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tv   James Fenelon Four Hours of Fury  CSPAN  August 8, 2019 11:50pm-12:50am EDT

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in the four hours of fury she recounts the largest airborne operation than 17,000 allied. troopers were dropped behind enemy lines. we have over 300 events like
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this every year so keep an eye on the website with templates around the store and for something you might want to come to. a couple of rules before we start, if you haven't gotten the book already don't worry there's still time. this copy is downstairs and after this we will be signing right here and have a little system i will explain afterwards. please be sure to silence your phone and if you plan on taking pictures just turn off your flash. today we are simply happy to have the author of four hours of fury. he served over a decade as the pathfinder schools and is a regular contributor to the world war ii magazine and a graduate and local author. the knowledge of military makes himself after for videogames and consulting for documentaries and other programs and without further ado. [applause]
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thank you everybody for coming out tonight. i greatly appreciate it. thank you for the warm introduction and hospitality and opportunity to talk about my book. it is my first book and coincidentally this is my first book event. [laughter] it is an honor to do that here at the people. usually i'm sitting on that side othe sideof the podium so tonigl see how it goes from this side. i'm going to talk a little bit tonight about the journey of writing the book and give you some context to the events that unfolded within it. the primary focus of the book is march 24, 1945 which was the
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date of the allies crossed over to the northern sector specifically when the operation took place. it was an operation i learned about for the first time in 1988 as an 18-year-old private going through school at ft. benning fg georgia and i had the weekend off. being a team there wasn't much to do so i went to the proposed museum which was pretty small at the time, but there was a plaque at the bottom is a lis the liste airborne operations in europe in world war ii and at the very bottobottom it simply said privn of jump across the rhine. at the time i had naïvely thought i learned everything you needed to know from my high school history class and i hadn't heard of this operation. i was disappointed in my teacher and in my education. [laughter] for more information about the
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japanese. it was easy to remember and a name that stuck with me over the years i continue to look for more information about it. as an avid reader i would seek out really couldn't find anything. i did find the official history of the final phase of the war dedicated to th the four and a f pages of the varsity. fast forward and asked her to read -- and i start to read and continue to investigate operation varsity which i couldn't find much about. i identified a gap in the
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history of the american experience in world war ii and i decided to fill the void by writing a book and at that point it was very academic focused. there was a chronological sequence of events that the allies approached the debates taking place with the allied commanders and juxtaposition to that with what was happening to the german. it wasn't until i started interviewing world war ii veterans that i understood that i was missing the vast majority of the story. and it was one of their reunions at the time they would have annual reunions and pick a city, h-hotelhotel, block off a serief rooms and become a destination event for a long time for them and their families they would arrive at the event to commemorate if the previous service, memorialize those that didn't make it through the war.
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and it was at one of these in san antonio where i was walking down the hallway in the evening and coming towards me with a group of six veterans pushing one of these large luggage racks but instead of luggage that was in unconscious 86-year-old veteran. [laughter] i ran over thinking this was a medical emergency and maybe there was hope that was needed and they assured me everything was under control. he was just drunk and passed out. [laughter] certainly i offered my hel helpd we continued to push him down the hallway where he revealed that the group rather revealed that their plan was to leave him out front of his hotel room door and not get caught by his wife because they didn't want to be ththe colt cool prints that had.
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the plan unfolded perfectly. they were down the hall. i made a way for them before the door was open, go to the end of the holethe hole, got high fived pats on the backs and invalidedo join them back at the bar. [laughter] they were not done. so it was sitting at the table with these guys i realized when they got together every year and started drinking and reminiscing and telling their stories that they went back in time.
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that changed the entire narrative structure of my book so i started realizing to experience world war ii, the. it's one of the most documented important events of the 20th century and it's easy to look back and think that there was a foregone conclusion that good was going to try and avert evil into the allies were going to win. citing the statistics that tell us the third reich was never going to be able to manufacture enough guns, aircraft or tanks to actually win the war and therefore they embarrassed it a chance.
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they often have no idea what the scope of the operation is and what their contribution meant to the overall scope of the war. they certainly didn't know they were going to live for the day. i started breaking down wha dowl echelons of knowledge and looking at how i could tell and goegoes in to senior command. it starts with understanding the allied commanders and i'm talking about those like dwight eisenhower, patton who have a solid grasp and understanding.
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i'm talking about the 17th airborne division. these guys join the army because they've volunteered. before being deployed over to europe they were commanded by a guy by the name of william by only he was an instrumental commander with the formation of the airborne forces. he was overshadowed by several other commanders and generals for the 82nd or 101st and the divisions certainly deserve the time in the sun. but, graduating from west point right after world war i.
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he spent his first 15 years of his career at the entry level rank of lieutenant. so it was virtually if somebody died his house while th the army was at that time, but he took it to good use and spent a lot of time being about to become educated through school and improving the war o fighting knowledge and skills and have placed him well when they started to expand in the late 30s. he was really instrumental in raising the unit with a certain core and traditions that are still recognized.
