A Stranger to Myself
Reese, Willy Peter
Farrar Strauss and Giroux New York 2003
We are War. Because we are soldiers.
I have burned all the cities.
Strangled all the women.
Brained all the children.
Plundered all the land.
I have shot a million enemies.
Laid waste to the fields, destroyed the churches,
Ravaged the souls of the inhabitants.
Spilled the blood and tears of all the mothers.
I did it, all me.- I did Nothing. But I was a soldier.
- Willy Peter Reese
This from a young man in his early twenties who joined a bank to please his father. Reese was drafted in 1941 and died in the summer of 1944 in Russia. He was 23. Willy Peter Reese dreamed of becoming a writer. He was a very good one: an autobiography of a young man with morality under assault is almost clinical. Writings about nature, his comrades, a disbelief at what he had done. Had one met him - probably a pleasant fellow consuming reams of paper as he wrote. In Russia Reese wrote by the light of a cigarette, in a trench, at a gun, whenever he could find time.
There was presentiment of fate and finally it stepped in: Operation Bagration, the destruction of Army Group Center from June to August 1944. Willy Peter Reese died in the Vitebsk area in June 1944. Exactly where is not known. He was an extremely talented young man. Each man's brain is a universe of good or evil. Think of the one lost with Willy Peter Reese. There might well have been more of his books to read.
Red Cross Missing Person Form - 1970
“The balance of probability is that Willy Peter Reese met his end in the course of the fighting in the Vitebsk Area sometime between June 22 and 30th, 1944.
So Sad To Fall In Battle
Ballantine Books, New York 2007
Compiled and based off the diaries of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, commanding officer of the Japanese garrison on Iwo Jima, the book gives a story of Iwo Jima from the Japanese view. Opponents viewed as inhuman, ‘sneaky’ - evil turned out to be men no different from their adversaries and endured conditions as hellish as any faced in World War II.
The General was Deputy Military Attache to the United States from 1928 through 1930, traveled extensively and wrote, ”I was in the United States for three years when I was a captain. I was taught how to drive by some American officers, and I bought a car. I went around the States, and I knew the close connections between the military and industry. I saw the plant area of Detroit, too. By one button push, all the industries will be mobilized for military business.”
Very similar to the thoughts of Yamamoto - they both knew what Japan was up against.
Fortifying an island like Iwo Jima was no easy project. Ships with needed materials most often were sunk by USN submarines that by this stage of the war had all but throttled the Japanese economy.
Kuribayashi eschewed Japanese orthodoxy preaching defense of an island must start at the beaches and the ‘Banzai’ type of infantry assault more damaging to the Japanese than efforts of their adversaries. Troops were to resist from prepared positions mounting attacks as opportunity presented itself. The new ‘rules’ turned Iwo to a horror story for the invaders costing 6,821 dead.
Tadamichi Kuribayashi must be judged among the finest military men Japan produced along with the defender of Okinawa, Mitsuru Ushijima.
"I don't know who he is, but the Japanese General running this show is one smart bastard.”
General Holland M.’Howling Mad’ Smith
Kuribayashi died with his troops. His body was never found. A final poem by the General:
Unable to complete this heavy task for our country
Arrows and bullets all spent, so sad we fall.
But unless I smite the enemy,
My body cannot rot in the field.
Yea, I shall be born again seven times
And grasp the sword in my hand.
When ugly weeds cover this island,
My sole thought shall be the Imperial Land.
Pacific War Stories
In The Words Of Those Who Survived
Rex Alan Smith, Gerald A. Meehl
Abbeville Press New York London 2004
For a historian, research today is flooded with secondary and tertiary sources often quite similar and written to support or advance a point of view making authentic primary sources invaluable.
Every day the amount of Pacific veterans able to recount their experiences dwindles and in the not too distant future all will be gone. The Pacific War has faded, and most are ignorant of places like Guadacanal, Peleliu or Iwo Jima and the American experience on these islands.
