Aaron Bates, The Last German Victory (Pen & Sword, 2021)
There are few battles in modern military history that fit the description of ‘noble failure’ more than Operation Market Garden and the doomed attempt to cross the Rhine at Arnhem. It sometimes seems that as much ink has been spilled in analysing the Allied defeat as blood lost in the campaign, and you would think there is little left to add. But Aaron Bates brings something new to the table. He seeks an explanation for the outcome of Market Garden in the ‘ingrained systemic factors’ that led to the British fighting a battle in the wrong place at the wrong time and against the wrong enemy who should be credited with an expensive but well-earned victory.
Bates opens with an overview of the historiography of the Market Garden operation, beginning with Cornelius Ryan’s A Bridge Too Far, which provided the base for most of the research on the battle that follows. He combines those with works on operational and institutional aspects to present his interpretation of the campaign. Bates next examines German tactical and command doctrine, finding it particularly suited to counter the critical surprise element needed for Allied success. In short, the Germans could react quicker at the local level than the British and with greater ferocity. Bates intersperses his broader narrative with many case studies of local operations to bring his readers closer to the action and explain some of the difficulties the British and Americans faced; for example, the depletion of ammunition rapidly became a concern.
The author turns to the British Tactical and Command doctrine; the other side of the coin, characterized by careful planning and caution over local initiatives. The great Allied advantage in firepower also comes under Bates’ withering gaze and found wanting. As with almost everything else in this battle, the British could not adapt their concentrated firepower doctrine to the diffuse circumstances on the ground with multiple battles being waged simultaneously. Air support, in particular, proved entirely inadequate. Moreover, infantry firepower at the local level favoured the Germans, especially in machine-guns and mortars, and they had armour on the scene whereas the British had to wait and hope for theirs to turn up. Bates concludes with the Allied whitewash for their defeat, their failure to plan for victory, even if that was possible, and, ultimately, that the Germans beat them in what was their final victory of the war.
Bates builds a strong argument in favour of his thesis for The Last German Victory. That is unsurprising given it was a big part of his graduate studies. That perhaps makes his book a bit academic in style, and you can trace the dissertation structure he uses. Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly readable book, helped by the numerous case studies, and Bates has given students of Operation Market Garden much to think about. That raises the question, though: is his thesis correct? It certainly makes sense, and undoubtedly, we should look on the campaign as a German victory rather than an Allied defeat, but it still seems that the Allies could have won if certain factors had gone their way. But then isn’t that why we keep reading books on this fascinating battle?
Aaron Bates, The Last German Victory (Pen & Sword, 2021)
Terry C Treadwell, Lawmen of the Wild West (Pen & Sword, 2021)
There are few more stereotypical characters in American western movies than the local sheriff. He is often the hapless, fat old-timer, long past his usefulness and a ripe target for the desperado or gunman out to cause trouble. Or he is a coward afraid to enforce the law without a Cooper, Wayne, or Eastwood type to accompany him. Terry Treadwell’s tales of historical lawmen paint a very different picture; for better or worse, but always worth reading.
Treadwell sets out by noting that the history of law enforcement in the fledgling United States was, much of the time, a thankless job. Many of the office-holders were former criminals and there were no obvious standard practices, a situation that lingered in some of the West well into the 20th Century. Law was often the rule of the gun or lynching party’s rope, particularly away from the more settled towns and cities. Jails, like everything else, were often ad-hoc with no State prison system to speak of. Moreover, hunting criminals was often by posse, who might or might not be keen to help but always had to be paid.
With the broader history out of the way, Treadwell launches into a collection of 36 stories about famous, and not-so-famous, lawmen in the American west during its 19th Century heyday. He starts with the first US Marshal, Robert Forsyth, who was also the first to die in service, then Colonel Charles Lynch who gave his name to extra-judicial punishment. One of the most famous, and intimidating lawmen, was ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok who was far from the upstanding citizen of popular culture. The town of Tombstone features in a group of tales involving the various Earp brothers, including Wyatt, another who was far from being a paragon of virtue. Among these famous names, and others, including Pat Garrett and Bat Masterson, are lesser known lawmen, such as Tom Smith, William Breakenridge, former slaves Bass Reeves and Grant Johnson, and the wonderfully named John Slaughter, who also lived extraordinary lives. Treadwell concludes with the story of the Texas Rangers who, like many lawmen in this book, sometimes straddled the fine line between upstanding lawmen and out and out criminals.
This is a book full of incident, as you might expect in the Wild West, but while Treadwell folds many interesting aspects of life into his biographies, this is not a social history, which is just as well given Treadwell’s tactless conclusion on the ethnic nature of modern criminal gangs. Treadwell is a story-teller, and he links many of his tales to weave a thread through them, though the over-arching narrative is not quite there. Fans of the Wild West will enjoy this collection, which matches well with his similar styled book on outlaws, while more serious students will find many of the incidental aspects, particularly on race and ethnicity, thought-provoking.