The US 4th Infantry Division played a major role in both World Wars, taking part in the major American battles on the Western Front at St. Mihiel and in the Argonne, then fighting in north-western Europe once again in 1944-45, attacking at Utah Beach on D-Day then taking part in most of the US battles for the rest of the campaign, including the desperate fighting in the Hurtgen Forest and the battle of the Bulge. The division served in Vietnam, and once again during the War on Terror, where it took part in the operation that captured Saddam Hussein.
I like the overall approach to the subject. Each chapter is a mix of a narrative account of the fighting in question, supported by eyewitness accounts from members of the division. I’d say there was about a 50-50 split between the two, which means that we have enough explanation to understand the division’s role in the fighting, and enough eyewitness accounts to some understanding of how these battles felt. This book includes the most vivid accounts I’ve read of the dreadful fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, a battle that is generally seen as one of the biggest mistakes made by the American command during the fighting in north-western Europe. The approach to the First World War fighting is also impressive, combining a pride in the determination of the inexperienced American infantry with an understanding of how the desire to fight without British or French help turned into a failure to take advantage of the lessons that the Allies had paid such a price to learn earlier in the war.
The Vietnam chapter could have done without the political moralizing, where the author’s opinions about the domestic reaction to the war threaten to overshadow the accounts of the fighting. That’s a shame, because there are some interesting stories here. One that particularly stood out after reading the account of the Hurtgen fighting was of a plan for an ambush that was abandoned after one of the soldiers suffered a nasty injury. Instead the entire unit involved appears to have switched its attention to an attempt to evacuate the wounded man by helicopter – a very humane thing to do, but not an approach that would have been recognised in either of the World Wars.
The account of the involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq brings the book right up to date. The material from Iraq is of particular interest, as it traces the way in which the attitude towards the Americans shifted over time, from welcome liberators to the enemy in an insurgency. The division also helped capture Saddam Hussein, showing a willingness to work with local sources of intelligence that played a major role in their success in the country.
This is a good history of a single division, allowing the reader to understand the way in which the battlefield has changed since the battles of 1918, but also how many of the experiences of the individual soldiers have remained the same.
Part I: The Great War
1 - 'The Ivy Men are on the way'
2 - 'The Ivy Men are here!'
3 - 'Baptism on the Aisne-Marne'
4 - 'Hell in St. Mihiel'
5 - The Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Part One
6 - The Meuse Argonne Offensive: Part Two
Part II: World War II
7 - 'We'll start the war from right here'
8 - Artillery flying all directions!
9 - Breaking hard
10 - No Boche in the building!
11 - Maintaining Contact
12 - The Hürtgen Forest: Into the 'meat grinder'
13 - 'The cold shoulder of the Bulge'
14 - Seeing it through!
Part III: Vietnam War
15 - Making End Term of Service
Part IV: Global War on Terror
16 - Iraq: We Got Saddam!
17 - Afghanistan
Author: Martin King, Michael Collins and Jason Nulton