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  • Military Memoirs

    Well it’s Easter already. How time flies. Anyway as I have a few days off I have put together a list of books that come under the title ‘Military Memoirs’. Criteria are that the books listed have been written by a participant in military actions in a conflict situation, (with one exception see below) and that I have read them or are in the process of doing so. If anyone would like to contribute any of their favourites please feel free to do so.

    PS most of the quotes I have taken from the Amazon site.


    The Gallic War
    By Julius Caesar
    ‘Caesar is extremely detailed as to his tactics and strategies. He presents his information in a brief and concise way without sophistry. Caesar provides his rationale for his strategies and his evaluation of the enemy's potential. Caesar gives a detailed account of movements, sieges, river crossings, and his mastery of logistics. His best account is probably his final struggle with Vercingetorix, the fierce and charismatic Gaul chieftain who rallied all of the tribes in one final struggle against Rome.’
    A must I think and a very interesting read. While Caesar of course a Roman viewpoint his writing is clear and concise and is one of the very few accounts we have of a Roman Army on Campaign as written by a commanding General.

    The Conquest of New Spain
    By Bernal Diaz

    Diaz sailed with Cortez in his attempt to conquer the Aztec Empire and this is a chronicle of his part in that campaign. The merit of his work is that he was present during the events he describes and gives a well informed account of the motives and actions of the Conquistadors as they brazenly overcame the formidable odds against them in their wars with the Indians in the 1520’s.

    "Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone" Compiled by his son William Theobald Wolfe Tone.

    In May 1798 the United Irishmen instigated a rising against the British government of Ireland, which was put down over the summer months, and whose leaders died or were imprisoned. Among them was Theobald Wolfe Tone, considered by many to be the ‘Father of the Irish Republican Movement.’
    Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-98), barrister, United Irishman, agent of the Catholic Committee, and officer in the French revolutionary army, the two volume "Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone" - written by himself and edited by his son and published in 1826. Tone's participation in Irish politics in the early 1790s and his presence on the periphery of the ruling circle in revolutionary France from February 1796 to September 1798 is enough to make his writings a major historical source. However the literary quality of his writings, diaries, and autobiography enhance this importance.
    What can I say? My hero and in my opinion one of Ireland’s greatest sons. Tone was a young man who was profoundly moved by the ideals of the French Revolution and who saw it as a role model for Ireland. He came to despise the Protestant Establishment who ruled here in England’s name even though he was himself a member of the Established Church. He had the honesty of character to see that his personal benefit by such a system was at the expense of most of his countrymen and thus rejected it.
    Exiled from Ireland he went to France, then America and back to France to organize a Revolutionary Army to liberate Ireland. Given the rank of Brigadier General in the French Army he came close to success but was eventually captured and it is believed died by his own hand in Dublin a prisoner of the English.
    His writing is amazing, very literate, witty and humorous, yet passionate and moving too. He met some of the great names of the Age, like Hoche, Napoleon, Franklin and Paine and a host of other characters great and small.



    Récits de mes souvenirs et campagnes dans l'Armée française
    by William Theobald Wolfe Tone

    Tone’s son saw service in the Campaign of 1813 in Germany and this is a short memoir about the actions he was in, including Leipzig. Interesting account from an unusual perspective. He later emigrated to the USA and served in the American Army, but fell out with General Scott over something or other. He died young leaving a wife and baby daughter. His descendents still live there.


    Adventures with the Connaught Rangers 1809-1814
    By William Grattan

    Basically an account by this young Anglo Irish officer from Dublin who served with this famous (or infamous!) Regiment during most of the Peninsular War. It can be a bit ‘Stage Irish’ at times in his depiction of the antics of the Irish rank and file but he is usually fair enough. The men are ruffians but decent enough at heart. However his main point is that in battle these Irish soldiers fight like Hell and display plenty of raw courage and discipline under fire. In camp it is another story as discipline is thrown to the winds but they keep their drill well.
    It is also interesting to note that the hardships of the Campaign and a chronic lack of supplies along with exposure to bandits and the elements were by no means confined to the experiences of the French troops fighting there.

    The Sebastopol Sketches
    By Leo Tolstoy.

