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Skeeve Yoshikawa
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Hello everyone,

Since we're always dicussing military history here, who's written a good war memoir?

I've read Hans Von Luck's Panzer Commander, Patton's War As I Knew It and A Brave Black Regiment written by one of the officers of the 54th Mass. Colored Regiment.

I've read that Grant and Julius Ceasar also have good memoirs.

Of the three I've read, I liked Von Luck's memoir best.
Patton seemed a bit of a full of himself and the book on the 54th Mass. seemed more a regimental history.
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Michael Dorosh
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Anthony Herbert wrote two; the first one sucked, the second didn't.

You might want to narrow things down a bit, or tell us what you consider "good" or the kinds of topics/eras that interest you. The question seems quite broad.

If Patton sounded high on himself, it's because he was a professional soldier speaking with authority on a subject he knew about. In real life, I think he was much more self-conscious and insecure - probably why he bullied people so much. I read War As I Knew It and my personal reaction was different, but of course, we all bring different things to our interpretations.

Herbert's book, Soldier, was the same. My dad read it and thought he sounded like an ego-hound. I on the other hand could relate to the frustration of dealing with superiors and the desire to set accounts straight in writing, even if I didn't necessarily believe everything I was reading.
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Michael Dorosh
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Incidentally, John English, the noted historian whose work on the Normandy campaign is pretty much required reading, had this to say about the nature of historical "evidence":

Quote:
Colonel C.P. Stacey, the Canadian official historian, rightly suggested that in the matter of weighing evidence, "the vital element is that of time," the validity of a written account or interview being directly related to the elapsed passage of time between the event and its recording. "The best historical evidence," Stacey declared, "is evidence recorded at the time. Allowing that in order to fill gaps it may be necessary to interview participants long after an event, he nonetheless counseled, "it is something that should be done only when the contemporary written evidence fails"; even then, it "should be checked with care against such contemporary written records as are available." Concerning reminiscences...thirty or forty years on," Stacey was much kinder than British historian A.J.P Taylor who savagely warned such could "degenerate into 'old men drooling over their youth'...forget(ting) truth and manufactur(ing) myth." Stacey pointedly referred, however, to a study of historians of the European Theatre of the U.S. Army on "how long it took a soldier's memory of a battle ... to fail." Their conclusion was that this occurred in six days. More recently, military historian Dominick Graham sounded the alarm that memory "is particularly unreliable after a subject has talked to other people, compared notes and repeated his story many times. By then, he may no longer tell truth from fiction.


So basically, any memoir written more than six days after the events may very well be nothing more than "old men drooling over their youth." Entertaining it most certainly may be - so you can rip Patton for being condescending, but then again, a memoir probably should always be taken with grains of salt in any event.
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Skeeve Yoshikawa
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I enjoy history from all eras. I prefer the American Civil War and World War II the most because those are the wars I know the most about.

I'm looking for a good read that gives some insight into how the writer thought, acted or commanded during a war. I realize that most commanders who've written are going to use a book to defend their actions or espouse their beliefs one way or another.

Any memoir is bound to have a bias. Wellington had a quote, (IIRC), that a battle is something like a dance, because everyone remembers something different.
 
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Michael Dorosh
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usrlocal wrote:
Robert Crisp's Brazen Chariots is hands-down one of the best war memoirs I ever read:




Wilson's Flamethrower is in the same league.



Unbelievable that they would market Bob Crisp's book about Honey tanks in the desert with a picture of a "Nazi tank" on the cover. Then again, maybe it isn't unbelievable at all. Now I've seen it all.
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J. R. Tracy
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For a high level view of command, you can't do much better than Viscount Slim's Defeat into Victory.

JR
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Jason Sadler
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Caesar was definitely full of himself, but The Gallic Wars is a great read. It is political self-aggrandizement of the highest order, but it reveals a savvy leader.

