Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day

1250134927.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day by Giles Milton
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I received Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for an honest review.

The story greatest seaborne invasion and one of the greatest airborne operations in history combining to break the Atlantic Wall is known from an overview perspective, but the story of D-Day from a personal perspective really brings home the events of the first 24-hours of D-Day. Giles Milton covers the first 24-hours of the invasion of Western Europe in Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day from both the Allied and German sides.

Milton sets the “scene” by describing how the Allies planned the invasion and how the German planned to stop them. Once the narrative turns to the invasion, Milton begins following a multitude individuals—some of whom he returns to a few times—over the course of those first pivotal 24 hours. From the Allied (mostly American) paratroopers landing all over the place confusing themselves as well as the Germans to the mistake by the Allied Supreme Command of not properly bombing the beaches and the struggle on Omaha, the things that could have undermined the Allied invasion are brought out and highlighted. However, the successes such as the total surprise of the invasion are also brought to life through many perspectives from the retelling by soldiers. Milton shifts the narrative from West to East in the landing zones to detail the Allied experiences on each as well as South as German defenders and French civilians experienced the firepower of massive invasion, as well chronologically (as well as can be expected) to really bring to the forefront how touch and go that day was.

While Milton certainly constructed a very intriguing historical narrative in covering a 24-hour period from the viewpoint of a multitude of eyewitnesses, this was also the book’s downfall. The use of so many eyewitnesses resulted in not really establishing familiarity with those that he returns to over the course of the book. If you are familiar with the film The Longest Day than some of these eyewitnesses will be familiar given the events that Milton chronicles, if not for that I would have gotten lost several times throughout the book.

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day is an ambitious undertaking by Giles Milton that unfortunately does not really come together as a whole. While the use of a multitude of eyewitnesses can be applauded to create the narrative unfortunately it didn’t work out given the large number Milton used.

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The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II

HitlerThe Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II by Kenneth John Macksey
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Within the realm of alternate history literature and scenarios, World War II is particularly prominent for fiction authors and historians to ponder on. In The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of WWII, ten military historians—which included book editor Kenneth Macksey—looked at scenarios which could have changed the course of the war towards the Third Reich and its Axis partners against the Allies or that the Allies could have decided to the detriment of the Nazis.

The scenarios ranged from the decision to invade England soon after the end of the Battle of France to the Axis securing the Mediterranean before turning to the Soviet Union to linking up with the Japanese to focusing on a jet fighter instead of a jet bomber. While eight of the scenario focused on decisions benefiting the Nazis, two focused on decisions the Western Allies could have made to fight the war differently. The two Allied focused scenarios, “Through the Soft Underbelly” and “Operation ARMAGGEDON”, were among best written in the book along with the Nazi focused “Operation SPINX”, “Operation WOTAN”, and “Operation GREENBRIER”.

While the five other scenarios were just as interesting, the style the author chose to write them undermined their overall effectiveness to some degree especially when compared those scenarios cited above as. Then ten scenarios came up a total of 216 pages, which came out to just barely 20 pages per scenario when excluding maps used for each. This short length for each scenario to be developed in my opinion hurt some of the less impressive scenarios and could have added depth to some of the best as well.

Overall The Hitler Decisions is a good book for those interested in alternate history, especially concentrated around World War II. Yet, there are some drawbacks with the relatively short length average of each piece that hurt some of the scenarios along with stylistic choices.

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War

110190416x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

During World War II many military strategies and tactics that are today standard around the world were first pioneer, including behind-the-lines special operation as done by the British Special Air Service (SAS). Ben Macintyre in Rogue Heroes relates the birth and evolution of the SAS from an ‘independent’ army in the North African theater to an integral part the Allied campaigns in Europe against Nazi Germany.

Macintyre’s history of the SAS begins with the man whose idea it was and who shaped it during its first years in existence, David Stirling who used his connections and his desire to actively participate in battling the Germans. Early on Stirling and his brigade went through several phases of evolution of tactics before fully becoming what Stirling had conceived in mid-1941. However, after Stirling’s capture in January 1943 and the change in theater, the SAS temporarily became a regular commando unit in the invasion of Italy before returning to their behind-the-line Special Forces status original purpose later in the Italian campaign and on the Western Front during and after D-Day.