No staff officers these: landing at Iwo Jima, fighting at Peleliu, the Phillipines and the Doolittle Raid. Other passages describe Pearl Harbor and Okinawa: the American march to Japan. Some are disturbing - friends dying, fighting a formidable enemy, continuous terror, exhaustion. Am I going to make it? It is impossible to understand, we weren't there.
History is black and white. Events happen, have consequences and cannot be altered. Revision clouds the line making it gray, indistinct. These accounts are invaluable and matter of factly describe events often horrific, worth remembering. This is a must read book.
Otherwise, these men will truly be lost to us.
Battle Over Britain
Mason, Francis K.
Aston Publications Limited 1990
If there is a better volume on the Battle of Britain, TOMH would like to see it. German raids on England are documented as is interwar development describing the births of the Hurricane and Spitfire, inspired by Reginald Mitchell’s Schneider Trophy winning Supermarine S.5. As important, the development of the Home Chain Station Radar Organization and construction is chronicled with detail. Luftwaffe rebirth, leaders, and aircraft types are well documented.
The book is formatted into daily summaries between July 1,1940 - 31st October 1940 followed by the Blitz. Summaries give losses, crews of lost aircraft, where lost, to whom lost and crew casualties. Each day is well illustrated, contains events, anecdotes and other happenings to bring its history alive, successfully. The writing is documentary in style and can seem cold, but the Battle of Britain is not a story to inspire warmth, only national pride.
Very comprehensive tables at the end of the book give the name, squadron, aircraft flown, and fate of RAF pilots involved in the battle - the research on this alone before the internet era must have been an immense task in itself not to mention the the book itself.
The Blitz chronicles commitment of Luftwaffe bomber assets to night bombing of large British cities to the relief of a sorely overstressed Fighter Command.
Book reviews are by nature brief hopefully luring the public to read a given effort. Review of this effort could inspire a book in itself and TOMH believes this the best work on the Battle of Britain available.
Sir Hugh Dowding on May 15,1940
I have the honor to refer to the very serious calls which have recently been made on the Home Defense Fighter Units in an attempt to stem the German invasion of the continent.
2. I hope and believe that our Armies may yet be victorious in France and Belgium, but we have to face the possibility that they may be defeated.
3. In that case I presume there is no-one that will deny that England should fight on, even though the remainder of the Continent of Europe is dominated by the Germans.
4. For this purpose it is necessary to maintain some minimum fighter strength in this country and I must request that the Air Council will inform me what they consider this minimum strength should be, in order that I may make my dispositions accordingly.
5. I would remind the Air Council that the last estimate they made as to the force necessary to defend this country was 52 Squadrons, and my strength has now been reduced to the equivalent of 36 squadrons.
6. Once a decision has been reached as to the limit on which the Air Council and Cabinet are prepared to stake the existence of this country, it should be made clear to the Allied Commanders on the Continent that not a single aeroplane from Fighter Command beyond the limit will be sent across the Channel, no matter how desperate the situation may become.
7. It will, of course, be remembered that the estimate of 52 squadrons was based on the assumption the the attack would come from the eastwards, except insofar as the defenses might be outflanked in flight. We now have to face the possibility that attacks may come from Spain or even the north coast of France. The result is that our line is very much extended at the same time as our resources are reduced.
8. I must point out that within the last few days the equivalent of ten squadrons have been sent to France, that the Hurricane Squadrons remaining in this country are seriously depleted, and that the more squadrons which are sent to France the higher the wastage and the more insistant the demand for reinforcements.
9. I must therefore request as a matter of paramount urgency the Air Ministry will consider and decide what level of strength is to be left is to be left to Fighter Command for the defense of this country, and will assure me that when this level is reached, not one fighter will be sent across the Channel however urgent and insistent the appeals for help may be.
10. I believe that if an adequate fighter force is kept in the country, if the fleet remains in being, and if Home Forces are suitably organized to resist invasion, we should be able to carry on the war single handed for some time, if not indefinitely. But, if the Home Defense Force is drained away in desperate attempts to remedy the situation in France, defeat of France will involve the final, irremediable, defeat of this country.
