Meet the Author: Rick Atkinson — The Guns at Last Light

all right so let’s get it going I’m Nick Mueller president and CEO of the National World War two museum and welcome to all of you I know some of you from out of town and others from here in town so we’re excited that we have such a wonderful audience today to this long-awaited event an early launch of a Rick a concerns the guns at last light the final book in his liberation trilogy it’s a very special night for us rick is a wonderful friend of the museum and one of the finest historians in America today and it’s a very special and for all of us that we’re getting a one-week jump on the release of his book and for everybody else getting his hands on on your book Rick and here you reflect on it is going to be special rick has won two Pulitzer Prizes in journalism before he won a third in history most elders would be pleased with just one so we’re expecting this to be a fourth so I don’t want to jinx it but we know it’s coming his mastery of research and storytelling are quite evident in his latest book rick has a special way of bringing out personalities and the tension and the drama of war just to give you an example let me read one passage briefly of the guns at last light as American soldiers were preparing to invade the deadly beaches of Normandy and before the invasion he writes brigadier general Norman Dakota who would soon be the senior officer on Omaha Beach told officers you’re going to find confusion the landing craft aren’t going in on schedule and people are going to be landed in the wrong place some won’t be landed at all we must improvise carry on not lose our heads nor was meat must we add to the confusion a tank battalion commander he writes was more succinct the government paid five billion dollars for this hour so get the hell in there and start fighting it’s just a taste of what you have in store for you from this a very exceptional book Rick is here with his wife Jane and daughter dr. Sara Atkinson and Tulane University alum so we’re pleased with that and Sara’s friend dr Jay PJ Liberto so thrilled to have you all with us and hope you’re enjoying your reunion back in New Orleans and with your Tulane friends about a year ago I think publisher Henry Holt approached the museum to to discuss the official release here at the Museum we loved the idea and a lot of people locally and nationally have helped to publicize the book including this museum and I want to thank especially WW or local NPR affiliate for serving as our media partner and running an interview with Rick to help promote this event and also special thanks to our own museum staff who’ve been working very hard on the publicity about this event and to get the word out but before I go any further let me just pause for a moment to do something we always do here at this museum and that is to recognize our World War two veterans who might be with us so if you are here would you please stand and be recognized any World War two veterans that are with us please stand wherever you are thank you all for your service we’re honored and this is indeed your Museum and I would like now to thank all veterans of all wars and all periods in our history to stand also and be recognized all veterans please stand and be recognized now all of those veterans who just said are going to help us carry the torch forward for all of those World War two veterans but also one especially

recognize our chairman of the board of trustees Herschel Abbott sitting here on the front row please stay on Herschel and take a bow he’s led this institution the last several years and has been on the board for some 15 or 18 years almost as long as I have I think so and also any other trustees or former trustees if you’re here please stand and be recognized I know I’ve seen a few of you around former trustees or current trustees Harvey cook I think is Harvey’s over here right thank you and dr. Allan mullet another major World War two historian who leads the UN oh I was in our Center and serves as a joint appointment basis as senior military adviser to the museum so thank you all and to our members and friends and supporters from New Orleans and and around the region and country who have come in for this event now Rick’s liberation trilogy represents simply some of the very finest writing on world war ii and many years i know some of you have read the first book in this trilogy published in 2002 army at dawn exploring the North African campaign and the Allies tough lessons that were learned there for that book he won the Pulitzer Prize in history the second volume of his trilogy day of the battle and published in 2007 covers the Allied advance through Sicily and southern Italy the so called soft underbelly of Europe that was anything but a soft underbelly and it is the steady companion for tours that visit Sicily in Italy almost every year now his last in the trilogy guns at last light traces and brings to life the climactic battle for Western Europe from Normandy to VE Day in the final destruction of the third right now our enthusiasm for tonight’s event stems from the fact that we’ve come to know Rick very well in addition being an all-around nice guy and generous person he’s a good friend of mine and he supports this museum’s mission in many significant ways he’s been a regular speaker at our international conference on World War two he’s a member of presidential councilors advisory group that comes here a couple times a year to assist me and our development and strategic thinking about how this museum advances into the future he’s also regularly interviewed by the media about how we hear this national World War two museum interpret the story of World War two as he did recently with a very lengthy piece on NPR that was distributed nationwide at the time of our grand opening of this pavilion that we’re in this evening last January was that event perhaps most important Rick’s research and writing complements and expands in a very deep way on the essential stories that we tell every day here in this museum for not only you all and current generations but future generations as well Rick was born in Munich son of a US Army officer grew up on military posts across America and abroad and probably when you were a young man I was running around in Munich at the McGraw Kaserne where your father was earn degrees in English at East Carolina University and the University of Chicago before turning his attention to history he was a highly regarded reporter first at the Kansas City Times and then the Washington Post he’s come to stay understand modern American soldier soldiering as a result of his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and among his other highly regarded books published long before the liberation trilogy is the long gray line the American Journey of West Point’s class of 1966 where he traces the lives of soldiers who face Vietnam and its aftermath also the crusade the untold story of the Persian Gulf War gives me great pleasure to introduce our friend Rick Atkinson Thank You Nik I think we were supposed to do that before I got up here to the stage well thank you all so much for coming tonight this is a thrill for me what Nick and Steven and their team have done at this magnificent Museum over the years is nothing short of spectacular

