From Stephen E. Ambrose, bestselling author of Band of Brothers and D-Day , the inspiring story of the ordinary men of the U.S. army in northwest Europe from the day after D-Day until the end of the bitterest days of World War II.
In this riveting account, historian Stephen E. Ambrose continues where he left off in his #1 bestseller D-Day. Citizen Soldiers opens at 0001 hours, June 7, 1944, on the Normandy beaches, and ends at 0245 hours, May 7, 1945, with the allied victory. It is biography of the US Army in the European Theater of Operations, and Ambrose again follows the individual characters of this noble, brutal, and tragic war. From the high command down to the ordinary soldier, Ambrose draws on hundreds of interviews to re-create the war experience with startling clarity and immediacy. From the hedgerows of Normandy to the overrunning of Germany, Ambrose tells the real story of World War II from the perspective of the men and women who fought it.
Stephen Edward Ambrose was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. He received his Ph.D. in 1960 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his final years he faced charges of plagiarism for his books, with subsequent concerns about his research emerging after his death.
Citizen Soldiers: The U S Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany begins on June 7, 1944 and continues through May 7, 1945. During this time there are the battles in the hedgerows of Normandy, Operation Market-Garden, the battles in the Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, and the capture of the bridge at Remagen. I have read books about D-Day and Operation Overlord and I know about the training that went into it. I did not know the allied soldiers were not really prepared for what came after the landing on the beaches. It was a learning process. How to fight in the hedgerows. How to cross rivers. How to fight in a city. How to coordinate air and ground campaigns.
There were, of course, chapters on these different campaigns and battles but some of the chapters that I found most interesting were those on the medics; nurses; and doctors, the sad sacks and profiteers, and on the replacement system. I had not realized that many of the soldiers were sent into battle with little or no training. And the casualty rate showed it.
This was war and there is plenty of horror that goes with it. Such as executing a person rather than taking him prisoner. But there were moments when humanity surfaced. Such as an Easter service with both G.I.'s and German civilians participating. There were occasional moments when I had a laugh, or at least smiled. Such as when a G.I. was hunting for food. He shot at a deer. He missed but 5 German soldiers came out of the forest with their hands raised.
You cannot write about WWII without discussing Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, and Montgomery. They are all here but for the most part it is from the viewpoint of how their decisions impacted the GI on the front line. Such as not having winter gear because a general in the rear believed the war would be over by December.
The author did a wonderful job of research and interviews. With Americans and Germans. But I didn't see anything with a British or French soldier. It was not just America vs Germany. It would have been interesting to read about the experience and viewpoint of other allies. When I was finished reading this book my appreciation for the young citizen soldiers who participated was renewed again.
I've been thinking a lot about story structure lately. How many wonderful stories (books or movies) have a structure something like this: Hero reluctantly gets involved in a struggle. Hero faces setbacks, makes mistakes, takes a few steps forward and then a few steps back. Hero learns, grows, and changes on way to achieving goal. Hero has to make some sacrifices, but comes out on top.
I love Stephen Ambrose. He makes history read like a good novel. Citizen Soldiers was packed with information. It was interesting to read. The way Ambrose told it, the US Army was the hero—learning how to fight in hedgerow country, learning how to fight in a city, getting surprised in the Ardennes, making some mistakes with the Repple Depples and Market Garden, but ultimately pushing through and triumphing. Maybe that is why World War Two is still something so many people love to study.
Ambrose does a good job of giving the reader a broad picture of what was happening with the US Army in Northern Europe. He doesn't cover the Pacific Theater or what was happening in Italy. He does give praise where it is due and criticism where it is deserved. Great read, even if I did laugh when he talked about the Red Army liberating the Baltic states and Eastern Europe. I doubt they felt like they were being liberated—more like being conquered by a different army.
“Citizen soldiers“ by Stephen E Ambrose is an amazing book.
For those of us who are history buffs this is a treasure of information detail to the smallest Degree about post DDay war in Europe. The beauty of the book is that none of it does Ambrose tell the story from his amazing research only but he uses individual quotes afterwards to bring the sections of the story to life.
This is a five star book if there ever was one I loved it and I loved the little details like men in the battle of the bulge sharing the fox hole with a dog.
This is a great one!
I highly recommend this book for World War II history buffs.
Saya sudah dua kali membaca buku ini. Pertama kali saya begitu menggebu-gebu. Pun yang kedua kali.
