Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
For all his lack of combat experience (and poor intelligence) Ike read the import of the initial assault well, and indeed did well to keep his warring factions in order. CA is clearly in the (majority) group of those who believe that Monty (or rather his ego) was a big impediment to Allied success by this stage of the war. Perhaps of more surprise to British readers is the degree to which Lord Alanbrooke by now shared some of Monty’s jaundice towards his American colleagues. CA sets out clearly how Monty’s extraordinary post-campaign press conference poisoned Anglo-American relations for years to come.
If there is an opportunity for CA to venture off-piste, he takes it. We are treated, for example, to an interesting, but not wholly relevant, digression on Patton’s upbringing . But the reader is returned to the piste with some clunky prose “We must leave the commanders and their conferences and return to the GIs and grenadiers fighting for their lives.”
The Ardennes was of course a region which had seen much change of ownership through the years, and the author sets out how the reign of some regiments and corps – particularly the SS – was one of terror. Nonetheless CA quotes a letter found in the “traumatised ruins” of a village, penned by a German officer which is an extremely poignant lament of war. As the tactical situation worsened, so did the behaviour of the SS, with prisoner executions becoming commonplace. It is of some regret that, whilst some culprits were executed in 1945/6 for their war crimes, the bulk of the officers were released from prison by the early Fifties because of political pressures (eg the creation of NATO).
Air superiority was not always a blessing: the author relates some dreadful examples of blue on blue as the USAF destroyed its army colleagues. Whilst recollections of the famous 1914 Christmas truce are now at the fore, CA produces an extraordinary story of German and American soldiers sharing the hospitality of a Belgian family in their farmhouse at Christmas 1944 – most moving.
Snow & Steel concludes not with the end of the battle, nor even with the end of the war: CA goes on another riff to discuss the creation of NATO, the onset of the Cold War, and so on. The book is really about the last nine months of the war on the Western European front. Whilst it is difficult to fault Caddick-Adams for his knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject, I am not sure he carries the reader with him all the time. In my opinion a book 200 pages shorter would have captured the drama of this fearful campaign somewhat better.
One of the handicaps of the book is that the maps are always too small a scale, and often are located away from the text that demands their help.
He presents a very simplistic view of the liberation of Paris (given he has plenty of space in which to explain it a little better).
He talks about “Rhine” ice, when I think he means rime ice.