- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
As a holiday gift for myself, I read an advance copy of the last of Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II in Europe. The book is out in May, but you can pre-order on Amazon right now.
It was like slipping into a warm bath: Good writing (“Sherman pyres on the Caen plain”) and fine narrative.
But most of all, fascinating facts:
- Prostitutes in blacked-out wartime London would feel for the rank insignia of prospects before naming their price. (And a quickie done standing up inside a overcoat was called “Marble Arch style.”)
- Nearly half the American troops arriving in Europe in 1944 were still teenagers. By contrast, by the end of that year, 2 million of Hitler’s 3.6 million soldiers were older than thirty.
- Germans accustomed to the Eastern Front were stunned when moved to the West to battle Americans who enjoyed overwhelming air superiority — it was, Rommel warned, like “being nailed to the ground.”
- Speaking of the Soviets, Stalin comes off a bit like Edward G. Robinson, speaking a few phrases of English, such as “You said it!” and “What the hell goes on around here?”
- About 10 percent of all American combat casualties during the war came during the Battle of the Bulge.
- The Red Army lost more soldiers at Stalingrad that the entire U.S. military did in the entire war.
- The heaviest bombing month of the war was March 1945, with 130,000 tons dropped on Germany.
- After the war, 21 ships laden with dead American soldiers brought them home. The first carried 5,060 bodies. What a Homeric image.