Namun kemaren ketika saya akan membacanya untuk ketiga kalinya, saya berniat membuat review yang utuh dari awal hingga akhir buku ini. Namun ternyata buku itu masih belum tamat saya baca untuk ketiga kali dan catatan saya masih belum tuntas.
Buku ini menarik untuk diulas karena cakupan cerita yang tidak hanya menggambarkan suasana kompetisi di antara para Jenderal. Sejak D Day. Komando pasukan sekutu terbagi dua antara Amerika dan Inggris Raya. Ketika Montgomery terlambat menguasai Cannes, maka banyak pasukan Amerika menganggur dan tidak bisa meneruskan operasi. Kebuntuan itu salah satunya yang membuat Eisenhower memanggil Jenderal Patton yang pemberang untuk melakukan terobosan guna keluar dari kebuntuan karena terlalu berhati-hatinya Monty. Patton yang semula dijadikan jenderal non-pasukan karena kasus penamparan ketika Operasi di Italia kembali aktif memimpin Pasukan Angkatan Darat Ketiga.
Diceritakan pula pertempuran Ardenes, yang merupakan bagian dari "the last offensive" pasukan Jerman. Dengan memanfaatkan kekuatan sisa, dan juga sasaran depo bahan bakar sekutu, pasuka Jerman bergerak. Pasukan pertama yang dikirim adalah pasukan SS yang berseragam pasukan Amerika. Namun, kelalaian kecil membuat gerakan pasukan penyusul itu terbuka ketika mereka ingin mengisi bahan bakar di stasiun pengisian, "petrol please!" He he he Kekhawatiran keselamatan Eisenhower membuat ia dipindahkan ke sebuah markas lapangan yang dirahasiakan.
Buku ini tidak hanya bercerita mengenai kompetisi para jenderal. Buku ini juga bercerita bagaimana prajurit di lapangan menghadapi situasi sulit medan pertempuran. Ketika baru saja mendarat di Normandi, pasukan sekutu berhadapan dengan pasukan Jerman yang terlindung baik dibalik pagar tanaman. Kondisi pertempuran ini juga mempengaruhi perbandingan mesin perang kedua pihak. Tank Jerman memiliki daya jangkau peluru dan ketahanan baja yang lebih baik dibandingkan Sherman Amerika. Namun di sisi lain, Sherman Amerika yang bajanya dibuat lebih tipis demi memudahkan pengangkutan di kapal, memiliki keunggulan dalam kegesitan bermanuver. Di medan tempur Eropa Barat ini juga, Sherman mengalami modifikasi yang merupakan kreatifitas mekanik lapangan Amerika. Mulai dari penempatan semacam gerinda penyapu ranjau di muka tank. Atau modifikasi lainnya. Hal serupa tidak terjadi di pihak Jerman yang peranan mekaniknya tidak dapat memberikan input langsung di lapangan.
Keunggulan Sekutu yang paling utama pasca keberhasilan pendaratan Normandi adalah terbangunnya komunikasi antara pasukan di darat (kaveleri dan infanteri) dengan pasukan udara. Jalur komunkasi yang memungkinkan infanteri mendapat perlindungan yang cukup, terutama dari udara, membuat mental pasukan sekutu jauh di atas mental pasukan Jerman. Terutama ketika udara cerah. Deru pesawat sekutu yang mengangkasa tanpa perlawanan dari angkatan udara Jerman (luftwaffe) merupakan teror besar bagi pasukan darat Jerman.
Selain itu dicatat peran dari para perawat dan pelanggaran konvensi perang. Perawat merupakan pihak yang harus dihormati. Ada cerita dimana perawat dari satu pihak harus menolong korban lawannya. Selain juga ada catatan pelanggaran penembakan tawanan perang yang dilakukan oleh kedua belah pihak. Seperti tindakan pasukan Amerika yang menyuruh tawanan Jermannya berjalan dengan lutut di jalan aspal bersalju sebelum menembaknya. Hal itu dilakukan setelah mereka melihat mayat rekannya korban penembakan massal ketika Sekutu terdesak saat penyerbuan Ardenes.
Cerita pembangkangan juga terjadi. Bukan sekedar pembangkangan yang tidak perlu. Ada cerita seorang kapten (komandan kompie) yang menolak perintah dari seorang Kolonel (komandan brigade) dengan alasan senapanya beku dan tidak bisa menembak. Kesulitan dalam menjalankan rantai komando demikian bisa saja terjadi karena pihak perencana di belakang meja tidak cukup menerima masukan yang sepantasnya dari rekan mereka di lapangan. Seorang Jenderal di markas komandonya boleh berencana melakukan serangan dan memerintahkan untuk maju sekian mil per-hari. Namun kondisi di lapangan kadang tidak masuk sesuai dengan rencanya. Di sini Ambrose menceritakan bagaimana Sekutu (AS) membangun solusi dari kesulitan di lapangan itu.
