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The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon Paperback – 4 Oct 2005

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About the Author

Alex Kershaw is the author of the widely acclaimed and bestselling books The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter, and The Few, and two biographies: Jack London and Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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Count Klaus von Stauffenberg, chief of staff to General Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Army of the Interior, tried to keep his nerve as he stood alone, holding open a briefcase, in a bathroom deep inside Adolf Hitler's Prussian headquarters-the so-called Wolf's Lair. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 104 reviews
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Miraculous Military Action Chronicled (again) 14 Jan. 2005
By Mannie Liscum - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon, Alex Kershaw's latest foray into the WWII genre, is a quick, straight-forward read that tells the inspiring story of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. This small unit of US GI's can fairly be credited with one of the most significant defensive actions associated with the Battle of the Bulge - Hitler's last gamble to turn the tide of war in the West. Kershaw spins a riveting yarn of the eighteeen young men who battled until killed (2 members) or captured (the remainder) at the small Belgian town of Lanzerath on 16 December 1944 against an overwhelming force (1st Battalion, Fallschirmjager Regiment 9 - temporarily assigned to 1st SS-Panzer Division).

The Longest Winter is separated into three major parts: 1) training and pre-battle actions; 2) The Battle of Lanzerath itself; and 3) captivity, liberation and post-war accolades. While the second section is the main theme of the book and is written with flair, it is not particularly original. It was John S. D. Eisenhower who first detailed the Battle of Lanzerath in his 1969 The Bitter Woods. More recently the actions of the I&R/394th have been competently put to page by Stephen Ambrose (Citizen Soldiers, 1997) and Ronald Drez (25 Yards of War, 2001). In contrast, the first and third sections of The Longest Winter represent narratives of new information. Almost all of the actions associated with the I&R/394th are crafted entirely from interviews Kershaw conducted with surviving members of the platoon. While this provides an engaging narrative with a human feel, it lacks the historical clarity of thoroughly researched material.

Kershaw uses a "broad perspective" storyboard in The Longest Winter. He intermingles the story of the I&R/394th with the larger story of the Ardennes Offensive and ETO in general. This style creates a very readable prose that provides a bigger picture. However, this approach also risks losing the readers interest in the story at the heart of the book - the I&R/394th actions. Moreover, when moving into broader areas, Kershaw seems to lose historical clarity as many errors of fact can be found throughout these sections. These errors - such as incorrect references to SS units (e.g., reference to the 1st-SS Panzer Division as being descendent from the original concentration camp guard units, when the SS-Totenkopfverbande was in reality the concentration camp guard and was not related to 1st-SS Panzer Division, p. 54) and names of individuals (e.g., Hermann Black when it should be Hermann Balck, p. 115, 320) - are really hard to understand as Kershaw clearly cites works (in the bibliography) where correct facts are given. In the case of name problems these could be editorial, but in cases where textual statements are wrong editing was only the last check on Kershaw's research.

