Friday, December 11, 2009

Books: Fighting Divisions and The Bear Went Over The Mountain

I keep meaning to put up book reviews as I finish off books, but I usually end up forgeting or deciding that they are too job related to be of interest (or just to goofy to admit to reading).

I have just finished up several books and I am going to hit on several. For all Sci-Fi lovers out there read The Use Of Weapons. Its part of a, hurm, grouping of books (not exactly a series, but the same background, situation and culture) about "The Culture" who is trying by fair means or foul to get and keep mankind on the right track. I won't get into more as this book was a middle one and I am not entirely sure I have the whole background down yet. Works great as a stand alone novel, but more to it if you read the others.

The two I will hit on are history books. First off is "Fighting Divisions". A quick read, and not exactly a deep read either. Written in 1945/6, this book gives a VERY short history of each US Army (no Marines) Division in WWII. Every Armored, Cavalry, Infantry, and Airborne Division has a short 2 or 3 page history covering its war record. Not something for someone looking for lots of info, but a great "taste" of what they did that could make you want to read more. I liked the fact that this book usually included at least one interesting "Division Lore" story that may or may not have really happened (or at least not the exact way it was finally remembered), such as the division who hacked into the German National Phone system and tried to place a collect call to Hitler's Bunker (they captured a phone exchange intact and for a short time had control of all phone routing in Central Germany). The history also hit on famous high points in the division (invasions, its biggest fights, airborne drops, etc). It was also a great historical peek into how Politically Incorrect things were back then (and I find that to be greatly refreshing). You could definately get the feeling that the guys who wrote it didn't like the enemy and had no problems saying it or bad things about them and the media didn't care. On the downside this book was very short on what it could say about each division (it appears that there was a page limit) so the history was limited. It also tended to gloss over bad fights or problems. I know of several units that did not have great records or had big problems but they are certainly not addressed in this book. And I also thought some things were skipped that should not have been. Using my granddad's unit, the 79th Infantry Division, as an example, they did not mention any of its fighting on the West Wall or the Rhine River Crossing. These two items were probably the most important and the biggest fights they had and not a word (they did talk about Cherbourg though, which would be the third major fight). But not a bad read overall.

The other book was "The Bear Went Over The Mountain". This book was a complilation of short After Action Reviews (AARs) by Soviet Officers on actual small unit fights in the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979-1988. These officer wrote up short AARs (about 4 pages long with a map) and the Soviet Red Army CGSC (the Frunze Academy) analyized them and added some "you could have done this, you should have done this" commentary. The American who translated it added his own commentary for the "the US would have done this" point of view. Great Book. If you want to get a feel for how war in Afghanistan got fought, this book will give you a pretty good idea and give you some ideas of what we are up against. It is a snapshot in time so not all lessons apply now. I used this book for my Officer Professional Development Classes we have once a week. Each LT gets to do a report and brief us on what happened and what could have been done better. The book is not long, but its not a quick read for military folks. You will find yourself re-reading stuff, and doing a lot of thinking. The biggest thing I got from this book is how different the Soviet/Russian Army's mentality was from ours. Things that I consider absolute must haves for a true professional army were not (and still are not) found in the SOviet Military. And those absolutes are ironclad, this is not a question of "different cultures do it differently so keep an open mind".

What I got from this book: a Professional NCO (Sergeants) Corps is a MUST for a truely professional army, patterns kill and humans are creatures of habit and pattern, mechanized forces don't belong in Afghanistan, even small units of specialized troops are worth their weight in gold (Cold Weather/Arctic, Mountain, Air Assault), stupid insurgents get killed quick so after a couple years you are only fighting the smart survivors, you MUST have trained Forward Observers for you artillery to work and you need to have it work, you must work the native population to have any chance of winning, you must practice all actions you may have to use (react to ambush, etc.), you must know how to coordinate air support, and lastly RECON, RECON, RECON your area ALWAYS (if you don't have enough men to be able to send out patrols, you need to leave the area).

I won't get into how well the US Army is following these lessons (we are definately doing better at this than the Soviets did, no doubt), but you will get a real good idea on how different our militaries are by reading this book. I can honestly say we are much better at working with population than the Soviets ever were. Several of the AARs openly talked about executing prisoners, mistreatment of prisoners and civilians and complete disregard for any civilians on the battlefield. If the US military did even one of these events, it would be bigger than Abu Girabi. And it appears to be just about standard practice for the Soviets. But I digress. Excellent book for people wanting to understand the tactical fight and why the Soviets lost in Afghanistan.


  1. The Fighting Divisions sounds like the type of militaria book I would enjoy. I'll have to go look for it. I wouldn't mind reading up on my Grandfather's division (104th - Timber Wolves) and see where all they went. I have some information, but it's not complete.

  2. Well, you will need to either hit Amazon or a used bookstore, this one is no longer in print. But you can get a used copy for a good price online (that's how I got mine).

  3. Think I could find it at a library? Or is it a bit of a rare book?

  4. Depends on the library. If they have a good military history section, you have good odds. Try inter-library loan if all else fails.