What William Foley has given us here is a detailed, brutal, visceral account of combat with the 94th Infantry Division. Not known as a celebrated unit on this front like The Big Red One or 101st Airborne, the 94th nonetheless spent two months throwing themselves at, and through, the Siegfied Switch-line just inside the German border. Casualties were high and suffering great.
William's first person account provides a gripping insight into these few months. Arriving as an 18 year old replacement he was thrown into the attack with no pause for breath and it to our great benefit that this artistic and intelligent man has been able to write of his experience with such a human voice. I would rate this book as being on a par with Peter White/John Keegan's 'With The Jocks', another gripping account of this long winter but from the British perspective.
If you have an interest in the battles of winter 44/45 this is one that won't disappoint.
One of the best books i've read of a frontline soldiers accounts in the ETO. Thrilling.
Foley stands out as the best writer in my collection of WW2 books on frontline action. His story of a young kid aging several years through only a few months of service in the 94th is very well written. I felt I was with him on the many patrols that he and his buddies had to do and the accounts on his experiences when the 6th SS division surrounded them are breathtaking - I couldn't stop reading.
His more intellectual accounts on how he, when looking back, only see things in black and white and how a strange numbness came over him during the days of fighting - even though close buddies were lost, gives the story a even more genuine feel.
If you want to feel the cold, the fear and the exhaustion, this is it.
In an attempt to find out what WW2 was really like for the common foot soldier, I have collected several hundred WW2 memoirs, some of which haven't been published yet. In terms of action, this is a special book, packed with the dead and dying, constant fighting, killing, tossing granades, clearing out bunkers and so forth. This is usually something you would find in other books, too, but to a much lesser degree. In other words, the action seems wildely exaggerated, bearing strong resemblance to some British comic books I read as a child.
Obviously, there is a lot of fiction in there. I don't mind the odd dialogue in there, which certainly couldn't have come from the author's memory. That's a technique which many other authors use for the reader's convenience. Also, in most accounts, the German artillery is all too often described as "88" guns, which is just as common a mistake as making a Tiger out of every common Panzer IV. However, there are some recurring descriptions, which certainly are a work of fiction. For example, the author claims to have smelled alcohol on the German soldiers, even the dead. While it is a given fact, that Red Army soldiers were often sent to their mass atacks "under the influence", this can't be said about the German army, be it Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS units. Alcohol was in fact very much restricted by army regulations, if not prohibited, as it impairs performance in battle and morale. This I know for a fact and I've been told by the veterans I interviewed as well. In fact, "guttural language" and "drunken charges" were the terms used for the Russian soldiers they had to fight against (unless they were crack troops). Also, it is hardly credible that mountaineers use cattle as a shield in an attack (quote: "in their stupid, drunken gesture of offense", p.212). This, no doubt, comes from a ghost writer, who has taken the comic books I read as a child a little bit too serious.
All in all, file this book under "based on a true story" and read some proper WW2 accounts. There are plenty.