Final analysis: In the end The Longest Winter is a well crafted and easily read work that lacks depth of analysis and research. From a reading standpoint this is a 5 star book, from a historical standpoint it gets 2.5 stars. Total value: 3 stars.
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
true heroism 12 Nov. 2004
By R. Loerch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Every book I've read about the Battle of the Bulge is complicated and confusing because it was such a massive and chaotic battle with a cast of several hundred thousand Americans. Finally, a book comes along that reduces it to a very human level, just eighteen men, and describes what it was really like to fight from a fox-hole against all odds that December. I understood enough about the battle without it becoming overwhelming but got to know some remarkable individuals and that is what really makes you appreciate their sacrifice - when they are no longer soldiers but human beings. Recommended to anybody wanting to be inspired by a great story of survival against all odds.
56 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Problems with The Longest Winter 15 Aug. 2005
By Robert Humphrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
To base a book mainly on interviews with 10 surviving members of the I & R platoon provides Keshaw with a very small data base to work with. Consequently he pads his book with accounts of Hitler, Eisenhower, J. Peiper, and others, none of which is particularly relevant to his story. Even brief retelling of Robert Kriz's crossing of the Rhine or the surrender at Iserlohn is in no way connected to the platoon.Remarkably he is able to extract from these 10 men not only accounts of their experiences, but actual conversations they had 60 years earlier. Because Kershaw writes in the present tense, the reader is led to believe he is receiving a stenographic reproduction. It would be acceptable to use memories, but the author needs to alert the reader to the fact that these comments or verbal exchanges are recalled and therefore subject to all sorts of distortions. Kershaw, who is given to fictionalizing, also conflates the comments of non--99ers with the platoon members, so the reader is led to believe these were the attitudes and experiences of the I & R guys. Finally the number of errors in this book are legion. The ASTP stood for the Army's Special Training Program, not the "Advanced STP." Aubel is not "just across the French border" but rather is in eastern Belgium, close to the German border. GI's did not wear "beanie caps" but wool caps. Lyle Bouck and the others were not "the first batch of prisoners at Hammelburg," rather 100s of non coms and privates from the 99th arrived there on Dec. 26 and 27th, whereas his group arrived on January 18th and there were no searchlights, as he claims. "Würzburg was not "famous for its ball-bearing factories"; that was Scheinfurt. The Danube was not "blue" but brown and its waters were not "swollen by the spring melt from the Alps." The Danube is too far north. The photo of Robert Kriz had the following caption: "Lt. Colonel Robert Kriz....has been awarded the DSC, March 1945." The two bars on his overseas cap indicate Kriz was a captain and the medal pinned on his chest is a Silver Star and the date is April 8, 1944 at Camp Maxey, Texas. It was not Omar Bradley's Twelth Army but rather 12th Army Group, the 99th's sector was north of Cologen, not south, General Lauer's headquarters was at Butgenbach not "Büllingen." Kershaw quotes an unidentified POW who says he saw the "gray waters of the Rhine" as he crossed the river in a boxcar. No 99th POW ever admitted seeing the Rhine as they were locked up and couldn't see out. Stalag Fallingbostel was 30 miles not "100 miles" north of Hanover. Kershaw prints a quote from Lyle Bouck and cites "Dauntless: the History of the 99th Division." But that quote does not exist on page 213. He states that the 99th Division lost "more than a thousand men to trench foot, pneumonia, and frostbite." His source for this figure is Stephen Ambrose, "Citizen Soldiers." But on page 187, Ambrose writes 822 men were lost to "frostbite, pneumonia,a and trench foot." All of these errors, and there are more, may seem pedantic, but it indicates that the author did not carefully do his research. If he is unwilling to put in the time and effort to get basic facts right, then doesn't this raise questions about the author's credibility?
55 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Heroism At Its Finest 5 Dec. 2004
By Neal Bellet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of a platoon of men that quite possibly changed the course of the Battle of the Bulge by delaying the initial German attack just long enough to give the Allies the time they needed to regroup. These heroes were asked to "hold at all costs," and that is exactly what they did until their ammunition ran out. By doing so, they had slowed the German advance enough to allow the Allies to react to what was happening. What these men suffered after being captured and how they were able to survive until the end of the war is further proof of just how great they were. The book is very well written and I recommend it very highly. My only criticisms of the book are the one typo that I found and the error by the author of his description of Bradley, Montgomery, and Deevers leading Armies. I believe by this time in the war they all were in charge of army groups. That aside, this was a great book of an even greater story.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Great story but not a great book 25 Dec. 2004
By lordhoot - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Alex Kershaw's story on the small intelligence platoon and their heroism before, during and after the Battle of the Bulge proves to be an engrossing tale. I found this part of the book to be highly interesting and if not truely admirable that the author was able to come up with this story that must be told. I had hope that the author would have gone into greater details into this platoon since many of the members are still alive today.

The book would have been better if the author kept his focus on the platoon and not on the "bigger picture". Most readers who read this book will already have a good understanding of the Ardennes Offensive by the German forces in December of 1944. If they do not, this is not the book that will give you any great insight on the battle. There are plenty of books out there that does a superior job of telling of the Bulge then this one can at any length.

Worst are the numerous errors in the text which I can't seem understand. A good examples would be on page 64 when author wrote "Irwin Rommel" instead Erwin Rommel or on page 115 when he wrote "Hermann Black" instead Hermann Balck. Was this a typo or a careless error since even the index got the wrong name! Also on page 54, the author goes into a lot hype about the "Death Head" insignia which every SS soldier wear...even Muslim SS soldiers! Author is also mistaken the fact that Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division, "Leibstandarte" was originally built as Hitler's personal bodyguard unit and they never served as guards at the camps. Those guards made up the 3rd SS Panzer Division, the "Totenkopf" which was not Peiper's parent division. While these are just sample errors, individually they are rather harmless but collectively, you began to questioned the author's researching ability and it does downgrade the overall quality of the book.

Still, I enjoyed this book about this extraordinary platoon made up of extraordinary men. Their story needed to be told but I wished it was told in greater details and without the redundant history lesson that serves no one but entry level reader who may be misled by many of its errors.
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