    Tolstoy used his experiences as a young artillery Officer in the Russian Army
    during the Siege of Sebastopol, to write up a series of sketches on life within the besieged fortress in 1854/55. He did a number of stints in the bastions and redoubts that protected the city from the British and French. His writing is devoid of any false heroics. Here war is mundane and matter of fact though the carnage is great when assaults are attempted. Most of the Officers are portrayed as being as much concerned with the daily realities of life as with the fighting. Officers are human too and can be as boastful and petty minded as anyone, but also capable of being Brave. Tolstoy used his experiences here and in the Caucasus against the Chechens when writing his great war novel ‘ War and Peace’.

    Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
    Destitute and wracked by throat cancer, Ulysses S. Grant finished writing his Personal Memoirs shortly before his death in 1885. Today their clear prose stands as a model of autobiography. Civil War soldiers are often celebrated for the high literary quality of the letters they sent home from the front lines; Grant's own book is probably the best piece of writing produced by a participant in the War Between the States. Apart from Lincoln, no man deserves more credit for securing the Northern victory than Grant, and this chronicle of campaigns and battles tells how he did it. (The book also made a bundle of money for his family, which had been reeling from the failure of Grant's brokerage firm.) This is not an overview of the entire Civil War; as the North was beating the South on the third day of Gettysburg, for example, Grant was in Mississippi capturing Vicksburg. But it is a great piece of writing, one that can be appreciated even by readers with little interest in military history. --John J. Miller

    A great piece of writing but loses its way a bit in its coverage of the Wilderness Campaign IMO. Grant managed to be a man of action and also clear headed about where he wanted to go and how he intended getting there. He faltered at Shiloh to be sure and was lucky to survive. In the Wilderness his tactics were none too imaginative but he broke the back of Lee’s Army and was able to advance south to Petersburg. This was a huge psychological blow to the Confederates. His dogged determination to ‘Never Call Retreat’ paid off and brought Victory to the Union. His Campaign before Vicksburg is a military classic. America’s greatest General.

    Happy Odyssey:
    The Memoirs of Lieutenant – General Carton de Wiart.

    Carton de Wiart was a British Officer of the Old School. An Officer and a Gentlemen to his fingertips he actually enjoyed fighting. Saw action in the Boer War and against the ‘’Mad Mullah’’ in Somaliland in 1914.
    Won the VC in WWI but refused being a gentleman to relate the details! Went on to spend many years in Poland and commanded British forces in Norway in 1940. Captured by the Italians in North Africa, he eventually finished the War in China attached to Chiang Kai – Shek’s HQ. Ended up living in County Cork where I see there is still a Lady Carton de Wiart listed in the Phone book!
    Humorous and informative account of life in the British Army in the days when the Sun never set on the British Empire.

    Stand To: A diary of the trenches 1915-1918
    Captain F.C. Hitchcock MC
    Hitchcock joined the 2nd Leinsters at L'Epinette in May 1915, and served with the battalion through much fighting at Ypres, the Somme, and on Vimy Ridge. He describes actions and places in detail, and names many individuals including many rankers.
    The nature of the war experienced by junior officers of a regular battalion comes across strongly, and we can only wonder at the determination and sheer physical courage of these men. There is also a short but useful summary of the history of the now-disbanded Irish regiments.’
    Included this because it is a very useful account of an Infantry battalion on the Western Front during the Great War and covers time both on the Front Line and off it. Most of the Irish Regiments of the British Army were disbanded in 1922 and the Catholic Irish soldiers who fought in the War were all but forgotten about as events at home pushed most of Ireland away from an attachment to Britain. They were considered to have been led up the Garden Path by the British in joining up for the ‘ Freedom of Small Nations’, and their sacrifices derided. Unfair I think but in recent years this has been rectified with a spate of books about Ireland’s role in WWI.
    My own opinion is that we should have kept out of that War but that the men who joined cannot be blamed for following the advice of Ireland’s leading politicians of 1914/1915 who encouraged the men of Ireland to do so. They were the ones who were to blame for the mess.
    Good-Bye to All That : An Autobiography
    Robert Graves (Author)
    ‘ this autobiography, first published in 1929, poet Robert Graves traces the monumental and universal loss of innocence that occurred as a result of the First World War. Written after the war and as he was leaving his birthplace, he thought, forever, Good-Bye to All That bids farewell not only to England and his English family and friends, but also to a way of life. Tracing his upbringing from his solidly middle-class Victorian childhood through his entry into the war at age twenty-one as a patriotic captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, this dramatic, poignant, often wry autobiography goes on to depict the horrors and disillusionment of the Great War, from life in the trenches and the loss of dear friends, to the stupidity of government bureaucracy and the absurdity of English class stratification.’
    Graves covers his experiences on the Western Front in some detail and his account is very well written though somewhat colourful I think. Nevertheless I don’t think there is a better account of the life of a young Infantry officer in that war in print.
    Dublin Burning: The Easter Rising from Behind the Barricades
    by W. J. Brennan-Whitmore
    Brennan – Whitmore was an Officer in the Irish Volunteers who participated in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. He was tasked with taking over certain buildings in what is now O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. The reason I like this book is that I travel down this street on a daily basis and it’s interesting to note the various locations he is referring to are still there. He was an ex British Army man and had a fine eye for tactical detail with a definite emphasis on the military aspects of the Rising.

