As March of '45 drew to a close, even the most steadfast Germans could see the inevitable end, and thousands of troops surrendered to the Allied forces as they raced from the Rhine to ... See full summary »

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As March of '45 drew to a close, even the most steadfast Germans could see the inevitable end, and thousands of troops surrendered to the Allied forces as they raced from the Rhine to Berlin. Beneath the city, Hitler lived out his final days in delusion while Allied commanders tried to claim as much of the capital for themselves as possible. And in the Pacific, Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest and most brutal battles of the war, and set the stage for Okinawa. Written by Anonymous

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25 March 2005 (USA)  »

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Closing the Rings.
16 February 2017 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

It's Spring, 945, and the end is near for both Germany and Japan. In Europe, the Brits and Americans are surrounding the Ruhr Valley, Germany's industrial heartland. Montgomery is swinging around from the north and Patton from the south.

Then Patton mulls over something unusual for him. His armored columns are only a hundred miles or so from a POW camp said to hold several hundred prisoners. Patton wants to organize his forces and make a rush to liberate the camp. He's dissuaded by his advisers who realize that if Patton pulled off something this big he would need to discuss it with Montogomery (whom he hated) and with Eisenhower (with whom he disagreed}. They were certain to ask about the rush since the camp would be liberated in a few days anyway.

So Patton scaled the attack down and assigned it to Capt. Abraham Baum, giving him several dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers. The goal was to get in, load the APCs with prisoners, one of which happened to e Patton's son-in-law, and get out quickly. That's all they had fuel for. They had fifteen inaccurate maps of the area and no up-to-date information.

We hear virtually nothing about "Task Force Baum" because, since it was a total disaster, it doesn't fit the familiar narrative -- a small band of heroes successfully completing their mission at great cost -- a kind of "The Guns of Navaron" scenario. It was widely regarded as as suicide mission.

First, the lightly armored column ran into resistance from German assault guns. Then, having broken into the camp, they found not a few hundred POWs but thousands of emaciated prisoners begging for liberation. It was impossible. By now, Baum had only 220 men and a dozen vehicles. The POWs were aghast to find that the front lines were still seventy miles away.

Trying to get back to those front lines was worse. Surprise had been lost. Task Force Baum had gotten about five miles when they were attacked and surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. Baum ordered his men to split up and try to get through the German lines in small groups but his men, plus those POWs who had gotten out of the camp were captured. All the vehicles were destroyed. Baum himself is shot in the leg and Patton's son-in-law is wounded.

I've mentioned Task Force Baum at length not to demean Patton's skills but to fill in some of the blanks left in the jigsaw puzzle that is George S. Patton. Someone also has to debunk the readily available scheme of the small group of heroic experts. The Guns of Navaron doesn't always end the same way. It depends on who's shooting the picture.

Hitler and a few loyal henchmen by this time are 50 feet underground in a bunker while Berlin is being pillaged by the Russians. When I was a school kid it was generally thought that the Brits and Americans had decided on the spot to "give" the honor of taking Berlin to the Soviets on the spot. However, the decision had been made long before at the last summit in Yalta. And the Russians had after all suffered far more than any other of the Allies -- 22 million dead -- and the "honor" of conquering Berlin cost 100,000 troops.

On Okinawa, some 200,000 Japanese are prepared to fight to the death, aided by terrifying kamakize suicide bombers that sink 30 warships and damage more than 100 others. Historian William Manchester has written a splendid book about the view from the trenches. I felt sorry for the Japanese, the Korean laborers, and the conscripted Okinowans. They'd been told of the torture and painful deaths to be inflicted by the Americans. Towards the end, there is one moving anecdote by a Japanese resident, sixteen years old at the time, who tried to strangle his mother and, failing that, smashed her head with a rock. "I have never cried so hard in my life." Yet it's unlikely that his tribulations were exceptional.


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