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to design special insignia for them to wear that were unique at the time and a different hat. so they got a very different figure on the post and other soldiers and then he went about making sure that they were going to be fighters. he knew that this was a new type of warfare the pandemonium of an airborne operations for they were very fond of giving the infamous fight talks. every friday all soldiers want to get off base and enjoy time away. friday afternoons before everybody was released for the
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past he would give a talk and talk them i would rather you come back sunday night, black and blue with your uniform torn van one more. for the military policemen and other soldiers if they ran out of those, they would find themselves. so, they became very scrappy. this was something that as my only advanced in rank to suggestive become a two star general. his units were known as being ill disciplined into getting into fights when they go to england after a particularly vicious knife figh fight they we forbidden from coming into london for two weeks.
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so, they lived up to that reputation. >> but for us to understand what the minute the 17th airborne division went through, i want to give you kind of an oversupply to view. they started to advance these pushing them back with the british and canadians on the northern left flank of the advanced and american forces on the southern. and they began a series of campaigns. when the germans launched a counterattack out of the forest, difficulty allies by surprise, and it was done 17th airborne
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division was brought in as a part of that effort. iother than to visit the 17th 17th airborne was sent. they trained to go into combat and instead, they jumped out of the back of trucks into knee-deep snow and started pushing their way forward. by the time they got there it was not very first. it started jumping off before they were even moving forward cohesively. and they were met with a devastating attack from german.
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we were learning on-the-fly if you will in this devastating environment. the one exception to the combat division of was commanded by the kernel of the name edison and he was a very divisive character. there was no in between. the nickname they had for him as
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little caesar and that was based on his hype or lack thereof in his way of getting command and leaving. he didn't drink or smoke or gamble. he loved physical fitness and would love to run every morning and make sure that his men did the same. they were veterans of normandy at the time when he took command and thought that they earned the right to, you know, essentially slack off for the lack of a better word and in the basic marksmanship was a member of men in his unit. he loved to jump into north africa in 1942 and fought in north africa and france so he knew what he was talking about and he didn't care or apologize for the way that he led his troops.
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having gone through the battle of the bulge in the operation varsity. i will talk about that going forward. the division is now separate 4,000 casualties this is after a month and a half of fighting withdrawn so they could recuperate and refit and this is where another one of those echelons of knowledge comes into play from the narrative because the decision t division to get t ready and combat strength needed to replace the 4,000 casualties and those 4,000 casualties, i'm sorry the 4,000 replacements largely came in the form of trust troops arriving from the united states here they are,
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they roll in and are joining units that have been together since 1943. they've known each other for several years and have just gotten out of some of the most intense ground combat in world war ii and so they show up and are trying to integrate themselves in the unit. the veterans are being very standoffish and it becomes clear very quickly that they are going to have to be integrated into trained. it was largely conducted by surgeons and platoon commanders who would set up the exercises and learned their craft from the veterans. one of the guys that was
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responsible when to buy the name of sergeant john chester who became fortunate to form a friendship before he passed away after 24-years-old and from misery he was a veteran of the battle of the bulge and was in a parachute artillery unit so they would jump out of the airplane with their artillery piece, disassembled pieces, reassemble it on the ground and act as artillery. i'm going to read a very brief passage to introduce you to john chester and give you an idea about his background and the way that he viewed the world. this takes place after they were pulled out of the battle of the bulge and they made their way back to these camps in france and he's just arrived. after a long journey he hopped from the back of the truck into a field of mud at a tampa still under construction.
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he squinted for a few seconds deciding the quagmire and camps condition didn't matter. it was unquestionably superior. he first attempted to join the army in 1938 on his 18th birthday but his father refused to sign the enlistment papers. he'd been raised on a missouri farm during the depression and his parents encouraged him to embrace a strong work ethic. the blending of circumstance and influence, he learned to accept the unavoidable in order to accomplish the necessary. as a teenager he would rise at 3:00 in the morning to feed animals had hoped his father bail hay. before starting his homework, i'm sorry i read that wrong. as a teenager he rose at 3:00 in the morning to feed the animals and told his father bail hay before starting his homework. with more chores and a baby and there were hours he often tackled them amazing pragmatic
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way for example when picking up cool in the winter months he found it more efficient to spend the night in the family truck parked outside of the gate so he could be first in line rather than waste time waiting behind other customers in the morning. the milky broth with him for work this auction proces functie treated it like a snow cone and ate it without complaint. by making personal comfort a low priority is often able to be in the right place at the right and hendhe just thought it was commn sense, a quality that would serve him well in combat. the ring of the battalion were filled by over 500 men of such varying occupations as professional boxer, fishermen and university instructor. he watches the survivors as the uniforms were slick. these are the circumstances when they came back and slowly
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started the process of integrating. i want to talk about the greatest generation we hear that name mentioned a lot and at 24 he was considered an old man in his unit. the company commander was 32. the division commander was 48. dwight eisenhower was 54 and george marshall chief of staff u.s. army bacu.s. army back in , d.c. with 64. another such leader was lieutenant frank dillon.