and among other things it reflects the spirit of this city and it reflects the determination of this city to be all that it was and all that it will be my family and I took a long walk yesterday and I think New Orleans has never looked better because New Orleans has never been better so congratulations to all of you for bringing the city back so Jack London said that a writer ought not wait for inspiration but instead ought to light out after it with a club and fifteen years ago I took my club and what I found what inspired me was the second world war the war lasted 2174 days and by the end it had become the greatest catastrophe in human history 60 million dead as 27,000 600 dead every day for six years it’s 1,150 an hour if you were a German boy born between 1915 and 1924 the odds were 1 in 3 that by 1945 you were dead 14 percent the Soviet population of 190 million perished during the war 60 million dead in six years means a death every three seconds one two three one two three that’s world war two the writer Kingsley Amos once declared that he only wanted to read books that begin a shot rang out there you go my focus in writing a trilogy about the war has been the role of the Western Allies in the liberation of Europe and in that tale many many shots ring out that story is really a triptych it’s three panels that can be read and appreciated independently but ultimately form a whole and that’s how I’ve crafted the liberation trilogy the first panel or volume and Army at dawn is about the campaign in North Africa from November 1942 until May of 1943 in Morocco Algeria and Tunisia the second volume the day of battle moves north across the Mediterranean to Sicily and southern Italy from July 1943 to places like Salerno San Pietro the rapido River Anzio and Rome which fell which was liberated on June 4th 1944 and this final volume the guns at last light opens on May 15 1944 at Saint Paul’s School on Hammersmith Road in London where Eisenhower Churchill Bradley Patton Bernard Montgomery King George the sixth and several dozen other American and British commanders gathered to review the final plan for Operation Overlord the invasion of Normandy they met in an auditorium known as the model room sitting on hard wooden benches that had normally been reserved normally used by schoolboys the poet John Milton had attended st. Paul’s among other English luminaries it was cold as a meat locker in the model room and many of the generals stood there bundled up in their overcoats there was an enormous plaster relief map of the Normandy coast where the river sand spills into the Atlantic Ocean on the floor at a scale of 6 inches to the mile and as the plan was reviewed there was a British Brigadier wearing no skid socks and he shuffled across this floor map with a pointer to indicate various locations on what would become in three weeks the most famous battlefield on earth places like the beaches for instance Utah Omaha gold Juno sword and towns like saint-lo Cherbourg can Paris then for the next 12 chapters the action unspools at these places in others more 10 Phileas Paris the Hurtgen forest Aachen Antwerp Nijmegen Arnhem and the final drive and on through the Bulge the crossing of the Rhine the encirclement of the roar and the final drive across the Elbe River through VE Day Victory in

Europe May 8 1945 today one of the greatest days in our history in our national history one of the greatest days in the history of Western humanity because this was the day of liberation as in the first two volumes the shift is frequent between the tactical foxhole I view up high so that we can see the wider aperture of operational and strategic perspectives much of chapter 10 for example is set in Malta and Yalta in the company of Roosevelt Churchill Stalin and their High Command and we often peek in on the other side of the hill so that we can see we can understand what the Germans are doing I also recounted some length the invasion of southern France in mid August 1944 as well as the subsequent drive up the Rhone River Valley and the franco-american lunch through the Vosges mountains to capture Strasbourg and reached the four months before other Allied forces arrived on the river that controversial campaign in southern France is unknown to many Americans and it’s an important part of the liberation of Europe the characters in southern France are fantastic including the American generals Jacob Devers and Alexander patch and the flamboyant French first Army commander general jean de lot de tasini who is beyond the power of any novelist who invents one admirer called de lot an animal of action he would appear in some troop bivouac in the middle of the night when his soldiers were sleeping and he would roar out what have you done for France well as you may suspect the liberation of Europe is not an undiscovered subject amazon.com lists 60,000 World War 2 hardcover titles how do you tell that story so that you and you and you feel like you’ve read it never quite this way before that you’re reading it for the first time well part of that is voice of course and narrative coherence but a good part of it must be archival spadework and when it comes to world war ii an archive rat like me can live large just the u.s. army records alone for the second world war weigh 17,000 tons like all great events in American history world war two is bottomless there is more to discover there will always be more to discover so for example I found in the National Archives something that was very interesting if you want to invade France and you know that sailing across English Channel is going to be very difficult because the Germans are waiting for you they know sooner or later you’re going to come and you know that going by sea is fraught with peril you know that going by air landing by glider or parachute is fraught with peril how are you going to get there how about digging a tunnel under the English Channel and so in fact there was a study commissioned to see whether this could be done and the guys who did the study reported back yes sir we can do this it’ll take fifteen thousand soldiers six months to excavate fifty thousand tons of spoil but we can do this what they couldn’t figure out what they could never solve was the question of what happened when that first tunneler poked his head out of the hole and the entire term in seventh army was waiting for him study was shelved there was a whole array of issues having to do with the invasion of Normandy in the had its own acronym can we problems of the invasion of northwest Europe there was anxiety that the Germans would drop rats infected with bubonic plague on London and so bounties were offered for rat carcasses so that they could test for plague there was concern that the Germans would drop what were known as radioactive agents all over England and so geiger counters were secretly hidden all over the United Kingdom to look for traces of radioactivity the Allies also stockpiled 160,000 tons of chemical munitions for use in Europe and the Mediterranean and there were two secret plans that I found again at the National Archives that have not come to light before for a chemical warfare in Normandy one plan took into account concern for French civilian casualties the second plan not so much

