WWII Reference books part 1

WWII Reference books    2018

These are WWII books that I have read for pleasure or to learn more about particular details of the war.  The books listed here might not be the version that is currently in print, or if it currently is in print at all. 


Broad Range of the War

The American Heritage Picture History of World War II Vol I & II (by Sulzberger, American Heritage Publishing, 1966) 

In my youth, THE ‘go to’ for World War 2 history.  While of limited use to scholars and specialists, for general readers this was, and still is, a solid introduction to an enormously complex subject.  700+ photos.  

For Wargaming, this will give you the broad stroke of what was happening in the theaters of North Africa, Europe, Russia, and the Pacific.

Simon & Schuster’s Encyclopedia of World War II (by Thomas Parrish, Simon & Schuster, 1978)

Short descriptions of Locations, Battles, Soldiers, Weapons, Vehicles, Politicians, etc.   Also a ‘go to’ book for Second World War referencing.  


War As I Knew It  (by George S. Patton, Jr.,  Bantam Books, 1947)

With this book, General Patton gives himself to history.  This is his view of how he ran the army and the battles.  He has a Reflections and Suggestions chapter where he gives comments on tactics and soldiering.  A good overall for pre-WW2 US army, North Africa and Europe Theater right from the source.


 Eyewitness History of World War 2 Volume 3:  Counterattack  (by Abraham Rothberg,  Bantam Books, 1962)

Stalingrad, Midway, El Alamein and the turning of the tide.




Eyewitness History of World War 2 Volume 4:  Victory  (by Abraham Rothberg,  Bantam Books, 1962)

From D-Day in Europe to the Unconditional Surrender of Japan.



 Campaign Specific

An Army at Dawn (by Rick Atkinson, Owl Books, 2002)

The Second World War had already been running 6 months in the pacific before a naïve and untested U.S. Army arrived in Northeast Africa to attack, not the Italians or Germans, but the French.  If all you know about is the Normandy invasion or the Battle of the Bulge, find out how Americans learned to fight in World War 2.

Great descriptions of the fierce fighting in Oran harbor, the small battles in towns and ravines of Algiers and Tunis and, of course, the battle of Kasserine Pass.  For Wargaming, this is a rare opportunity to whip out your French troops to battle the allies or field the Italians against the Americans.


The Day of Battle (by Rick Atkinson, Holt, 2007)

This book covers the invasion of Sicily and Italy up to the taking of Rome:  the tirades of Patton, the victories and disasters of Darby’s Rangers, the slugfests of Salerno, Rapido, Anzio and Monte Cassino and everything in between.  It gives you enough background and detail to have a good idea of the conflict.

For Wargaming, try the Americans taking Troina or the Canadians taking Ortona or play a skirmish game of a hilltop town patrol or defending a rebuilt bridge from a counterattack. 

The Guns at Last Light (by Rick Atkinson, Holt, 2013)

This book covers the Normandy invasion on through to central Germany. 



Time-Life WW2 – The Italian Campaign  (by Robert Wallace, Time-Life Books, 1978)

Lots of details and pictures of Sicily and Italy campaign.



Time-Life WW2 – The Second Front (by Douglas Botting, Time-Life Books, 1978)

Lots of details and pictures of Dieppe, the Build up (by Germans and Allies), the Landing, the Inland Fighting.



Time-Life WW2 – Liberation (by Martin Blumenson, Time-Life Books, 1978)

Lots of details and pictures of the Battle of the Hedgerows, Breakout, Germans on the Run, Southern’ France’s D-day, Paris, Holland.


Time-Life WW2 – War in The Outposts (by Simon Rigge, Time-Life Books, 1980)

Lots of details and pictures of the Caribbean, Greenland and Iceland; the Middle-East, Supplying Russia, Island’s in the Pacific and Alaska, the Jungles of the Pacific.



