The World Within War: America’s Combat Experience in World War II
Gerald F. Linderman. New York: The Free Press, 1997. 408 pp. Bib. Index. $26.00.
Reviewed by Gerhard Weinberg
In World War II fewer than 10% of those in military service were in active combat for substantial periods of time. They experienced first-hand the terrors and risks of battle. Gerald Linderman, who previously has explored the reactions of U.S. soldiers in prior wars, in this elegantly written book tries to understand and convey what war meant and did to them.
There are aspects of combat experience that are always likely to escape observers, both because those involved repress much and because there is a great deal they do not fully understand themselves. There are, however, clues in the memoirs and later recollections of some soldiers, the studies of others, and even in the reassuring—and hence misleading—letters GIs sent home. Linderman has sifted through a vast quantity of these materials to tease out a picture of modem war. The author utilizes innumerable quotations—most of them quite short, and some repetitious. The resulting description of U.S. combat experience is generally convincing.
We see the U.S. soldier as unconscious of his own vulnerability as most young people but quickly undeceived in battle. There the enemy is largely unseen; it is artillery and mines that the soldier comes to know well. Idealism largely vanishes as men age rapidly, and chance rather than individual performance seems to determine who shall live and who shall die. The war is a job to be finished rather than a duty to be carrier out. There is a numbing process as well as a related tendency toward callousness and brutalization.
Linderman repeatedly points out that the decision to raise a relatively small number of U.S. divisions and keep these in nearly constant combat (as compared with having more units and rotating them out of the front) had a bad effect on the men. With fewer opportunities to catch their breath, the reality that only death, wounds, capture, and the ever receding horizon of the war’s end offered relief, created a sense of expendability. Resentments against their own officers, soldiers in rear areas, and the home front became stronger and more bitter than either the record or the memoirs indicate.
Separate chapters on the wars against Germany and Japan highlight the differences between the ways in which U.S. soldiers reacted to the different conduct of their two main enemies. There were terrible incidents in the West committed by German soldiers (sometimes they reverted to their Eastern Front habits), but such important issues as respect for medical personnel and prisoners of war generally were handled with some decency. There was a kind of automatic reciprocity, both in the positive and the occasional negative direction.
The identical reciprocity process took place in the Pacific with U.S. soldiers and Marines responding initially with surprise and then with anger to the horrible behavior of the Japanese. Unprepared mentally for the savage and deliberate mistreatment of the wounded, medics, chaplains, and prisoners by the Japanese, U.S. soldiers came to follow the Japanese in a descent into cruelty and indifference that went much further than in the European theater. The author fails to engage seriously either the nature of the dramatic break in Japan between 1918 and 1937— from a country held up as a model of civility to one of depravity—or the impact of the postwar Japanese refusal to engage this issue, but he does lay out the facts of the fighting in the Pacific before the reader.
In separate chapters, Linderman deals perceptively with the appeal of battle through the sense of excitement, spectacle, delight in destruction and in comradeship that it offers; but he finds that the whole experience is disintegrative for those involved. Their sense of time dissolves; they become hardened as well as lonely; many break down psychologically. When it is over, the harshest portions are repressed in memory, a procedure that assists the veteran to move on with life and to avoid distressing a family unlikely to understand the nature of battle anyway. What is the point of raking up memories that make you uncomfortable and terrify those you love? I can testify that my own father, who served at the front in World War I, adhered to Linderman’s description.
Age of Sail
CD-ROM Simulation by TalonSoft. P.O. Box 632, Forrest Hill, MD 21050-0632 (410) 933-9191. $54.95. Demo available to download at their website: www.talonsoft.com. System requirements: IBM PC compatible, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95+. 486DX/33 minimum, 8 MB of RAM, 5 MB minimum of hard drive space and 2x CD-ROM drive required.
Reviewed by Donald A. Wambold
Age of Sail is a CD-ROM simulation of naval warfare during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Four training scenarios and more than 100 researched historic battles are included involving U.S., British, French, Spanish, and Russian ships. Scenarios range from single ship battles such as the Bonhomme Richard versus the Serapis and the Constitution versus the Guemcre, to great fleet actions such as the battles of Trafalgar and Cape St. Vincent.
With each scenario, the user can choose to allow one or both sides to proceed under manual, automatic, or automatic with the fog of war A/I (artificial intelligence). In manual mode, the captain can control each individual ship or give orders to all ships on his side. With both sides on automatic A/I, the user can watch a historic battle unfold.
In manual mode with A/I selected, players control the setting of sail up three levels according to the ever-changing sea and wind conditions. They can order course changes, select ammunition types and targets, and when and how to fire. Players also can choose to use grappling hooks and order a boarding party away. The simulation constantly displays damage to the ship’s hull, sails, guns, and crew. The historical quality of both ships and crews are factored into the scenario, though “cheat” options are available for “captains in training.” Age of Sail allows the option of modem play, too, allowing players to go head-to-head against other players across telephone lines. A scenario editor allows players to create their own scenarios using a database of more than 2,000 historically accurate ships.
The historical simulations seem accurate, and wind speed and direction do change frequently. But it does seem an inordinate amount of time to effect a course change. Installation is effortless (I installed under Windows 95), and controls and options are easy to learn. Icons can be displayed on the toolbar for each ship, indicating the progress of reloading (and type of ammunition ordered) and the percentage of damage to the crew, sails, hulls, and guns. Graphics and sounds are first-rate, as is the accuracy of the capabilities of the vessels and crews. Age of Sail offers much to understanding the difficulties and procedures of naval battles during the sailing age. Try weathering a ship and you may be caught in irons if you’re not careful!
U-Boat Far From Home
David Stevens. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin, 1997.
