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Military Book Reviews for July 2009


Military Book Reviews for July 2009

Military book reviews from Warfare History Network.

Mason Webb shares with us his military book reviews for the July 2009 issue of World War II History Magazine.

by Mason Webb

Merchant Mariners at War: An Oral History of World War II, by George J. Billy and Christine M. Billy

The Allies could not have won World War II without the lifeline of supplies that gave Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, after America’s entry into the war and deployment overseas, the U.S. all the tanks, trucks, food, fuel, ammunition, and other vital equipment needed to defeat the Axis powers. Yet, the story of the Merchant Marine is a story that has largely gone unnoticed, under-reported, and under-appreciated (see the article about the Merchant Marine in WWII History, January 2007 edition). Naval history has almost exclusively centered around the combat vessels––the battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. Yet, the thousands of cargo ships that plied the dangerous waters in which lurked enemy submarines were manned by courageous sailors who braved blockades, torpedoes, bombings, and horrendous weather and sea conditions to deliver the essential goods.

The Battle of the Bulge

When American valor blunted Hitler's last great counteroffensive...
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The Battle of the Bulge

Going a long way to rectify the problem of this branch of service’s invisibility is Merchant Mariners at War, an excellent chronicle by a husband and wife team of experts. George J. Billy is the chief librarian at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and his wife Christine was the assistant to the public information officer at the Academy. They know of what they write. Deftly combining official records and oral histories by 59 Merchant Marine Academy graduates who served in World War II, the authors have crafted a fine portrait of the men and ships who made victory possible.

The stories of privation, hardship, and heroism captured in this book will go a long way in convincing readers of the vital role played by this neglected branch of service.

When Baseball Went to War, edited by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin

Unlike many of the pampered athletes of today, yesterday’s sports heroes realized that the true definition of heroism was not hitting a homer un in the bottom of the ninth, but putting one’s life on the line when one’s country is in peril.

One day after Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, the Cleveland Indians’ star pitcher Bob Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy and volunteered for combat duty. He was the first major leaguer to do so, but would not be the last. Hundreds of other professional players soon followed Feller’s lead and traded their baseball uniforms for Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Corps uniforms. Anton and Nowlin have collected a sparkling series of essays and scores of revealing photographs to chronicle the battlefield exploits of famous ballplayers, many of whom went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Included in this outstanding work are brief wartime bios of such diamond luminaries as Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Jerry Coleman, Johnny Pesky, and many others. Also included is a complete listing of all of the major leaguers who served in World War II, and a roll of honor of major and minor league ballplayers who were killed during the war. When Baseball Went to War is the perfect book for the military buff and baseball fan.

Battleship Oklahoma, by Jeff Phister, with Thomas Hone and Paul Goodyear

Launched in March 1914, the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is probably the most famous American warship never to have fired a shot in anger.

Deployed too late to take part in World War I, it was sunk during the opening minutes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Much of the book deals with the frantic efforts made by her valiant crew during and in the minutes immediately following the attack to rescue trapped and wounded shipmates and prevent the ship from sinking.

In one passage describing efforts to reach men caught in nearly flooded compartments days after the attack, Phister writes, “Believing the rescuers were still in the vicinity, [Carpenter’s Mate Walter F.] Staff decided to try to access the linen compartment again. Moving sideways to the bulkhead, he reached below the water and pushed. Whatever had wedged it shut before was gone because it opened with relative ease. He knew the linen compartment was wider than the one they were in, so he assumed there would be a larger pocket of air on the high side.
Positioning himself in front of the opening, he told [Jackson P.] Centers to follow him. They both entered, sealing the hatch behind them. A short time later, they heard voices. They had not been abandoned.” The book contains many more accounts of bravery and heroism above and beyond the call of duty, and is a fitting tribute to a valiant but doomed ship manned by a proud crew. Highly recommended.

Armored Thunderbolt: the U.S. Army Sherman in World War II, by Steven Zaloga,

The M4 Sherman tank was arguably the most famous of all the World War II tanks. Although not the toughest in terms of armor protection or firepower, it helped the Allies win the war just by its sheer numbers (nearly 50,000 were built from 1942 to 1946) and its relatively easy repairability and rugged reliability that kept it going even while the enemy’s tanks were breaking down. Numerous books have been published about the Sherman, but Steve Zaloga’s richly illustrated volume is packed with a comprehensive text and hundreds of detailed, never before seen photos found in few, if any, other histories of the famed tank.

The author closes with the postwar role played by Shermans in armies all over the world and includes several appendices that show technical drawings, chart technical and production data, and provide strength and loss statistics. All in all, one can truly call this book, “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Sherman tank.”

As Zalonga makes clear, the Sherman may not have been the best tank of World War II, especially in head to head engagements with foes like the German Panther and Tiger, but the combination of sound design, innovative tactics, well trained crews, mechanical reliability, and mass production made the Sherman a war winner.
Highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest interest in armored warfare in general and this American original in particular.

This article is from the July 2009 issue of WWII History Magazine. If you would like to read the rest of this and other articles, visit our order page to see which digital editions we have on offer.

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