This Week In Military History

Hmm, I was so busy watching Navy's OOHHHH so close loss to South Carolina, I completely forgot the significance of September 17.  Now, for the usual Civil War historian in me, I usually mark Sept 17 as the date of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in the Civil War.

But what I really should have remembered was that date as the beginning of the Battle of Arnhem in 1944.

This battle, the largest airborne drop and paratrooper battle in history, involving 3 Allied Airborne Divisions and 1 Independent Brigade was a fiasco from the start.  I can only imagine what the New York Times today would say about it!  Or some talking head on CNN......sigh.  So many brave men sacrificed for a flawed plan, poor execution, and plain bad luck.  In today's world, Monty might have been fired....which might not have been a bad thing...just sayin'

Of course, I wouldn't mention a battle without mentioning some of may favorite books.

The classic, of course is Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far, written in the early 1970s based on extensive interviews with the participants.  Ryan's account has never really been equaled or surpassed, in my opinion, and was made into one of my all time favorite war movies, the last truly well done Hollywood block buster patriotic movie that EVERYONE in Hollywood had a part, before they became all pinko commie tree hugging liberals...I mean seriously, can you picture Robert Redford in a movie about the Battle of Fallujah???? I didn't think so.

Ryan's book was kind of a door stop, and didn't offer a lot of strategic and operational analysis, but did present the soldier's eye view that made his earlier works some of the best military history of all time.

Recently a new book has emerged that attempts to capture more of a sense of the battle as a campaign than Ryan's book, and it succeeds in that sense, but it was generally not as satisfying as Ryan's.  Bennett presents a more complete picture and analysis of the battle, presenting what for me was the new information that the other two British Corps from British 2nd Army had a much bigger role in the battle alongside XXX Corps than Ryan captured in his book.  And, since it is the first really new book on the battle in almost 30 years, it does deserve some attention.

There are several division histories that cover the battle, particularly new histories of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division, and plenty of memoirs and "I was there" types of books.  Some of them are quite good, but not really about just the Arnhem operation.

But the real prize, as far as recent scholarship for me, was this book.  Kershaw looks at the battle entirely from the German perspective, a completely fresh take that really does a marvelous job of describing how the German Army in the West...routed and nearly destroyed during the retreat from France, comes very close to destroying the entire First Allied Airborne Army, and does effectively destroy the elite British 1st Airborne Division.  An excellent bookend to Ryan's book, this one is highly recommended.

So we should always remember these gallant soldiers from the sky, particularly those British lads who fought tanks and half-tracks with rifles and machine-guns while valiantly holding the Arnhem bridge for nearly 9 days.