Singkatnya, buku ini bukan cuma cerita para jenderal, tapi geliat perjuangan prajurit karena sumbernya yang kaya dari catatan pribadi prajurit dan perwira yang mengalami. Lain itu, buku ini juga bukan cuma buku perang, karena di dalamnya ada cerita bagaimana organisasi yang baik dan inovatif akan lebih mampu menghadapi situasi dan perubahan di lapangan. Masukan dari bawah tetap penting, meskipun organisasi itu bernama militer yang ciri utamanya adalah komando top-down.
Ambrose, an incredibly prolific and readable historian, focuses in this book on the soldiers who made up the ETO (European Theater of Operations). It’s at first somewhat difficult to categorize. His analysis of the men who made up the army could almost be called cheer-leading of the most nauseating kind. But after he settles in, the reality becomes more apparent. They weren’t all great guys and upstanding citizens. He points out that some thirty percent of supplies coming into ports after the invasion of Europe were stolen for resale on the black market. The picture of Milo in Catch-22 is not the grossest exaggeration. Racial problems were endemic at all levels, but Ambrose reserves his harshest judgment for the upper echelon commanders who remained clean, dry, and well-fed in the rear while front-line troops were asked to take objectives that often made little sense at great cost. Thousands of GI’s were lost to trench foot and frostbite during the winter because the boots they were issued were inadequate. Those in the rear got the good rubber-covered boots. The response of the brass was to insist that soldiers change their socks regularly, and threatened to court-martial anyone diagnosed with trench foot. The replacement system designed by Eisenhower’s staff sent inadequately trained men to the front where they often died needlessly. Had they been trained as units, with experienced sergeants and sent into battle as units fewer would have died, suggests Ambrose. British general Montgomery was clearly more interested in self-promotion than in becoming part of the team,, and Ambrose cites one example where Montgomery’s demands for more overall command had to be personally put down by Eisenhower. George Patton was obsessed with spit-and-polish. In one instance some officers just coming from the muddy front had been ordered to Third Army headquarters to get some badly needed maps. They were held up at the entrance to Third Army territory because Patton had issued orders to his MP’s that anyone entering had to maintain proper uniform standards of cleanliness, etc. It took the officers hours to get cleared and cleaned-up before they could get what they needed, holding up the offensive. Soldiers soon learned that war was not all they expected. As others, like Paul Fussell and Gerald Lindeman (who explored the role of the American fighting man) have noted, war has been seriously overglamorized. Soldiers were psychologically unprepared for battle and the stress broke many of them down. Often they refused to take prisoners, shooting all Germans in the way whether under white flag or not. The war fundamentally altered the lives of those who survived the front lines. Americans, having never been bombed, cannot appreciate the horror of interminable artillery shelling and constant fear and deprivation. Ambrose clearly admires what these soldiers for what they endured. In the end, the reason for fighting the war is exemplified by the tragic comments of a severely wounded German lieutenant who desperately needed a blood transfusion. Just as it was to be administered, the German insisted the medic certify there was no Jewish blood mixed in with the blood he was about to receive. The medic obviously could not, but pointed out that without the plasma he would die. The German died refusing to be transfused. They should have given it to him anyway.
When people know you like history, especially military history, you are probably doomed to get Ambrose books. And so I did, and dutifully read it. The fault of Ambrose is not bad prose (he can write a passable sentence), but in his perspective. I forget the exact line, but the effect is definitely that of "There is much that is good, and much that is original. But that which is original is not good, and that which is good is not original." The fault of plagiarism leveled against Ambrose I mind less than his original idea, which is basically that Americans won against the Germans because they showed that virtuous citizen soldiers were more effective than the minions of the dictatorships. This manages to combine two of the major pitfalls of military history: aping sportswriters, and ignoring essentials.
I don't mean to dishonor the US vets of the war on Germany, but Wehrmacht of 1943 was not the army that had conquered western Europe in 1939-41, and nearly taken out the Soviets in 1942. The Soviets had seen to that, with some help from the UK. And, as Norman Davies shows effectively in No Simple Victory (which I highly recommend), the western front was not where the defeat of Hitler really happened.
