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On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander 1943-1946 by General James M. Gavin


General James M. Gavin tells the story of the 82d Airborne Division during World War II. Gavin began training at the Airborne School in Fort Benning in July 1941 and graduated in August 1941. After graduating, he served in an experimental unit. His first command was Commanding Officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion. Gavin’s friends William Ryder — Commander of Airborne training – and William Yarborough – Communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group – convinced General William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of Airborne combat. Lee followed up on this recommendation and made Gavin his Operations and Training Officer (S-3). On October 16, 1941, he was promoted to Major.

One of his first priorities was determining how airborne troops could be used most effectively. His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. He used information about Soviet and German experiences with Paratroopers and Glider troops, and also used his own experience about tactics and warfare. The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to perform their task efficiently.

Gavin is best suited to provide this history since he served with the Division during its entire participation in the European Campaign, starting as a Regimental Commander with the 505th to eventually command the division.

General Gavin gives a detailed description of all the operations the 82d participated in during World War II. He adds his analysis of why certain things went well for his unit, while other things were a struggle. He provides insight into the Allied command structure and the challenges it faced.

This is an enjoyable and informative book that provides a unique perspective of the war, much different than other general officers. Gavin personally experienced the harshness and challenges of WWII combat because of the nature of airborne operations. Gavin, also he participated in numerous high-level planning sessions with other well-known leaders of the Allied Command. This participation allows him to connect the planning and the execution of how strategic decisions influenced the actual combat operations in the European Theater of Operations.

For me, the most insightful and entertaining part of the book was General Gavin’s analysis of General Eisenhower’s decision to concede Berlin to the Russians. The last chapter reflects back on the war and Berlin question with a discussion of the decisions made and their impact and implications thirty years later. It is kind of interesting stuff, especially given the long-term implications that these decisions had on world events.

I strongly recommend this book. For those wanting to learn more about the 82d or airborne operations, this is required reading. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.


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