There is no shortage of military-related books out there, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, there are so many that many bookstores and libraries have sections that are divided into specific conflicts and periods of time.
Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund President David Winters is someone who always has his nose in a book when he’s not serving double duty as IFHF President and Executive Vice President of the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. We asked Dave to put a list together of some of his favorite military-related books. Here’s what he had to say:
“I have an interest in military history and tend to gravitate towards books in that field–many about World War II but also other conflicts. A few of my recommendations are below. These are not necessarily the greatest or most famous books; I’m sure even avid readers will not have heard of some of them. But these titles stand out to me for reasons I will briefly describe.”
Heart of Oak by Tristan Jones
Many military history books try to tell the big picture, the strategy, the positioning and movement of armies, the decisions of top leadership. This is not one of those. Jones is an ordinary seaman, a “matelot” in the Royal Navy serving below decks. From that vantage he describes life on a warship at sea, including the action of battle (he witnessed the sinking of the famous British battlecruiser HMS Hood) and the daily routine. He throws in little ditties – usually quite raunchy – carried down through the years and sung by RN sailors. An enjoyable book from an interesting perspective.
Sunk! by Mochitsura Hashimoto
To understand history it is important to study all sides. Written by one of only four Japanese submarine commanders to survive World War II combat, this book provides the perspective of America’s enemy in that conflict. Some elements will be familiar to readers of submarine history such as terrifying depth charge attacks and targeting enemy ships for torpedo strikes. Others, however, are uniquely Japanese, such as launching Kaitens, manned torpedoes whose operators were tasked with manually targeting their craft into enemy vessels, sacrificing their own lives in the process. The author’s submarine also launched the fateful attack that sank the USS Indianapolis. A fascinating read.
In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton
Providing the other side of the story told in Sunk!, this book relates the loss of the USS Indianapolis, resulting in the greatest loss of life from the sinking of a single vessel in US Navy history. Made famous by the story told by the gruff Captain Quint in “Jaws,” the true story is more complicated. Poor practices and errors in numerous Navy commands left almost 900 sailors adrift in the ocean for days, with few lifeboats and no provisions. As they died one by one from exposure, psychological collapse and yes, shark attacks, hope slowly faded. An important yet heart-breaking story.
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
Lest one think I only read navy books…. Most people have heard of or watched the HBO miniseries based on this book. And while quite good, a show or movie can never capture all the detail a book provides. Ambrose wrote prolifically, and as far as I can tell always did thorough research with many in-person interviews with the soldiers he wrote about. This book conveys what it was like for American soldiers fighting in Europe, from training to D-Day to the war’s end. He provides the overall strategic scene and focuses on how pursuit of that strategy was managed by a small unit on the ground. This is a very good book if one wants to understand what it was like for American soldiers fighting that war. (And no, I am not related to Major Dick Winters who is central to the story!)
The First and the Last by Adolf Galland
OK, another book from the other side, this by one of the Luftwaffe’s most successful pilots who tells what it was like to fly and fight for Germany in WWII. First engaged against the Royal Air Force over Dunkirk, and later in the brutal fighting against the Soviet Union, Galland not only describes the battles, but also gives his thoughts on the tactics and strategies used by all sides. Eventually rising to the rank of General, Galland had personal interactions with Göring and Hitler, and was not afraid to explain what he thought the Luftwaffe was doing wrong.
Dick Cole’s War by Dennis R. Okerstrom
This is the story of the last surviving member of the group of 80 airmen who participated in the famed Doolittle raid (he passed away in 2019). Okerstrom, who worked closely with Cole on the book, tells not only of that famous mission but also of Cole’s later service in the Indo-Pacific theater, including flying dangerous missions over the “hump” in the Himalayas. I was honored to meet Cole at an event at the Intrepid Museum in 2018, so this is a particularly special book for me.
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason
A Vietnam War helicopter pilot tells the story of flying Huey “slicks” in combat. I read this one a long, long time ago so the details have somewhat faded from memory. But I recall the descriptions of flying in battle, landing on hot LZs to deliver troops to the fight or to evacuate wounded, and what life was like in camp. I’m old enough to remember seeing Vietnam War coverage on the news so this was a contemporary conflict for me and this book gave me some idea of what it was really like.
Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
Stanton, also author of In Harm’s Way, brings to this book the same thorough research and ability to dig into the human side of combat. It follows the first Americans sent into Afghanistan after 9/11. These Special Forces soldiers worked with the Northern Alliance, a group of Afghans fighting against the ruling Taliban. Their help was warmly welcomed but they faced many challenges, cultural and military, some humorous and some deadly serious. Stanton also includes a parallel side story with an interesting perspective about John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban.”
The Killer Angels by Jeff Shaara
This one is a little different, as it is a historical novel. The basis for the epic Civil War movie “Gettysburg,” it focuses on several of the key figures involved in that pivotal battle, most notably Joshua Chamberlain, the Maine professor turned war hero. The dialog is fiction but the overall story hews close to the facts of the battle, and the reader gets a good sense of what happened over those three crucial days in July 1863 and what it was like for those who fought there.
Born to Be Hanged by Keith Thompson
This is the story of a group of pirates who raid across the Pacific coast in the 1600s. Ok, so it’s not what everyone might consider a military book, but they definitely engaged in combat and they were hunted by the Spanish navy so I think it qualifies. Lots of excitement and adventure of course, but pirate life was much more complex than portrayed in the movies, such as a measure of democracy in choosing leadership and a sort of workers compensation system for injured buccaneers. This book stirred a previously unknown interest in this often misunderstood aspect of history.
Posted on September 6 2023 in Blog