In short, Ambrose is not writing for those who want to know what really happened; he writes for those who want to feel complacently proud of the U.S. I would rather base my pride on facts. That I remember it in so much detail 15 years later is mostly due to the strength of my reaction.
In D-Day, Stephen Ambrose wrote the definitive history of June 6, 1944. In Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose continues his World war II history from June 7 until the surrender of Germany. Ambrose, of course, is an accomplished historian, but is also a terrific writer, making history come alive. The story is told through the words and actions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen from General Eisenhower to the privates in the infantry. This book is a magnificent accomplishment and a fitting tribute to the Greatest Generation.
A history of the U.S. Army in World war II, specifically the European Theater, from D-Day to VE-Day. Very readable, with lots of awe-inspiring anecdotal reminisces from both American and German infantry and pilots; it’s also clear and informative on the types and abilities of weaponry both sides utilized.
Ambrose is, of course, a patriot, almost a jingoist. While the book is very critical of the egotistical and apparently unreasonable Montgomery, it could do with a bit more critique of Patton, who seems just as bull-headed and irrational as the Brit does. Patton’s memoirs are cited without comment, though some of his claims as to his intentions, for example, might be questioned. Ambrose’s prose nears hagiography when he talks about his hero, Eisenhower, which isn’t very helpful as assessment of strategy. But the meat of this book is the interview and material from the front-line soldiers, and here it’s fascinating. On almost every page there’s an amazing battle or instance of bravery that boggles the modern mind. So in that respect, Ambrose accomplishes the book’s purpose with skill. Indeed, perhaps this strength is also a weakness: because the book celebrates feats of heroism, it doesn’t linger on the tragedy of mass casualties: the slaughter of wave after wave of unprepared young men is tallied in statistics (Company XYZ took 185 percent casualties, etc), but not discussed as human loss, and that’s a shame.
My maternal grandfather served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army during WWII in the 3rd Infantry Division, 30th Regiment. He fought in Italy on the Anzio to Rome campaign, and in Southern France from Provence up the Rhône Valley to the Swiss border, and on into Germany itself. Being in awe of him and his military service all my life, I have always had a special fascination with WWII and with the men who served in it.
“Citizen Soldiers” is a wonderful and often heartbreaking collective memoir of some of the soldiers of the U.S. Army in the European Theater—what they experienced, what they thought, how they felt. The book does give an overarching narrative view of the war as it progressed, but the focus is on the stories and memories recounted by the men and women who were there. I laughed, I cried, I felt amazement and admiration for what this generation lived through and endured. 5 stars.
I read Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose in the late 1990's shortly after reading Band of Brothers and D-Day, both also by Ambrose. I reread this book in 2005. I listened to the audio book version in 2006. The book describes how these "citizen soldiers" came to be soldiers, and what they did once they were. There is some overlap with his other titles about World War II. The book follows the battles right after the allies left the beaches of Normandy, all the way through France into German territory.
This lengthy volume details the war in Europe. It tells how Americans were critical to that victory. It gives the story through the eyes of those who participated in the various units. I enjoy this tile and the stories the former GI's share. “Citizen Soldiers“ is the name for the draftees, national guard, and army reserve soldiers, the non-regular army soldiers, which were so necessary to field an army of the size that was needed in World War II. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.
Admittedly, this era (D-Day-Germany's surrender) is my favorite time period in history. That being said, this book was compellingly written, well-researched, and heartwarming, despite the horrendous stories contained within.
Reading about the citizens who defended our country and its honor during WWII always stirs within me the desire to work harder, appreciate more, and remember the sacrifice of those before me.
I gave this book four stars because it is one of the best histories of World War II I have ever read despite occasional episodes of fierce language. There wasn't a lot of bad language but it was intense when it was present.
Ambrose brings richness, life, and new perspectives to a subject that has been written to exhaustion. He relates all of the expected events and gives enough detail to understand the strategic and tactical situation. He helps the reader to understand the causes and effects of the different happenings, but he also brings the human experience into each event. Ambrose relates several experiences, usually told in the person's own words, for each major event that helped me understand not just the historical significance, but what it was like for the men and women who went through the experiences. For example, while telling about the first days of the Battle of the Bulge, Ambrose includes diary entries of both German and American soldiers that explained how they each felt about the quick change of direction in the campaign.
