Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II

505th PIR

Phil Nordyke’s “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) in World War II” is excellent. It is a must-read for any student of World War II.

Mr. Nordyke does a great job as he takes us with the 505th PIR from its beginnings and training in the United States, through its deployment to North Africa, and through its campaigns in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland, the Bulge, and Germany before returning home.

Record Four Combat Jumps

The book takes its title from the 505 PIR’s record four combat jumps in Sicily, Salerno/Naples, Ste Mere Eglise/Normandy, and Nijmegen/Holland. Stars representing participation in combat jumps had been worn unofficially on parachute wings during and after World War II. FYI – this practice did not gain official sanction until after the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury.

Sicily and The Secrets of Ultra

I found it a book that that demanded I read every word on every page. Be prepared for some very graphic descriptions of the training and combat. You’ll feel the heat of North Africa. I was disappointed as I read the Hermann Goring Fallschrim Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions were on Sicily, that General Bradley knew it, and because of secrecy of Ultra they did not pass this information on to the attacking forces! “This was a cruel deception of our own forces, but necessary in order to protect the secrets of Ultra.”

Excellent Job of Using Primary Sources

Mr. Nordyke does an excellent job of using primary sources. At first, I was a little confused when I encountered an incident that was described from multiple people’s points of view, but quickly saw the value in seeing the way more than one person viewed/remembered an incident. It helped paint a more complete picture. Pages 300 – 301 and the actions of Private Camille E. Gagne’s response to the killing of First Lieutenant John Dodd is one example. The coverage giving to the 505th’s role in Nijmegen Holland is very detailed and had me feeling I was there.

The Battle of the Bulge

The 505th PIR’s involvement didn’t stop after its fourth jump into Nijmegen/Holland. They played a key role being deployed by truck into Belgium’s Ardennes Forest as the 82 Airborne Divisions helped stop Hitler’s in The Battle of the Bulge in freezing December 1944 and January 1945.

The book has exception maps and an amazing index. This book should be required reading for active duty members wearing jump wings. It is a must addition to any military historian’s library and would be an excellent addition to all university and community libraries.

Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front, 1941-43 by Hans Roth, edited by Alexander Christine and Mason Kunze

I have read six books dealing with the Eastern Front in World War II. All were either memoirs written after the fact or traditionally researched works. “Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front, 1941-43” by Hans Roth, edited by Alexander Christine and Mason Kunze is different.

The book is the results of three diaries of Hans Roth. He was accounted as missing in action in 1944. Amazingly a buddy on leave delivered the three volumes of diaries to Roth’s relatives. They cover the years 1941, 1942 and 1943. Sadly, Hans Roth vanishes as another MIA unaccounted for casualty of war.

The diaries are incredible. They show that he viewed part of the actions as being pre-emptive (p. 27). There was a clear fear of the Russians being on German soil and killing his loved ones. We learn that the diaries include content that would have never cleared the censors plus he was glad to keep the horrors away from his dear wife.

The book is spectacular. Hans Roth provided a wonderful service for his family and future generations by recording what he witnessed and what he was ordered to do.

You can feel the fear he felt. You can sense the mixed emotions he experienced. The day to day log of his units actions with his understanding of what was going on are amazing. The detail and description he provides of the surroundings paints a remarkable portrait of the times.

Hans Roth realized that luck was a key part of survival. He makes this clear time and time again. The amount of artillery and equipment the Russians had seems to have caught the Germans by surprise. The aircraft strafing runs and Russian counterattacks in 1941 caught me by surprise. Other works reported little or none on these until 1942 and later.

Note: As I read I could feel the growing fatigue and cynicism Hans Roth had a result of the war. His love of his wife and family shows regularly in his comments. The book is an important resource for anyone interested in the Eastern Front as well as those who want a realistic look at the terrors of war. It is gripping and paints one of the clearest pictures ever of how war is horrendous.

Christine Alexander and Mason Kuntze deserve a big thank you for the editing and translation of this project.

jak-moustacheJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is old enough to collect Social Security if he wants, but not yet old enough for Medicare. You can visit him at

“The Battle of the Denmark Strait: A Critical Analysis of the Bismarck’s Singular Triumph” by Robert Winklareth

“The Battle of the Denmark Strait: A Critical Analysis of the Bismarck’s Singular Triumph” by Robert Winklareth achieves its goal of being a narrative description of how the Battle of the Denmark Strait was fought. He does a masterful job of explaining the significance of key events leading up to both the battle and its aftermath. The book is incredibly technically detailed, yet very readable. It tells the story of one of the most famous naval battles of World War II.

The book and its massive appendices provide a wealth of information. The photographs and drawings by the author give a perspective not seen before. The book’s structure is three parts containing the twenty eight chapters and seven appendices. Part one covers the demise of the German Navy at the end of World War II and continues to the Bismark in the Rhine Exercise (Operation Rheinübung).

Part two of the book is the actual battle in the Denmark Strait. This is where the Hood is destroyed and the Prince of Wales retreats.

Part three is the search for and destruction of the Bismark.