    On Another Man's Wound: A Personal History of Ireland's War of Independence
    by Ernie O'Malley

    Ernie O’Malley was a legendry IRA leader in the War of Independence 1919-1921. He came from a respectable Catholic Middle class background,‘Castle Catholics’ were the sort of people his parents were who basically accepted British rule and wanted no more that a mild Home Rule for Ireland.
    O’Malley was inspired by the Easter Rising to take action himself against British Rule and began to rise up the ranks of the IRA due to his intelligence and undoubted leadership abilities. He was a reflective and intellectual man who sometimes felt out of place in the raw rural world of Ireland in the 1920’s.
    His account of his execution of three British Officers, shot in reprisal for the executions of Irish Volunteers, is both moving and brutal. War is cruel and glory only comes to a few. Yet these men died bravely and never faltered. O’Malley didn’t like what he did but felt he had no choice. Beforehand he collected their personal belongings and last letters and gave them his word they would be delivered to their CO, which they were. Also his ‘The Singing Flame’ about his experiences in The Civil War of 1922 – 23, in which he briefly mentions my Grandfather!

    Guerilla Days in Ireland
    by Tom Barry

    Seven weeks before the truce to the Anglo-Irish War of July, 1921, the British presence in County Cork consisted of 8,800 front line infantry troops, 1,150 Black & Tan soldiers, 540 Auxiliaries, 2,080 machine gun corps, artillery and other unites -- a total of over 12,500 men. Against these British forces stood the Irish Republican Army whose "Flying Columns" never exceeded 310 riflemen in the whole of County Cork. Men, moreover, with "no experience of war. . . untrained in the use of arms. . . with no tactical training. . . practically unarmed. . . ". These "flying columns" were small groups of dedicated volunteers, severely commanded and disciplined. Constantly on the move, their paramount objective was merely to exist; to strike when conditions were favourable, to avoid disaster at all costs. In Guerrilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War, which has been one of the classics of the Anglo-Irish War since its first publication in 1949, Tom Barry describes the setting up of the West Cork Flying Column, its training, and its plan of campaign. Guerrilla Days in Ireland is the extraordinary story of the fight between two unequal forces, which ended in the withdrawal of the British from twenty-six counties. In particular, it is the story of the West Cork Flying Column under Tom Barry, a commander of genius and a national hero.
    General Barry began his military career in the ranks of the British Army in WWI, seeing service in Mesopotamia, now Iraq. It was there he heard of the Easter Rising in Dublin and began to realise that he had been led up the Garden Path by the British. On return home he joined the IRA and displayed considerable tactical acumen in his ambushes and running fights with the British Military. A hard man I think but that’s what it takes. He kept out of Party politics after the Civil War and became Harbourmaster of Cork Harbour and only died in 1980. He was a strong supporter of the Republican Movement all his life and advised the Provo’s in the 1970’s but was averse to sectarian violence and the deaths of the Innocent.