had that second plan been enacted there would have been thousands of dead French civilians it would have been absolutely devastating to the continent of Europe not to mention the future of the world u.s. army draft these standards progressively changed they were lowered over the course of the war to allow the induction of what we’re known as physically imperfect men so at the beginning of the war to be drafted you had to have twelve of your natural thirty-two teeth by 1944 how many teeth did you have to have zero and that’s because the army in the Navy had collectively drafted one-third of all the dentists in America and they collectively extracted 15 million teeth they filled 68 million more and they made two and a half million sets of dentures all to enable a draftee to be able to masticate the army ration I know that sounds like an obscene act but that was the standard by 1944 a man could be drafted if he had 2400 vision in one eye if it was correctable to 2040 in one eye the Armed Forces made 2.3 million pairs of eyeglasses during the war the old addage came true that the army didn’t examine eyes it just counted them in fact you could be drafted with only one eye you could be drafted if you were completely deaf in one ear or if you had lost both your external ears or you were missing a thumb or three fingers on one hand including your trigger finger venereal disease had kept men out of uniform early in the war but that restriction was lifted and the army soon was drafting 12,000 men a month with VD most of them syphilitic how could they do that penicillin extraordinary discovery by British scientists of the antibiotic agent in the 1920s was followed by a massive effort by the Americans in the British to take a substance that had been made by the gram and to make it by the kilo and eventually by the tongue why these extreme measures to fill the ranks because of the crying need for soldiers especially infantrymen and especially riflemen even in a country of 130 million we were running out the Brits did run out the war remained brutal and voracious to the very end in April 1945 the last full month of the war in Europe almost 11,000 American soldiers were killed in Germany that’s nearly as many as had been killed in June 1944 the month of invasion it was awful virtually to the last gunshot so desperate was the American army for infantryman that the High Command took an action that had been unthinkable just a few months earlier they allowed black soldiers to volunteer for combat in white units fifty-three platoons of what were known as colored infantry were integrated into eleven otherwise white divisions many of those African American soldiers surrendered sergeant stripes that they had earlier earned as cooks and drivers and laborers for the privilege of fighting as infantry privates there are many other surprises and discoveries I found a detailed account written by the Atlanta funeral home director who prepared Franklin Roosevelt’s body for burial after the president died at Warm Springs Georgia on April 12th 1945 the document is as powerful and moving as it is clinical it describes how after several hours spent injecting six bottles of embalming fluid into Roosevelt’s veins and arteries and otherwise preparing him for eternity the mortician summon Arthur Prettyman who was the president’s Vallot and had him comb his hair just so for the last time I tell the story of one of the most secret and important weapons of the war the so called posit fuse it it was a miniature radar sensor that could be placed in the nose of an artillery shell so the shell would detonate in close proximity to the target and it allowed devastating accuracy it was an

astonishing industrial feat to invent and then eventually as a country to make 2 million posit shells a month at 20 bucks apiece they were used by field artillery for the first time during the Battle of the Bulge the Germans called it pure manslaughter John Updike once said that the that World War two was the 20th century’s central myth he called it a tale of Troy whose angles are infinite and whose central figures never fail to amaze us with their size their theatricality their sweep theatrical they are I believe the narrative historians true calling is to bring them back from the dead and I try to do just that not just with outsized figures you’ve heard of the Eisenhower’s and Patton’s Churchill’s of the war but others who are less familiar like General Ted Roosevelt jr. and General Lucian Truscott jr. many of these figures have been with us from the beginning in North Africa even amid the clash of army groups my eye was always drawn to the small particular tragedy that illuminates the larger catastrophe for example the death of General sandy patches son Mac who was a young infantry captain under his father’s command in the u.s. 7th Army in southern France in the fall of 1944 I tell that story using general patches letters to his wife Julia which are in the archive at West Point it’s unspeakably heartbreaking general patch wrote to Julia I cannot and must not allow myself to dwell upon our irreparable loss as I write the tears are falling from my eyes Providence decrees and we must obey Providence decrees and we must obey how many families from 1941 to 1945 had that same thought I tell the story of the suicide of Rear Admiral Don P moon who had commanded the naval forces at Utah Beach on June 6 1944 and shortly before the invasion of southern France where he again was to play a major role blew his brains out in the cabin of his flagship in Naples the stress had unhinged him and the suicide note that he left for his wife and four children is haunting part of it read what am i doing to you my wife and dear children I am sick so sick we’ve last seen Lieutenant Colonel John K waters a fine armored officer who happened to be George Patton’s son-in-law being hustled off to a German prison camp after his capture on the first morning of the Kasserine pass debacle in Tunisia in February 1943 in the guns at last light were reunited with Colonel waters in March 1945 as a consequence of Patton’s hairbrained raid on the prison camp at Hummel Berg in upper bavaria during which waters was shot and severely wounded I was given Colonel waters diary and his camp logs he kept a meticulous chart of prison rations showing daily allotments that typically included for example 30 5.7 grams of meat per man per day that’s a bit more than an ounce Plus 318 grams of barley bread 200 grams of cabbage and 143 grams of Cal turnips waters carefully peeled the labels the food labels from Red Cross relief package cans and he pasted them into his log as if to extract a few final calories from the memory labels of topo peanut butter and Kroger’s fruitcake I mentioned that the United States during World War 2 had a population of 130 million we managed to put 16 million 112 thousand five hundred and sixty six people in uniform of those there were about 1.3 million still alive my father among them and they’re leaving us at a rate of 300 thousand a year or about 800 a day the number of surviving American veterans of World War two will slip below 1 million late next year and a decade after that in 2024 the number will slip below 100,000 in 2036 which is