Bombing Nazi Germany [graphic novel]  (by Wayne Vansant, Zenith Press, 2013)

A truly amazing way to learn about “How the Allied Air Campaign won the war.”  Covers the basic of the Second Front from bomber types, fighter support, enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft guns, military theory and results.  The graphics (great illustrations by Mr. Vansant) allow for that element missing from textbooks:  the reader’s participatory feeling in every paragraph.  


Normandy: A Graphic History of D-Day, The Allied Invasion of Hitler's Fortress Europe  [graphic novel] (by Wayne Vansant, Zenith Press, 2012)

Depicts the planning and execution of Operation Overlord.  The initial paratrooper assault, storming the beaches (both US and British) and the German effort to push them into the sea. Also the bocage and Cherbourg, St. Lo and Caen, Patton’s Breakout and the Falaise Pocket.

Anzio 1944: The beleaguered beachhead (by Steven Zaloga, Osprey Publishing, 2005)

The planning, execution and predicament of the Operation Shingle.  Describes each thrust and counter-thrust though trenches and ruined villages.



Particular Groups

Last Shots for Patton’s Third Army (by Robert P. Fuller, New England Transportation Reserach, 2002)

Mr. Fuller gives a bit of history of Patton and of the US Third Army, then goes into detail about the last few months of the Third Army’s involvement in Germany & Central Europe.  Includes 16 separate military maps.  Great for the WW2 enthusiast.

A daily Battle Report for most of 1945.  The maps are military regional maps of Germany showing troop locations and movements.  For wargaming, great for Strategic games of Companies or larger.

The Men of Company K (by Leinbaugh & Campbell, Bantam Books, 1985)

This book describes the experience of several soldiers in Company K of the 333rd Infantry Regiment.  Though a ‘biography’ of the individuals in a platoon, it includes other friends in the company.  Find out how the weapons platoon supplemented the riflemen.  See how continuous battle affected the attitudes of the dogfaces.  Descriptions of the battles included.

Another terrific book to get the mindset of an infantryman. For wargaming at squad level, this will give you the priorities and attitudes of those who weren’t informed why they were sent to take or hold a position…Just do it.  

Band of Brothers (by Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1992)

THE book on a US rifle company.  Follows Easy Company from its creation in Camp Toccoa, though jumping into Normandy, Operation Market-Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and on through to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.  It not only is a battle report, but a full characterization of the soldiers involved.

Find out how one goes up rank in the military, how medics keep track of morphine applied to wounded, what G2 did, how GIs looted Europe as much as the Nazi’s.  For wargaming at squad level: 

Terrific book to get the mindset of a well-trained paratroop unit.  For wargaming at squad level, this will give you what it is like linking up behind enemy lines and also as a regular trooper fighting in foxholes.  At the platoon level, it will give you an idea of the interaction of the squads with each other and within the Company.

Roll me over: Infantryman’s World War II (by Raymond Gantter, Ivey Books, 1997)

The progress of an infantryman across Europe.  The fighting and the life in between.  Gantter describes the midnight marches to get to the next battlefield, digging foxholes to snooze in, the fear and death that waited around the bend.  Descriptions of the battles included.

Terrific book to get the mindset of an infantryman. For wargaming at squad level, this will give you the priorities and attitudes of those who weren’t informed why they were sent to take or hold a position…Just do it.  


Brothers In Arms (by Kareem Abduhl-Jabbar, Broadway, 2004)

This is a great account of Tank Warfare:  how a tank team worked in WW2 and how they trained to be there.  But it also is the story of the dismal treatment that Negro soldiers had to go through from their prejudicial own countrymen.  This is the armored version of the Tuskagee Airmen or the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo soldiers).

Lew Alcindor wrote this book to honor his ‘uncle’ who received a bronze star while serving in the 761st Tank Battalion in the Second World War.

Find out why the 761st had the best trained tankers in the US army. Find out how tank companies were used and how damaged tanks/injured crewmen were replaced.  Terrific book to get on tankers from their own experience as they battled from November 1944 to the end of the war.

