Book Review: Strange and Obscure Stories of World War II by Dan Aines. (three stars)

Book Review: Strange and Obscure Stories of World War II: Little Known Tales about the Second World War by Dan Aines. (three stars)

“An officer who goes into combat without his sword is improperly dressed.” Jack Churchill (credited with killing enemy with as bow and arrow)

Excellent compendium of World War Two details and statistics. Topically organized and presented.

“Most people have seen a lot more World War II movies than have read books on the war.”

Compared to The World War 2 Trivia Book by Bill O’Neill, Strange and Obscure has more factual data and numbers. Trivia has more gossipy trivia (and a lot more opinion). Quirky anecdotes abound in both books.

“The more desperate a nation’s straits, the more effort and resources it wastes chasing a miracle weapon.”

Statistics abound. More Army were killed in the Pacific theater than Marines. USAAF Eighth Air Force (heavy bombers flying from the United Kingdom) lost 26,000 airmen, more than the total number of Marines killed in all theaters of the war. The M-4 Sherman tank had a bad reputation in combat, but we produced over 50,00 of them while Germany built fewer than 1,900 Tigers.

“I will always been the political prisoner of my father’s name.” Svetlana Alliluyeva (Stalin’s daughter)

Book Review: The Arsenal of Democracy by A. J. Baime (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Ford Motor Company, and Their Epic Quest to Arm an America at War by A. J. Baime (Four Stars)

“It was like a family tragedy. At this point Edsel had a tragic recognition—that there was no way out of his dilemma except by death, his father’s or his own.”

The title misleads. This story focus almost exclusively on the rise of the Ford industrial empire and its sharp turn to apply that might to win the Second World War. The cast includes many outside the Ford family. The president is a minor player.

And so Lindbergh and Henry Ford—the nation’s two highest-profile anti-interventionists, both of them enemies of the President, both accused Nazi sympathizers and accused anti-Semites, both decorated with swastika-emblazoned medals by Hitler himself—joined hands in the campaign to build the most destructive weapon in the Arsenal of Democracy.

Heavily researched and documented. The cast includes many whose place in history remains ambiguous, especially founder Henry Ford and aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. The second rank of movers and shakers inside the company include several who place should be ignominy.

[Edsel Ford] realized for the first time that his choice for the bomber plant location had been a massive, irrevocable mistake. He had a health crisis brewing, and there seemed no way to stop it.

A reminder that no plan survives contact with reality. Once convince they should build B-24s, the Fords immediately underestimated and oversold the magnitude of the effort. Murphy’s War was operable then as now.

“By June 5, twenty-four hours before D-Day … now in his fourth term in the White House ….”

Quibbles: Errors in facts mar the text.

“I have seen science worshipped, and the aircraft I loved, destroying the civilization I expected them to serve.” Charles Lindbergh

Eventually Ford, the rest of the auto industry, indeed the entire industrial might of the United States shifts to the single-minded effort to buy the Axis powers in bombs, bullets, and defeat. It wasn’t easy at home or on the fronts.

“England’s battles, it used to be said, were won on the playing fields at Eton. This plan is put forward in the belief that America’s can be won on the assembly lines of Detroit.”

Book Review: Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen (Four Stars)

Book Review: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen (Four Stars)

“It always boils down to the same thing of receiving love but desperately wanting to give it.” Audrey Hepburn

Terrible opening to a worthwhile book. Opening scene focuses on Nazi sympathies of Ella van Heemstra, Audrey’s mother. Then follows a chapter on family genealogy. Readers may be excused for wondering who the book is about. Persistence is rewarded.

“After living the long months and years under the Germans, you dreamed what would happen if you ever got out. You swore you would never complain about anything again.” AH

Not a biography. Rather a detailed history of Audrey’s childhood and war years, which coincided with her early teens. Matzen weaves the many threads of the girl who became an international celebrity and ambassador for children.

“I was so destroyed by [reading Anne Frank‘s diary] again that I said I couldn’t deal with it. It’s a little bit as if this has happened to my sister. I couldn’t play my sister’s life It’s too close, in a way she was a soul sister….”

Forward flashes jolt the reader out of the moment of the story. As it is, many chapters open with a Hepburn quote from interviews thirty and forty years later. Overall, an excellent, if flawed work.

“The fact that she was speaking German to an all-German kitchen staff in a German war hospital would haunt her in the years to come.”

Not to mention two gushing articles Ella van Heemstra authored about Hitler. About her mother: officially labeled “politically unreliable” and “silly,” she was in fact a collaborator until the middle of the war. Don’t judge her too harshly, many contemporary British and Americans swooned over Hitler … and Stalin. She strove mightily to protect Audrey from the taint of her foolishness.

