Book Review: Bracketing the Enemy: Forward Observers in World War II


by John R. Walker

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. Pp. xxii, 274. Illus., maps, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0806143800

An account of the vital, if usually overlooked role of the forward observer.

Among the most overlooked specialists in military service, forward observers serve with, and sometimes ahead of, the frontline troops to provide them with artillery fire or air support in the fight.  In this, the first book on the subject, Dr. Walker, himself a veteran, examines the role of artillery forward observers in World War II. 

Walker opens with a short introduction on the origins of the idea of having forward observes.  He then examines the organization, training, and processes of the forward observers during the war.  Walker does this through the experiences of two infantry divisions, the 37th, a National Guard unit from Ohio, and the 87th, a draftee unit, which served in the Pacific and Northwestern Europe respectively.  This very effective approach allows Walker to discuss how the differences between the theatres, such as the nature of the Japanese and German armies or the diversity of terrain, affected the use of artillery and the role of the forward observer.   Walker ends with book with a summary of the critical factors in effective infantry-artillery coordination, an art and skill still vital to military operations. 

This is a valuable book for anyone interested in artillery or in the operations of American infantry.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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