    Homage to Catalonia
    by George Orwell

    "I wonder what is the appropriate first action when you come from a country at war and set foot on peaceful soil. Mine was to rush to the tobacco-kiosk and buy as many cigars and cigarettes as I could stuff into my pockets." Most war correspondents observe wars and then tell stories about the battles, the soldiers and the civilians. George Orwell--novelist, journalist, sometime socialist--actually traded his press pass for a uniform and fought against Franco's Fascists in the Spanish Civil War during 1936 and 1937. He put his politics and his formidable conscience to the toughest tests during those days in the trenches in the Catalan section of Spain. Then, after nearly getting killed, he went back to England and wrote a gripping account of his experiences, as well as a complex analysis of the political machinations that led to the defeat of the socialist Republicans and the victory of the Fascists.
    How idealism in War can quickly turn sour. Orwell was to use his experiences here in his later writings as his disillusionment with the Left deepened. He saw at first hand that Propaganda could influence people to take up illogical positions and trigger bloody actions in the name of a Political Cause. He saw that up front War is squalid, dirty and dangerous with precious little glory attached. He was still proud of taking a stand against the Fascists but realised that just because people opposed Franco did not necessarily make them the kind of people to run a Government.

    Alamein to Zem Zem
    by Keith Douglas

    Keith Douglas is considered one of England’s finest war poets. However in addition to poems he also wrote a brief memoir of his time as an officer in a Tank unit in the pursuit across North Africa of the Axis Armies. It is a very well written account with the author showing a keen eye for those little details that time and place threw up. Generally well written in a positive tone he did not shirk to describe War in all its horrors either. Keith Douglas was KIA in Normandy soon after the landings began, so to the best of my knowledge this is the only prose account of his experiences that is extant.

    Defeat Into Victory
    by Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim

    Slim's memoirs, begin with his assignment to command the 1st Burma Corps during it's desperate fighting retreat from Burma into India in 1942 after the Japanese captured Rangoon. Then later, as chief of the 14th Indian Army, he oversees the regrouping and rebuilding of the force that finally decimates the Japanese invaders at Imphal in northern India, and subsequently chases the fleeing enemy back south through Burma.
    I liked this work a lot. Slim had a basic down to Earth approach to life and military affairs. He did not consider himself ‘invincible’ or any of that kind of thing. By the time he was appointed to the Burma Front he had been in the British Army for many years and had seen action in WWI. He was posted there from Iraq after the overthrow of the Iraqi leader Rashid Ali by British forces. His account covers the campaign there in some detail and also how he reacted to the Japanese moves to conquer India before himself launching his own offensive to retake the country. I really like it when he admits he got things wrong. Imagine Monty saying that! One gets the feeling though that Slim could be every bit as ruthless and forceful as any other great Commander. Otherwise I doubt he would have been up to the job of defeating a force like the Japanese Army in one of the most unforgiving terrains’ in the world.

    Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma
    by George MacDonald Fraser

    George MacDonald Fraser was a "ranker" (enlisted man) assigned to the 17th (Black Cat) Division of the British 14thIndian Army as it pursued the Japanese south through Burma after the latter’s resounding defeat at the gates of India, at Imphal.
    Written decades after the fact, this book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of the Burma Theatre in the last months of World War II. Rather, it's the war from the perspective of Nine Section in which Fraser fought, first as aPrivate, then Lance Corporal. Besides being a vivid retelling of the author's recollections to the extent that he remembers, it's also an intimate portrait of the organization, weapons, tactics and camaraderie of the British Army at section level at that time, place, and conflict. It's a story told with the humor, intelligence and introspection that comes with maturity and hindsight.’
    George MacDonald Fraser is of course the author of the ‘Flashman’ books and this account is every bit as well written. If you like this try and catch his McAuslan books as well about his experiences as a junior officer in a Scottish Regiment in the late 1940’s.