For wargaming at crew level, this will give you the priorities and attitudes of the tankers.  At the platoon level, it will give you an idea of the tactics used by tank crews.

Recon Scout (by Fred Salter, Ballentine Books, 1994)

Absolutely wonderful book about being a scout in the infantry. Salter belonged to the 91st Cavalry Recon squadron.  These units often were parceled out to Infantry divisions as needed on a short-time basis.  Salter performed reconnaissance in jeeps and by foot in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.  He gives great descriptions of how prepared himself for scouting trips, the actual excursions out into no-mans land and behind enemy lines and the journeys back.

Terrific book to get the mindset of a scout. For wargaming at squad level:  Set up an enemy area and see if you can get your scout (or team of scouts) unseen through the terrain, obtain the data and get back without alerting the enemy.

Medic! How I fought World War II with morphine, sulfa and iodine swabs (by Robert Franklin, University of Lincoln Press, 2006)

Robert was “drafted in1942 and thrust into combat with no specific training or knowledge for treating war wounds.”  A Medic in the 45th Infantry Division, Robert fought all over the European Theater: Trekking across Sicilian mountains, receiving shellfire on the beach at Anzio, liberating civilians in Southern France and helping prisoners in Germany.  Because the medic ends up at the very front of combat helping those wherever they fall it’s about the battles too. 

Find out how medics are selected and trained.  Medics are part of Battalion, not the company; This book tells you the benefits and problems of being attached. How do stretcher bearers fit in?  Find out what it means to be responsible for your platoons and how that responsibility is reciprocated.

Terrific book to get the mindset of a MEDIC.  For wargaming at squad level, this will give you the priorities and attitudes of a medic.  At the platoon level, it will give you an idea of the moral boost having a medic in the party gives.

Secret Soldier (by Philip Gerard, Plume Books, 2002)

You’ve heard about the artists of the Monuments Men and their efforts to save art from destruction.  Now read about the artists and technicians who brought their talents to fight the Germans.  These men created dazzling theatrical battlefield ruses, fooling the German high command into attacking the wrong place, defending the wrong bridgehead, even retreating from phantom attackers conjured by radio scripts, sound effects, a handful of convincing actors, and inflatable armored divisions.

Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier 1936-49 (by Siegried Knappe, Orion Books, 1992)

First Person account of the German side of WW2. Knappe was an officer who served in the build up of the Nazi army in the late ‘30s, the invasion of France, Operation Barbarossa, the defense of Berlin.  What was it like to be a youth in the Hitler army?  How was artillery was moved around?  What did a German feel while racing through the Ukraine? What was it like to see Hitler in his command bunker in the final days of the war?

Terrific book to get the mindset of a German artillery officer.  For wargaming the Russian Front at a platoon level, it will give you an idea of choosing the battery site, targeting the enemy and withdrawing before the mighty Russian onslaught.

A Walk In The Sun (by Harry Brown, Signet, 1944)  Fiction

A platoon of the Texas Division lands on Salerno.  “This is the story of an infantry platoon landing in Italy in 1943. The platoon is charged with capturing a bridge and a farmhouse, but just as they reach shore their lieutenant is killed and their lead sergeant is wounded. The third-in-command soon suffers a nervous breakdown, leaving the command to an inexperienced corporal.”  (Macauley) 

Terrific book to get the mindset of a rifle company. For wargaming at squad or platoon level:  Set up a farmhouse and bridge and see if you can get your unit to destroy the bridge.

Kelly’s Heroes (by Burt Hirschfeld, Sphere Books, 1970)  Fiction

A Reconnaissance platoon goes awol to rob a bank deep behind enemy lines.  The book of the script of the movie.  This is slightly different than the film as it came from a script that had since been changed.


Catch 22 (by Joseph Heller, Simon & Schuster, 1961)  Fiction

Its WWII, you’re a bombardier of a B-25 in Italy and you want to get out of the continuing escalation of mission runs, but you have a problem:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. [The Captain] was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. 