the last year for which government demographers have projected the surviving veterans the generation of Americans that fought and helped win the most destructive war in human history well number fewer than 400 less than half the size of an infantry battalion this country suffered less than any of the other major belligerence we emerge with our industrial base not only intact but thriving with 2/3 of the world’s gold supply with plentiful energy with optimism and a great sense of promise but about 400,000 Americans died during the war including two hundred and ninety one thousand killed in action nearly half of those battle deaths occurred in Western Europe in the last 11 months of the war in 1947 the next-of-kin of all American troops who had been buried overseas and that was nearly all who had died in Europe and the Pacific and whose bodies were recovered filled out quartermaster form three four five it was a one-time option offered by the US government to have your son or daughter brought home for reburial or to have him or her interred in one of two dozen American battle monuments cemeteries overseas some 39% chose to leave their soldier overseas 61% brought them home at a cost of five hundred and sixty four dollars and fifty cents for each repatriation every grave was open by hand and the remains of every dead soldier dusted with an embalming compound a formaldehyde aluminum chloride wood powder clay and plaster of Paris they were then placed in a metal casket with a satin pillow labor strikes caused a shortage of caskets steel and repatriation was further delayed by a shortage of licensed and bombers in warehouses at Cherbourg and Cardiff and elsewhere the dead accumulated finally the SS Joseph V Connolly the first of 21 ghost ships from Europe and the Pacific sailed from Antwerp with more than 5000 soldiers in her hold on October 27th 1947 the Connolly birth in New York and stevedores winched the caskets from the hold two at a time in specially designed slings and a great diasporic began as these dead and those that followed traveled mostly by rail across the republic for burial in their hometowns or in national cemeteries that’s how the dead came home but what are their belongings what are the things they carried even before the Dead came home these things had been coming back at a large warehouse on Hardesty Avenue in Kansas City the US Army effects Bureau had begun as a modest quartermaster enterprise with a half dozen employees in February 1942 that expanded to more than a thousand workers and by August 1945 they were handling 60,000 shipments a month each laden with the effects of American dead from six continents hour by hour day after day shipping containers were unloaded from rail freight cars onto a receiving dock and they were her then hoisted by elevator to the Depot’s 10th floor here the containers traveled by assembly line conveyor belt from station to station down to the seventh floor as inspectors hauled through the crates to extract pornography ammunition perhaps amorous letters from a girlfriend you didn’t want a grieving widow to see workers used grinding stones and dentist drills to scrub corrosion from helmets and webviewer trying to get all the blood out laundresses took pains to scrub those field jackets and uniform blouses a detailed inventory was then pinned to each repack container before it was stacked in a court in a storage bin and all the while banks have typists in a huge adjacent room or Bing it banging out letters as many as 70,000 a month and the gist of those letters was dear sir

dear madam we have your dead son’s stuff do you want it back over the years effects Bureau inspectors found tapestries enemy swords a German machine gun an italian accordion a shrunken head a tobacco sack full of diamonds among thousands of diaries also collected in kansas city was a small notebook that had belonged to lieutenant Hershel G Horton he was 29 from Aurora Illinois and shot in the right hip and and leg during a firefight with the Japanese in New Guinea Horton had dragged himself into a grass shanty and over the next several days that had took for him to die he scribbled a final letter in the notebook it began my dear sweet father mother and sister I lay here in this terrible place wondering not why God has forsaken me but why he is making me suffer the first duty is to remember our current poet laureate Natasha Trethewey ends her poem pilgrimage which is about a visit to Vicksburg with these lines in my dream the ghost of history lies down beside me rolls over pins me beneath a heavy arm my omission as the author of this trilogy is for you to to feel that heavy arm the palpable presence of those who risked everything and in some instances gave everything for us thank you very much thank you very much that’s wonderful so now comes the hard part well we’ll take questions jeremy has a microphone Jeremy is the chooser of the questioners we’ll go from there we’ll start with Robert who’s a volunteer so it better be a softball okay my question is if the invasion had failed on d-day and we had been repulsed like Eisenhower had feared what would have been the consequences for the Western Allies that’s a really good question and people have been pondering it for seventy years and obviously it’s unknowable because it’s counterfactual my feeling is that we would have been set back substantially probably at least a year the blow to morale of the Allies would have been awful not only was the the issue of finding enough troops again and if casualties had been substantial enough for Eisenhower to abort the invasion of Normandy then that would have been a significant problem but the bigger problem frankly would be finding enough landing craft as it was on June 6 1944 he was right on the edge of being deficient in them Eisenhower was counting every landing craft that he had and he was tearing what little hair he had out whenever something would happen to one and it was not going to be available for June 6 1944 so I think we’re looking at extending the war by at least a year and of course that would have given the Germans all that much more time to prepare you have an interesting perspective and that you’ve done in-depth study of the entire war especially in Europe from your perspective when do you think the Allied command had a consensus that they were going to win in Europe if they were going to win I think they knew frankly in North Africa that it was likely I think when in May of 1943 you saw that victory parade go through the streets of Tunis and you knew that a quarter of a million German and Italian soldiers had been rounded up and hauled away to prison camps mostly in the United States and you knew that the other great victories that had occurred within that same period including Midway Stalingrad