The author is a technical analyst. His knowledge of and attention to detail may be too much for the casual reader, but for the hard-core student of military or naval history I gives an insight that will be appreciated. The use of photos taken from the Prinz Eugen and the analysis of the photos adds to the understanding of the battle, though the placement n the book had me turning back and forth sometimes searching to match picture and data. I think its important to point out this is a very balanced book making good use of both British and German sources.

This is a must book for any serious student of naval history. It would be a great addition to any World War II buff. The publisher is Casemate Publishing.

“Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” by Michael F. Dilley

If you enjoy reading about airborne troops, special operations, andelite troops in World War IIthen author Michael F. Dilley’s book “Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” is for you.Divided into two parts, part one of the book is titled, “Behind Enemy Lines”. It tells twenty stories of special operations behind enemy lines. The excellent story telling of the author has shines in all twenty of the stories. Each story stands on its own.

Starting with the Tragino Aqueduct Mission in southern Italy where we see the foolishness of the first mission that requires a fifty mile escape and evasion trek just to get to the pickup point without radio communication to stories on the raid to kill General Rommel and eighteen others that cover every theater of operation we see a common structure. The author tells at times a very spellbinding story followed by the strength of the book – a mission critique. The mission critique show Michael F. Dilley’s strong military intelligence analysis skills.

The second part of the book, “Behind Friendly Lines” lifted back the curtain on an often missed use of special operations soldiers. We look at three amazing missions where they are dropped just behind or into friendly lines.

The pictures included in the book are not a reprinting of stock photos you have seen many times, but rather photographs of uniforms, insignias, and special troops in their special equipment.

The book’s appendixes give us the criteria for evaluation of the units and the operations deserving special recognition. The bibliography included is by itself a resource worth the purchase price of the book.

Michael F. Dailey gets my highest praise for this much needed work on a subject dear to every world war history buff.

General Albert C. Wedemeyer: America’s Unsung Strategist in World War II by John McLaughlin

General Albert C. Wedemeyer: America’s Unsung Strategist in World War II by John McLaughlin. Be there no doubt, the author is a fan of General Albert C. Wedemeyer. The book is a statement of admiration for the general. This is not bad. I am very knowledgeable in military history as a historian by education and a former US Army officer. This book made me aware of a large gap in my knowledge. Yes, I had heard of General Wedemeyer. I was aware of his leadership in China. No, I had no idea he was the architect and strategist of the “Victory Program” which conceived the plans for US mobilization and included the D-Day invasion.

In the late 1930s he was an exchange student at the German Kriegsakademia, the Nazis’ equivalent of Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff School. Because of this,he recognized the revolutionary tactics of Blitzkrieg once they were unleashed, and he knew how to respond.

The book is researched with the skill of a scholar and told in a straight forward way that is very engaging. We learn of a man who held key roles of strategizing on both the European and Asian fronts.

General Wedemeyer was an amazing intellect, one of the brightest minds the US has ever had. Dr. John McLaughlin did a great job of giving us the facts, telling the story, and leaving a tribute to General Albert C. Wedemeyer who was America’s Unsung Strategist in World War II. The book is very good. It has lessons for military leaders, politicians, and strategic strategist.

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

As a lifelong history buff, military history enthusiast, former US Army officer and holder of a BA degree in history, I find myself pleasantly surprised from time to  time when I encounter a book that fills a void in my historical education. “Sacrifice On The Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943″ written by Hope Hamilton and published by Casemate is one such book. The idea for the book originated when the author listened to her uncles’ reflections of his participation in World War II.

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.

Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper by Jack Womer and Stephen C. Devito

Travel with Jack Womer from the steel mills of Dundalk, Maryland through his being drafted (which he resented) and assigned to the 29th Infantry Division to his deployment to England. Experience with him his selection to and the nearly yearlong training with the British commandos as a member of the 29th’s elite Provisional Ranger battalion. You will learn how he joined the 101st Airborne Division after the disbanding of 29th Ranger Battalion.

You will meet the group of demolitionist he joined in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s demolition platoon as they fight in Normandy, Holland, the Ardennes and Germany. The detail of the combat jump into Normandy gives you the sensation of being there as well as showing the confusion on the group. Wormer shares examples how his Ranger training helped him survive in combat. Unfortunately, he does not share the same level of detail in the campaigns following Normandy.

Co-author Stephen Devito did a great job of interviewing Wormer and putting his stories into a first person narrative. The book gives the feel of a veteran telling the actions of his youth.

Wormer shares how he and other soldiers had girlfriends when in England, but his heart yearned to return to the United States and his fiancée Theresa. A side note I enjoyed was the story of how he asked Theresa for a new picture and she refused. He told the story of his desire for a replacement picture. The press picked up the story. The Baltimore newspaper carried the story. We see his fiancée Theresa’s response/reactions.

The book’s title “The Filthy Thirteen” is the nick-name of the section in the 506th’s demolition platoon that Wormer was assigned. It operated/used special equipment like flame-throwers and explosives to attack and clear German positions. These men were infamous for hard living, tough fighting, and poor personal hygiene that earned them their name. The claim is made that The Filthy was an inspiration for the film the Dirty Dozen.

I recommend this well-written and interesting book.