Bastogne: The Road Block

Review by Martin Koenigsberg

I just finished my 96th Book Review of the Year!!

The principles of Storm Trooper/Blitzkrieg warfare are clear- start the offensive by flowing forward – avoiding strongpoints and resistance- get around those and advance into the rear areas where your forces can do the most damage. In the case of Operation Wacht Am Rhein (watch on the Rhine), the goals were the Meuse River and the Port of Antwerp, a long way to go- so they crushed what US Army units they could get their hands on and kept going- around the little crossroads town of Bastogne. The following infantry would mop up and reduce the remaining enemy positions. What they didn’t know was that SHAEF had reacted with lightning speed and inserted the American 101st Airborne Division, the famed Screaming Eagles, and Combat Command B of the 10th Armoured Division into the Bastogne Perimeter before the last roads were closed by the German Infantry divisions that had moved up in the wake of the roaming panzers. Thus two of America’s best WWII formations held the town and its Satellite villages – elite parachute infantry and a mobile reaction force – along with a division and half’s complement of artillery. The Germans thought this was just a few bedraggled units that would soon crack. The Nazis were wrong again. Written in 1968, before the Utlra secrets were revealed, this 160-page book, number Four in Ballantine’s Illustrated History of the World War II, has all the plethora of b/w pics, line drawings, diagrams, and maps the series is known for. Peter Elstob, the author who would go on to write several other books in the series, does a good job here- by flying around the battlefield and giving the reader salient points rather than the whole story he doesn’t have space for. I think this is the sort of battle book that gets one to read more other books on the same topic- an amuse buche as it were for a whole area of study. I think I will have to spend more time reading/ traveling to battlefields about this campaign- as Belgium is a lovely place to visit now that shrapnel is no longer flying about. This is an iconic American battle in WWII, so I think the casual reader will find this an informative read as well. There are few adult themes in this book and no graphic injury passages, so this is fine for the 10/11-year-old Junior Reader it was originally aimed at. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast, this is the first book you read on this campaign that gets you fired up for more. Not enough maps to assist with scenario/campaign development, but this might be the book you can give to a novice/Warhammer player to get them interested in a FOW/CoC/BoltAction/Battlegroup jaunt. The Modeler will also get a lot of pics for build/diorama ideas- but will probably want a couple of other sources for even better breadth. The Military Enthusiast will find this book wanting of particular of the battle – but a good book for understanding the feel of the conflict. The Casual reader, who can get a good basic understanding of an iconic American battlefield in Europe, is probably the biggest winner here- but all readers will enjoy their read.
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