that the odds were increasingly in your favor you knew that you had control of the Mediterranean which was very important but it was never a given I think until really the Soviets had demonstrated that they were in it to the bitter end let’s not forget they did most of the bleeding for us and there was always concern up until late in the game that the Soviets would have made another separate peace with Hitler as unlikely as it seems in retrospect so you know I think that if you look at the Diaries and the correspondence back and forth between the likes of Eisenhower and between the combined Chiefs of Staff and between the national leaders you recognize that by the spring of 1942 they’re feeling pretty good about things but they got a long way to go and nobody has any doubts about that had the Luftwaffe defeated the RAF in the Battle of Britain did the Germans have a strategic plan to invade Britain well they had they had a plan for sure whether they could have pulled off the plan remains to be seen they had intentions and they had created headquarters and so on that we’re going to be for Hitler’s used to oversee the invasion and the British of course were highly anxious about it the British recognized that they would be hard pressed to repel a substantial invasion but I think it’s important first of all they obviously didn’t get air superiority which they absolutely needed and it’s important to remember that the English Channel at its narrowest is only 21 miles wide the Germans could never harness the wherewithal to cross that narrow body of water the United States with a lot of help from our allies projected power into the Mediterranean into the South Pacific China Southeast Asia and on and on ultimately global war is a clash of systems sometimes it’s argued that mano-a-mano when one german company or one german battalion fought an american company or an american battalion the germans were superior tactically so the Germans had tactical gifts there’s no doubt about it they were very very tough soldiers but world war is a clash of system which system can harness the logistical needs to project power to the seven seas and to six continents which system can produce the men and they were mostly men in those days it be different these days the men who can organize the enormous transportation and munitions efforts that are required which system can come up with the capacity to design deliver and detonate an atomic bomb and when you look at systems you realize that the Germans are very much overmatched particularly when our system is combined with Russian manpower so the Germans could well have invaded England it could well have made the war much more protracted it’s my belief that ultimately they are doomed to lose the war as long as we don’t lose heart because of the systems that are involved to your left Rick yeah you need to work this side of his own pair Jeremy hey are you aware of any figures comparing mortality among the military between the Pacific in Europe you mean whether it was more perilous to be in the Pacific Theater or right I’m sure there are I don’t know them off the top of my head you know all you have to do is look at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and know those six marine divisions it was horrible and they suffered as awfully whether it’s statistically comparable to the decimation of some of the American divisions that were in Europe like the 1st Infantry Division the one of six which had 2/3 of the division was

captured whether its comparable I don’t know off my head it was it was awful everywhere I think it’s safe to say good evening all right of all these primary resources you’ve gone through I’ll sound like several thousand of them is there one in particular that surprised you or shocked you or inspired you the most well I’m surprised every day I mean the mystery of the next unopened box in an archive is the reason you keep doing this awful job because it’s it can be real drudgery and it’s musty and it you know it’s tedious but I’ll tell you I when I first started doing this full-time in 1999 back when I didn’t have as many gray hairs I was at the National Archives and there’s a wonderful archivist he’s the chief of modern military records he’s a friend of some of us in this room Allen Willett and I both close to him his name is dr. Tim nenninger and Tim is is one of the greatest public servants I’ve ever met and was my guide through the maze of federal records for 14 years and one of the first things Tim showed me he said here’s something you’ll be interested in because it pertains to North Africa which is I was researching at the time and he brought out a box and he opened it up and that the commander of army ground forces during the war was a guy named Leslie McNair lieutenant general and McNair was in Tunisia in the spring of 1943 and McNair was an old artillery man and he liked to get up danger-close as they say and he was up in in Tunisia right on the front line and he was giving it as ol artillery man’s eye and the Germans began shelling he had been warned not to go that close and a German shell detonated right behind him and severely wounded McNair a piece of shell went through his helmet and pierced him through the shoulder and he was lucky to survive he did not survive a little more than a year later he was killed in the breakout at Normandy when American bombers dropped errantly and killed more than 130 soldiers including Leslie Jay McNair who again was too far forward so Tim brings this box out and opens it up and he takes out a mat and he unfolds it and it’s the map that McNair was holding on that day in Tunisia and it’s covered in blood now you talk about an artifact taking you back through history to that moment and it’s those kinds of discoveries that I just find make it very palpable and make it very emotional and I think that’s an important part of trying to tell this story there is a very deep vibrant current of emotion running through this we’re talking about 400,000 dead americans we’re talking about 60 million dead human beings and if you can’t feel that if that amperage is not something that you feel coursing through your body every day that you’re doing something like this you ought to find a different line of work so it’s those kinds of things and there are many of them that I found you know particularly rewarding hang on just a second Jeremy’s working his way yes do you think that if there had been different senior leadership at Market Garden that it might have had a chance of success Market Garden as most of you know was the airborne and ground assault into the Netherlands in September 1944 sometimes known as a bridge too far after the book by Cornelius Ryan which incidentally is a remains a fabulous book Cornelius Ryan died prematurely in 1974 if there had been different leadership that probably would have been a different plan or no plan Market Garden was ill-conceived it was poorly executed it was a bad idea it was bold it had that going for it and you can understand why Montgomery came up with it it’s primarily his scheme and you can understand why Eisenhower is seduced by it at that point it looks as though in September 1944 it looks as though the Germans they’re supine they have been routed from Normandy they are fleeing across France they are reeling back into

