Heroes Never Die:
Warriors and Warfare in World War II

By Martin Blumenson. NY: Cooper Square Books, 2001. 627 Pages. $32.00.

Lt Col Harold E. Raugh, Jr., United States Army (Retd) reviews these books exclusively for DJ.

The Second World War was definitely the greatest cataclysm of the twentieth century, although its leaders and battles seem to be quickly receding from individual and collective memories. Eminent military historian, Martin Blumenson has spent more than a half-century analyzing and assessing the development and practice of leadership by many of the senior commanders of World War II, their relationships with each other, and their impact on the results of various battles and campaigns. Forty-six of Blumenson’s previously published (and four hitherto unpublished) essays and articles on these topics have been collected - for the first time - in this interesting and insightful anthology.
Commanders profiled in these well-written and detailed vignettes include Eisenhower, Bradley, the “forgotten corps commanders” (Griswold, Keyes, and McLain), Darby, Montgomery, and Rommel. Their leadership is dissected and their personal and professional attributes are assessed in an attempt to ascertain how and why they were effective. Blumenson’s extensive knowledge of Patton, gained through his editorship of the Patton papers and authorship of numerous related studies, is evident in the eleven essays pertaining to various episodes of the general’s life and controversial career. The four previously unpublished studies are of “That Old Patton Magic,” von Runstedt, Hitler, and Audie Murphy.
A number of key World War II battles and operations are re-examined in detail, ranging from actions in North Africa to Sicily and Italy and finally to Normandy and Northwest Europe. Blumenson chronicled the contentious Anzio landings in Italy in January 1944, determining that the operation’s failure was not primarily the result of poor leadership but of fatal conceptual and planning shortcomings. The strategic significance of the D-Day landings is enumerated, and properly considered the key to victory. Interestingly, Blumenson focuses on the Falaise Gap, and does not blame Montgomery, or the Canadians, for letting the Germans slip out of the bag, but attributes this failure to destroy two German armies to friction and a lack of “synchronization” between Bradley and Patton.
Other chapters, more philosophical than most, include “Why Military History?”, “Will ‘Ultra’ Rewrite History,” “The Modern Soldier: Traditions in Conflict,” and “Measuring Generalship,” are very compelling. The essential function of the historian is, according to Blumenson, “to discover and present the truth, which, like art, may be more meaningful than life itself” (p. 103). In “Recent Trends in War,” the author contends that the “civilianization,” or the “embourgeoisement” of twentieth-century military organizations, and perhaps most notably the officer corps, “may signify a decline in the military function” (p. 391). Blumenson recognizes the capriciousness of life and of a military career, and the role of luck, good or bad, therein, suggesting that, “Devotion to duty in the final analysis is its own reward” (p. 585).
This collection of Blumenson’s superbly written and interesting essays reveal a lifetime of the professional study of and reflection on military history. At the same time, the personalities and leadership of a number of the senior commanders of World War II, and controversial battles and campaigns, are chronicled and re-evaluated. Assessments of the dynamics of warfare, patterns in the profession of arms, and predictions for future conflict are also thought-provoking and prescient. More importantly, these valuable, interesting, and educational studies highlight the unparalleled contributions to victory of American leaders and soldiers in World War II - sacrifice and heroism that will never die.