A funny, absurd view of war with many memorable characters, especially Captain Yossarian.


Peripheral Settings

Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy (by Norman Lewis, Carrol & Graf, 1978)

Lewis’s experience as a British army intelligence officer stationed in Naples.  Fascinating account of the already destitute Italians living in a devastated city during wartime occupation.  Lewis is scathing about the American occupation (The British shared in some of it) and their seeming links with the Italian Mafia.  But it is also a story of the worst and best in human nature.

From September 1943 through October 1944.

Rome 44 (by Raleigh Trevelyan, Secker & Warburg, 1981)

Life in The Eternal City after Italy surrendered in Fall 1943 and the waiting for liberation.  Describes the early attitude of the civilians, the Church and the Germans and how it changed with the allied invasion and partisan attacks. 


King Rat (by James Clavell, Dell, 1962)  Fiction

Set in a Japanese prison camp, a British POW’s life improves when he makes friends with an American hustler.



Unbroken (by Hillenbrand, Laura, Random House, 2014)

How many courageous phases can a life have? Zamperini has had many.  From growing up a punk in Los Angeles to transforming his life into an 1936 Olympic runner (he shook hands with Hitler) to B-24 airman in the Pacific to ocean crash-landing and drifting 2000 miles only to be captured by the Japanese.  

Then the book takes a turn towards a form of sadistic endurance as  Zamperini survives torture and constant abuse from his captors who consider Prisoners of War fair game. [This is the true meaning of the title UNBROKEN as Zamperini never succumbs.]  The rest of the book covers his reintegration into his family and America after the war and the weight of that wartime suffering with drinking binges and upsets and ultimately his redemption after those years. 

For roleplaying gamers, good source for Prisoner of War in a Japanese camp.

Lost in Shangri-La (by Mitchell Zuckoff, Harper Perennial, 2014)

This has got to be made into a Hollywood Movie.  It’s got a World War theme, a crash landing in a ‘lost’ Jungle Valley, 2 handsome resourceful leads, a beautiful vivacious woman survivor, unknown primitive tribe of superstitious and feuding natives and a specially assembled rescue team who needs to get the survivors out before the Japanese troops find them.  And it’s a true story.  My favorite aspect was the first contact of two distinct cultures. 

Not so much for wargaming, but for role-playing:  It’d make a great Pulp Fiction or Horror game.

Double Cross (by Ben Macintyre, Broadway, 2013)

How do you keep secret the location and time of a 150,000 troop European D-Day from the most sophisticated army (Nazi) who are expecting it?  This book covers the astonishing exploits of Secret Intelligence Services who nullified or converted all the German spies in Britain into double agents and so cleverly and skillfully that the Nazis never guessed (or didn’t care) they were being duped.

After reading this book, I realized we would never have broken out of the Normandy bocage region if Hitler and the German High Command hadn’t bought into the deception of St. Calais.  Full of colorful, idiosyncratic characters that could be straight out of a ‘40s Hollywood comedy.  A must read for Normandy Invasion enthusiasts.  

Great for an espionage game.

Death in San Pietro  (by Tim Brady, De Capo Press, 2013)

This is the WW2 story of the death of Captain Waskow, made famous in an article by journalist Ernie Pyle.  It’s also the history of the advance of the 36th Division’s battle to take San Pietro Italy, made famous in a 1945 film by director John Houston.  

I had read a bit about both these important pieces previously, but wanted to understand them more.  I very much enjoyed Mr. Brady integration of the “Texas” Division’s labors with what it took for these two media men, Pyle and Houston, to get their famous pieces out.  

Killing of Corporal Kunze (by Wilma Parnell, Lyle Stuart, 1981)

The experience of Germans in an American Prisoner of War camp.  What the average prisoner did and hoped for. Why the American policy of not separating the SS from the rest of the prisoners led to the torture and death of one of the inmates.


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