Reviewed by Commander R.T. Jackson, Royal New Zealand Navy
On Christmas Eve 1944, a German U-boat sank a U.S. Liberty ship off the Australian coast near Sydney. Escaping destruction, the U-862 sailed east across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand before returning to the Indian Ocean in February 1945 and sinking another U.S. freighter— the last Allied ship to be lost in that ocean. It was the farthest ranging war patrol of any U-boat ever—and remarkably, the U-862 remained undetected as it returned from her war patrol to Djakarta in Japanese-occupied Java.
David Stevens, a former Royal Australian Navy officer and the present Director of Naval Historical Studies in Canberra, has thoroughly researched and assembled the story of the U-862. It is a compelling story and a remarkable piece of research: Stevens has uncovered a story completely overlooked in earlier histories. But his book is more than just a narrative of a patrol; he describes the sub’s part in the U-boat offensive in the Indian Ocean and explains why Admiral Karl Donitz sent his U-boats so far from home. Germany began operating U-boats in the Indian Ocean in 1943. For the scheme to be practical, Germany had to gain the cooperation of the Japanese—forthcoming from the navy, but less so from the army. The Germans’ first base was at Penang in Malaya, and their area of operations generally was the western part of the Indian Ocean. The U-862 and her commander, Heinrich Timm, already were veterans of Arctic convoy battles. After sinking one ship in the South Atlantic during the long, dangerous passage from Germany, Timm took the U-862 into the Mozambique Channel, sinking four freighters and shooting down a Royal Air Force PBY Catalina. The U-boat finally reached Penang in September 1944.
Drawing on a wartime diary and correspondence with former crewmen of the U-862, Stevens constructs a rare picture of German-Japanese relations in South East Asia. The two nations were not true allies, but instead were barely cooperating co-belligerents. While living in Singapore, the U-boat sailors even were willing to make rations available surreptitiously to Allied prisoners of war.
The U-862 moved from Djakarta before its next war patrol, and there the plan for the U-boat offensive against Australia was developed. At least three U-boats were detailed for the operation, but Allied intelligence was reading German message traffic, so the plan’s outline was known. Stevens conveys the tension and horror of submarine-versus-submarine combat as U.S. submarines based at Fremantle were ordered to intercept the U-boats. The U-862, however, safely evaded her hunters in November 1944 and sailed toward Australia. South of Sydney she sank a Liberty ship—disrupting the Christmas season for many in the Royal Australian Navy and Air Force. The subsequent Australian submarine hunt went on for more than a week, but Timm had evaded detection once again and crossed the Tasman Sea. In New Zealand waters, Timm searched for shipping off Auckland, then took a close look at two smaller ports. He got so close to shore that the U-boatmen could hear music from the cafes along the coast. They found no suitable targets and soon were recalled by U-boat command.
Stevens vividly conveys the U-boat’s experience: rough seas, poor food, the sense of loneliness at Christmas as the father- land was facing defeat and all the while the edge of fear of detection and attack. Stevens does not forget the point of view of the sailors who fell victim to the U-862’s torpedoes, the airmen and naval ratings who hunted the submarine, or of the code breakers who read the German and Japanese signals. Ultimately, the U-862 reached Java again after sinking the SS Peter Sylvester. Again, the author relates the survivors’ and the rescuers’ stories, reinforcing his theme of the wider impact of even just a single sinking.
Over all, this is an intensely human story about a small group of men whose home is a narrow, crowded U-boat, whose support comes reluctantly from a suspicious, alien nation, and whose duty takes them far into waters controlled by a deadly and determined enemy. Stevens has written a gripping narrative, one that ably reflects the unique achievements of those remarkable submariners.
Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772-1853
Roger Morriss. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. 223pp. Notes. Bib. Ind. $39.95.
Reviewed by Spencer C. Tucker
Americans know Admiral Sir George Cockburn only as “the man who burned Washington” during the War of 1812. In his important new book, historian Roger Morriss details Cockburn’s long and distinguished career in the Royal Navy in the period between the American Revolution and the Crimean War. During this time
Britain became the predominant world naval and industrial power, but simultaneously the Royal Navy underwent great change: wood, sail, and shot all gave place to iron, steam, and shell. Morriss uses biography to trace these wider changes in the Navy during this period, and he also examines the professional conduct of naval officers, the management of seamen, and administrative politics.
Morriss retired as a curator at the National Maritime Museum in 1995, and is currently associated with both the University of Exeter and University College London. His book is painstakingly researched and makes extensive use of naval as well as parliamentary primary sources. Morriss needed his research skills because Cockburn is a difficult subject for biography. During his life the Admiral shunned publicity and was indifferent to defending himself against his critics. Most of his family papers were destroyed, and we know little of his private life.
Born into a relatively impoverished yet socially prominent family, Cockburn went to sea as a midshipman in 1786 at age 14 and eventually rose to be First Naval Lord. He spent 22 years of his long career in war and 17 at the Admiralty. He left the latter in 1846 with the collapse of Robert Peel’s government. In 1851 he became Admiral of the Fleet.
Cockburn came to prominence during the French Revolutionary Wars, and by 1815 he was the best known British admiral, both for his combined operations in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812—culminating in the burning of Washington—and for escorting Napoleon into exile on St. Helena. But Cockburn’s major accomplishments came ashore at the Admiralty from 1818 to 1846, when he steered the Navy through a period of profound change.
Morriss’s principal accomplishment is to give Cockburn proper credit for his long-obscured achievements during the Admiralty years. Usually labeled a reactionary largely because of his Tory political affiliation, Cockburn was responsible for important administrative and technological changes, such as experiments with the screw propeller, and improving living conditions for sailors. This well-researched and carefully written biography will be of particular interest to specialists in the 19th-century Royal Navy, but its examination of the impact of national politics on naval administration and individual reputations gives it a wider appeal.