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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Victory in the St. Lawrence: The Unknown U-Boat War by James W. Essex (The Boston Mills Press) Except for the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor , those of us living in North America think of the Second World War as being fought far away. Few know that German U-boats prowled largely unchallenged up and down the St. Lawrence River, sinking unwary Canadian military and Allied merchant vessels in an attempt to stop the flow of goods, troops and armaments to war-ravaged Britain. Fewer still know that prior to the war, Hitler tried to purchase Anticosti Island, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, from a wealthy French chocolate-bar manufacturer.

Although much of the Second World War is well documented, missing chapters still surface even now, a half century later – stories of chilling events that might have changed the course of history. This is one of those stories, shocking in that it has not come to be widely known until now.

Victory in the St. Lawrence tells the riveting true story of how shortsighted government priorities and advanced German submarine technology allowed the Nazis to stalk shipping in Allied home waters. The book was written by James W. Essex who served with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. Essex saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters aboard the HMCS Prince`Robert and the HMCS Uganda. His most exciting war duty, however, was spent patrolling the St. Lawrence River in 1942. Essex wanted to write this book for a long time, but was prevented from doing so by a fight with cancer which began shortly after the war. But in 1979 he brought together sailors, airmen and soldiers from across the U.S. and Canada to acknowledge those who were lost. He begins the book with a preface describing that event.

The book is filled with photographs from the war. It outlines the 28 ships torpedoed in the gulf, St. Lawrence River , and along Canada ’s costal waters between May 11th of 1942 and April 16th of 1945.

Victory in the St. Lawrence reveals how courageous, independent-minded Canadian heroes defended North America deep within its defenses.

Bataan: A Survivor's Story by Lt. Gene Boyt with David L. Burch, foreword by Gregory J. W. Urwin ( University of Oklahoma Press )  Instead of dwelling on enemy cruelty and indifference and the misery that permeated each day he spent in Japanese hands, Boyt concentrates on the people and things that helped him to live from one day to the next. – Gregory J.W. Urwin, from the Foreword

Like many other young American men during the depression-era 1930s, Gene Boyt entered Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. After receiving an ROTC commission in the Army Engineers and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Missouri School of Mines, Boyt joined the Allied forces in the Pacific Theater. While building runways and infrastructure in the Philippines in 1941, Boyt enjoyed the life of an American officer stationed in a tropical paradise – but not for long. 

When the United States surrendered the Philippines to Japan in April 1942, Boyt became a prisoner of war, suffering deprivation and brutality at the hands of the Japanese guards. Bataan, possibly one of the`last accounts to come from a Bataan survivor, details the Bataan Death March and Boyt's subsequent forty-two months in Japanese internment camps, including original descriptions of three such camps. In this fast-paced narrative, Boyt's voice conveys the quiet courage of the generation of men who fought and won history's greatest armed conflict.

The book was written by Gene Boyt, Captain at the time`of his discharge from the military, with the assistance of David L. Burch, a human relations professional in Oklahoma City and a family friend who helped him transcribe his story, and Gregory J.W. Urwin, Professor of History at Temple University and Associate Director of Temple's Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy.

Bataan is a straightforward and cogent account of surviving the Depression and four years as a Japanese POW. The book deserves a place in Pacific war collections.  

Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski (Stackpole Books) With the greatest drama and loss of life on D-Day, Omaha Beach and was critically important to subsequent Allied total victory in World War II.

As the 60th anniversary of D-Day approaches, more and more attention is being directed to the beaches of Normandy, where the fate of the free world hung in the balance. Nowhere was that moment more perilous than at Omaha Beach. Now, the first truly comprehensive account of that historic day has been written by America's premier living historian on D-Day, Joseph Balkoski.

In Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944, Balkoski tells the story of June 6, 1944 , the day when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army's Atlantic wall. Equal parts oral history and meticulous reconstruction, including the invasion's diplomatic and strategic context, Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944 is the closest modern readers can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

A tribute to the veterans as well as an engaging narrative, the book promises to become a classic on one of America 's most important days in history. This thoroughly researched and engagingly written history includes many never before published first-person accounts by the men who were there, many given within days of the invasion.

Also included are comprehensive lists of Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach as well as the Order of Battle casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, organization of a 30-man assault, boat weapons and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing readers unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach.

While capitalizing on the immense interest around this 60th anniversary, the comprehensive Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944 promises to be a standard reference for years to come.  

Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945 by Erhard Raus, compiled and translated by Steven H. Newton (Da Capo Press, Perseus Books Group)

The German soldiers who crossed into Russian territory felt that they had entered a different world, opposed not only by the forces of the enemy, but also by the forces of nature. – General Erhard Raus, Panzer Operations

 On June 22, 1941 Colonel Erhard Raus entered the German campaign against Russia as an untested battlefield leader commanding a brigade in the 6th Panzer Division. He quickly distinguished himself, however, fighting on the Eastern Front, earning the Iron Cross for cracking the "Stalin Line." During the Russian campaign, Raus rose steadily through the ranks and was appointed to Army Group Command in 1945. As the war ended, he had established a reputation as one of the German Army's foremost tacticians of armored warfare.

In May 1945 General Raus was captured by U.S. Army intelligence. In American captivity, he wrote a detailed memoir of his service in Russia. Later, the U.S. Army divided up and excerpted portions of the memoir for use in nearly a dozen tactical manuals published in the 1950s. Those manuals, however, were heavily edited and omitted much of the author's original material. Now, drawing from post-war reports commissioned by U.S. Army intelligence, World War II historian Steven H. Newton has translated, edited and compiled these battle accounts.

The Raus memoir, translated by Newton, associate professor of history at Delaware State University, covers the Russian campaign from the first day of the war to his relief from command at Hitler's order in the spring of 1945. It includes a detailed examination of the 6th Panzer Division's drive to Leningrad, Raus's own experiences in the Soviet winter counter-offensive around Moscow, the unsuccessful attempt to relieve Stalingrad, and the final desperate battles inside Germany at the end of the war. His battlefield experience and tactical eye make Panzer Operations especially valuable for scholars, while his readable narrative will engage even the casual military buff or history enthusiast.

D-Day: The Greatest Invasion – An Illustrated History by Dan Van Der Vat, with an introduction by John S. D. Eisenhower ( Bloomsbury / Madison Press Book) In the better days that lie ahead, men will speak with pride of our doings                                      – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

It was the greatest invasion of all time. Early on the morning of June 6, 1944 , thousands of Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy – not only streaming from the sea but also sweeping in from the air – and launched a massive assault on Nazi-occupied France . In sixteen unforgettable hours, these heroic men succeeded in breaching the Third Reich's impregnable defenses, leading the way to the liberation of Europe .
As the sixtieth anniversary approaches, those who remember that epic invasion are rapidly dwindling in number. Now, their gripping eyewitness accounts – most of them never before published – are woven into an authoritative new look at that unforgettable "longest day" by distinguished military historian Dan van der Vat, an author of five naval histories.

D-Day captures and preserves for a new generation all the human drama and heroism that marked D-Day. Richly illustrated with hundreds of historical photographs – many from private photo albums – as well as personal artifacts, dramatic paintings by the many war artists on the scene, and modern color photographs, this is the definitive history of one of the most important dates of the twentieth century. The book offers many details, such as the different weather requirements of different services, that some longer books slide over.
As an introduction by John S.D. Eisenhower, son of General Dwight David Eisenhower and retired brigadier general, puts it, D-Day "recognizes that the everyday soldier really occupies center stage." Van der Vat, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland , concludes with these final words – that D-Day brought for millions like him a victory which "was freedom: the gift of life itself."

And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn Monahan & Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee (Alfred A. Knopf) is a galvanizing narrative of the wartime role played by U.S. Army nurses—from the invasion of North Africa to the bloody Italian campaign to the decisive battles in France and the Rhineland.
More than 59,000 nurses volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps alone: 217 lost their lives (16 by enemy action), and more than 1,600 were decorated for meritorious service and bravery under fire. But their stories have rarely been heard. Now, in And If I Perish, drawing on never-before-published eyewitness accounts—many heroic, some mundane and comic—Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, two former military nurses, take us to the front lines, to the withering fire on the beaches of Anzio and Normandy, and to the field and evacuation hospitals, as well as bombed and burned hospital ships. We witness the nurses—and the doctors with whom they served—coping with the physical and psychological damage done to the soldiers in combat. We see them working—often with only meager supplies and overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties—to save the lives and limbs of thousands of wounded troops. With them we experience the almost constant packing up and moving on to keep up with advancing troops, foxholes dug under camp beds, endless mud, and treacherous minefields. Based on interviews, correspondence and diaries, as well as on published sources and archival material, the book is written in a matter of fact style. It is divided into chapters that recount individual campaigns, for example, Chapter 6: The Sinking of the HMHS Newfoundland, Monahan, and Neidel-Greenlee follow the experiences of several nurses throughout their history.

The vividness and immediacy of the recollections in And If I Perish provide a powerfully visceral, deeply affecting sense of their experiences—terrifying and triumphant, exhausting and exhilarating. And If I Perish is a revelatory work, a valuable account that gives voice to the nurses who played such an essential and largely unacknowledged`role in World War II, the women of the “Greatest Generation.”

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