Always interested in books about the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, I decided to read 11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944 by Stanley Weintraub. It is an interesting and brief look at the battle from both sides – more from the American than the German.
As the title infers, the book does not cover the entire Bulge campaign, but begins with the offensive on December 16 and ends with the relief of Bastogne on December 26. The book is not a true narrative, but a collection of stories about combat on the frontlines and the chaotic scenes behind the frontlines.
Let me begin with what is good about the book. It tells some interesting stories about the combat troops, celebrities, and commanding generals. For instance, Weintraub explains how Marlene Dietrich entertained the troops despite inhospitable conditions – she had to be deloused and suffered from frostbite several times.
I also like how Weintraub does not hold back his scorn for the American and British combat generals during this huge debacle. For example, he describes the incompetence of General Courtney Hodges, commander of the American First Army. After being totally surprised by the German attack, Hodges was completely befuddled on how to react (he was essentially left out of all war planning to counter the German attack). He also criticizes Eisenhower’s slow reaction to the German attack.
Now the bad. Although the stories are good, the book seems to be a motley collection of those stories. There are bits about Ernest Hemmingway’s actions during the battle and then the hardships of the American prisoners taken in the initial assault. The stories are good, but there does not seem to be any consistency.
Maybe this wasn’t the point of the book, but it is not a true narrative of the battle. There are snippets of the battle – for example the battle for the control of Bastogne, but nothing about the fighting around the other strategic crossroads at St. Vith. Thankfully, I know enough about the battle to understand the context in which the stories take place.
These are my humble and brief thoughts; please let me know what you think of the book.