The Best Defense

The last of Atkinson’s marvelous World War II series: ‘The Guns at Last Light’

As a holiday gift for myself, I read an advance copy of the last of Rick Atkinson's trilogy on World War II in Europe. The book is out in May, but you can pre-order on Amazon right now. 

It was like slipping into a warm bath: Good writing ("Sherman pyres on the Caen plain") and fine narrative.

But most of all, fascinating facts:

  • Prostitutes in blacked-out wartime London would feel for the rank insignia of prospects before naming their price. (And a quickie done standing up inside a overcoat was called "Marble Arch style.")
  • Nearly half the American troops arriving in Europe in 1944 were still teenagers. By contrast, by the end of that year, 2 million of Hitler's 3.6 million soldiers were older than thirty. 
  • Germans accustomed to the Eastern Front were stunned when moved to the West to battle Americans who enjoyed overwhelming air superiority -- it was, Rommel warned, like "being nailed to the ground."
  • Speaking of the Soviets, Stalin comes off a bit like Edward G. Robinson, speaking a few phrases of English, such as "You said it!" and "What the hell goes on around here?"
  • About 10 percent of all American combat casualties during the war came during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • The Red Army lost more soldiers at Stalingrad that the entire U.S. military did in the entire war.
  • The heaviest bombing month of the war was March 1945, with 130,000 tons dropped on Germany. 
  • After the war, 21 ships laden with dead American soldiers brought them home. The first carried 5,060 bodies. What a Homeric image.

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