Steel Wall at Arnhem
The Destruction of 4 Parachute Brigade, 19 September 1944 By David Truesdale
The controversial campaign to take the area around Arnhem 75 years ago has been covered extensively over the years but rarely in the depth and insight provided by David Truesdale’s book Steel Wall at Arnhem. The book sets out to investigate what happened to the unit and its attached elements between September 17 and 26, 1944, with emphasis on the pivotal day – September 19. It looks at all the aspects of the airborne brigade’s fight, examining the facts, background, tactics, personnel, weapons and much more. It also has plenty of information from the German side, giving a balanced account of what really went on.
As David points out in the book’s introduction, he doesn’t apportion blame for the Arnhem operation’s failure, nor does he go down the ‘what if’ route. He does, however, offer expert comment and that sets it apart from many of its peer publications. He also challenges misconceptions, indicating, for example, that airborne troops weren’t lightly armed as popular belief would have it, but had access to essentially the same arms as regular units.
Steel Wall at Arnhem tells the story in 17 chapters, with the first half a dozen setting the scene, explaining how and why the unit was formed, its service in North Africa in 1942-1943, and then in Italy, along with the detailed preparations in 1943/1944 for an air drop into ‘Fortress Europe’. A day-by-day breakdown of the operation follows, with plenty of first-hand accounts from allied forces and the German defenders, backed up by photos of the men and equipment in action. The main text finishes with a brief concluding overview.
There are close to 100 pages of appendices, plus a comprehensive index and bibliography that indicate the incredible depth of the research that’s gone into the book over an eight-year period. I found the 4 Parachute Brigade and Attached Units Roll of Honour section particularly moving – it lists the fates of 420+ men who died during the World War Two campaigns.
It also contains an appendix that points out that atrocities and war crimes were inflicted on Brigade prisoners by the Nazis in the aftermath of Arnhem. This is an area skimmed over by the many similar books on the battle, but its inclusion is necessary as it shows the true brutality the Allies were fighting so hard to defeat.
The book doesn’t pull any punches and made for awkward reading at times, but it’s written in an engaging way and is an incredibly detailed account of a fascinating subject. I couldn’t put it down, and it will certainly have pride of place in the Britain at War library. (Reviewed by Nigel Price.)
Publisher: Helion and Company www.helion.co.uk
Softback, 344 pages. RRP: £25