by Steven Thomas Barry
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013. Pp. xiv, 258.
Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700618996
The Men Who Led at the Front
Battalion Commanders at War
furthers the scholarly trend in recent decades refuting earlier claims that the U.S. Army during the Second World War was not all it could have been. Barry, a veteran of more recent wars as well as an historian, carefully reviews training, selection, and performance of American battalion commanders in North Africa from the Torch landings in November of 1942, to the Axis surrender in Tunisia the following May.
Barry rejects the claim that the Army’s performance in North Africa was inept, which has led some to refer to the campaign almost dismissively as a “learning experience.” He notes that infantry battalion casualty rates in North Africa were no worse than those incurred in Italy and northwestern Europe, by supposedly more “seasoned” troops. Barry attributes this to sound leadership by the mostly pre-war officers who were leading American infantry battalions, most of whom were Regulars. Even if few had prior combat experience, all had been through the Army’s rigorous educational, training, and selection process. Barry critically reviews composition of the pre-war officer corps, explores the expansion of officer recruitment through the institution of ROCT and OCS, and examines many actions, from small tactical events to massive operations. He also gives us profiles – warts and all – of scores of officers, including some inept ones, and largely make his case.
A volume in the UPK’s series “Modern War Studies,” Battalion Commanders at War is an important read for students of the U.S. Army, and not merely during World War II, as it also offers leadership lessons for the present.