Tag Archives: WWII

Book Review: US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of WWII

US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of World War II by Barrett Tillman

US Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of WWII by Barrett Tillman is the history of Marine Aviation in the Pacific. Tillman a University of Oregon graduate with a BA in journalism. Much to my surprise Tillman was not in the Marines, rather a writer with a passion for military aviation. 

First, I am a former Marine so my biases are already set in stone. Tillman writes a history any Marine would be proud of…except maybe Pappy Boyington. Tillman is critical of the Black Sheep myth, and it seems justified in his research. 

There is praise for the Marines throughout the book. Charles Lindbergh (a Colonel in the Army refused active duty status by the Roosevelt Administration) trained with Marine Air Group -31 and said of them, “The more I see of the Marines the more I like them.” MacArthur’s famous “I shall return” was followed up with, “With the help of God and a few Marines MacArthur returned to the Philippines.” 

One of the two most well known fighter groups are discussed: The Black Sheep Squadron. The other is mentioned Rickenbacker’s Hat in the Ring 94th Fighter Squadron of World War I. Both Boyington and Rickenbacker may have embellished their stories, both men were very effective leaders, even if Boyington is (correctly) referred to as a functional alcoholic. Boyington however still fits well in the Marine Corps Pantheon. 

Tillman does an excellent job detailing the aircraft, the evolution of Marine aviation, and the Marine aviation’s role in the war. He covers the history of each unit in the war to include nicknames, deployments, planes, aerial combat record top fliers, and a narrative. Some of the nicknames are very Marine like the Devil Dogs, Joe’s Jokers, Wolfpack, and Whistling Devils. VMF-122 was originally designated Candystripers, but later redesignated the Werewolves. I am not sure if the original name was to give the enemy a false sense of security, or its commander was one some higher ups “list.”

Brief biographies of aces are given toward the end of the book. There are two collections of photographs in the book. The first contains pilots and the planes. The second contains the various patches for the Maine units. There is also a detailed bibliography and index. 

US Marine Fighter Squadron does the history of the Marines proud. These are the heroes that define Air Wing of the Marine Corps. Dedicated, hard charging men, who faced an enemy and fought to win. Does Boyington’s hard partying take from the image? No, it’s part of the Marine Corps… the service that was born in Tun Tavern. Although the majority of the book does not deal with The Black Sheep Squadron, they are the most recognizable. The Marine Corps has a very detailed history with plenty of brave men whose records are brought out by Tillman. Extremely well done.

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Book Review: Unsung Eagles: The True Stories America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II

Unsung Eagles by Jay Stout

Unsung Eagles: The True Stories America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II by Jay Stout is the story of the common men who answered the call of duty. Stout is a retired Marine Corps Aviator who flew F-4 Phantoms and later F-18 Hornets. A graduate of Purdue University he was commissioned in June of 1981 and retired a Lieutenant Colonel in 2001. With 4,500 flight hours and thirty-seven combat missions missions in Operation Dessert Storm, Stout knows his aviation.

Unsung Eagles gave me three surprises. First, looking at the cover I thought another book about the Army Air Corps in Europe. It’s not. Stout covers both theaters and Army, Navy, and Marine pilots. Second, I thought its going to cover famous raids. Again, no. The book covers a wide variety missions and none that stood out as famous air battles or bombing missions. The third surprise came after the realization of the first two surprises. Who would write about the “average Joe” pilot? Who else but a Marine. Of course, I am a bit biased in that last statement.

Unsung Eagles does what few war time books have done. It highlights the men who joined the war to fight. Men who left their homes and families and signed up, not the professional airmen. Many joined, and when the war was over quietly went on back to the civilian world leaving the military behind. These are the men whose uniforms are put away deep in a closet and never talk about the war except when prodded after a few beers. Twenty-two such pilots have their stories told in this fast paced history. The stories told, show all sides of the war from good deployments with plenty of support to cannibalizing planes to keep as many flying as possible. One absolutely amazing story is of a USAAF bomber pilot found himself flying in the dark behind two Japanese bombers and followed them in their landing pattern. The Japanese mistakenly assumed that the American was one of their own and proceeded to land. As the Japanese landed the American dropped his bombs on the Japanese planes and runway.