The decision by Macintyre to not focus on all of the missions of the SAS, but only those that influenced and impacted the development of the Special Forces unit as well as to reduce repetitiveness in the book was a good one. The decision help keep the book at a readable length for the general reader, however other choices by the author didn’t make for a smooth read. While Macintyre did his best to cover the efforts of the various SAS squadrons across several theaters and locations within each once as well over the course of the war, at times the division and abrupt changing from one situation to the next made for stilted reading. Another important decision by Macintyre was who within the SAS to highlight and follow over the course of the brigade’s service in World War II. And for the most part, Macintyre did a good job on putting the focus on who needed it but some of the soldiers highlighted seemed to just add flavor for no real purpose than to seemingly check off a list of possible people this book could appeal to.

Overall, Ben Macintyre did a very good job in relating the history of the SAS. Unlike writing a biography or a specific event, a history of a military unit with its change of personnel and changing theaters of battle make it harder to write as the author has to decide who to follow in the unit’s development. Rogue Heroes if anything gives the reader at least a general history and career of the World War II-era SAS, for some it will be enough and for others it’ll be a wetting of the appetite. I would recommend this book to those interested in military history or in World War II over than just the general reader as a whole.

The World Wars Episode 3

The World Wars
Episode 3: “Never Surrender”
HISTORY

The Good: The battle scenes and the camera work is wonderful and the best thing that’s been consistent throughout the entire series. The use of Patton in leading the phantom army that would invade at Calais. The Holocaust is dealt with responsible, yet powerful way. The debate on the use of the Atomic Bomb was good (it would have been a tad better if the estimated Japanese civilian deaths of an invasion would have been stated).

The Bad: The chronology is all over the place as they merge events that happened a year apart to happen at the same time (the initial drive to Moscow in ’41 and Stalingrad). They show FDR being the decision maker when it came to Midway. When Italy surrendered the show indicated that the allies occupied the entire country instead of having to fight the Germans up the ‘tough old gut’.

The Ugly: The North African campaign is ignored. The Pacific War is the fall of the Philippines, Midway, and then the retaking of the Philippines by island hopping. The Soviet Union’s contribution to the war was horribly neglected. Patton apparently didn’t return to command until the Battle of the Bulge, completely forgetting his leadership of the Third Army over the French countryside.

No Opinion: No mention of Harry Truman’s service during WWI, which I thought would have been an important item to include. Promo that an extended version of the series will be see on H2 in June with “never before seen footage.”

Grade: C

The World Wars Episode 2

The World Wars
Episode 2: “A Rising Threat”
HISTORY

The Good: The paths to power of Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were well done besides the fact they stumbled on chronology for Churchill. The various battle scenes were another great part of this episode like the previous one. The opening scene of the Stock Market crash and then the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ were very well done.

The Bad: The various chronology errors and double backs, which went hand-in-hand with asserting that political or military decisions were based on leader’s opinions of their opposites in enemy nations (save for Churchill’s warnings about Hitler). Asserting the Emperor Hirohito was more politically involved then he likely was.

The Ugly: The repeat of awful retelling of the Communist takeover at the beginning of the Stalin segment. Patton is completely ignored this entire episode even though he is one of the characters featured in the title sequence.

No Opinion: The path and motivations behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed off, especially their economic/military strategy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However I’m not too sure if it’s part of the chronology errors listed above or just wrong history.

Grade: B+

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The tales of espionage and international intrigue told in film and in the pages of fiction pale in comparison to real world events.  Ben Macintyre chronicles in his new book, A Spy Among Friends, the lives and careers of history’s greatest spy and best friend, Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliot.  The journeys of these men from the classrooms of Britain’s finest public schools into the covert world of spy craft in the early days of World War II through to a living room in a Beirut apartment building in the zenith of the Cold War while dealing family and politics is a page-turner beyond question.

Macintyre shows throughout the book how Philby’s personality and the ‘old boy’s network’ allowed him to last so long as a double agent while also cultivating loyalty from friends in both MI6 and CIA that later supported him when it was believed he was a double agent by investigators.  He also explains how Philby’s career path, behind a desk, allowed his access to vast amounts of information to send to his Soviet handlers and to be on the lookout for anything that could expose him.  Yet Macintyre’s inclusion of Elliot gives the reader a view into the field work of intelligence during the Second World War and the Cold War throughout Europe and the Middle East.  It is in relating Elliot’s career and exploits that one realizes that Hollywood can make good stories, but can’t compare to real life.

Throughout the book Macintyre shows the real friendship that Philby and Elliot had until the very end when the former’s betrayal was finally exposed.  Throughout the book famous intelligent officers and double agents liter the pages, including Ian Fleming, revealing how many people rubbed shoulders with one another.  The only thing the damped the reading of this book was John Le Carre’s afterword which was primarily selections from discussions with Nicholas Elliot who spun is own versions of events in the later years of his life.  Save for that tacked on addition, this book is a must read for those interested in Cold War espionage.

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