Ian Gardner, Sent By the Iron Sky (Osprey, 2019)
In Sent By the Iron Sky, Ian Gardner follows an American parachute battalion from its training grounds in the United States through the hell of combat in World War II. Though late to get into the war, the battalion fought through the entire campaign to liberate Europe. Gardner’s book, his fifth on US paratroopers, takes his readers along for an invigorating but thankfully much safer ride.
The Third Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment began its existence in July 1942 at its training base near Toccoa Georgia. The selected soldiers who made it through training received their ‘wings’ in the New Year, but more training followed for their role in retaking Europe. They set sail for England, and yet more training, in September 1943. On the night of 5 June 1944, 700 soldiers boarded 45 aircraft for the drop into Normandy. It was an almost total calamity with many wounded, captured, and killed, including their talismanic Colonel, Robert Wolverton. Severe fighting followed around Carentan, costing many more casualties; some survivors returned to England, others became guests of the Germans as POWs. They jumped again into another disaster, this time Operation Market Garden in September 1944. The battalion took part in the fighting for Eindhoven, losing more men in the process. The men who survived all that were given some time off behind the lines but were soon back in action when the Germans launched their offensive through the Ardennes, known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 506th were tasked with defending Foy as part of the defence of Bastogne. That battle extended into January with the village changing hands several times, but the Americans broke through and the Germans retreated again. With Germany collapsing, the 506th moved to Bavaria where they took part in humanitarian operations for survivors of labour camps. The end of the war came with the battalion at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden, and from there they returned to England then the United States. The 506th was officially deactivated on 30 November 1945. Gardner concludes with the moving reunion of survivors at a Missouri hotel in June 1946.
Sent By the Iron Sky is a nuts and bolts narrative history sprinkled with snippets of first-hand accounts. Longer inserts record particular events and acts of courage from an individual perspective. Abundant photos accompany the text, some of them colourized, and many telling poignant stories of the fates of the soldiers in their captions. Gardner’s strengths are his attention to detail and his absorbing combat descriptions, though his chapters on POWs and the Labour Camps are also deftly handled. Those familiar with Gardner’s previous work on American paratroopers will rightly look forward to this straightforward, no-nonsense account even while they might feel a sense of déjà vu. All in all, this is another fitting memorial to a cadre of very brave men. 9/10