The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions: Discovering the Varus Battlefield
Savas Beatty New York and California 2009
Deployed with the British Army in Germany, Tony Clunn became fascinated with the fate of Roman Consul Varus and three Legions destroyed by German tribes in AD 9 and resolved to find the resting place of the XVII, XVIII and XIX Legions lost two thousand years before. Over five years (1987-1992) remains were discovered enabling Clunn to create scatter charts in fields around Kalkreise in lower Saxony. Coins, swords, daggers, pilum (spears), broken helmets, boot nails, plus skeletal remains of the fallen lead Clunn along the route of the faltering Legions to their end. Locks, keys razors, weights, scales, weights, chisels, hammers, pickaxes, buckets, finger rings, surgical instruments, seal boxes, a stylus, cauldrons, casseroles, spoons, and amphorae... jewelry, hairpins, and a disk brooch suggested the presence of women.* Clunn charted the route of the Romans through swamp infested woods under attack to the final killing field below a modern day farm.
The reader walks with the doomed legions in their last fight through dense forest; bogs to the last open field - driven there by well planned tactics and at last slaughtered. Some did escape - a handful, to bring news of the disaster back to an unbelieving Rome. Such was Roman humiliation that the numbers (XVII, XVIII and XIX) of the destroyed formations were deleted from the Roman Army's list of legions; never used again. The rising against Roman arrogance is detailed as is the massacre of three Legions numbering with auxiliaries near twenty thousand. No prisoners were taken. Rome thereafter lost appetite for further expansion in Germany; the Rhine became an unofficial border of a rapidly expanding empire.
When asked about historical events, a sad majority today respond: it happened a long time ago and who cares? A response: Germany, never ruled by Rome developed its mores and customs separated from the civilizing clasp of the Empire.
How might she behaved in the twentieth century had Rome ruled her?
Augustus Caesar and Rome mourned the loss.
"Quintilli Vare, legiones redde."
"Quinctillius Varus, Give me back my Legions."
Between Silk and Cyanide
Harper Collins Great Britain. 1998
Between Silk and Cyanide is Leo Mark's memoir of his war serving in SOE (Special Operations Executive). Marks was referred to at Bletchley, home of 'Ultra' as 'the one that got away.' Possessing demonstrated genius for cryptography sharp wit and outspokenness often incurring the displeasure of his superiors,the memoir is full of sarcastic, quick humor describing events that were anything but.
Marks was responsible for an early war procedure composing poems operators used as keys to transmit code and wrote the following for Violette Szabo who was to die in a German Camp. It is marvelous.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
The poem method of coding led to problems with garbled, misunderstood communications. The 24 year old came up with what now is known as the ‘one pad’ system - a matrix was used for one message then destroyed assuring secure composition of messages. Marx came up with this solution alone. Bletchley required dozens.
Quite critical of SOE leadership, Marx chronicles the destruction of all the French networks falling victim to double agents, most prominent- Henri Déricourt: responsible for arrests of Violette Szabo and Noor Khan. Eventually the whole effort collapsed to the bemusement and disbelief of SOE leaders such as Vera Atkins and Collin Gubbins who refused to believe agents were in prison, turned double or dead. Marks describes futile efforts to stop any further drops into France - the network was ‘blown.' After the war, he became a playwright and a screen writer.
This is an intimate - the word fits - view of SOE's effort, as Churchill put it, "to set Europe ablaze."
The Collapse of the Third Republic
Shiver, William L.
Simon and Schuster New York 1969
This is probably the best book written on the causes of the catastrophe that befell France in May - June 1940. Shirer details two decades of cynicism, polarization, ineptitude and other causes that brought down a republic with larger armed forces and in some cases better equipped than their traditional foe.
In researching the book Shirer talked with the likes of Paul Reynaud, Edouard Daladier and others who played parts in collapse. Detail is meticulous: of most importance, the personalities and character - or lack thereof, of French military and political leaders.
Military action is also well minuted - Shirer's description of the Meuse crossing is fascinating, as is resulting panic.
And, there is pathos as the Third Republic passed into history - deservedly so.
This book is marvelous - a must read.