Saturday, 30 July 2016

D Day Through German Eyes Vol 1 and 2 - Holger Eckhertz

Title: D Day Through German Eyes Vol 1 and 2
Author: Holger Eckhertz
Publisher: DTZ History Publications
Year: 2015
E Book
Pages: 141/168
Photos/Maps: 0

I have made the decision to review Herr Eckhertz’s two books together as they are of the same theme and presentation. During WW2, the author’s grandfather, Dieter Eckhertz, was a military journalist for the German military publications ‘Die Wehrmacht’ and ‘Signal’.  In 1944, he was tasked with writing a series of articles on the Atlantic Wall in the West and, in the process of preparing, visited many of the units stationed in that region. Following the war, in 1954, while no longer a reporter, he decided to follow up with individuals from those units he had visited in order to capture their recollections and experiences of D-Day now that the passage of time had provided some distance between the events. The results are testimonials that are still raw, disturbing, enlightening, brutally honest and at the same time deeply thought provoking. The interviews were never published until they came into the hands of Dieter’s grandson who has done an excellent job of presenting them to the modern audience.

Each interview is presented as a series of questions relating to the interviewees experience primarily on the day of 6 June; thus the narrative is more of a discussion vice a story. Additionally, a majority of the men interviewed are private soldiers, not senior officers or Non-commissioned ranks and therefore the reader begins to appreciate these ‘lower level’ responses and perspectives.

There are a number of themes which I found very interesting that came out of these interviews as the men looked back on their experiences. These included a sense that they were defending a ‘United Europe’, frustration that the Allies were distracting them from the real threat which was communism, an initial confidence in their ability to hold the line, shock at the capability of the Allies to bring armour in such large numbers across the channel and disbelief at the violence of the air and sea assault.

Additionally, the testimonies bring up a number of other extremely interesting subjects such as the Allies use of phosphorous weapons and its impact upon the defenders, the Allied ‘flame tank’, the German use of the ‘Goliath’, the use of foreign workers in the building the Western Wall, the extensive appearance of Russian and Polish soldiers fighting for the Germans and what happened to them following capture and the interaction between the German soldiers and the French population.

Perhaps the most remarkable interview was with a specialist weapons officer who discussed in detail the development of a weapon by the Germans that would be categorized today as a FAE (fuel air explosive). This weapon has enormous destructive power mainly centered upon the massive shock wave that it generates when detonated. The German system, code named Taifun (Typhoon) B, was deployed to Normandy and was to be utilized against the Allied armour concentration at St Lo but was fortunately destroyed by a random artillery barrage just before it was launched. 

There are some questions that would be worthwhile following up for clarification and accuracy. One centres upon the interviewees use of the term 'Tobruk' bunker to describe their 2 man prefabricated machine gun posts; the use of this term was not a German but an Allied one. Additionally, while I have found reference to German development and practice of coal-dust and fuel mixtures on the Eastern front, this book was the only reference that I have found that refers to a FAE style weapon deployed at D-Day. These two books are only available as e-books but I would recommend them both for their content and presentation. I found them to be not only highly informative but also forthright depictions of these soldier’s experiences. Certainly, a guide for further discussion.

Friday, 29 July 2016

ISIS: The State of Terror - Jessica Stern and JM Berger

Title: ISIS: The State of Terror
Author: Jessica Stern and JM Berger
ISBN: 978-0-00-812096-2
Publisher: William Collins Books
Year: 2015
Pages: 398
Photos/Maps: 0

There are many books available on the market that describe the history, doctrine and methodology of ISIS; so many so that it is often difficult to see where they provide as unique perspective. In the case of this book, they have focused a significant portion of their analysis upon the use by ISIS of electronic messaging and operational style. They do provide context through a look at the history of ISIS and their operational methodology; however, the areas that were particularly educational centred upon the use of technology, operational doctrine and their explanation of Islamic theology. They have also provided, at the end of each chapter, recommendations to counter the issues addressed in that chapter.

The initial portion of the book, in a similar vein to other publications, reviews the rise and fall of Al-Qaeda, the opportunism and motivation for the creation of ISIS and its noteworthy ability to adapt and morph to best take advantage of the environment within which it finds itself. Following this, the authors address the attraction of ISIS to the foreign Islamic element as well as the formalization of its message. These sections are well written and engaging; however, they do not provide ‘new’ information but do present it a very readable and easily understood manner.

As indicated earlier, the strength of the book follows with its study of ISIS’s method of its use of the electronic medium in order to facilitate the promulgation of its message. Of particular note, is the challenge that arises in the West between the message of ISIS, the medium of Twitter (as an example with its open rules of content) and free speech. The authors present a fascinating study of this debate and how it was played back and forth between companies and governments. This question has been exploited phenomenally well by ISIS and has set a standard for future terrorist ‘PR’ campaigns.

Additionally, the authors look at the philosophy of shock and terror used by ISIS as a means of conquest and control. To the West, it appears to be counter-productive to terrorize the population into submission. Nevertheless, as the authors point out, this has been a very effective method used repeatedly throughout history in order to smooth the process of conquest and indoctrination. This approach also entices those radical foreign elements who see this approach as a means of ‘robust’ Islamic response to perceived Western aggression.

The production value of this book is satisfactory. The authors have provided copious notes and source material. The book is very well written in a style that opens the subject up to a wide audience. Their unique focus highlights the capacity for ISIS to adjust their style and doctrine in order to take advantage of modern techniques and technologies while concurrently adopting traditional conquest methods that shock a world long past using these ‘modus operandi’. A book very well worth reading.