Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge" by Michael Collins and Martin King

Oral histories are fashionable these days. When the oral history is tied to a battle or events that have been reported on repeatedly it is a challenge. "Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge" by Michael Collins and Martin King is a book where the writers have used a dozen years’ worth of research and interviews with veterans along with historical accounts of the battle to tell the story through the eyes of the participants.

The book is a clear and direct account of the Battle of the Bulge. The authors give good coverage to the first ten days. As I read the book, I was at first taken aback by the redundancy of many of the soldier’s accounts. Their interpretations of the events were focused on the weather and retreating or being away from the front lines, either for rest and recuperation or on leave and then riding or marching to the recuse of their fellow Americans. So many of the G.I.’s included a mention of Bastogne that I wondered if this was coverage of the Battle of Bastogne. The personal recollections included are general experiences of the common G.I. There is token coverage at best of the German side of the story. If that’s what you want, it isn’t here.

The book has a number of issues I won’t address in detail.  One I will mention is when a veteran’s memory of events don’t match what actually happened (e.g. saying soldiers of the 3rd Parachute Division were dropped well behind US lines and then telling apocryphal tales) they needed to have a note saying the events recalled were incorrect and then tell what actually happened. There are a few sidebars included in the book. Unfortunately, they are somewhat redundant. 

The book needs a bibliography. It needs a listing of secondary sources. It would be helpful to have both a listing of the interviews with the units of service for the individuals. Did they verify the individuals were actually in the unit at the time of the Battle of the Bulge?

The inclusion of the DVD is nice. I was disappointed at the brevity of the DVD. I was expecting more. Yes, Oral histories are fashionable these days. All in all, it could have been better.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

"Sacrifice On the Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943" by Hope Hamilton

When Hitler had Germany invade Russia in June 1941, Prime Minister of Italy Mussolini declared war on Russia. He quickly sent a hastily organized Italian Expeditionary force of 62,000 men to join the Russian campaign even though Adolf Hitler discouraged such a move. Italy was unprepared militarily. Mussolini's motivation was to join Hitler in receiving the spoils following an imagined rapid Nazi victory against Russia.

Hope Hamilton's book draws on personal interviews, exhaustive research and the written accounts of Italians who participated in and survived Mussolini's tragic decision of Italian involvement. Mussolini compounded his mistake by sending even more troops the following year. The author does a good job of showing the human side of the Italian involvement on the Russian front. This is not a scholarly work on the tactics and logistics of the Italian involvement. Rather, it is the story of the people who made the terrible trek from Italy to Russia to support their German ally. The German's had little trust of and kept the Italians minimally informed and I believe misused the Alpine troops by not maximizing the troops mountain fighting ability by their placement along the Don River.

The author does a great job of telling the soldier's story. Her writing style focuses on the individual accounts of the soldiers. She discusses how the Alpine Corps was caught up in the German campaign capture Stalingrad in the autumn of 1942. She takes us through the Soviet offensive that followed in late November. We experience the collapse of the entire Axis front and the Alpine Corps’ withdrawal to the Don. I could have used a more background about the Stalingrad Campaign. The book does not take a strategic view of the campaign. Little attention is given to the big picture. The story is told from the Italian point of view instead of looking at it from the Axis point of view.

The book includes good notes, is well indexed, and has a great bibliography. I enjoyed the book. If you are looking for an after action report of the Italian participation or a critical analysis of the campaign this is not the book for you. If you're looking for a good overview and an understanding of what the Italian soldiers experienced then you'll enjoy the book. I give it four stars. It is a must addition to any military historian’s library. It is a good first volume to fill a long void of an English language account of the Italian involvement on the eastern front.