Germany all those divisions that had been defending the Atlantic Wall have been chopped to pieces and so there’s a belief that if you can outflank the last German barrier which is on the German border the the west wall if you can outflank that then you don’t need to bust through it and there was a recognition that busting through it increasing it was going to be more difficult than we had feared still it’s a the plan is poorly conceived if you’ve ever been to that part of Holland you know there is one little road that goes for 70 miles from the jump-off points to Arnhem and that there are polders marshlands everywhere and canals and that it’s very very difficult to imagine even if you have three Airborne Division’s successfully dropping two C’s beachheads basically along that road that you’re going to be able to do what you’ve set out to do which is get all the way to the site or Z so if there had been different leadership you know would the tactical plan have been affected differently I don’t think so and let’s give credit where credit’s do those soldiers from the hundred and first in the 82nd and the and the British first Airborne Division and all the ground units their magnificence they’re really magnificent but the plan is doomed it’s doomed on the first day when they haven’t seized the necessary bridges particularly at nine Megan and when the first British Airborne Division fails to get the bridge at Arnhem you can just see this isn’t gonna work out so I think at that point the handwriting is on the wall mr. Atkinson aw he’ll had a plan case three that he would move that twenty-first German army down to Normandy soon after the invasion General Eisenhower and shafe was terrified with this idea and they monitored through ultra this is kind of factual ISM but had Hitler or executed case three had moved that 21st German army down there does the record show any contingency that Eisenhower in shape would have executed if that had happened well there was the 21st Panzer Division and they were there that’s the main heavy force that’s in Normandy on June 6 1944 there had been a huge debate heavy bickering within the German High Command about what to do when the Allied invasion came because it wasn’t if it was when they didn’t know where there was another problem but what to do and there were two basic schools of thought about it and these are schools of thought that you find defenders mulling over whenever there’s an amphibious assault coming and one school of thought led primarily articulated primarily by Rommel was you got to defeat him on the beaches you got to throw him back into the water right away if they get a foothold their airpower is so superior and Rommel had seen it firsthand experienced it firsthand in North Africa it’s over and the other school of thought was no you’re talking about 3,000 miles of coastline between Norway and Spain you can’t be strong everywhere even if you’re the vert ma so you’ve got to keep your reserves particularly your armored reserves back so that they can go here or they can go here you call audibles basically and you keep your main panzer forces in reserve that way hitler cut the baby in half he gave Rommel control of some of those armored forces so that they could be up close to the beaches but he kept others back and he kept control of them it was an unsatisfactory solution no one was happy about it and it proved to be ineffectual in the long run now had Hitler I mean he’s he’s juggling in a way that’s extraordinary he’s got in June 1944 a very angry very large or a competent Red Army bearing toward the Reich his satellite allies in the axis are crumbling if not falling away completely Italy being a case in point he’s getting pummeled by allied strategic bombers and it’s getting worse and worse and he knows it’s only going

