Current Reading - 2015

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Current Reading - 2015

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Redigerat: feb 2, 2015, 1:23 pm

On a lark I've started reading Thirty Seconds over Tokyo; I really didn't need to be reading a fifth book at the same time as others. Wasn't expecting all that much but I'm taken in immediately by the informal narrative voice, straight out of the 1940s. This is going to be a good one.

feb 2, 2015, 9:06 pm

I just recently finished The War Below by James Scott. Pretty good.

feb 3, 2015, 12:29 pm

I just finished Maus II last week.

feb 6, 2015, 11:34 am

Cross-posted from my Club Read thread -

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
(First published 1965 - Le Soldat Oublie; First English edition 1971)

Where to start? This book has affected me greatly. I did expect to be shocked, and did expect to read an account of some appalling experiences of a soldier fighting in the heart of an horrendously bloody and grisly conflict. But nothing could really prepare the reader for the overwhelming relentlessness of it all. This is a reading experience that should not be at all taken lightly.

Guy Sajer was a very young Alsatian (barely seventeen I think), of mixed Franco-German parentage, who finds himself in training with the German army during the autumn of 1942. The memoir does not make it clear if he is conscripted or volunteers. The zenith of the Nazi Reich has already passed - unbeknownst to its combatants and civilian populations. After his training in the Fatherland, Sajer is attached to a transport logistics unit supporting the combat troops at the Eastern Front. All too soon he is witness to the horrors of the fighting that follows the fallout from the Wehrmacht's defeat at Stalingrad and the first retreat from the Don.

Writing several years after the event, Sajer pulls no punches with his descriptions of the deprivations of combat, and the depravity. Early in his account though, he makes it clear how inadequate his words will always be in expressing the "cumulative uncommunicable terror":

It is a mistake to use intense words without carefully weighing and measuring them, or they will have already been used when one needs them later. It's a mistake, for instance, to use the word 'frightful' to describe a few broken-up companions mixed into the ground: but it's a mistake which might be forgiven.
I should perhaps end my account here, because my powers are inadequate for what I have to tell.

(This on page 90 of a 560 page book.)

As the war progresses, and following a brief respite of sorts during leave in Berlin (where he witnesses a terrifying daytime Allied air raid), Sajer and his comrades are 'volunteered' into the elite Grosse Deutschland division as infantry. Back at the front, he is thrown right into the abyss again, in time for the chaotic blood-soaked retreat from Ukraine. At times in this memoir Sajer comes out with some truly shocking comments - "Throughout the war, one of the biggest mistakes was to treat German soldiers even worse than prisoners, instead of allowing us to rape and steal - crimes which we were condemned for in the end anyway." - for example. And this from a Frenchman not indoctrinated with Nazi bile prior to the conquest of France in 1940. A second period of leave - later in the memoir - is cancelled before he can even reach his destination, the whole train transport being reversed - back depressingly to the front. Anyone who has served as a conscript will recognise the achingly despondent sense that there is when home leave has to end, but to not even get there in the first place? - only to be sent back into the hell you had just escaped from...

There is a constant sense of fear that pervades everywhere.

I know in my bones what our watchword 'Courage' means - from days and nights of resigned desperation, and from the insurmountable fear which one continues to accept, even though one's brain has ceased to function normally.

There is no mention at all of the ongoing Holocaust against the civilians of Europe, and no mention of Jews, and barely any of the racial Hitlerism at all. (There is though one very sinister glimpse of that horror, and what had thus far been 'dealt with' by the authorities, on the first page, (September '42) when en route to the front from basic training, via Poland, Sajer and co. pass through the Warsaw ghetto:"Our detatchment goes sightseeing in the city, including the famous ghetto - or rather, what's left of it. We return to the station in small groups. We are all smiling. The Poles smile back, especially the girls."

There is a surreal moral code of sorts that exists in his mind - the 'rules' of combat according to the Wehrmacht. When it comes to encounters with the Partisans, he is certain - "Also, partisans were not eligible for the consideration due to a man in uniform. The laws of war condemned them to death automatically, without trial." This coming after a description of how some Red Army POWs were killed mercilessly in a way too graphic to describe here.

The disastrous retreat continues as it becomes clear that all is lost.

Faced with the Russian hurricane, we ran whenever we could...We no longer fought for Hitler, or for National Socialism, or for the Third Reich - or even for our fiancées or mothers or families trapped in bomb-ravaged towns. We fought from simple fear, which was our motivating power. The idea of death, even when we accepted it, made us howl with powerless rage.

Even when writing many years later Sajer seems to pour most of his anger out still on the Partisans. He doesn't ever seem to accept that Germany had invaded the continent, and that people without an army fighting for them, had the right to fight back - by whichever means available. The moral argument he attempts against the 'underhand' techniques of the guerillas is completely flawed. Nevertheless, his memoir, even if factually inaccurate in places as some have suggested, is an important document of witness. I struggled with the utter nightmare of it all, but am glad that I read The Forgotten Soldier. I'm sure I won't forget it.