Citizen Soldiers also includes sections about the airmen of the European theater, the medics and nurses, black soldiers, and the American casualty replacement system. These sections added perspectives that I do not usually encounter in military history. As an example of this, Ambrose includes a letter from a nurse in the theater that was published in "Stars and Stripes." The letter is the nurses expression of her admiration for the soldiers she treated. Ambrose also includes the reactions of some of the German civilians who lived in cities when some of our bomber crews landed among them. As you can imagine, they were not very friendly to those who were destroying their homes and killing their families.
As a final note, Ambrose does a wonderful job showing that there were good and bad among both sides. He talks about kindness showed by German soldiers and civilians, as well as their atrocities. He also talks about atrocities committed by GIs, as well as the kindness the showed. He forcefully drives home the point that there was good and bad among both sides.
This was my second Ambrose read after Band of Brothers, and it was exceptional. In Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose primarily uses the first-hand accounts of a select number of American infantry and non-commissioned officers as a cross-section of the US Army that liberated Nazi Europe. The accounts given by the men Ambrose interviewed are moving, humorous, heart-wrenching and ultimately inspiring. There is no comparable civilian experience to total war, but Ambrose does his best to draw the reader into the battlefield of World War II, and does much to explain why those soldiers are commonly referred to as The Greatest Generation.
The book is a fairly easy read. There are not a lot of sections of long text, as the chapters are broken into short sections that highlight an event or individual. While the soldier at the front line is the focus of the book, Ambrose does spend a significant amount of time detailing the drama at the command level, especially with people like Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Montgomery.
This has been an essential read in my latest foray into World War II history. While movies like Saving Private Ryan provide a glimpse of the sacrifices made by America's young men and women in World War II, such works fall short of the words and emotions of the people who were actually there. At several points, I was gripped by deep emotion at the stories of the citizen soldier. I think there is an immense amount of room for debate between pacifism and just war, but in my mind World War II is one of the highest points in American history. The American GI traveled to a foreign land to liberate a foreign people and went back home when peace was achieved, and did so in such a way that in many cases American and German veterans became friends in the years that followed.
I'm on a little world war II kick right now and I realized that this book would basically tell me what my grandfather and Kate's grandfather were doing in 1944. Turns out, things were not that fun for them. Although, thank god my grandfather was in the anti-aircraft part of the army, because if he had been in the front line infantry, according to this book, chances are I would not be around. There are lots of great first-person stories of the war here, although it is a little jumpy all around between armies and corps and divisions and stuff. I would make one suggestion to readers of this book. If you're like me, you'll keep saying to yourself, "wait, ok, division 30 of the 1st Army, when did he talk about them before? Where were they? Wait, what town are they at again? Were they the ones from that story with the river and the big battle?..." When these questions come up, you just have to ignore them. Maybe if you are a vet yourself, you can keep track of all these groups, but I just can't do it. It's impossible to keep flipping back to the text and maps and find everybody. I would just ignore the numbers and read it for the stories. The other thing you get out of this book is, if ONLY that eyepatch tom cruise guy had managed to kill Hitler like he wanted to. That was July of 44. The war went on another year almost, even though everyone with a brain in Germany knew they were going to lose. But if they gave up, Hitler would have them shot for treason. So they had to keep fighting. So they wasted hundreds of thousands of German and Allied lives for absolutely no reason at all. It just makes you sick.
WW II has always been interesting to me anyway, and this book was an excellent way to understand (from personal experiences) what happened on the European front of it. I really, really loved Ambrose's way of combining very personal accounts of the soldiers on the front lines up through the ranks to those making the big decisions. I also really enjoyed his writing style; though he goes into great detail, he is still easy to read and understand. It's easy to get the generalities of the war and how it was fought, but it was fascinating and horrifying to get a much more personal understanding of individuals' experiences and what they had to endure. I had no idea how bad and difficult the conditions of the men on the front lines were, especially in areas that the Army should have better prepared them. From having to figure out by trial and error the ways to fight in completely new and unfamiliar terrain (like the hedgerows) to the woefully inadequate gear they had for the brutal winter of '44-'45. Particularly in the face of these and other extreme difficulties, it's all the more amazing what the military as a whole accomplished. It's one thing to read about the decisions at the top for what they wanted accomplished and the divisions and units they sent to do so, but it makes it so much more agonizing and amazing to have the accounts of what the actual people in those divisions and units had to do to to meet those objectives. What they had to do was hugely important, and it came at such heartbreaking costs, due to both justifiable and bad decisions. I can see and understand much more of why that generation has been called the Greatest Generation.
