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History > Military History > World War II

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Frontsoldaten

The German Soldier in World War II

Stephen Fritz

" Alois Dwenger, writing from the front in May of 1942, complained that people forgot “the actions of simple soldiers….I believe that true heroism lies in bearing this dreadful everyday life.” In exploring the reality of the Landser, the average German soldier in World War II, through letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral histories, Stephen G. Fritz provides the definitive account of the everyday war of the German front soldier. The personal documents of these soldiers, most from the Russian front, where the majority of German infantrymen saw service, paint a richly textured portrait of the Landser that illustrates the complexity and paradox of his daily life. Although clinging to a self-image as a decent fellow, the German soldier nonetheless committed terrible crimes in the name of National Socialism. When the war was finally over, and his country lay in ruins, the Landser faced a bitter truth: all his exertions and sacrifices had been in the name of a deplorable regime that had committed unprecedented crimes. With chapters on training, images of combat, living conditions, combat stress, the personal sensations of war, the bonds of comradeship, and ideology and motivation, Fritz offers a sense of immediacy and intimacy, revealing war through the eyes of these self-styled “little men.” A fascinating look at the day-to-day life of German soldiers, this is a book not about war but about men. It will be vitally important for anyone interested in World War II, German history, or the experiences of common soldiers throughout the world.

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Fugitives

Evading and Escaping the Japanese

Bob Stahl

" When the Japanese Imperial Forces invaded the Philippine Islands at the onset of World War II, they quickly rounded up Allied citizens on Luzon and imprisoned them as enemy aliens. These captured civilians were treated inhumanely from the start, and news of the atrocities committed by the enemy soon spread to the more remote islands to the south. Hearing this, many of the expatriates living there refused to surrender as their islands were occupied. Fugitives , based on the memoir of Jordan A. Hamner, tells the true story of a young civilian mining engineer trapped on the islands during the Japanese invasion. Instead of surrendering, he and two American co-workers volunteered their services to the Allied armed forces engaged in the futile effort to stave off the enemy onslaught. When the overwhelmed defenders surrendered to the invaders, the three men fled farther into the disease-ridden mountainous jungle. After nearly a year of nomadic wandering, they found a derelict, twenty-one foot long lifeboat in a secluded coastal bay. Hoping to sail to freedom in Australia, the trio converted the craft into a sailboat, and called it the “Or Else.” They would make it to Australia—or else. With only a National Geographic magazine map of the Malacca Islands for navigation, Hamner, his two compatriots, and two Filipino crewmen sailed their unseaworthy craft fifteen hundred nautical miles over seas controlled by the Japanese navy, touching land only briefly to replenish meager rations or evade enemy vessels. After thirty perilous days at sea, marked by nearly disastrous encounters with hostile islanders, imminent starvation, and tropical storms, the desperate fugitives reached the welcome shores of Australia.

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Fu-go

The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America

Ross Coen

Near the end of World War II, in an attempt to attack the United States mainland, Japan launched its fu-go campaign, deploying thousands of high-altitude hydrogen balloons armed with incendiary and high-explosive bombs designed to follow the westerly winds of the upper atmosphere and drift to the west coast of North America. After reaching the mainland, these fu-go, the Japanese hoped, would terrorize American citizens and ignite devastating forest fires across the western states, ultimately causing the United States to divert wartime resources to deal with the domestic crisis.

While the fu-go offensive proved to be a complete tactical failure, six Americans lost their lives when a discovered balloon exploded. Ross Coen provides a fascinating look into the obscure history of the fu-go campaign, from the Japanese schoolgirls who manufactured the balloons by hand to the generals in the U.S. War Department who developed defense procedures. The book delves into panic, propaganda, and media censorship in wartime. Fu-go is a compelling story of a little-known episode in our national history that unfolded virtually unseen.

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Full Fathom Five

A Daughter's Search

Written by Mary Lee Coe Fowler

Mary Lee Coe Fowler was a posthumous child, born after her father, a submarine skipper in the Pacific, was lost at sea in 1943. Her mother quickly remarried into a difficult and troubled relationship, and Mary Lee’s biological father was never mentioned. It was not until her mother died and Mary Lee was a middle-aged adult that she set out to learn not only who her father was, but what happened to him and his crew, and why—and also to confront why she had shied away from asking these questions until it was nearly too late.
          Fowler searched through old ships’ logs, letters, and naval communiqués; visited submarine museums, the Naval Academy, and other pertinent sites; interviewed old friends and crew members who knew her dad and mom or served concurrently; and slowly reconstructed the world in which they lived. Beautifully written, Fowler’s memoir reveals what she eventually learned: of the perils and harships of submarine service in wartime, of the tragic irony of how her father’s sub was probably lost, and of the long-term damage experienced by the families of those who do not come home from war.

