Monday, August 20, 2018

Old Hickory: The 30th Division - The top rated American Infantry Division in Europe in World War II - by Robert W. Baumer




Originally I was looking for a biography that would tell about General William K. Harrison, as I had learned some things about him and wanted to know more.  There is no biography that I could find that was in print about him, but I came across this recently published book about the division he was assistant commander of, "Old Hickory: the 30th Division by Robert W. Baumer

This account of the 30th division was interesting in and of itself.  These guys were quite tough, and determined.  Made up of National Guards, they remained vigilant with their duties even when, in preparation for them to be trained to join the fight, higher ups demanded that their national guard commanders be replaced with regular army commanders.

They were not a part of the first wave of D-Day, they were in a following wave some days later, but they were a big part of Operation Cobra, which was to break through further into France. Before I read this book, I had never really considered the problems that military air force bombers would have in hitting their targets accurately. In Operation Cobra, the 30th division is set to push further into France, but there would be an air bombing of the enemy first to soften things up for the men on the ground, to make their advance easier. There was some concern beforehand that the bombers would have difficulty in telling where to drop the bombs, but those concerns were brushed over.   It was a disaster.  The bombers hit their own men, killing many. Their losses were more than the Germans.  The attack wasn't followed through with that day and postponed until the next.  The Germans didn't know that the Americans had hit their own men, and they thought that what had happened was some sort of trick.  And then the same thing happened on the following day.  I almost laughed with amazement at the message that was sent to one of the Generals: "They've done it again".  It was horrific and quite demoralizing. But the attack by the men still had to happen, and so they set out, even traveling through the carnage of their own side caused by friendly fire.  You feel so bad, not just for the guys who were traumatized by it on the ground, but also for the pilots who were the cause of such demoralization to their own side.  They had a really tough job.

Also, although Harrison is talked about quite a bit in the volume, I thought it interesting that it doesn't mention that he's a Christian until he acts uncharacteristically and uses some inappropriate language, and then it makes sure to note that he was a "deeply religious man".  It goes to show that the world knows that Christians are supposed to be different and will notice inconsistency their faults more than in those who are not believers. One of the things Baumer emphasizes is that Harrison was very brave, and wanted to lead from the front. "He would become one of the most frequently seen general officers of WWII in the front lines with his men, and widely admired for his courage."  At one point, He ends up getting wounded while at the front and the general he served under saw him and Harrison felt the need to defend his actions, saying something along the lines of, "How else was I supposed to lead my men?" He apparently took the responsibilities that God had given him very seriously, and wanted to them well.

Before I wrap up, I do want to mention that there is a bit of foul language in the book, mainly in the quotations of various people. Also, the description of the guys having gone through "hell" in their multiple difficulties was WAY overused (not that it's accurate in the first place), I don't know that I've ever read a military book that used that description as much as is used in this volume. 

That said, the book was pretty well written, and really 'pulled' me in places.  I found it intense, and parts are quite intriguing, I also liked that it included maps that give an idea of what was going on and where what the objectives were, I also found some things quite funny.  To give an example, during one of the 'war games' that the 30th division participated in, they were up against Patton, and he quit just before he was about to lose to them! 

Many thanks to the folks at Stackpole Books for sending me a free review copy of this book  (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and at stackpolebooks.com

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