I should’ve read this book long ago. I picked it up when I saw a trusted friend whose reading taste I trust had read it. Ambrose wrote my all-time favorite Undaunted Courage, and I’ve read his other WWII books too. This book was so good I didn’t want to finish it, I wanted to savor it since I looked forward to my nightly reading time with this book on the nightstand. His book writing is so readable it’s relaxing, even if the topics are uncomfortable. He writes in such rich style that you’re never bored or tiresome. Ambrose illustrates so many personal stories into the narrative, and he gives his cites so that you know he did research to come up with the anecdotes and didn’t just make them up. In all, he composes a very detailed historical record of the campaign and numerous battles, complete with facts, maps and strategy, yet you never fell you’re getting a history lesson. Rather, Ambrose gives life lessons on when and why things happen, and lots of color on the various collateral influences on the world around the action. If you like any of his other books, don’t miss reading Citizen Soldiers.
Possibly one of the best books I have ever read. The first hand accounts of every day soldiers from both sides of the war gives a unique history of World War II that at times had my heart lifted in pride for what these people accomplished and moved me to tears by thier sacrifice. This book should be required reading for every High School history class if for no other reason that maybe if teenagers today realized that 80 years ago people not much older than them were will to fight and die to stop tyranny than maybe they would stop whining about how the world isn't being handed to them and do something.
I finished it last night, gripping and heartwarming & heartbreaking. These men, these ordinary few, is there really anything more to say? I miss these brave men......
Stephen Ambrose is a National Treasure. One day I’ll get thru all his books.
On a side note: I read this with my sons. Over the course of the week of Memorial Weekend thru DDay the other day. I’m not impressed with their history curriculum, so most of the books I read in Autobiography are pretty much all read by the family. I encourage you all if you’re a parent, to do the same. It’s a joyous experience.
Whatever else Ambrose does, he does his homework. There's enough primary material in this book to make it worthwhile just for that, for telling the story of the men and women who were there. It's hung together with enough filler material to make it interesting and coherent, and enough background to make it accessible to those without a solid grounding in WWII history. It stands out as perhaps his best book about the period, simply because it focuses on the people, not the action, which is enough for me to think it an Important Book.
A very good book on the American campaign in Europe. It has many first-hand accounts from the common GI, all woven in with the big picture of the war. Ambrose also has chapters on the Air war, battlefield medicine, military justice, morale and many other aspects of the American war effort in ETO. The only drawback to this book for me was a little to much rah, rah cheerleading , from the author. Otherwise I really enjoyed the book.
This book focuses on the soldiers who made the great battles of WWII possible. It humanizes the soldiers; it tells their side of the story, rather than being another book about strategy and campaign. It is not a book about generals; it is a book about GIs. The general infantry who suffered and triumphed and accomplished an extraordinary victory.
Ambrose at his best! The focus in this account is on personal stories of ordinary men and boys caught up in situations hardly conceivable to anyone who was not there — where the concern for one's buddy and the goal of liberation from tyranny, not hatred, were the driving forces. The writing is superb, the content gripping, and the reader is sure to learn more, no matter how much war history he or she has already read. The heroes of this book are the common soldiers in the ETO, not the big names in the strategy planning rooms. My three favorite sections were the chapter Medics, Nurses, and Doctors; the Afterword, about the mail Ambrose received from readers who were there; and the subsection of the latter written by the author's son, Hugh Ambrose, who conducted, translated, and edited interviews with Wehrmacht soldiers for the book. Their viewpoints were similar to those of the GIs. They typically bore no hatred of the Americans and for the most part were eager to surrender to them rather than to the Russians. For example, Cpl. Hans Herbst told of a friendly conversation he'd had with a GI who had been on the opposing side at a critical encounter in Belgium, each hearing from the other of the heavy casualties suffered on both sides. "Herbst's story," writes the interviewer, "reveals more than just two men swapping tales. It is the conversation of two men who have learned to forgive."
Where possible, Ambrose gives name, rank, and unit of every eyewitness source or subject of a story in the main body and in a name index. The narrative is enhanced by maps at critical points, 48 pages of glossy photos, and an extensive bibliography of published works, plus oral histories, memoirs and letters of US and German veterans. The correspondence he received from veterans following publication of the book have been donated to the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans. The director there continues to actively seek additions to this collection, and Ambrose urges all veterans of ETO to deposit copies of their material in the archives.
