Category Archives: U.S. Army

Free Book of the Week: Troopships of WWII

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Long overlooked despite a vast library of works on warships from PT boats to aircraft carriers has been the humble but essential transport vessel. We are still waiting for a definitive and engaging popular history of the type, and may yet wait a while, but a superb resource for anyone interested in the topic is Troopships of WWIIby naval architect Roland Charles.

Published in 1947 by the Army Transportation Association, the book also serves as a reminder that for the duration of the war, the Army had its own navy. One cannot help but wonder if a few of the Navy’s admirals, particularly of the pre-war vintage, were a little uncomfortable about the army having more ships in 1944 than the Navy had a decade earlier. But Charles is clearly agnostic in this regard, and apart from the subtle reminder that the war at sea was not an exclusively naval affair, does not pursue it.

There is, however, more to be written. It takes nothing away from the USN and its core role in the eventual victory in WWII to delve into the history of the Army at sea, any more than a study of the Coast Guard or Merchant Marine would. But ignoring or underplaying the role of these fleets prohibits us from understanding the kind of fleet we will need in a future conflict.

No doubt the Navy is not proud of the fact that it entered the Second World War materially unprepared for that conflict, and woefully so. Understanding the full width and breadth of that gap is essential for understanding both the drivers of victory and the essence of maritime power.

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Patton’s Air Force

Cover of "Air Power for Patton's Army: Th...

Cover via Amazon

One of the most consistently underrated factors in the Allied victory in Europe during World War II is the quality of tactical air support to the troops on the ground. Each for its own reasons, the Army and the Air Force tend to underplay the importance of tactical air support to their operations: the Army because it is afraid of admitting that it cannot do without air support; and the Air Force because the service has been built over the past 66 years as a temple to strategic bombing and air-to-air combat.

Air Power for Patton’s Army: The 19th Tactical Air Command in the Second World War offers food for thought to both services. By delving into how General George S Patton worked with his counterpart at the XIX Tactical Air Command, General Otto P. Weylandthis book reminds the Army of how strong air-ground coordination actually changes the traditional rules of battle, and that air support was arguably much of the “secret sauce” behind Patton’s successes in his advance across France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. When the planes flew, Georgie’s tanks advanced. When the weather grounded the planes, Third Army found the Wehrmacht a brutally challenging foe.

For the Air Force, the book is a reminder that the most important roles it played in World War II are not what service histories say they are. For all of the noise around strategic bombing, the parts of the USAAF that made the most difference were engaged in battlefield interdiction, close air support, and airlift both strategic and tactical.

The MacArthur Version

English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur...

English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe, probably at Manila, Philippine Islands, 2 August 1945. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are histories aplenty of World War II in the Pacific, and the biographies of General Douglas MacArthur would fill a long bookshelf. Anyone interested in the man or the period, however, would do well to read The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Volume 1.

This account of Douglas MacArthur’s World War II, published by the U.S. Army and compiled by MacArthur’s staff, is excellent source material, but should not be seen as a definitive history. Indeed, the work seems a tad more biased than both contemporary and recent works by distinguished historians, and there are those who would read into the portrayal of some of the events and battles a overly flattering picture of MacArthur, his generalship, and the performance of his staff.

That said, the account of the war against Japan could use a little bias away from the accepted narrative, if only to prevent important campaigns from vanishing from memory. As the saying goes, there were two wars being fought in the Pacific, the one between the Allies and Japan, and the one between the US Navy and the US Army. If history is written by the victors, the Navy won the latter, and as a result the role of the US Army in the region has been minimized by a focus on the Navy by academic and popular historians alike.

This begs for some rectification without taking from the sacrifices and achievements of the Navy/Marine Corps team. MacArthur’s account, although compiled by men intensely loyal to the general personally, is a first step in that direction.

Using this account as a starting point, it is also worth studying the experiences of General Alexander “Sandy” Patch with the Americal Division and XIV Corps on Guadalcanal and Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army in New Guinea and the Philippines. The U.S. Army did a lot of brutally hard work in the Pacific and deserves its place in the sun.