by: Mike Kirchoff [ ]
Originally published on:
IntroductionAuthored by Gordon L. Rottman, this book, “US Airborne Units in the Mediterranean Theater 1942-44”, is the first of three such titles planned by Osprey Publishing regarding United States airborne divisions in World War II.
Published as Number 22 in Osprey’s Battle Orders stable of titles, this book literally covers every facet of airborne operations from inception as the Parachute Test Platoon at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1940, to Operation Dragoon – the invasion of Southern France in August, 1944. In honest fashion, author leaves very few, if any, aspects untouched regarding the subject.
the contentNow, this is not another ‘picture book’, and might be of questionable value for those modelers seeking reference material regarding uniforms and weapons. The 47 black and white photos are purposeful and strategically used to help support certain important points in the text. But there are no color plates or artist renderings. What this title does represent is the veritable meat and potatoes of airborne unit organization, tactics and operations on almost every level.
Preceding the Table of Contents, on page two, is a fairly extensive key to military symbols. I found myself referring to it on many occasions. It came in very handy when perusing the many tables of organizations. That historical information alone is of value to the serious modeler.
Following a brief introduction, which includes a nifty listing of a parachutist rifleman’s typical equipment and a short chapter devoted to the airborne combat mission statement, the author begins to define particular units. Among those mentioned include the 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Special Service Force, 1st Airborne Task Force and the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team.
The next chapter deals with the extensive training programs parachutists endured. Conducted in three phases, the trainee was subjected to 13 weeks each of individual and unit training, while another 11 weeks was devoted to combined training. One interesting note Rottman points out is the fact that all parachutists were not paratroopers. The term ‘paratrooper’ was reserved for those qualified to pack their own parachutes. Apparently in 1942 it was determined that the investment of time required to train a man to pack his chute was better spent elsewhere, so from that point on full-time riggers were employed for the task.
The short chapter covering weapons and equipment was quite interesting. With the information offered being more suited to modelling, I also learned much more about the nuts and bolts required for airborne assault including infantry and crew-served weapons, vehicles and aircraft such as the C-47 and Waco CG-4A glider.
The most expansive chapter in the book covers combat operations in the MTO. This is broken down into sub-chapters that include activities in North Africa, Sicily, the Italian mainland, and Southern France. The author makes terrific use of maps, tables, period photographs and well-written, but concise text to describe those airborne actions.
North Africa provided the first opportunities for the US forces to put airborne assault into practice. Still in its infancy, Rottman describes these often ill-fated actions during late 1942.
Teething problems remained the following year. Operation Husky I and II - the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943 - would also prove difficult for airborne units. The author utilizes several maps, tables, T/Os and photographs to aid in describing these events.
Later that same year Allied forces invaded the Italian mainland. The author describes the rather secondary role the airborne would play to support these actions. Again, the use of easy-to-read maps, tables and photos help the reader put this in perspective.
In an attempt to draw German forces down from the north a plan was put in place to invade southern France in August, 1944 – just nine weeks after the Allied forces landed at Normandy. This operation, originally labeled Anvil before being changed to Dragoon a few weeks before the operation, once again involved a coalition of British and US airborne units. The author does a nice job describing the specifics of this operation. But is quick to point out that even though all objectives were attained within 48 hours, it might not have been the overall success it was originally touted as being. Apparently some of the critical numbers reported post-action were skewed slightly. Whereas the entire operation was deemed a success, there still remained obvious concerns with the navigation of airborne units – in particular the misdropping of both parachute and glider forces, and their ability to regroup afterwards.
In conclusionThe author paints an honest and realistic picture of not only the successes, but also the mistakes endured by US and Allied airborne forces in the Mediterranean during WWII. From its inception, airborne operations were certainly a learning process for all involved. But Rottman also unveils progress with each account. The reader can see how airborne command overcame a multitude of obstacles and constantly adapted tactics and changed philosophies to achieve specific goals.
Not considering myself much of an historian, I tried to earnestly review this book and base it in terms of what I had learned after reading it. Rottman packs a wealth of historical background in this title. That, along with pertinent photos and well-conceived maps and tables, I know have a much clearer understanding of the subject. No doubt those with more knowledge of this subject will glean much more from this book than I.
185mm x 249mm
47 black and white photographs with captions
11 battle maps
36 tables and organizational charts
Weapons and equipment
Command, control, communication and intelligence