I had never really given much thought to the ground war in Europe in the period between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, as the air war was where my interest lay. Perhaps I just assumed that it was a bit of a slog, but material and firepower helped the Yanks forge across France and into Germany. However, the 'slog' was a brutal and costly nightmare that saw whole American divisions of infantry destroyed and rebuilt two and three times over. The hedgerow fighting of Normandy was particularly devastating to the young soldiers and lessons had to be learnt the hard way, and fast. On many occasions there is simply no battle plan or cohesion, and the fighting often resembles a 'battle' from the early days of the Great War - massive casualties for little gain, if any. He gives praise, but equally criticizes leaders for their shortcomings. Ambrose weaves a gripping and often confronting story that tears at the heart. You cannot believe the conditions they fight and die in, and yet they kept going. The replacement 'system' was just like feeding a sausage grinder. My respect for the American soldier's courage and determination increased markedly as I read. I think this book is much better than the more 'popular' 'Band of Brothers (which I enjoyed of course). Whereas we now know of elite paratroopers Major Dick Winters, First Sergeant Lipton and others in Easy Company, the 'Citizen Soldiers' come and go so quickly that just like in those terrible days; fellas didn't last long enough to get to know, and it got to where you just didn't want to. This book is a must for anyone wanting to truly understand just how the Americans fared after they landed in France. You already know the ending, but the cost was terribly high.
If I could give this book a rating above five stars, I would. I was fascinated by it, especially the anecdotes of the front line soldiers that make up much of its content. My father was an infantry soldier during World War II, who landed on D Day, fought in the Battles of Normandy, Hurtgen Forest, the Bulge, helped to liberate concentration camps, and suffered emotionally as all combat soldiers must. Through this book I came to understand more of what my father went through than I ever have before. For much of my adult life, I have been a reader of books about World War II. This is the best one I have read and one I want both of my adult children to read. Like many of the soldiers who were in combat, my father would rarely would talk about the war, but the snippets about it I did learn from him were echoed in the voices of other soldiers whose words appear in the book. If any person had a father or grandfather who fought in Europe during World War II or has an interest in U. S. history, he or she should read this book. In doing so, one will follow the front line soldier from D Day until May 8, 1945. Also, unlike many other books about World War II I have read, Ambrose doesn't mince words about times when the commanders made tragic mistakes that resulted in senseless casualties. The author also included personal memories of German officers and soldiers, and they were so interesting too. I appreciate so much the research and effort that went into gathering material and Ambrose's excellent writing.
What is the fascination we have with war? Is it the disturbing realization that humankind can descend into such madness? Do we seek out the horrific? Or perhaps there’s something more. In Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers, I admired the resiliency, ingenuity and humanity of our soldiers in a time when chaos and inhumanity reigned. Because World War II history is already known, I won’t consider the excerpts I’m about to include as spoilers. I hope to give you a small sense of what I enjoyed and learned from this excellent book.
When the allies landed on D-Day, they brought with them over a million soldiers, vehicles, equipment and supplies. Once the soldiers were mobile, the big problem was how to get a supply line to them.
“The crisis was inevitable. It had been foreseen. It could not have been avoided. Too many vehicles were driving too far away from the ports and beaches. The Red Ball Express, an improvised truck transport system that got started in late August, made every effort to get fuel, food, and ammunition to the front lines.”
The problem was the front lines kept moving east and the supply lines were too thin. They couldn’t keep up. Another major problem had by the allies was their tanks.
“The Sherman was universally denounced by anyone who had to fight against a Panther or Tiger.”
And these Sherman tanks were vulnerable in hedgerow fighting. In the first place, they couldn’t get through the hedgerows, and second, if it tried to climb them, their unarmored underbelly was exposed, making them an easy target for Germans. This is where the ingenuity of the Americans really impressed me.
“Lt. Charles Green, a tanker in the 29th Division, devised a bumper that was made from salvaged railroad tracks that Rommel had used as beach obstacles. It was incredibly strong and permitted the Shermans to bull their way through the thickest hedgerows.”
Another GI invention equipped the Sherman with a blade to cut the hedgerows. Shermans with this device were called “rhino tanks”
The fighting was fierce and chaotic. Sometimes the soldiers would get lost and find themselves behind enemy lines. I love this story told by German soldier Lt. Hans-Heinrich Dibbern:
“From the direction of the American line came an ambulance driving toward us. The driver was obviously lost. When he noticed that he was behind German lines, he slammed on the brakes. The driver’s face was completely white. He had wounded men he was responsible for. But we told him, ‘Back out of here and get going – we don’t attack the Red Cross.’ He quickly disappearred.”
Later, another Red Cross truck showed up. The driver took a crate out the back and left it for the Germans. They were afraid it might be a bomb, but it ended up being a “thank you” – a crate filled with Chesterfield cigarettes.