Richard O'Kane's two books about submarine warfare in the Pacific, Wahoo! and Clear the Bridge, are excellent.

Rommel's Attacks was one of the best books I read for my education in the Marines. The man had a mind like a diamond.

Does anyone know of a good memoir by the Japanese in World War II? I have wanted to get an insider's view of their war after reading several American books on the subject.



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Seth Owen
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
Incidentally, John English, the noted historian whose work on the Normandy campaign is pretty much required reading, had this to say about the nature of historical "evidence":

Quote:
Colonel C.P. Stacey, the Canadian official historian, rightly suggested that in the matter of weighing evidence, "the vital element is that of time," the validity of a written account or interview being directly related to the elapsed passage of time between the event and its recording. "The best historical evidence," Stacey declared, "is evidence recorded at the time. Allowing that in order to fill gaps it may be necessary to interview participants long after an event, he nonetheless counseled, "it is something that should be done only when the contemporary written evidence fails"; even then, it "should be checked with care against such contemporary written records as are available." Concerning reminiscences...thirty or forty years on," Stacey was much kinder than British historian A.J.P Taylor who savagely warned such could "degenerate into 'old men drooling over their youth'...forget(ting) truth and manufactur(ing) myth." Stacey pointedly referred, however, to a study of historians of the European Theatre of the U.S. Army on "how long it took a soldier's memory of a battle ... to fail." Their conclusion was that this occurred in six days. More recently, military historian Dominick Graham sounded the alarm that memory "is particularly unreliable after a subject has talked to other people, compared notes and repeated his story many times. By then, he may no longer tell truth from fiction.


So basically, any memoir written more than six days after the events may very well be nothing more than "old men drooling over their youth." Entertaining it most certainly may be - so you can rip Patton for being condescending, but then again, a memoir probably should always be taken with grains of salt in any event.


Some of the better memoir writers, such as Grant, took care to consult contemporaneous documents in order to refresh recollections, but eyewitness testimony of any sort has to be handled very carefully. I think memoirs are best for understanding the emotional side of an event and perhaps giving some insight into why a decision was made, but can't compete with a regular history for an overall understanding.
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J. R. Tracy
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BeatPosse wrote:


Does anyone know of a good memoir by the Japanese in World War II? I have wanted to get an insider's view of their war after reading several American books on the subject.



Try Tameichi Hara's Japanese Destroyer Captain and/or Saburo Sakai's Samurai! (Sakai was a fighter pilot).

JR
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Skeeve Yoshikawa
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A quick search of my local library shows NONE of those books. shake

The only memoirs I found by authors mentioned were Grant's memoirs and

A time for trumpets : the untold story of the Battle of the Bulge by Charles B. Macdonald.

I think I'll grab the book by Macdonald, I'm sure it'll be a good read.

They do have Sakai's book on order though...
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しんぶん赤旗
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Another interesting read is Zenji Orita's I-boat captain. Amusing subtitle though...

http://www.submarinebooks.com/I-Boat.htm

I also enjoyed Kamikaze Submarine by Yutaka Yokota. Maybe enjoyed is the wrong word, when you read it you feel for how traumatic each mission was for him even though he kept surviving.
 
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Steve Bishop
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For a 'slightly' different perspective;

Spike Milligan

Adolph Hitler: My part in his downfall
'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?'
Monty: His part in my victory
Mussolini: His part in my downfall
Where have all the bullets gone?
Goodbye Soldier
Peace Work


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Gordon Watson
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George MacDonald Frazer's war memoir 'Quartered Safe Out Here' is a tremendous book.

It covers the author's experiences as a 19 yr old private serving with the British 14th Army during the final battles of the Burma campaign. This is the same George MacDonald Fraser that wrote the 'Flashman' series of novels, so the book has the advantage of being written by someone who knows how to write.

