The Forgotten Campaigns of World War II
Farrell, Kevin W., Army
The Forgotten Campaigns of World War II The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau. Alex Kershaw. Crown Publishers. 448 pages; black-and-white photographs; maps; notes; bibliography; index; $28. Publisher's website: crownpublishing.com.
Alex Kershaw is a popular World War II historian known for his work on individual and small-unit aspects of the war, particularly from the American perspective. His most successful works include The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon and The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Continuing his practice of personalizing the war and connecting individual experiences to wider events swirling around them, Kershaw has written a compelling chronicle of the wartime career of Felix L. Sparks and important campaigns of the 45th Infantry Division and its 157th Infantry Regiment, in which Sparks commanded the 3rd Battalion.
D-Day and associated battlefield exploits of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions are well-known. The Liberator is important because it highlights achievements of one of the best infantry divisions the U.S. Army fielded during the war but one that is little remembered today.
Although the main purpose of the book is to detail the experiences of a single brave infantry officer, the reader also gains an appreciation of significant battles in Italy, France and Germany, and the extraordinary sacrifice made by men of the Thunderbird Division. According to Kershaw, "nine out of ten men who had left America with the division had been wounded, killed, or taken prisoner" by the end of the war in Europe. With 3,650 men killed in action, 13,729 wounded in action and an incredible 41,647 non-battle casualties, it is clear why by the end of the war the "division's initial number of men had been replaced seven times since July 10, 1943." From the landings on the beaches of Sicily to the end of the war in Europe, Kershaw depicts how the war touched the men on the front line in light of these incredible losses.
The great strength of the book is not its coverage of the big operational questions of the war but its description of the personal and often shocking experiences of the typical soldier. A telling example is how an army new to combat dealt with the issue of burying the dead. When Sparks was the regimental adjutant shortly after the Allied landings in Sicily, the regimental chaplain complained that dead bodies needed to be buried properly. In turn, the regimental commander told Sparks "to see that they are buried with honor." Sparks commandeered the regimental band and secured wood for crosses from a local village to accomplish the mission. Although the passage demonstrates Sparks' creativity, it also reveals the unpreparedness of the U.S. Army in the summer of 1943.
Over the course of the book, Sparks rises to infantry battalion commander and even has several personal encounters with GEN George Patton. …