to get worse so if he had taken virtually everything that he had and had had happen to have them in the right place at the right time yeah it would have been a lot harder a lot harder but he didn’t and he didn’t in part because the deception scheme as known as fortitude was brilliant and it worked brilliantly so that the Germans were very confused they essentially had no intelligence about where or when invasion would come so you know I think we could sit here and spin out what ifs and it make it increasingly difficult for the invasion forces but the truth is it would have taken an extraordinary effort and an extraordinary it takes an extraordinary rejiggering of history to put Hitler in a position where in effect overlord fails I was just wondering if you were gonna follow this up with a book on the Pacific Oh fine well thank you I’m not I’m not I decided some time ago that I’m not going to do the Pacific I’ve spent more than 14 years of my life on this this trilogy on this war and I’m not entirely certain what I’m going to do next but it won’t be the Pacific our good friend Richard Frank has been foolish enough to take on that challenge and and rich is hard at work on Volume one and I just say go with God so I you know I’ve done six books now four different Wars it’ll be something about American military history thank you for asking hey hi how much opposition are flat know how much opposition our flag did Eisenhower take and his decision to let the Soviets take Berlin yeah good good question how much opposition our flag did Eisenhower take for his decision let’s serviettes take Berlin he didn’t really decide that the Soviets decided that to be honest I mean in January 1945 the Red Army is on the oder there 45 miles from Berlin and they’re spending the next several months preparing a massive assault on the capital Eisenhower had always thought in his planning that Berlin would be it’s the natural objective for the Western Allies and during the planning for Overlord that map that I described to you they’re taught they talked about Berlin is where we’re going we want to capture the roar which is the main industrial center of Germany partly so that we can destroy their industrial capacity but mainly because we know they have to defend it and we know the Germans must at that point put everything they got to defend the roar it’s game over and that’s actually is pretty much how it played out when we encircled the roar in the spring of 1945 but about that time as the roar you know we get across the Rhine we capture the bridge at Remagen through very good fortune and bad planning by the Germans and it’s about that time it’s in late March of 1945 that Eisenhower reverses himself and says we’re not going to Berlin and we’re not going to Berlin for several reasons his thinking on this he was creating criticized for 70 years and so yes he did take flak and his thinking is this the Russians are there they’ve got two million men ready to take on Berlin our estimates are that taking fighting for Berlin will cost us anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 casualties the Russians are our friends at this point Roosevelt was very specific in advising the combined Chiefs that he wanted the Soviets to remain part of the Alliance of the Allied coalition because he needed them for post-war considerations for making peace just as we really needed them for making war and so there was anxiety that we not get into a head butting with the Russians over who’s going to get to Berlin first the truth is by this point it’s a you know it’s a done deal there’s one other factor that figures into Eisenhower’s thinking he became enamored of the

notion that the Germans were planning a last stand and what was called the National redoubt and this notion had it that the Germans were funneling tens of thousands of diehard SS troops into the Alps and that they were going to fight to the bitter end and that they were preparing for a long siege in the Austrian to roll in the other parts of the Alps and that in fact they were stockpiling everything from ammunition to grain that supposedly was a an underground plant in the Alps they could build Messerschmitts this is all fantasy Hitler didn’t have any ideas of doing this Hitler wanted to fight it out to the end in Berlin and it was only really at the at the very end when the war is virtually over that he begins to give some thought to this but Eisenhower is very concerned about it and he believes essentially faulty intelligence considerate the WMD of 1945 and he so he wants to forestall that he doesn’t want to protract the guerrilla war in the Alps okay that’s understandable so what he does is he swings his force he informed Stalin directly which really irritates the British in particular that he’s going to direct his armies to the southeast toward Dresden and Leipzig and he’s going to cut the Reich in half they’re heading for Czechoslovakia and they’re going to separate the southern part of the Reich from the northern part of the Reich and Berlin he says it’s no more to me than a geographic place at this point and that’s of course what happens the Russians take Berlin the Russian casualties in taking Berlin were staggering so in retrospect it’s a pretty wise decision if you’ve ever been to Berlin and we lived there for several years in trĂªpa Park in the former East Berlin there is there were enormous mass graves of Russian soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin and those were all over the place in that part of Germany so yeah he took some grief for it but the truth is it was a necessary decision and I think it was a wise decision what one other thing the decision on how post-war Germany was going to be allotted had already been made so and had been affirmed at the Yalta Conference early in 1945 so we knew that there were going to be zones occupation zones that the Soviets essentially we’re going to have eastern Germany the British and the Americans and eventually another section was created for the French we’re going to have Western Germany and we knew that help Scot Berlin Capital City Berlin was going to be jointly occupied so why lose one American soldier for a city that you’re going to occupy as a consequence of planning that’s been made anyway and that’s an amend that early that’s an important part of his thinking we have time for a couple more questions Brody Hamm 82nd airborne World War two I’m on the field of you as dude bird would Pattison 13 tanks live to get his brother loved sunny long what I’ll be that’s where he got the Purple Heart he bought the Purple Heart was wounded while he was a prisoner reward okay alright okay what I’d like to know the question is how many of the men that was gone in to retrieve the colonel did your list because one room with me in nude burg at the hospital there and I forgot his name I don’t know how many of the men that who were sent on the this rescue mission I survived how many of them were wounded or killed I assured yeah great question sir thank you for your service you look like you could jump out of an airplane tomorrow well I I called this hairbrained than it was harebrained Patton had intelligence that Colonel Walters was in fact in hama burg and it was accurate intelligence as it turned out and he decided he was very attached to his son-in-law this is the husband of his only daughter B and without really telling anybody that this

