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The Fighting First: The Untold Story Of The Big Red One On D-day Hardcover – April 13, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of two other WWII histories (Soldiers on Skis and The Rock of Anzio), Whitlock now focuses on the often overlooked 1st Infantry Division that, along with the well-chronicled 29th Division, stormed Omaha beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Nicknamed "The Big Red One," the 1st Division was already seasoned in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns and expected to be transferred from the Mediterranean to a cushy job training green recruits stateside. Instead, the haggard, battle-hardy division was sent to England to train for Operation Overload under a new commander, Clarence Huebner. Through interviews, unpublished manuscripts and other primary sources, Whitlock recounts their determined, if exhausted, preparation for the invasion of France: they stoically survived warm British beer and rigorously trained replacements for their fallen brothers-in-arms. Burdened with every piece of equipment they could possibly need (and some they didnt), the 1st fought their way through barbed wire, mines and machine guns, past formidable German fortifications and into the hedgerow country beyond the beach cliffs. They won three D-Day Medals of Honor for those 12 hours of fighting alone. The rest of the book covers the high points of the European campaign, moving along with the 1st through street fighting in Aachen, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Bonn. Altogether this book is a worthwhile chronicle of a small group of worn-out men who were called to do yet another duty and did it well. 50 b&w photographs, 20 maps
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of two solid World War II divisional histories now turns to the 1st Infantry--the Big Red One--in northwestern Europe. Transferred to England to provide veterans to spearhead D-Day, the division had to cope with disappointment at not going home, warm English beer, a rigorous training schedule, and assimilating a great many green recruits. None of that remotely compared with actually going ashore on Omaha Beach, where the Big Red One ran the same gauntlet of German fire that the better-publicized and no less valiant 29th Infantry also faced. The 1st's early waves had to fight tooth and nail to get off the beaches, needed all the courage and naval help they could get--and won three Medals of Honor on D-Day alone. The last part of the book sees the division across France and into Germany, detailing its other Medal of Honor winners and the process of the green recruits of England becoming hardened veterans in a justly famous fighting outfit. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book, however, will not offer any additional insights into D-Day. In the spirit of Cornelius Ryan's "The Longest Day" and Stephen Ambrose's "D-Day: June 6, 1944," this work is based primarily on firsthand accounts of the battle. "The Fighting First" is much more narrowly focused than either of the other two books, telling only the D-Day story of the assault on Omaha Beach. It does not have the breadth of research and interviews that Ryan's or Ambrose's works have, and, although this is certainly a product of the slow dying out of the Greatest Generation, the story seems to revolve around only a handful of soldiers. Anyone who has read "The Longest Day" or "D-Day: June 6, 1944" will not find any new insights or experiences in the pages of this book.
There were a few omissions that would have strengthened this book. The author tells the personal story of the initial assault onto Omaha Beach well, but he fails to give a good operational overview of the attacking companies and battalions. This is one detail that most D-Day books lack, even Adrian Lewis' excellent "Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory." The author never gives an overall accounting of the total number of casualties suffered on D-Day or during the Normandy campaign, a basic fact that is needed to tell the story. The book also has a few factual inaccuracies and questionable assertions. (For example, he says that the tide was rising one foot every 8 minutes, when the tidal range on Omaha on D-Day was 18 feet. There is also an unexamined claim by a veteran that the Germans were using wooden bullets.) These should have been corrected or explained better by the author.
Additionally, although the book is billed as the "Untold Story of the Big Red One on D-Day," only about 100 pages of the book's 350 pages tell the story of D-Day. Another 80 or so pages describe the Big Red One's training for and SHAEF's planning for Operation Overlord. The rest of the book tells of the Big Red One's fighting in North Africa, its post-D-Day pursuit across France, the terrible fighting around Aachen and in the Hürtgen Forest, the fighting at the northern shoulder of the Bulge, and the finals days of the war in the spring of 1945. It is this short history of the Big Red One, more than the telling of the D-Day story, that sets this book apart: the story of the Big Red One in World War Two, which fought in North Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium, Germany, and even Czechoslovakia, is hard to find. Fortunately, it can be found in this book.
The bottom line, though, is that the book is well written and tells its story very well. It includes plenty of maps (no military history book can have too many maps, although unfortunately most have too few) and photographs of many of the soldiers, including photographs and descriptions of every Medal of Honor winner. I would recommend it to any World War II buff.