. All were bloody campaigns, but the ferocity of Okinawa was extreme.

    Although the writer did not go into great detail regarding the A-Bomb, he did go into more operational information as to the actual dropping of the Bomb than one usually reads. I learned a few things about the physical handling of the Bomb that I had not known.

    There are a number of lessons which one can take from this series, but one sticks out in my mind. It is the manner in which the USA was caught almost completely unprepared for this war.

    Many knew the war was coming, yet not nearly enough was done to prepare for it. No doubt, much of the blame was due to the difficulty of dealing with a democratic country in which large swaths of the population were isolationists. Getting the popular support to ramp up production of armaments as well as training of troops was difficult.

    But I believe something which was just as important was the complete lack of understanding and respect for the Japanese foe which we would deal with. Many Americans thought that Japan would not last a year against the USA if it came to war. This proved a costly error as there was clearly a lack of urgency in preparation for the onslaught which rolled over Hawaii and the Philippines.

    The book is largely written from the point of view of those actually doing the fighting. The author, who clearly despised Patton as a person, respected him as the right man for the time. He got it.

    The author quotes a “heavy weapons” company commander who was assembled with other such officers outside of Metz to hear Patton speak and give orders. Some forty years later the man recounted the contents of the speech to the author. It can be read on pages 67, 68 and 69. The part I liked best read;

    If you believe what you read in the papers, you’d think that generals win wars. Hell, generals don’t win wars; you are the people who do that. You junior leaders, sergeants, lieutenants, captains-do things that win wars. An army in combat is nothing more than a whole bunch of small unit actions where the issue is decided by how those small unit leaders behave. Jesus Christ, any old fart can be a general.

    The man who heard this said, that after hearing Patton’s whole speech, “I made a mental note of the fact that much of the guidance he gave us wiped out a lot of the Mickey Mouse stuff that we had been forced to digest on maneuvers in the U.S. Here was a leader of men worth following into battle.”

    And follow and fight he did, as did millions of others. They are the men who won the war.

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