It is the best account, from a British perspective, that I have read of what it was like to be a 'squaddie' in WWII. He occassionally strays from 'memoir' into his own philosophy towards the war, the Japanese and today's attitudes, and these do not always accord with today's political correctness, but this in itself is an insight into the mind-set of those who were actually there rather than the contemporary mores of later historians.
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Michael Dorosh
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domus_ludorum wrote:
George MacDonald Frazer's war memoir 'Quartered Safe Out Here' is a tremendous book.

It covers the author's experiences as a 19 yr old private serving with the British 14th Army during the final battles of the Burma campaign. This is the same George MacDonald Fraser that wrote the 'Flashman' series of novels, so the book has the advantage of being written by someone who knows how to write.


And No Birds Sang is the usual recommendation on similar lines from Canada; Farley Mowat the naturalist is well known for his children's books and his serious books about the arctic, etc. He was a platoon commander in The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment on Sicily and early in Italy, until his nerves gave out, and the book is told in entertaining fashion about these experiences.

After he moved to brigade as an Intelligence Officer, he ended up doing staff work for the rest of the war. So he sensibly ended the first book there. The sequel, My Father's Son, is based on his letters home to his father, a First World War veteran, and talks about some of the behind the lines life of the Italian Campaign. The stuff about his sex life is not so interesting (and there is not much there) but the post-war escapades of stealing a V-2 rocket from the Americans for the Canadian National Exhibition is quite good, and his fight to secure armoured vehicles (German ones) for the Canadian War Museum, some of which I suspect were the ones I saw rusting away in Borden's tank park last time I was there.

He also wrote a regimental history called The Regiment, but of course that is not a memoir per se. Though it is certainly not a conventional regimental history, and actually kind of reads more like a memoir, of a unit than a person, than it does a history.
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Worth a look. Interesting because it focuses on 40 hours of one action. So full of details.

And he's got good things to say about Shermans.

Tank!: 40 Hours of Battle, August 1944 by Ken Tout.

He wrote several books reviewed here

http://www.ww2talk.com/forum/book-reviews/28667-ken-tout-tan...
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Andy Beaton
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For you World War I fans out there:

Three memoirs of life in the trenches by writers who went on to be poets of note, so you get something you don't often see in memoirs: really good literary writing.

Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That
Edmund Blunden: Undertones of War
Seigfried Sassoon: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man

Of the three, I thought Graves' was the best. In fact, it's one of my all-time favourite books. He writes a very evocative work on life as a junior officer in the trenches with occasional touches of very nice humour. It was one of my great regrets that he died before I read the book, and I was never able to discover what joke won the Filthiest Story Award in Aldershot in 1918.

There's also T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but I'm not really sure what to make of it; it has a mixed reputation in the history world.
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Andy Daglish
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As mentioned previously, the two good ones are both novels: The Cauldron by Zeno is the Independent Parachute Company at Oosterbeek, and Winged Victory by V. M. Yeates is a thinly-veiled autobiography of the war in the air in 1918, during which the author was a noted fighter ace, although this does not come across in the book.

They stand alongside James Webb's Fields of Fire, another memoir, or perhaps a bit above.

Also I see Duncan Grinnel-Milne's Wind in the Wires is mostly on Google books. This is the archetypal account of a young gentleman accessing the latest technology by jumping in an aeroplane.
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J. R. Tracy
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For WWI aviation, Cecil Lewis' Sagittarius Rising is a departure from the norm, more literature than war story.

Back to WWII, if you're interested in small unit command, Sydney Jary's 18 Platoon is an essential read. Jary commanded a platoon of Somerset Light Infantry from Normandy through VE Day. Detailed and forthright, with lessons of leadership that extend beyond the immediate context.

Another WWII book, a little off the beaten path, is Other Side of Time (also published as Our War for the World) by Brendan Phibbs. Phibbs was a combat surgeon attached to an armored infantry unit in the 12th Armored Division. He operated (sometimes literally) out of halftrack very close to the action, but his memoir covers more than just combat casualties; at one point he has to do what he can for the survivors of a concentration camp. This book wanders a bit, as it is drawn from the author's wartime journal as well as his reflections from forty years' distance, but it is an unusual perspective for a war memoir.