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G Company's War

Two Personal Accounts of the Campaigns in Europe, 1944-1945

Written by Bruce E. Egger and Lee McMillian Otts, edited and with commentary by

This unique account of combat in World War II provides parallel day-to-day records of the same events as seen by two men in the same company, one an enlisted man, one an officer.  

G Company's War is the story of a World War II rifle company in Patton's Third Army as detailed in the journals of S/Sgt. Bruce Egger and Lt. Lee M. Otts, both of G Company, 328th Regiment, 26th infantry Division. 

Bruce Egger arrived in France in October 1944, and Lee Otts arrived in November. Both fought for G Company through the remainder of the war. Otts was wounded seriously in March 1945 and experienced an extended hospitalization in England and the United States. Both men kept diaries during the time they were in the service, and both expanded the diaries into full-fledged journals shortly after the war. 

These are the voices of ordinary soldiers--the men who did the fighting--not the generals and statesmen who viewed events from a distance. Most striking is how the two distinctly different personalities recorded the combat experience. For the serious-minded Egger, the war was a grim ordeal; for Otts, with his sunny disposition, the war was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, sometimes even fun. Each account is accurate in its own right, but the combination of the two into a single, interwoven story provides a broader understanding of war and the men caught up in it. 

Historian Paul Roley has interspersed throughout the text helpful overviews and summaries that place G Company's activities in the larger context of overall military operations in Europe. In addition, Roley notes what happened to each soldier mentioned as wounded in action or otherwise removed from the company and provides an appendix summarizing the losses suffered by G Company. The total impact of the work is to describe the reality of war in a frontline infantry company. 


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The General and His Daughter

The War Time Letters of General James M. Gavin to his Daughter Barbara

Barbara Fauntleroy

James Maurice Gavin left for war in April 1943 as a colonel commanding the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division-America's first airborne division and the first to fight in World War II. In 1944, Slim JimGavin, as he was known to his troops, at the age of thirty-seven became the 82nd's commanding general-the youngest Army officer to become a major general since the Civil War. At war's end, this soldier's soldier had become one of our greatest generals-and the 82nd's most decorated officer.Now James Gavin's letters home to his nine-year-old daughter Barbara provide a revealing portrait of the American experience in World War II through the eyes of one of its most dynamic officers. Written from ship decks, foxholes, and field tents-often just before or after a dangerous jump-they capture the day-to-day realities of combat and Gavin's personal reactions to the war he helped to win. And provide an invaluable self-portrait of a great general, and a great American, in war and peace.The book's more than 200 letters begin at Fort Bragg in 1943 and continue to December 1945, as Gavin came home to lead the 82nd at the head of the Victory parade in New York. This correspondence constitutes the majority of Gavin's private wartime letters, but except for rare appearances in regimental newsletters, it has never before been published. In her Introduction, Epilogue, and Notes, Barbara Gavin Fauntleroy gives a privileged glimpse of the private man. Edited by Gayle Wurst, the book features historical overviews by Starlyn Jorgensen, a preface by noted Gavin biographer Gerard M. Devlin, and a foreword by Rufus Broadaway, Gavin's aide-de-camp.

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General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II

Nicholas A. Krehbiel

 
During World War II, the United States drafted 10.1 million men to serve in the military. Of that number, 52,000 were conscientious objectors, and 12,000 objected to noncombatant military service. Those 12,000 men served the country in Civilian Public Service, the program initiated by General Lewis Blaine Hershey, the director of Selective Service from 1941 to1970. Despite his success with this program, much of Hershey’s work on behalf of conscientious objectors has been overlooked due to his later role in the draft during the Vietnam War.

 

Seeking to correct these omissions in history, Nicholas A. Krehbiel provides the most comprehensive and well-rounded examination to date of General Hershey’s work as the developer and protector of alternative service programs for conscientious objectors. Hershey, whose Selective Service career spanned three major wars and six presidential administrations, came from a background with a tolerance for pacifism. He served in the National Guard and later served in both World War I and the interwar army. A lifelong military professional, he believed in the concept of the citizen soldier—the civilian who responded to the duty of service when called upon. Yet embedded in that idea was his intrinsic belief in the American right to religious freedom and his notion that religious minorities must be protected.