is the ulterior motive of this mission he sent a force under a wonderfully courageous major named Abraham Baum who had been a costume designer in a in a pattern cutter in Manhattan before the war and bomb that was a small force 100 and 200 men something like that I can’t remember the exact number and a few tanks and a few armored personnel carriers and some some some jeeps and their to go 4550 miles behind the lines this is in March of 1945 bomb doesn’t know when he when he first setting out that the real purpose is to go find and rescue Colonel waters he just thinks it’s a raid on a prison camp where there are known to be a number of American prisoners it goes badly almost from the beginning partly because the Germans are alert they recognize immediately when this small column begins threading its way through the hills in this part of Germany that there’s trouble coming and but they get there remarkably and there’s a shootout at the prison compound they’re not only way more Americans there than major bomb realizes they’re about at 1,100 American prisoners he thought it was just going to be a few hundred but there are thousands and thousands of other Allied prisoners mostly Yugoslavs some of whom have been in captivity for years and years and they’re behind schedule and there’s a firefight and Colonel Waters is sent out with a white flag to try to surrender the camp on behalf of the German commander and he’s walking he’s looking for whoever’s in charge of this this onslaught this cavalcade and there’s a German sniper behind a fence and he shoots him and he’s shot in the hip and it comes out as Cossacks he’s very severely wounded a Yugoslavia saves his life none of a bombs soldiers survived in the sense of of you know getting back to report yes sir we got our man there’s 20% of them are killed or severely wounded all the rest of them are captured there are a few they get to the camp and and bomb gets on a Jeep and he says I can’t take all 1100 of you I got room for a few score as it turned out the rest of you will have to walk and when I left the American lines were that way and it’s about 40 miles many of them started walking they didn’t get very far most of them within a day turned around came back they’re back in prison again essentially Baum had a last stand with his little cavalcade what was left and by that point they’d lost many of the tanks and other vehicles that they had a last stand on a hill not very far from hama berg bomb was shot in the thigh he’d been wounded earlier and captured and so none of them succeeded there were a few men who got away being hunted by germans all over this part of germany when eventually several days later stumbled back into the American lines but very few it was a fiasco from the get-go Patton denied he lied about the purposes of this but you can read the letters that he was writing to his wife Beatrice and it’s quite evident this is what he was up to last question right over here I don’t want to paraphrase quickly Victor Davis Hanson who is a Greek scholar and he stated that a population will support a war as long as they believe it can be won now when these people are getting 400,000 letters of killed soldiers and God knows how many wounded what did the government do to keep the population to support the war other than provide jobs which nobody had during the Depression yeah that’s a that’s a very good and interesting question but I don’t think it’s what the government did per se it’s what we didn’t natively as a republic really the government as we’ve seen in Vietnam and other places the government can tell you the sky is blue all at once – unless you believe the sky is blue you’re not going there so I you know Roosevelt certainly was very adept as national leaders must be at harnessing

the National will and of keeping our eye on the ultimate which is to defeat the Axis powers and bring the war to an end and as you know if you’ve spent any time in this museum there was a sense of national purpose sense of national unity a sense of national pride in what we were doing together and a collective conviction that what we were doing was worth those four hundred thousand lives and maybe many more if necessary that in fact it was an existential struggle that the very existence of the country and all the things that we hold dear are at stake and I think when you’re fighting an existential struggle and you believe that and it is part of the government’s role in the president’s role to convey that and to persuade you that in fact this is an existential struggle then it becomes not easier that’s not the right word but somehow bearable to handle those deaths those Western Union boys coming up the street on their bicycles and mothers looking out the window hoping hoping hoping he doesn’t stop at their front door but if you believe that this four hundred thousand dead are dead for a reason and who can doubt it then I think that allows you to say okay we can that we can do this we must do this it’s a great question thank you all so very much thank you well at this museum we pride ourselves through our exhibits or histories our Diaries our letters exhibits to bring history to life the history of World War two the whole social and military fabric of that war but tonight Rick Atkinson has brought this to life this history of World War two through his words and his eloquence and his research and enlivened all of your lives in your minds and so thank you very very much Rick and let me say that again that you’re gonna see Rick again in our conference in November 2013 the international conference on world war ii which is an ongoing series as long as we’re 70 years away from the end of the war we’ve got a few more years ago this will be 1943 a victory in the balance which shows the struggle in Europe and the Pacific in the home front in the middle of year of the war he’s also going to be a feature destroyed during the museum’s 2014 cruise for the 70th anniversary of d-day a year from this June so we can provide you information if you haven’t signed up yet it’s already half sold out so you should make your reservations soon on how to join that Cruise together with Don Miller and Tom Brokaw and others that you know it’s going to be an extraordinary time to be in Europe for that event and speaking of events we have one more event here coming up soon for all of you to know about on May 30th featuring the author Robert Edsel whose book the monuments men some of you may be familiar with and that’s currently now being made into a movie by George Clooney who is both producing directing and acting in it and they’re shooting it as we speak in Berlin and he’s going to be speaking about his sequel to the monuments men called saving Italy which is about the efforts of to save Italian art from the Nazis and it’s getting rave reviews if you’ve been keeping up with USA Today in The Wall Street Journal so now without further ado I do know that Ric has been doing wrist exercises so get ready for all the book signings knit today and on his tour and so I want to welcome you all to buy one two three or four books to give away to your friends guns at last light and he’s already pre signed a great number of books but if you and they’re available for purchase but he’s glad to stick around for those of you would like to meet with him for a little while but let me thank him again one more time and have everybody give him a great round of applause for what has been an amazing amazing inject so thank you and we’re

gonna stand up right here and sort of like the Pope’s altar it’s going to take us down and set him up but and those of you want to get a son book don’t be afraid we’re not going to take it’s not like Broadway we’re not going to disappear you’re right but but we are going down and to make it easy for you all to to come up here so thank you again and we’ll see you as soon as we hit the floor