    The Rommel Papers
    Nearest we are ever going to get to an autobiography of this great German General. Cover in some detail in Rommel’s own words his part in the campaign in France in 1940 and his brilliant part in it. He then goes on to cover his experiences in North Africa from 1941 until 1943. This is takes up about 270 pages in my edition. A couple of chapters were contributed by General Bayerlein, chief of Staff of the Africa Korps. Rommel’s son Manfred also contributed to the work. This is a must really for any student of WWII.
    I’m sure everyone is familiar with Rommel’s career to a greater or lesser extent. However the story has an added immediacy when you read his first hand account of how he conducted some of the classic campaigns of modern times.

    A Rumor of War
    by Philip Caputo

    ‘A platoon commander in the first combat unit sent to fight in Vietnam, Lieutenant Caputo landed at Danang on March 8, 1965, convinced that American forces would win a quick and decisive victory over the Communists. Sixteen months later and without ceremony, Caputo left Vietnam a shell-shocked veteran whose youthful idealism and faith in the rightness of the war had been utterly shattered. A Rumor of War tells the story of that trajectory and allows us to see and feel the reality of the conflict as the author himself experienced it, from the weeks of tedium hacking through scorching jungles, to the sudden violence of ambushes and firefights, to the unbreakable bonds of friendship forged between soldiers, and finally to a sense of the war as having no purpose other than the fight for survival. The author gives us a precise, tactile view of both the emotional and physical reality of war.’
    There are so many Vietnam books out there it could have a whole sub section. This is one of the better ones.

    Shoot to Kill : From 2 Para to the SAS
    by Michael Asher (Author)

    Michael Asher is now one Britain’s most distinguished Desert Explorers. Many years ago however he found himself in the ranks of the Paras serving in the North of Ireland. His account of their antics there would probably not pass muster with the MOD. But his no holes barred descriptions of the way some of the Paras behaved can leave one in no doubt why this regiment is the one most hated by the North’s Nationalist population. It’s not all gloom and doom by any means and is savagely funny in places. He also served in the RUC’s Special Patrol unit and that is revealing too. His training for a position in Britain’s crack SAS regiment is also very interesting.

    Contact: The Brutal Chronicle of a Para’s War on the Battlefield of Ulster
    A.F.N Clarke

    A soldier’s tale of two tours of duty with 3 Para in the North. One in Belfast in 1973, the other in Crossmaglen in 1976. Essential reading for those who see Britain’s role there as one of ‘Peacekeeping’!
    ‘ we are just as vulnerable as everyone else, it’s just that we don’t seem to have the hang ups about using force of the most vicious kind whenever possible.’

    Stakeknife
    Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland
    By Martin Ingram and Greg Harkin.

    ''An explosive exposé of how British military intelligence really works, from the inside. The stories of two undercover agents-- Brian Nelson, who worked for the Force Research Unit (FRU), aiding loyalist terrorists and murderers in their bloody work; and the man known as Stakeknife, deputy head of the IRA’s infamous ‘Nutting Squad’, the internal security force which tortured and killed suspected informers. ''

    Very murky stuff because if what the authors allege then British agents/informers like Stakeknife were bumping off each other to cover their tracks within the IRA. With the full knowledge and support of their handlers!
    Also puts forward strong evidence to support collusion between the British military and loyalist terrorists in a campaign of murder against innocent Catholics and opponents of British rule.

    Martin Ingram is a cover name for a British Agent in the North whose job it was to ‘turn’ IRA members and extract information from them to stop IRA attacks. However this tactic started to get out of hand as certain members of the FRU realised they had in fact a free hand in how they operated. This led to acts of murder being condoned or sanctioned and indeed almost certainly ordered.
    Greg Harkin is a local journalist with contacts within the Crown Forces and is in a position to add detail to back up Ingram’s accusations.

    A book neither the IRA or the Brits wished had ever seen the light of day!