“I experienced a lot then, but it was not all misery. The circumstance brought family and friends closer together. You ate the last potatoes together.” AH

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (Three Stars)

“The most ambitious war project in military history rested squarely on the shoulders of tens of thousands of ordinary people, many of them young women.”

Excellent history of a slice of the effort required to produce atomic bombs. Of necessity, she spreads her net far beyond Oak Ridge, TN, to include women who made significant contributions to the science and industry which produced the first nuclear weapons. For better or worse, they changed the world forever.

“There is no such place as Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

Sadly many, especially Lise Meitner, never got the recognition they deserved. Most didn’t get equal pay or living conditions because for their gender or race. But they all contributed to a massive project (about which they knew nothing) in the hope they were shortening World War Two.

“Elizabeth Edwards, Oak Ridge’s librarian, … looked over the spines and stopped at the volume containing the letter U. As she picked up the book, it fell open as if on command, the spine already worn and bent and broken from more than a year of being opened to the same page over and over by chemistry-savvy people trying to make sense of what they thought might possibly be going on.”

Kierman refrains from using the word uranium, substituting the then-current code word Tubealloy.

“For the last year [1944], roughly 22,000 people had been working at Y-12 day in and day out, 24 hours a day, as 1,152 calutrons managed to enrich 50 kilograms, or just over 100 pounds, of enriched Tubealloy.” (Uranium-235)

My wife’s great aunt was one of them. She never told us what she did, but her experiences parallels those reported here.

Q: What are they making in those plants?
A: About 80 cents an hour.

Q: What do you do out there?
A: As little as possible.

Q: How many people are working in Oak Ridge?
A: About half of them.

“Bigger! More! Now!” (MajGen. Leslie Groves, USA)

Book Review: Spitfire Pilot by David M. Crook (Four Stars)


Book Review: Spitfire Pilot: A Personal Account of the Battle of Britain by David M. Crook

(Four Stars)

“In the latter part of the year there occurred the tragic deaths of so many gallant friends, among them being some of the finest people I ever knew.
But on the whole it had been easily the happiest and the most vivid year of my life.”

This book illustrates the value of primary source history. The reader gets a participant’s eye view of history as it is made, in this case the Battle of Britain in 1940. Crook took notes contemporary with the action. Crook was one of “the few” to whom Winston Churchill claimed England owed so much.

“We had a new C.O.[commanding officer], and of the fifteen original members of the squadron, only four were now left.”

The prose is straightforward with no attempt to embellish. That makes it all the better. Some of the slang is out-of-date, even offensive by today’s standards, though Crook’s use twice of the n-word racial slur both times refers to himself. Numerous contemporary photos.

“It seemed so funny to be dining peacefully in Piccadilly only a few hours after being in such a desperate fight.”

Crook notes the incongruities of normalcy next to war and the sudden loss of close friends in the course of a morning.

“We learnt our lesson from these deaths, though it seems so grim that in a war experience is almost always gained at the expense of other men’s lives.”

This book was first published in 1942. Unfortunately, Crook did not survive the war. He was lost at sea during a non-combat aviation mission in 1944.

“One lives and one learns – if lucky.”

Book Review: D-Day by Antony Beevor (Four Stars)


Book Review: D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

(Four Stars)

“I am more thankful than I can say that my misgivings were unfounded …. May I congratulate you on the wisdom of your choice.” Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory to Eisenhower after the airborne assaults which he thought would be disasters succeeded.

Thankfully Beevor credits readers with some sense of history; unlike many writers of popular history, he connects D-Day to its antecedents without reinventing the wheel. He describes the invasion itself in microscopic detail.

“We are going to liberate Europe, but it is because the Americans are with us. So get this clear. Every time we have to decide between Europe and the open seas, it is always the sea that we shall choose. Every time I have to decide between you and Roosevelt, I shall always choose Roosevelt.” Winston Churchill to Charles DeGaulle before D-Day

Will undoubtedly compared to Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 The Longest Day. Continue reading

Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. (Five Stars)


Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton.

(Five Stars)

“The whole art of guerilla warfare lies in striking the enemy where he least expects it and yet where he is most vulnerable.” Colin Gubbins

The best World War Two history I’ve read in years. One blurb claims, “The last untold story of World War Two.” And a critical story it is. An unlikely collection of English men and women, working outside normal channels but with cover by the Prime Minister, develop and field weapons which solve many problems critical to England’s survival and eventual victory.

“A job is a good one if it looks like an accident, an act of God, or has no explanation.” Cecil Clark

One point can’t be overemphasized: as messy and repulsive as unconventional warfare is, it is more efficient, more effective, and–in the end–more humane than Continue reading