By Christopher Miskimon
The sun shone brightly overhead as the thin line of U.S. Marines lay in a beet field in France. It was July 19, 1918, a hot day made hotter by the streams of German bullets playing across the field. Marines took cover in old trenches or scraped out shallow holes for cover. Overhead a German fighter swooped down. U.S. Marine Lieutenant Clifton Cates raised his Colt .45 and fired at it. He swore he hit it. He saw the fabric of the fuselage move and he saw the pilot’s eyes. The plane flew on, though, unaffected by his shots.
The American advance began the previous day, through towns and fields that showed the signs of battle. The Americans marched past fallen men, dead horses, shattered build- ings, and the wreckage of wagons and vehicles. They even saw a col- umn of German prisoners being escorted to the rear. As they continued forward, the Marines found luck was against them. German planes strafed them. They were supposed to advance after an artillery barrage, but the gunners ran out of ammunition an hour before the attack was scheduled to start.
Cates was lucky, though. A machine-gun bullet thudded into his shoulder, but it was a spent round with little power remaining. He dug it out and stayed with his men. After- ward, the order to advance came, and the Marines stepped off into relentless German machine-gun and artillery fire. Cates and about 20 Marines from different companies dove for cover in an old trench. Cates had shrapnel in one knee. Incessant fire kept them from mov- ing. While trapped in the trench, Cates fired on the enemy plane. Later on he saw one brought down by a machine gun, and he took great satisfaction in the sight.
Nearby a Marine used six captured machine guns to give the appearance of a strongpoint, moving back and forth between the guns to make them all appear manned. Still, Cates knew he was in a bad situation. At mid- morning, he sent a message to his unit informing them of the predicament. It was a message that would became a famous piece of Marine Corps lore. “I have only two men out of my com- pany and 20 of other companies,” wrote Cates. “We need support, but it is suicidal to try to get it here as we are swept by machine-gun fire and a constant artillery barrage…. I have no one on my left and very few on my right. I will hold.”
With those last three words Cates became entrenched in Marine his- tory, but it was only a beginning for him. He would serve for over two more decades, holding positions of high command in World War II and afterward becoming the 19th com- mandant of the Marine Corps.
It was a long and rich career, and it began in the maelstrom of Belleau Wood in World War I. It is a story told in great detail in I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, From Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War (James Carl Nelson. NAL Caliber, New York, 2016, 340 pp., map, photographs, appendix, bibliography, index, $28.00, hardcover).
Cates is unknown to many outside the Marine Corps, but his exploits deserve attention. Heroes are often known for one supreme action; in World War I, Army Sergeant Alvin York is a prime example. Cates proved himself a hero by his actions each day. He consistently performed his duty in the face of seemingly never-ending combat. He received numerous decorations for his valor, including the Purple Heart.
Nelson’s book centers on Cates and his service and includes the stories of Cates’ fellow Marines. Their shared experiences are blended together into a work that reads almost as an epic saga, one of men put through the extreme crucible of machine age warfare. The centen- nial of World War I has brought forth a large number of new volumes on the history of that conflict. This work stands out for its detail and storytelling. It offers critical insight into the challenges faced by Americans who fought in the Great War.
Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution (Patrick K. O’Donnell, Grove Atlantic, New York, 2016, 463 pp., maps, illustrations, notes, index, $28.00, hardcover). Neither the British nor the Americans had the upper hand for long on the morning of January 17, 1781, during the sanguinary clash in South Carolina that would become known as the Battle of Cowpens.
Suddenly, a misinterpreted order caused the Virginia troops to fall back rather than wheel right as ordered. Other Continental troops fell back as well. The British surged forward in response, under the mistaken belief that the Patriots’ ranks were breaking. Lt. Col. John Eager Howard, the commander of the Continental troops, ordered the troops to turn about and fire. They did as ordered and fired a deadly volley into the charging British. The well delivered volley broke the British charge. The bulk of the Continental battalion was three companies of the Maryland Line. It was a proud moment for the Marylanders, whose line had fought bravely across the entire war since the Battle of Brooklyn five years earlier. The saga of the Maryland Line is a story about a group of soldiers who played a pivotal role in many of the revolution’s greatest battles.
The book reads like an 18th-century version of Stephen Ambrose’s World War II classic, Band of Brothers. Taking archival information and weaving it with numerous first-hand accounts, O’Donnell reveals what 18th-century soldiers experienced on and off the battlefield. While the Maryland Line is known to history, this book brings the details of their service and sacrifice into the light.
Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam (Alec Wahlman, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2015, 368 pp., maps, photographs, notes, glossary, bibliography, index, $29.95, hardcover). From the mid-20th century to the present, military operations have increasingly occurred in urban areas. American soldiers fought many of their most famous engagements in cities during this period, and the trend shows no sign of ceasing. Fighting in urban terrain calls for special weapons and tactics and produces high casualties. The author offers a detailed examination of how U.S. forces have adapted to the unique challenges of urban combat. The work spans World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The author offers four case studies: Aachen in 1944, Manila in 1945, Seoul in 1950, and Hue in 1968. In each of the battles, U.S. forces were victorious.
In the course of his analysis, the author shows not only how high-level planners prepared units for the experience, but also how U.S. troops made the necessary adjustments under fire. The book shows how those victories were achieved in a pragmatic and analytical way before and during battle.
Hunters and Killers Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943 (Norman Polmar and Edward Whitman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2016, 272 pp., maps, photographs, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, $49.95, hardcover).
The year 1943 was a great turning point for the submarine. That year the Allies turned the tide against the Nazi U-Boats that had plagued their shipping since the beginning of World War II. The menace of German submarines would persist until the war’s end, albeit in a much reduced capacity. In the Pacific Theater, U.S. submarines fared well against the Imperial Japanese Navy despite losses of their own.
After the war new technologies emerged. For example, nuclear-powered submarines carried nuclear weapons. New weapons had to be devel- oped in the continuing duel between submarines and surface ships. Submarines were active during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Falk- lands War of 1982. More recently, submarines have evolved into launch platforms for conven- tional missiles, giving new urgency to efforts to find and destroy them.
This in-depth history of the war against the submarine is chock full of detailed research and stories of individual submarines under attack by surface ships and antisubmarine aircraft. It is a highly technical work that offers extensive back- ground on the various weapons developed to combat submarines. Although it deals with complex material, the text is logically written and easy to follow. The authors are acknowledged experts in the field, and their expertise is clearly evident as it was in the first volume.
Battle Story: Hastings 1066 (Jonathan Trigg, Dundurn Press, Ontario, Canada, 2016, 159 pp., maps, photographs, index, $14.99, softcover). The Battle of Hastings was one of the most significant battles in British history. The battle changed England forever. For England, the battle was as significant as Gettysburg was to the United States and Waterloo was to the nations of Europe.
English King Harold Godwinson died in the battle, which was fought in East Sussex on October 14, 1066. In the aftermath of the victory, the Norman dynasty replaced that of the House of Wessex. In the hard-fought battle, Duke William of Normandy conducted a masterful combined arms attack against Harold’s English army, which was composed entirely of infantry. In contrast, the composition of the Norman army was approximately 50 percent heavy infantry, 25 percent archers, and 25 percent cavalry.
This compact edition packs a great deal of information into its pages. The narrative offers a step-by-step account of the battle. Other key fea- tures are concise fact boxes that describe, for example, the English and Norman cultures, their armies, and their leaders. Additionally, the book contains descriptions of armor, weapons, and tac- tics, together with detailed maps.
Warship 2016 (Edited by John Jordan, Conway Military History, New York, 2016, 208 pp., maps, photographs, footnotes, $60.00, hardcover). Naval history has enormous breadth. During the so-called Age of Empires, small colonial sloops patrolled their overseas holdings. Their captains enforced their will at cannon point. In the arms race preceding World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy built and launched destroyers that would wreak havoc with their torpedoes against enemy ships. These are just two of the compelling examples offered in this new title.
The book is a compilation of articles by contributors who are experts on their respective topics. The purpose of the book is to describe in detail the design, development, and service of key warships at various points in history. Each chapter is meticulously researched and finely illustrated with period photographs, design drawings, and data tables. The result is a work that will interest not only naval buffs but also anyone interested in military history.
Black Tommies: British Soldiers of African Descent in the First World War (Ray Costello, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, UK, 2016, pho- tographs, notes, bibliography, index, $29.95, softcover). Albert James, son of a Bermudan sailor and a mother who was a grocer, joined the Royal Field Artillery of the British Army on January 7, 1915. He sailed to France but soon continued on to the Eastern Mediterranean. He spent the rest of the war in that region fighting, for example, in Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. He achieved the rank of corporal, which placed him in charge of white troops. He fought enemy troops as well as diseases like malaria. He remained in Palestine on occupation duty until sent home in 1920. His tale is one of many of black soldiers in the British Army during the Great War.