Redigerat: feb 10, 2015, 8:36 pm

I'm now reading The Ciano Diaries 1939-1943. Count Galeazzo Ciano was Mussolini's son-in-law and his Foreign Minister, as well. Or he was until he turned on Mussolini, took part in the coup to oust him from power, and was subsequently arrested and then executed by the Gestapo. That's why the diary stops in 1943. At any rate, I'm still in the early days, pre-war, when everything is looking rosy for the Fascist government and the biggest headache is figuring out how to carve up Albania and when to attack, as Mussolini doesn't want to take action until the military accord with Hitler is finalized.

mar 31, 2015, 11:48 pm

Getting a lot of reading in lately, so another book finished, Mechanized Juggernaut or Military Anachronism?: Horses and the German Army of World War II (Stackpole Military History Series) by R. L. DiNardo. Decent enough read, although a bit too concerned with statistics and not enough with actual details of training, feeding and caring of and for the horses, which I think would have made it a more interesting book.

apr 1, 2015, 12:41 pm

I've just started Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta.

jun 6, 2015, 12:51 pm

I am reading Ostkrieg by Stephen Fritz, another good addition to the literature on the Nazi-Soviet war.

jun 6, 2015, 4:03 pm

#12, concur, just finished it recently myself.

jun 8, 2015, 7:57 am

The Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson. After re-reading the first two volumes, I'll finally get around to reading The Guns at Last Light for the first time.

Redigerat: jun 21, 2015, 6:53 am

just finished main battle tank. about british tank operations in the 2003 Iraq war. A great book to read, ver exiting. reading dozens more books about war at the moment. d-day then and now part 2 and tank men from Robert Kershaw, the tank war by Mark Urban, Scorched earth by Carell......

jun 26, 2015, 8:43 am

Finished Meeting the Fox a few weeks ago.

jun 26, 2015, 3:18 pm

I have now started the first volume in Glantz & House's Stalingrad trilogy, To the Gates of Stalingrad.

jun 27, 2015, 7:39 am

Rereading Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy; finished An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 and The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944.
Starting The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 today.
Excellent general histories of the US Army in the ETO.

Redigerat: jun 28, 2015, 7:13 am

World War II in the Mediterranean, 1942-1945 (Major Battles and Campaigns); excellent short summing up by Carlo D'Este.

jun 29, 2015, 7:38 am

Ploesti: The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943 by James Dugan, an incredible story of the great raid.

jul 5, 2015, 9:58 am

Alamein, a thoughtful, very well written volume. The author remains unenamored with either Rommel or Montgomery! Recommended.

jul 25, 2015, 8:23 am

Crossing the Rapido: A Tragedy of World War II by Duane Schultz; the calvary of the 36th Infantry Division in Italy.

aug 9, 2015, 6:39 pm

I have just finished Brothers in arms Hell's Highway and the art of war and am about to start on Easy Company soldier by Donald Malarkey

aug 12, 2015, 11:46 am

Strategy and command; the first two years, by Louis Morton, a volume in the US Army official history.

aug 17, 2015, 2:32 am

I am currently reading American Warlords by Jonathan Jordan. This one is a fairly well-written book that would probably be worth reading for someone new to the subject of the American high command during WW2. However, so far I don't see Jordan adding anything to what has already been written better by previous authors, particularly Eric Larrabee

aug 17, 2015, 8:10 am

Not quite WWII, but close: The Spanish Civil War, by Hugh Thomas.

aug 17, 2015, 11:32 am

#27> How did you like that book? A few years back I read and greatly admired Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain: the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.

aug 17, 2015, 11:45 am

#28> I'm only about 190 pages in at the moment. So far, so good. Those first 190 pages are all about the political background to the war, and that background is somewhat complicated. That's hardly Thomas' fault, of course, but I'm thinking that the book could have used a brief section on the major figures of the period. Then, when someone's name is mentioned in a particular passage, you could ask yourself, "Now who's this guy again?" and go look him up. I'm using the index instead.

aug 23, 2015, 10:48 am

Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich by Jochen Hellbeck. Notable due to the many post combat interviews of Russian participants.

aug 31, 2015, 4:56 pm

okt 20, 2015, 9:32 pm

Finished Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima by Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witt.

dec 12, 2015, 11:38 am

Reading and enjoying again Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945 (new 2d edition with current research) Hew Strachan's Modern War series. Highly recommend for you East Front fans.

dec 13, 2015, 1:33 am

dec 16, 2015, 4:52 pm

dec 31, 2015, 12:38 pm

I'm reading The Conquering Tide by Ian Toll, the second of his three projected volumes on the Pacific War.