Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge - Michael Collins and Martin King

Title: The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge
Author: Michael Collins and Martin King
ISBN: 9781612001814
Pages: 271
Illustrations/Maps/Appendices: 47 B/W 10 maps 5 Appendices
Publisher: Casemate Publishing, Philadelphia, 2013

                The Battle of the Bulge has rightly been considered one of the defining moments of the Second World War; desperate yet still powerful German forces achieved complete surprise against a notably weak point in the allied lines in the region of the Ardennes. For the last two weeks of December, 1945, American land units engaged in frantic and determined fighting, culminating in the defense of Bastogne. Traditionally, the unit most associated with this combat was the 101st Airborne “The Screaming Eagles”; however, there were other key contributors that held the line along with the 101st. This book is about one of these units: the 10th Armored Division, “The Tiger Division”, and its vital role in halting the onslaught of four German armies in the freezing cold and without air support.

                The chapters are broken out to represent a day in the battle; each commencing with a weather report. The text itself is a mix of firsthand accounts in italics, copies of the narratives for the commendations received by individuals for actions on that particular day, unit after action reports and a narrative from the authors providing context and continuity. Taken together, it is a somewhat unique but effective rendition of the events of the period and it provides the reader with different perspectives from the official to the personal. Also provided are numerous appendices that provide the reader with reference material summarizing which American units were involved in the Battle, the command structure of the 10th Armored and a synopsis of individual commendations.

                What was fascinating and telling about this Battle was the inability of the allied air forces to engage the Germans due to weather conditions. Thus from 15 to 23 December, the allied armies were without fighter, bomber and, most importantly for those surrounded in Bastogne, aerial resupply capability. The impact of this situation is clearly articulated in the recollections of the survivors as ammunition, medical supplies, fuel and food became scarce. The authors have done a commendable job presenting the tenacity with which the 10th Armored defended the approaches to and, ultimately, assisted in the defense of Bastogne itself.

                I was however, somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of this book. Grammatically, there are a significant number of awkward sentences and glaring typographical errors in the text (I am referring here to the author’s narrative, not the first hand accounts). Additionally, the authors make claims in their narrative that are diametrically opposed to the conventional wisdom of this period and a vast array of expert historical literature written about the German army. In two places, Collins and King make the blanket statement that German forces were not known for flexibility or initiative and were actually renowned for their inability to operate autonomously below the regimental level (pages 30 and 168). While they are more than welcome to make these observations, they provide no references to back up their position. Given the fact that a preponderance of literature on World War 2 acknowledges the fact that the Germans, while not effective in all areas, were in reality one of the most capable armies at the operational and tactical levels, their comments are, to say the least, perplexing. Nevertheless, the production value of the book is high and the maps and photos are excellent.

                Books preserving the recollections and memories of those who participated in the war are worth owning. However, this book is not inexpensive and is weak in terms of narrative and some content. Therefore, while it is important to recognize the role of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge and to preserve their memory, this must be balanced against the overall quality of the book itself. This book is average and I cannot strongly recommend it. 

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