    Joe Cahill
    A Life in the IRA
    by Brendan Anderson

    ‘I was born in a united Ireland,’ says Joe Cahill, ‘I want to die in a united Ireland.’ Here Cahill gives his full and frank story – of a life spent in prison, on hunger strike, on the run, in safe houses, in action, and latterly in the corridors of power of Washington as the Good Friday Agreement was being negotiated. He tells of narrowly avoiding execution in 1942; his visit to Colonel Gaddafi to smuggle arms; Bloody Sunday and the burning of the British Embassy in Dublin; the high-drama helicopter escape of IRA prisoners from Mountjoy jail. Cahill’s has been an extraordinary journey, his own life mirroring the growth and development of the republican movement through more than sixty years of intense involvement.
    Reading this at the moment.
    Joe Cahill is now a very old man and would not be in a position to write an account of his life unaided. Brendan Anderson is a local journalist who has written this up for him but a lot of it is still in his own words.
    Interesting to note that Joe was shaking hands with a certain North African Colonel years before Tony Blair thought of the idea!
    This has turned out to be much better than I anticipated and a riveting read. One of the very few accounts we have of what active service was like in the modern IRA in recent times. As you might imagine a lot has to be left out ‘due to legal reasons’!

    That might change in the next few years, as the British Government is most likely to declare an Amnesty sometime in the next 18/24 months. Basically to cover its own tracks but it will be presented as part of a ‘Peace and Reconciliation’ package to allow people to openly state their role in the conflict without fear of prosecution.

    This is on the surface to help the ‘Healing Process’ but in reality is a ploy to stop prosecutions being taken against members of the Crown Forces after the ‘Bloody Sunday’ inquiry is wound up and to block any further investigations of the murder of the Solicitor Patrick Finucane by British agents.
    http://www.irelandinhistory.blogspot.ie/

  • #2
    That's an impressive list of books!

    I've got a shortened copy of Caesar's The Gallic Wars and i've read and re-read it countless times. It's a great series of campaigns and gives the reader some idea of the power of his personality. He really was held in awe by the Gallic tribes and by his own men, and there doesn't seem to have been anyone he couldn't beat. Pompey was a push-over compared to the coalition Vercingetorix put together.

    I haven't read anything about Wolf Tone other than Leon Uris's Trinity, and he was a legend to the main characters. That's still one of the best novels ive read, so i'll probably be on the lookout for Wolf Tone now.

    Comment


    • #3
      Wolfe Tone, that's a very interesting list........
      Lance W.

      Peace through superior firepower.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Lance Williams
        Wolfe Tone, that's a very interesting list........
        Thanks...hoping some more people can ad to the list though.

        That's a year ago now since I did it. Probably the best War memoir I have read since then is Hans Von Luck's Panzer Commander . He served in Poland, France, Russia, North Africa and Normandy and Lorraine. He ended up being captured near Berlin. Great writing and plenty of action. One of the Old School.
        The chapters on his captivity in Russia are a revelation!
        http://www.irelandinhistory.blogspot.ie/

        Comment


        • #5
          I really enjoyed the Rommel Papers also. And if The Forgotten Soldier is true, then I don't think there will ever be a better war memoir than that. I also liked Hackworth's Steel My Soldiers Heart, though I'm not a big fan of his these days.

          I have Guderian's Panzer Leader and Manstein's Lost Victories waiting to be read.

          Take care,
          Brian

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Scully
            I really enjoyed the Rommel Papers also. And if The Forgotten Soldier is true, then I don't think there will ever be a better war memoir than that. I also liked Hackworth's Steel My Soldiers Heart, though I'm not a big fan of his these days.

            I have Guderian's Panzer Leader and Manstein's Lost Victories waiting to be read.

            Take care,
            Brian
            Yes The Forgotten Soldier is a great read. How true it is I don't know but it read like the authentic voice of someone who was there.

            Lost Victories is a must of course. Manstein was considered the master of operational War by his peers and History has upheld that view.

            Admiral Donitz Ten Years and One Day is top class too. Strongly advise anyone with an interest in WWII Naval Strategy to get this.
            http://www.irelandinhistory.blogspot.ie/

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Wolfe Tone
              Thanks...hoping some more people can ad to the list though.

              That's a year ago now since I did it. Probably the best War memoir I have read since then is Hans Von Luck's Panzer Commander . He served in Poland, France, Russia, North Africa and Normandy and Lorraine. He ended up being captured near Berlin. Great writing and plenty of action. One of the Old School.
              The chapters on his captivity in Russia are a revelation!
              That's one of my favorites too..........
              Lance W.

              Peace through superior firepower.

              Comment

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