Friday, December 4, 2009

Road to Victory by David P. Colley

"The Red Ball Express? Yeah, I knew those guys." —Cortland Hopkins, my grandpa

Before I started researching my grandfather's outfit, I had assumed that I would easily find a book about Army Port Companies like his. Judging by the round-the-clock coverage The History Channel gave to WWII and the full military history shelf at the bookstore, I was left with the impression that this subject was just overflowing with books about every aspect of the war. I was wrong. History books for a general audience seem to stick to D-Day, tanks, and paratroopers, while scholarly publications focus on the war's relation to narrow anthropological interests like gender studies, immigration, the arts, etc. So basically, there is a wide open space for straight history books on non-combat units. During the war there were four support troops for every one fighting soldier in the front lines. These guys had fascinating and life-changing experiences, but they don't get into books. Understandably, combat is the hot topic with readers.

Consequently, I was very happy to find David Colley's book. Road to Victory is an excellent reference for the movement of supplies between the Normandy beaches and the front lines. It's absolutely perfect for my research because the units dealt in the text came in on the same beach as my grandfather, and continued to work in that area. Port Companies like my grandfather's unit moved the supplies off the ships, on to the beaches, and the Quartermaster Truck Companies in Road to Victory picked it up and drove it to the front lines. Colley details the types of supplies, the way it was stored & moved, and the various trucks and equipment used. That's the raw info I needed, but the general reader will enjoy the stories related by the black soldiers who formed the Red Ball Express.

I see one of the reviews on amazon criticizes the author's lack of a continuous narrative. Each chapter is pretty much a self-contained subject, rather than the next step in a story. Yet, this is a style choice and does not detract from the book's worth as a history. Road to Victory is a welcome contribution to a historic subject top-heavy with combat.

Check out the author's website.

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