Unsung Heroes tells some fine stories of American pilots who you probably never heard of, flying missions that aren’t in very many history books, but still were very important in the Allied war effort. There were over a half million aircrewmen who served in World War II. This is a staggering number, it is more than twice the number of Marines serving when I was on active duty. Unsung Eagles is an outstanding history, and a personal history too. It is a reminder that not everyone who flew is recorded in history and that many who served then and now made important contributions that few will ever know about. Very well done. Semper Fi, Colonel.

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August 26, 2013 · 21:18

Book Review: Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II

Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II by Michael F. Dilley is a study and critique of the beginnings of special forces operations in World War II. Dilley grew up in a navy family spend his youth in various US and Far East bases. He joined the army in 1964 and served as a counterintelligence agent, interrogator and intelligence analyst. Dilley served two tours in Vietnam and is a master parachutist and graduate of jumpmaster school. He is also the author of two other books on the military.

Dilley starts with an introduction to what make a unit a special purpose or special mission unit:

Units that conduct missions not typical of their branch of service
Units that are formed to conduct a particular mission
Units that receive special training
Units that use specialized equipment of standard equipment in a non-standard role
Units that preform scouting, ranging, raiding, or reconnaissance missions
Units that conduct or train indigenous people in guerrilla warfare or unconventional warfare

This definition is helpful in setting a modern definition of special operations. For example, the US Marine Corps fit this definition in the 18th Century. They were created to to perform roles for the navy not usually assigned sailors. Marines filled the role of infantry for the navy. They were sharpshooters on naval vessels (think of snipers firing ship to ship). Marines conducted amphibious raids and reconnaissance for the navy. Lastly, and most famously, they trained and organized local tribes against the Barbary Pirates of Tripoli. Today, however, the Marines are not considers special forces because they are a branch of the military assigned to these tasks as part of their regular duties.

Once Dilley establishes what a special operations unit is, he gives example of historical missions. The examples used cover a wide variety missions and mission types. Airborne, jeep, and amphibious missions are included with various objectives. Not all missions are successful and those that are successful are successful in varying degrees. Dilley evaluates each mission with his own set of parameters:

Adequate intelligence
Poor Coordination
Provision of faulty information to the national leadership
Wishful thinking
Inappropriate intervention in mission execution

There are many excellent stories in Behind the Lines. From the German rescue of Mussolini to jeep attacks against the Germans in North Africa, the stories hold the reader’s interest. Not every story has something to do with attacking the enemy. The Triple Nickle, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, America’s first black paratrooper unit was trained as smoke jumpers to combat Japanese incendiary balloons in the Pacific Northwest.

Behind the Lines provides the reader with more than history. The stories of the operations are well written and cover a wide variety of mission types. That alone makes this book well worth reading. Dilley goes a step farther and critiques each mission: what went well, what went wrong. There are failures in the best planned actions and sometimes success by accident. The missions are not restricted to American operations but include British, Russian, Japanese and German. Behind the Lines is a very worthwhile read. It is an excellent history and also a very study into planning and results. It should have a wide appeal beyond historians and World War II students.


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Book Review: Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943

Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943 by James Holland is the story of one of the more interesting innovations of World War II and the brave men who carried out the mission. James Holland was born in Salisbury in 1970 and educated at Durham University. He is the author of Fortress MaltaItaly’s SorrowThe Battle of Britain and The Sergeant Jack Tanner series of historical fiction.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help thinking, “Where have I read this before?”: long distance bombing mission, nearly impossible target, near seat of the pants navigation, and British fliers. Then I remember reading Vulcan 607 (the 1982 bombing mission of the Falkland Islands) and the parallels are remarkable. I am beginning to think these types of missions just might be a RAF tradition. This story takes place in World War II and involves the newly formed 617th Squadron. 

Britain is looking for a way to bring the war to an early close. Germany is stalled in Russian and the tide is beginning to turn. In Germany, the population is suffering from seemingly endless bombings from the British and American bombers. They are beginning to doubt Hitler and his leadership but something needs to be done to give the German people the final push and break their spirit and their will to continue the fight. Factories have been bombed, oil reserves have been bombed, coal mines have been bombed, the last source of power is “white coal.” White coal was water power: hydroelectric dams. Holland takes time in the book to give a brief history of German hydroelectric and dam building. Barnes Wallis, Assistant Chief Designer at Vickers-Armstrong,has and idea how to bring and early end to the war by attacking the dams. 