JR
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Sean McCormick
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I would second the recommendations for No Quarter Safe and Goodbye to All That. I would also add Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier, which is just brutal reading, particularly from the halfway point on, but gives you a good perspective on the German experience on the Ostfront.
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John New
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aiabx wrote:
For you World War I fans out there:

Three memoirs of life in the trenches by writers who went on to be poets of note, so you get something you don't often see in memoirs: really good literary writing.

Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That
Edmund Blunden: Undertones of War
Seigfried Sassoon: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man


To this trio I would add "A Subaltern on the Somme" by Max Plowman, originally published under the pseudonym "Mark Six."

For the Napoleonic Wars, one of the best is "The Recollections of Rifleman Harris"

And to the WWII list, I'd add William Mnchester's "Goodbye, Darkness" a harrowing and unsparing recollection of his service in the Marines in the Pacific.
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Davido
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A real interesting 'two-fer' are:

Edit: Stanford tuck never wrote his own memoirs. Still, the Galland book is worth reading.

Adolf Galland: The First and the Last

Galland was German nobility, and a member of the inner command before returning to the front lines flying corps. His perspective of both inner circle and 'being there in the air' are fascinating reads. He later forged a friendship with his 'prisoner' Stanford Tuck.
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Sean Burns
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E B Sledge: With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa

This is (IMHO) one of the finest accounts of real life in the horrors of the Pacific in WWII. No self-promotion, no tales of glory and banners - it's a very moving memoir.

Also,

James Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox

Detailed account of strategy and tactics from Lee's "Old War Horse". He can be a bit crusty at times in the book, but he is presenting a rebuttal to criticism from fellow ANV generals. Fascinating reading.
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Michael Dorosh
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aiabx wrote:
For you World War I fans out there:

Three memoirs of life in the trenches by writers who went on to be poets of note, so you get something you don't often see in memoirs: really good literary writing.

Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That

...

Of the three, I thought Graves' was the best. In fact, it's one of my all-time favourite books. He writes a very evocative work on life as a junior officer in the trenches with occasional touches of very nice humour. It was one of my great regrets that he died before I read the book, and I was never able to discover what joke won the Filthiest Story Award in Aldershot in 1918.


Graves' book was required reading in Timothy Travers' classes at the University of Calgary. He gave the advice to skip the first 40 or 60 pages or so describing life in English public school and go straight to the war memoir part. As I recall, it was advice well heeded; you really didn't need to read the first bit to understand the other stuff. The story of the Welchmen (sic) shot for shooting their sergeant major in the dark because they confessed they had mistaken him for the platoon sergeant is both comic and tragic, and still stands out in my mind as one of several memorable vignettes.
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Michael Dorosh
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seanmac wrote:
I would also add Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier, which is just brutal reading, particularly from the halfway point on, but gives you a good perspective on the German experience on the Ostfront.


Only 20 posts; I wondered what was taking so long. More than the usual caveats apply with this one given the long and acrimonious history surrounding it - still can't figure out if it was really poor memory, bad translation, or just an honest attempt at fictionalization. I'd be curious to know if any of the GD veterans ever endorsed this book. I know the veterans' groups, led by fellows like Spaeter, were active after the war and were very active in doing things like denouncing Otto-Ernst Remer. I've no idea if they ever game an official thumbs up/down to Sajer.
 
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Andy Daglish
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
I've no idea if they ever game an official thumbs up/down to Sajer.


The easy answer is that he's a French journalist, whose words were translated by someone else with little knowledge of the subject. Many years ago the book trade was mystified as to why people kept buying this book.

Her Privates We by Frederic Manning is an account of the Somme battle seen as too accurate for sale to women, children and those [men, presumably] of a nervous disposition, at the time of its first publication.
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