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Victory at Mortain is a detailed examination of a World War II battle in which a single American infantry division (the 30th Infantry Division—composed of National Guardsmen from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) halted elements of four advancing German panzer divisions around the town of Mortain, France. The battle, which took place between 7 and 12 August 1944, was the result of the first major German counterattack after the Normandy invasion. The Germans intended to either force the Western Allies off the European continent or, more reasonably, to drive a wedge (quite literally) between the Allied forces. The book's author, Lieutenant Colonel Mark J. Reardon, an Armor officer and a Senior Military Historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, rightly acknowledges the importance of this relatively unknown battle, which, had the Germans succeeded, could have seriously altered the outcome of World War II in Western Europe.
Though the battle at Mortain is not well known, Reardon is not the first author to investigate the topic. Two previous books have dealt with this battle, including: Alwyn Featherston's Battle for Mortain: The 30th Infantry Division Saves the Breakout, August 7-12, 1944 (Presidio Press, 1998); and Robert Weiss's Fire Mission!: The Siege at Mortain, Normandy, August 1944 (2nd ed., Burd Street Press, 2002). Victory at Mortain is significantly different [End Page 1005] from these two other works for several reasons. Featherston, a journalist with the Durham (North Carolina) Herald-Sun, wrote a much more "popular" history, which was as concerned with defending the reputation of the National Guard and discussing Lieutenant General Omar Bradley's failure to close the so-called Falaise Gap, as it was with the details of the battle itself. Weiss's volume, on the other hand, was semiautobiographical, since he was the American forward observer who was credited with calling in artillery support that helped to stop the Germans during the battle.
Victory at Mortain is the first truly scholarly account of the battle. Reardon does a good job of presenting both the American and German perspectives on the battle—from the individual riflemen and tankers to the general officers involved. In addition, Victory at Mortain is unique in two important ways. First, Reardon disputes the traditional belief that German defeats were always the result of either Hitler's interference or Allied matériel superiority. On the contrary, he believes that it was poor intelligence and professional jealousies that ultimately undid German generals in this case. Second, the author makes the interesting argument that Mortain was a precursor of the Battle of the Bulge. At Mortain, the total German force of six counterattacking panzer and panzergrenadier divisions was ultimately undone by the stubborn defense of a single American infantry division, while, at Bastogne, the same fate befell thirteen counterattacking German panzer and panzergrenadier divisions as a result of the stubborn defense of a single American infantry division (101st Airborne Division).
Reardon has produced a well-written and researched volume, which not only draws on American, British, and German primary sources, but also uses firsthand accounts by more than two hundred American soldiers. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the European Theater during World War II.