“The commander-in-Chief of the RAF’s bomber force could not have been clearer. No matter what was being discussed in the corridors of the Air Ministry and the MAP, there would be no such operation taking place if he had anything to do with it. His machines – and his bomber boys – were too valuable to be wasted on mad schemes cooked up by half-baked scientists.”

Holland takes time to introduce the major players the story and relate some information of their personal lives. Many people have seen the movie and most recall only Wallis, Gibson (wing commander), and his dog. The lives and history of the other pilots and crews are discussed in some detail. Wallis’ battle to bring his bomb into the war is a major part of the book. Like most great ideas, it takes a serious effort to bring the bomb from the design stage to put on planes flying over Germany. 

Dam Busters is a very worthwhile read. Holland writes an excellent history and documents his as well as the introduction players from higher ups in the government and military to all the pilots and crew members of the nineteen planes. Recommended to anyone interested in World War II, the RAF, and secret war time missions.

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Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan presents an unique insight into the highly classified Oak Ridge complex. She earned her BA degree from the Washington Square and University College of Arts & Science and her MA from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development of New York University. She has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Wall Street Journal. 

The offices were relocating, and he explained he needed to know if she would go along with them.
“Where are we going?” Celia asked
“I can’t tell you.”
Celia wasn’t quite sure what to make of the and pressed a bit…
“It all depends on how far away it’s going to be.” she tried to explain 
But Vanden Bulck still would not say. All he would tell her was that the move was for an important project and the destination was top secret. 

The Girls of Atomic City starts like a spy novel. Good job, high pay, secret compound, spying on your friends, loyalty, censorship, it’s all there and all true. It’s The Project, The Gadget, (element)49, and Tubealloy. Locations like Y-12, K-25, X-10 and S-50 add to the mystery. General Groves, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Niels Bohr make their appearances. The real story, however, is the young women who left their homes and families and joined(unknowingly) the Manhattan Project. 

The book is very well written and follows the daily lives of the women in the complex. It tells of their jobs, which they had no real idea of what they were contributing to. Some were tasked with the separating U235 for U238 using one of the three separating methods. They knew where to keep the gauges and how to control them, but they were labeled simply with letters and color coded. It wasn’t until after the atomic bombs that the residents knew what they were actually working on. 

The book periodically leaves the women’s stories and fills the reader in on the mysterious Tubealloy and 49. Tubealloy was uranium and 49 was the code for plutonium. Inverting the atomic number of plutonium, 94, it was simply known as 49. 

The social life for the women was a mix of freedom and confinement. Away from home for the first time and with a well paying job meant freedom. The complex on the other hand was was segregated (not only racially). Women were quartered separated from the men, this at times even applied to married couples as housing was short. Demand out paced supply in housing. No one could talk about their work, the complex or anything relating to Oak Ridge (in fact Oak Ridge did not officially exist until 1949). 

The Girls of Atomic City presents personal look at the secret Oak Ridge complex during Word War II and the women who worked there. The book covers an important piece of World War II history and also woman’s history. Kiernan writes an excellent history. Her work is clear and informative and backed over thirty pages of documentation. An great read for anyone interested in WWII history, women’s history, or super secret government projects.

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Book Review: The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge

The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Collins and Martin King is an account of the actions of the 10th Armored Division at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Michael Collins has been a historical interpreter and museum staffer for the New England Air Museum, the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum, the Irish American Heritage Museum, and the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut. Martin King is a British citizen who resides in Belgium. He is the author of Voices of the Bulge, a series of interviews with veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. 

The Tigers are the young 10th Armored Division, part of Paton’s 3rd Army, who had a divisional motto of “Terrify and Destroy”. They were tasked with defending Bastogne against what would be eight German Divisions who completely surrounded them. The Americans were outnumbered 5-1 and without proper cold weather gear, food, and ammunition. The 10th AD would receive support from the 101st Airborne Division and air drops. The 101st , however, would receive most of the credit for holding Bastogne in the media and the minds of many. This was Germany’s last ditch offensive to try and turn the tide of the war and they did not hold back. Hitler took a personal interest in Bastogne after the American media compared it to the Alamo. Not only was this a battle for a piece of land it became a psychological battle for morale and support at home. 