Although the service and experiences of non-white colonial troops is finally beginning to receive attention, this book goes a step farther. It offers insight into the experiences of black soldiers, many of whom were born in England and were British citizens. This work is the result of painstaking research and involved accessing material in the possession of James’s descendants.
William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country (James Lee McDonough, W.W. Norton, New York, 2016, 816 pp., maps, photographs, notes, index, $39.95, hardcover). One of the engineers of the Union victory in the American Civil War, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman is revered by many as a tough general who was willing to make the hard decisions. In the South he is still despised for his March to the Sea in 1864 during which his army cut a swath of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. His aim was to contribute to the disruption of the South’s economy and transportation network in order to force it to surrender.
He was a complex man, flawed and yet possessed of a genius that made him the right man at the right time. Having seen the dreadful casualties the war produced, he resolved to end it as quickly as possible by striking at the heart of the Confederacy in Georgia. After the war he led the army in its new struggle in the West, paving the way for America’s inevitable expansion. Although plagued by self-doubt, Sherman was of great service to the United States at a critical point in its history. He helped make the country whole again, albeit roughly. After the war, he helped the reunited country get started on its path to becom- ing a global power in the following century.
Sherman was a prolific writer. The author makes good use of Sherman’s extensive correspondence. This book is a solid contribution to our understanding of one of the most complex generals of the American Civil War. It delves deeply into Sherman’s complexities, revealing a human being trying to do his best in trying circumstances. Sherman saw many triumphs and tragedies during his life. This book brings them to the reader in a flowing narrative that entertains as it informs.
Fighting Cockpits: In the Pilot’s Seat of Great Military Aircraft from World War I to Today (Donald Nijboer, Dan Patterson and Capt. Eric M. Brown, Zenith Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2016, 224 pp., pho- tographs, bibliography, index, $40.00, hardcover). Captain Eric Brown, a British Spitfire pilot during World War II, was about to go up against an enemy fighter, the Focke-Wulf FW-190. He was confident since he had actually flown the German plane before. In June 1942 a German pilot had mistakenly landed at a British airfield and his plane was captured intact. Brown felt he could handle the other plane since he knew its capabilities. Very soon, however, he realized he was up against a highly skilled pilot. Each went after the other aggressively, but after several minutes neither could gain an advantage over the other. Both planes were running low on fuel, so they were forced to break off. In the aftermath of the dogfight, Brown had a new respect for the FW-190 and the men who flew it.
This new coffee table book is a tribute to famous aircraft and their pilots. Each of the 51 chapters covers a different aircraft. The scope ranges from the World War I era Nieuport 28 biplane to the F-35 Lightning II, a fighter so new it is just now entering service around the world. A chapter begins with a full-page color photograph of the aircraft’s cockpit. The rest of the chapter is filled with text about the planes and the impressions of those who flew them. The book offers an easy-to-read look at a selection of famous planes from more than a cen- tury of flight.
In the Shadows of Victory: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, 1776-1876 (Thomas D. Phillips, Casemate Publishers, Havertown, PA, 2016, 288 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $32.95, hardcover). The War of 1812 was but a few months over when Commodore Stephen Decatur took a naval squadron to the Mediterranean Sea. Years before, the young Decatur fought the Barbary Pirates there, gaining fame for himself through his courageous exploits. He was back and eager to put the Barbary States back into check. The war had made them active against the United States again. His squadron quickly defeated two Algerian warships before they sailed into Algiers harbor and forced the local ruler, known as the Dey, to release American and European hostages, pay $10,000 in reparations, and sign a treaty acknowledging Amer- ica’s right to unfettered access to the Mediter- ranean. It was a tremendous feat of arms of which few are aware today.
Bringing awareness of forgotten American soldiers and sailors is the point of this new work and it succeeds in its task. The book is limited to America’s first century of existence so that most of the men chronicled within actually fought within American borders, unlike its heroes of the following century and beyond. A dedicated student of history will know many of the names. The author also delves into exploits even an astute history buff may not be aware of about these men. Names like William Worth, David Porter, Eugene Carr, and Wesley Merritt are given detailed attention, along with 21 other Americans the author believes history has neglected. On the whole, the book is a worthy look at lead- ers who deserve greater attention in the annals of American military history.