This is rather an unusual book; from the title, I was expecting it to be devoted entirely to an operational history of US Airborne operations in the Mediterranean Theatre of War, but this aspect only really occupies the last third of the text. Instead, what I found was an extremely detailed account of the formation, doctrine, training and organisation of US parachute and glider units, with further chapters covering the tactics and equipment.
The softbound book has only 87 pages of text, maps and diagrams, accompanied by a selection of B&W photos, but the level of detail which the author has managed to pack in is quite stupendous. The book divides basically into thirds; the first section dealing with background and formation of the units, the second with the tactics and equipment used, and the final section outlining the combat operations in the Mediterranean and the lessons learned from them.
Formation and training
The author covers the formation of the first units in great detail, including the divisional structure and the training regime involved. There's particular emphasis on the raison d'Ítre for such units, with emphasis on the operational goals and limitations inherent in their nature. The units were formed against a background of some official antipathy and a degree of confusion as units were restructured. It has to be said that the formation of the units was far from smooth; in the case of one unit consisting of 16,000 untrained draftees (having first been told it would become a motorised infantry division) - on the day it was announced that they would instead become airborne troops, no less than 4,500 of the men went AWOL!
When you see the harsh training schedule and the rudimentary equipment, it's easy to understand the scepticism with which the early troops viewed their new role. Glider troops seem to have been particularly hard done by, not receiving the same recognition as their parachute counterparts, despite the fact that theirs was an equally dangerous form of delivery into battle.
Tactics and Equipment
All the training in the world would be useless without careful planning and preparations for the operations and it was seen from the start that this was nowhere more true than in airborne warfare. The "what, when, where and how" is clearly outlined in this section, which covers the key considerations in planning an operation along with the recognition that an airborne force faced the prospect of fighting as scattered pockets of lightly armed troops isolated from the main force behind enemy lines.
The equipment section is interesting, covering everything from personal equipment, through air-transportable vehicles and light artillery, through to the transports and gliders used to deliver the troops into combat. It must be stressed that this isn't primarily a modelling book; most of the equipment is described, rather than illustrated in any great detail. That's not meant as a criticism, it simply isn't where the strengths of the book lie.
The final section covers the nine airborne assaults carried out in the Mediterranean and makes depressing reading. Despite the earlier emphasis on training and planning, all the operations failed to some extent, sometimes due to bad luck, but largely on account of insufficient preparation and the inexperience of the aircrews involved. Many of the attacks were joint operations with the British, who suffered similarly and some of the assaults were truly catastrophic. For instance, Operations Husky 1 & 2 against Sicily were plagued with difficulties from the outset and poor navigation in the attack itself left paratroopers spread out so badly that some landed 65 miles off target. At least they were "lucky" enough to be on dry land; the parallel British glider assault was a disaster, when their US transports released too far from shore - 83 gliders ditched into the Mediterranean with shocking loss of life.
Each operation is covered in some detail and, for me, it was the point at which the book really sprang to life. I only wish more of the text was devoted to the combat itself, because it's a true testament to the courage and tenacity of the troops involved that each assault contributed to the overall success of the accompanying ground forces, despite the considerable problems faced. The operations in the MTO left many lessons to be learnt. Recognition of the need for better training of aircrews, the use of pathfinder forces ahead of the main jumps and the need to provide more firepower for the inherently lightly armed troops, all contributed to the more successful operations in Northern Europe through D-Day and beyond.
As I stated earlier, this isn't really a modeller's book. There are a number of B&W photos, but they don't really cover the equipment and vehicles in the kind of detail needed in a modelling reference. Osprey books often have a colour centre-section, but there is none here. That said, careful study of the photos will pay dividends for modellers in getting the uniforms and equipment right, but the book's value is really as an historical reference on the organisation and doctrine behind and through the MTO operations.
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Gordon Rottman has written the most detailed account I've ever read of the organisation and doctrine behind the US Airborne Forces of WW2. Despite the fact that the book arguably fails to live up to its title, it remains a fascinating and very worthwhile read for all students of the use of paratroopers and glider forces.
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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin) FROM: NO REGIONAL SELECTED, UNITED KINGDOM
I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...