General Anthony McAuliffe, of the 101st Airborne (and “Nuts” fame), said, “It seems regrettable to me that Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division didn’t get the credit it deserved at the battle of Bastogne. All the newspaper and radio talk was about the paratroopers. Actually the 10th Armored Division was in there a day before we were and had some very hard fighting before we ever got into it.” 

Collins and King attempt to correct a historical misconception and properly assign credit to the the 10th Armor Division. They retell the battle, day by day, using records, reports, and an abundance of personal journal entries from soldier who fought the battle. Also included are the narratives form Silver and Bronze Star recommendations. The soldier’s journals come from across the ranks from privates up to colonels. The book reads move like a thesis than than a narrative history. The writing has a distinct purpose and its style helps in presenting the case. Rather than just telling the story the authors’ goal is to separate historical fact from the media hype of 1944. 

Although the book presents a vast amount of information and great detail, some previous knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge is very helpful. The authors assume the reader already have plenty of background information; more of a lead in to the battle would be helpful. The additional maps provided a visual picture to the the text. The authors’ purposes are met and they succeed in making their case. There can be little doubt in the readers mind that the 10th AD did stand strong at Bastogne and deserve credit for doing so. This book is recommended for military and World War II historians.

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Book Review: 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm

1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm

1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm by Susan Dunn is an examination of the events surrounding 1940 presidential elections and world events that helped shape the election. Susan Dunn is Professor of Literature and the History of Ideas at Williams College and Senior Scholar and the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. She earned her PhD from Harvard in 1973 and is also the author of several books on American history. 

The stage is set for the presidential elections of 1940. Franklin D. Roosevelt is finishing his second term as president. He had won both of his previous elections by a landslides but now his court packing plan has overwhelmingly failed and his New Deal programs are stalling. To help keep employment up FDR has begun production of war material in preparation for war. FDR’s domestic programs, increased military spending, and aid to the allies created opposition in the United States. Republicans and isolationists wanted to keep America out of the war. Charles Lindbergh was a very vocal isolationist and supported Wilkie. His support was not because he believed Willkie was great leader, but more so, because he was not FDR. In June of 1940, Hitler would be dancing a celebratory jig in Paris. The stage was set. 

Dunn does an excellent job of explaining the political process of from the Republican selection of Willke to justifying a third term for FDR. Charges of socialism were leveled at FDR and the Republicans reversed Wilson’s claim of “He kept us out of war.” to “We kept HIM out of war.” FDRs third term run for the presidency is discussed from the contemporary views of the time and the views of the the founding fathers and the Federalist Papers.

1940 covers in detail the campaign process including Roosevelt being “drafted” to run a third term. It is interesting reading that campaigns back in the 1940s were not much different from today. There were gaffs, and possible “romantic involvements” of some candidates, accusations of being a socialist, and even Ohio’s role as the barometer of the campaign. Claims of ruining the country and gutting the military could easily have been written about the last several presidential elections just as well as it was in 1940. Willkie makes the claim that the Democratic Party was kidnapped by a few people who wanted power (shades of a few hijacking a religion of the 21st century) and to upset the two-term tradition. He then followed it with quotes from Lincoln and Washington. 

The election results and the on coming involvement in Europe takes it toll on America and the politicians. Lend-Lease and England become important issues and alliances form and break. The Nazi threat to America becomes real as the USS Greer is attacked at sea (after giving a British Bomber the location of the sub). Willkie turns his support to the president. Lindbergh becomes more radical, after being call a “Copperhead”, he resigns his commission in the Reserve Air Corps. Texas passes a resolution informing Lindbergh that he was not welcome in the state. Lindbergh moves to the fringe. Willkie goes on to ally himself with the president to the point of being to progressive for the Republicans. 

An enlightening book about a very important time in American history filled with issues and events that changed America and the world. America was on the surface very black and white with the issues, but underneath, most Americans could put away their differences when the country need it. Dunn’s book is well written and supported with eighty pages of notes. 1940 presents a clear picture of American national politics in the pre-war years as well as examines the lives of the major players adding a human touch to the history. A very worthwhile read.

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