 

What to do with conscientious objectors has puzzled the United States throughout its history, and prior to World War II, there was no unified system for conscientious objectors. The Selective Service Act of 1917 only allowed conscientious objection from specific peace sects, and it had no provisions for public service. In action, this translated to poor treatment of conscientious objectors in military prisons and camps during World War I. In response to demands by the Historic Peace Churches (the Brethren, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends) and other pacifist groups, the government altered language in the Selective Service Act of 1940, stating that conscientious objectors should be assigned to noncombatant service in the military but, if opposed to that, would be assigned to “work of national importance under civilian direction.” Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and with the cooperation of the Historic Peace Churches, Hershey helped to develop Civilian Public Service in 1941, a program that placed conscientious objectors in soil conservation and forestry work camps, with the option of moving into detached services as farm laborers, scientific test subjects, and caregivers, janitors, and cooks at mental hospitals. Although the Civilian Public Service program only lasted until 1947, alternative service was required for all conscientious objectors until the end of the draft in 1973.

 

Krehbiel delves into the issues of minority rights versus mandatory military service and presents General Hershey’s pivotal role in the history of conscientious objection and conscription in American history. Archival research from both Historic Peace Churches and the Selective Service makes General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II the definitive book on this subject.
 

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G.I. Nightingales

The Army Nurse Corps in World War II

Barbara Tomblin

"Weaving together information from official sources and personal interviews, Barbara Tomblin gives the first full-length account of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in the Second World War. She describes how over 60,000 army nurses, all volunteers, cared for sick and wounded American soldiers in every theater of the war, serving in the jungles of the Southwest Pacific, the frozen reaches of Alaska and Iceland, the mud of Italy and northern Europe, or the heat and dust of the Middle East. Many of the women in the Army Nurse Corps served in dangerous hospitals near the front lines—201 nurses were killed by accident or enemy action, and another 1,600 won decorations for meritorious service. These nurses address the extreme difficulties of dealing with combat and its effects in World War II, and their stories are all the more valuable to women’s and military historians because they tell of the war from a very different viewpoint than that of male officers. Although they were unable to achieve full equality for American women in the military during World War II, army nurses did secure equal pay allowances and full military rank, and they proved beyond a doubt their ability and willingness to serve and maintain excellent standards of nursing care under difficult and often dangerous conditions.

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Glider Infantryman

Behind Enemy Lines in World War II

Donald J. Rich and Kevin Brooks

A member of the famed Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division, Donald J. Rich went ashore on D-Day at Utah Beach, was wounded in the bloody conflict at Carentan, landed in a flimsy plywood-and-canvas glider on the battlefields of Holland, and survived the grim siege with the “Battling Bastards of Bastogne” during the Battle of the Bulge. Ordinary Eagle is his eyewitness account of how he, along with thousands of other young men from farms, small towns, and cities across the United States, came together to answer the call of their nation. It is also a heartfelt tribute to the many thousands who gave their lives in the struggle. Coauthored by Kevin Brooks, the son of Rich’s best friend and World War II comrade, Ordinary Eagle covers a span of nearly three years: from February 1943, when Rich left his family in Wayland, Iowa, until his return home, five months after the war's end, as a toughened bazooka gunner and veteran of five campaigns. Rich’s first-person narrative includes vivid coverage of the action, featuring an especially rare account of arriving on a combat landing zone by glider. Detailed, day-to-day depiction of some of the heaviest fighting in Holland follows, including the action at Opheusden, the center of the infamous “Island.” Later highlights include the Battle of the Bulge, where Rich recounts his experiences in some of the hottest defensive fighting of the European Theater, including the epic tank battles at Marvie, Champs, and Foy.

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The Great Plains during World War II

R. Douglas Hurt

After World War II, the pivotal event in twentieth-century American history, life both at home and abroad seemed more complex and more dangerous than ever before. The political, economic, and social changes wrought by the war, such as the centralization and regulation of economic affairs by the federal government, new roles for women and minorities in American life, and the world leadership of the United States, remained in place after the soldiers and sailors returned home.
 
Although the impact of World War II was not as transformative for the Great Plains as it was for other areas of the United States, it was still significant and tumultuous. Emphasizing the region’s social and economic history, The Great Plains during World War II is the first book to examine the effects of the war on the region and the responses of its residents. Beginning with the isolationist debate that preceded the war, R. Douglas Hurt traces the residents’ changing view of the European conflict and its direct impact on the plains. Hurt argues that the people of the Great Plains based their patriotic response to the war effort on the concept of comparative sacrifice. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, this compelling and frank history brings to life the voices and experiences of the residents of the Great Plains in recounting the story of the daily concerns of ordinary people that have become part of the nation’s history of this seminal event.

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