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.

“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.

A Soldier Reports

The book is the memoir of one of America’s most controversial military leaders. I found it refreshing to read of his background and upbringing. He briefly covers his days as a cadet at West Point where he graduated in 1936, the horse dawn artillery days, and his role in World War II where he fought with distinction in North Africa and Europe with the Ninth Division. We see his fast rise to a Brigadier General before thirty years of age and later (1952–53) in role in the Korean War. He served as superintendent of West Point (1960–64), attained (1964) the rank of general and commanded (1964–68) U.S. military forces in Vietnam. He then assumed the position of army chief of staff, which he held until his retirement in 1972.

I was saddened as I read Westmoreland’s comments on one of the early killed in action lists that crossed his desk. It included 2LT John J. Pershing III, grandson of World War I supreme commanding general “Blackjack” Pershing. The book looks at the Viet-Nam war from Westmoreland’s point of view. It explains his decision-making process. It is more than an after action report. It is worth reading if you are a political or military history junkie. His relationship with Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara are not covered in the detail I would have liked. This is the story of a decent man, giving his best to his country in difficult times.

Free France’s Lion: The Life Of Philippe Leclerc, De Gaulle’s Greatest General by William Moore

Most students of World War II are familiar with General Charles de Gaulle. Only the most serious know of General Philippe Leclerc. I consider myself very knowledgeable when it comes to World War II history. William Mortimer Moore’s biography of Philippe Leclerc filled a void in my education. The book is well-written. It held my attention.

The story begins with Leclerc’s death. We learn of his ill-fated November 1947 airplane flight and fatal crash in Algeria. We next are educated on the details of his family history including his coming from an old line of nobility being made aware of the role of his Catholic faith and heritage. We travel with Leclerc following the fall of France in 1940 to London. We go with him to Africa, as he becomes governor of French Cameroon, travel with him as he battles the Axis in Chad and moves his troops across West Africa where he distinguished himself in Tunisia.

General Leclerc commands the French 2nd Armored Division. They land in Normandy; he participates in the battle of the Falaise Pocket, and the liberation of Paris. Leclerc and de Gaulle had to persuade Eisenhower to send troops help the Parisians.

At the end of World War II in Europe, he received command of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, and represented France during the surrender of the Japanese Empire, signing the surrender document for France. Leclerc is the commander over French Indo-China after World War II. He approved negations with Ho Chi Minh which were unsuccessful. He returned to France.

The book is a must read for any serious student of World War II in Europe. The book is extensively footnoted. The footnotes are heavy with secondary, rather than primary sources. It has an excellent index. It would be an excellent addition to any community, college or personal library. “Free France’s Lion: The Life Of Philippe Leclerc, De Gaulle’s Greatest General” is written by William Moore. The publisher is Casemate Publishers.

Tiger Tank Manual: Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger 1 Ausf.E (SdKfz 181) Model (Owner’s Workshop Manual)

“Tiger Tank Manual: Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger 1 Ausf.E (SdKfz 181) Model (Owner’s Workshop Manual)” by David Fletcher, David Wiley and Mike Hayden and published by Zenith Press.  The Tank Museum in South Dorset in the United Kingdom (UK) was in a unique position to write a new chapter in the Tank story with its own discoveries on restoring and running Tiger 131, which is the centerpiece of the manual.

“Tiger Tank Manual” is unique as we follow the story of Tiger 131 from April 1943 in Tunisia in North Africa to its arrival in the UK in October 1943 to its renovation and refurbishing thanks to the national Lottery. It is a short work of only 164 pages. “Tiger Tank Manual” gives an amazing insight and inside look into purchasing, owning, and even operating one of the world’s most outstanding engineering feats and fighting vehicles.

The use of personal remembrances of what it was like to operate and command such a vehicle in wartime gives you a “you were there” feeling. he recollections of what it was like to be on the receiving end of the Tiger’s 88 mmm gun shared by Lieutenant Gundgin in the Foreword really helps set the book’s tone.

The pictures, illustrations, line drawings, statics are amazing. The “Tiger Tank Manual” gives the necessary background on the history and development of the tank. You get the story of Tiger 131 down including forensic and crime scene analysis of the battlefield damage to the tank to include the ammunition used against the tank!

You are given a specular cutaway drawing of the tank from the School of Tank Technology. Note: I am a former US Army Ordnance Corps officer whose military occupational specialty was maintenance. I supported the old US Army M60A2 tank. The detail in “Tiger Tank Manual” rivals any Technical Manual. I cannot over emphasize the quality and variety of the pictures. They left me with the felling I had crawled all over the vehicle as well as I examined every detail inside the tank. They are amazing.

You get a glimpse into the mind of the museum as to why they restored Tiger 131. Again, detail pictures as well as description guides you through the process. Such details as paint selection and viewpoints from volunteers working on the project make you feel part of the project.

The “Tiger tank Manual” includes a chapter on running the tank. The detail given to the start-up procedures and riving the tank makes me want to get in the driver’s seat and take it for a test drive.

The detail given to “The May back Engine” may appear to be overkill to some, but the tank enthusiast or automotive engineer will enjoy the examination of the engine and its auxiliaries. Everything from ventilation to the gearbox and transmission as well as the steering and drive shafts (final drive) is covered.

Having supported annual tank gunnery for several years had my curiosity peak in the chapter devoted to firepower. Excellent coverage is given to tank gunnery from the ammunition down to aiming and firing the gun.

The explanation of the deployment and tactics of the Tiger lets you have an understanding of the German’s strategy. The book concludes with a nice appendix of the surviving Tigers.

While the book may not be for everyone, any military enthusiast will enjoy the book. Any tanker or former tank crewmember will enjoy the book. I believe it would be a worthwhile addition to any military history library as well as any collection dealing with World War II. Additionally, automotive engineers will find the book simply amazing.

Read and reviewed by: Jimmie A. Kepler February 29, 2012. Note: Jimmie is honorably discharged as a Captain in the ordnance Corps US Army where he served as a maintenance office and supported a tank battalion (2nd Bn 77th Armor 2nd Brigade 9th Infantry Division) in 1978.