As the war dragged on, the soldiers faced their toughest test in the Ardennes, It was cold, wet, and the fighting was intense. The soldiers did not have winter clothing or access to other, much needed supplies. The hatred towards the Germans was growing intense. When the allies started invading Germany, they saw the destruction wrought by their bombers and themselves. And they were glad of it. As Lt. John C. Harrison put it:
“I thought how odd it is that I would feel good at seeing human misery but I did feel that way, for here was the war being brought to the German in all of its destructive horror…The war has truly come to Germany and pictures of these terrible scenes should be dropped over the entire country to show them what is in store for them if they continue.”
Another fascinating part of this war was the scope of the campaign itself. Eisenhower was in command, but he had generals under him that often disagreed with him. Sometimes he was right (as in the case with Montgomery most of the time), and sometimes he was wrong. When the Germans were finally retreating the Ardennes, Bradley and Patton wanted to push through, where Eisenhower wanted to attack from the north. I loved the phone conversation between them:
“Bradley’s final words were, ‘I trust you do not think I am angry. But I want to impress upon you that I am goddam well incensed.’ Patton, in the background, said in a voice loud enough to be heard over the telephone, ‘Tell them to go to hell and all of us will resign. I will lead the procession.’ As Bradley slammed down the receiver, every officer on Patton’s staff rose to his feet and applauded.”
You gotta love Patton. Every time I read about him, I am convinced I need to read his biography!
Of course, once the Germans started the retreat, it was pretty much over for them. Hitler commanded that they still fight, the young Hitler Youth recruits were too immature to realize they should just go home. Our boys continually faced pockets of 15 year old kids with weapons. But often, the story the was different:
“The Air Force guys told their story: when they started to dash out of their burning plane, the first man was shot, so the rest came out with their hands up. The Germans took them to the cellar of a farmhouse, gave them some cognac, and held them ‘while the Germans decided who was winning. A little later the Germans realized they were losing and surrendered their weapons and selves to the bomber crew. The Germans were turned over to the airborne and the bomber crew went to the aid station.’ This was perhaps the only time a bomber crew took German infantry prisoners.”
Stephen Ambrose was a master storyteller. Or rather, he was gifted at relating the stories of others. At any rate, Citizen Soldiers is a remarkable work about everyday people rising to accomplish the extraordinary.
As I only read a handful of non-fiction books per year (got enough reality in my real life...), I usually only pick books that I think will really matter to me due to topic or author, so end up in a pretty narrow focus area (although almost always enjoy). This one I stepped outside that bubble a little as had been on the bookshelf and knew Ambrose was well respected, and I'm thrilled that I did.
This isn't a typical "let me cover some period of history in depth" that has a lot of facts and takes a look at the subject from multiple angles, with heavy focus on the main parties. Ambrose simply covers the last 11 months of the European side of WW2 from the front - 50 years later. He painstakingly found letters home, small articles in old versions of military newspapers, snippets from GI autobiographies and the like to put together a riveting and very personal view of what the young soldier at the front of the war to save the world was going through. To make it even more interesting, he didn't just stick to the US soldier (although that's the perspective) - British and other allies have their say, and he got a lot of great info from German veterans, which was one of the million things I learned in that there was a divide between the "normal" german soldier and the SS / Nazi soldiers.
Ambrose did it in a very patchwork way - using say 10 American accounts and 2 German ones that are all interspersed to review the taking of a hilltop over a few days. The book is divided up in a couple main sections - day after Normandy to the German border (December '44), then a more textbook like section that goes over subject areas Ambrose felt needed a better holistic view, which was both very instructional, but somewhat took away from the "this is a person account of a thousand people)" although the sections on the black experience and the replacement concepts were amazing, then finished up from the border through to the final surrender and a touch on the various races to certain spots that proved to start the Cold War.
As someone who had a grandfather who fought in the war (and was highlighted in Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation book) but never knew him nor much beyond the accepted history of things, this was such an enjoyable, instructional and just mind-blowing read, on various levels. Probably the one that hits the hardest (and Ambrose notes this in the epilogue) is simply "man, could I have done that?". Impossible to answer as time, place and age all matter, but one simply hopes that they could if they had been called.
Definitely worth the read pretty much by anyone as there's no way there isn't something of interest or importance here.
Telling the history of the United States Army from the perspective of the individuals who served in Europe during World War II instead of from the perspective of battles and troop movements makes that conflict even more devastating.