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what made the story of interest to see the platoon leader in the infantry and they were made up of paratroopers into those the road into combat in aluminum framed writers covered in canv canvas. frank dillon has platoon went into the battle of the bulge with 30 guys and came out with eight. he also had the challenge of the morale of the glider so they volunteer to go through hell to make it through that process and the infantry were assigned.
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you don't have any special insignia. the pilots would call it a controlled crash and burn up landing on an airfield within enemy territory where the best opportunity you can land is where you land. so that was an ongoing challenge of keeping these guys motivated, they refer to the gliders as flying coffins and s in so doind do his best to get them a few glider rides before they went into combat and he trained his platoon and so one of the things he did was to simulate the landings and they drive across the field to simulate the landing and they had to jump off the truck.
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one of the things they figured out quickly is the intensity of the airborne training is that there's a mission burning they knew they were doing this for some reason but of course they didn't know why and at this point, the commander of the division did know what his unit was being slated for. their job and life they start making up their own answers.
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some of the more savvy guys figured out they would more likely jump on the other side and most of them thought that they would do that as part of the path and. what they all didn't know if they were going to land in germany. they have taken place in france and holland this started rumors were there any pitchforks we were going to be shot by farmers with their shotgun. combined with rumors about nerve gas they are patrolling around
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the camps to make sure no one authorized personnel got a and more importantly speaking out to find drinks. of course during this time when they are in their camps refitting the allied armies are continuing to push their way forward into germany. it is about this time in mid-march but can't give or take they arrived on it was here that
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the men of the second airborne division learned what their role would be in crossing and as mentioned british and canadians on the shoulder of the americans for a variety of reasons. they would start off with five positions across on the 30-mile wide fund behind the five divisions going back over my 1.2 million soldiers waiting to surge into germany.
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directly across from the montgomery sector, there were several divisions of german troops commanded by a channel. he was an artillery men of the first world war and joined the german airborne troops in the
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1940s and was instrumental. he spent his time studying his enemy. it was a question of when and specifically where, but even then to a traine they trained sr looking at the terrain they had indicators that helped him understand what was happening.
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they were flying over the airfield in france and they are now bulging with transport and gliders. so it was at this point around march 18 the allies actually intercepted communications from the germans have confirmed the operation sparsity was gone. they have concluded to a certain degree when and where it was going to take place. they had thre have three days ty the terrain and prepare for the mission but they're looking at
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intelligence backs and looking at aerial reconnaissance photos. more trenches had been dug. they were able to deliver very quickly the element of the surprise had been lost in a the night of march 23 the night before, they are lying around cleaning their rifles listening to the radio when the radio show is interruptewas interrupted win propaganda broadcast. so think about that for a second as a 19-year-old paratrooper
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playing in your cost realizing you're going to go into combat tomorrow and the enemy is fully expected and ready. they knew that probably wasn't going to happen and in the morning when they woke up, all doubts were dashed when they got breakfast and they had fresh eggs and steak. what you may not notice most of them have not had fresh eggs in years. they had instant eggs from the e army said they immediately knew if they are giving us fresh eggs and steak, and ice cream also, that things this was the last supper.
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they came together and made their way towards the river. it consisted of about 1600 transport aircraft, 1300 gliders escorted by about five. they were rigged to drop supplies to the airborne troops and it was important because they are getting across the rhine ran into trouble or didn't stick to their time schedule, the supplies dropped were going to be necessary and they were made up of things like more ammunition, medical supplies, radio equipment and things of that nature. and it was so vast that it took over three hours for it to pass a single point on the ground so
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again, if we put ourselves in this situation to kind of see this unfolding, you are literally standing there for three hours watching the aircraft come over, and i'm not talking about one at a time, and talking about echelon in the formation going overhead to bring these troops into germany. the planes in the front containecontained the paratroops crammed in the back of the plane, the windows are about this big. it's too tight with the equipment on the turnaround and so the first indication that they had that they were getting close with the definitions and the sounds of the antiaircraft t outside of the plane. if one exploded close enough, the shrapnel hitting the outside of the aircraft sounded like gravel hitting a tin roof and john chester's plane they stood up to hook up their lines so they would be ready to jump in
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the event the plane got hit and came to the floor of the plane and exploded inside of the aircraft, shredding the guys legs that were right behind them is that they had to disconnect the parachute and move him out of the way to not impede traffic as those that were going to be flooding out of the plane onto the green light came on over germany. the planes came i in and they started getting hit by the aircraft fire. the first one in, standing in the door was our friend who was leading his men into combat jumping first based on his previous record we have to think part of the reason he was doing it is fo just for bragging right he added to his resume that they the planes behind him were shot down and another aircraft coming in, 26 were witness to be on fire and several pulling the
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gliders and over the drop zone were hit and they had to cut loose early before being pulled into the ground by the plane. and then following that, 19 of those were shot down in just a few minutes with the loss of life of 109 casualties. this was all the commute for the airborne troops. this was then getting to work becausbecause their child didn't until they hit the ground. and that is when they then needed to assemble and begin their operations to fan out and seize their objectives. so he found himself on the ground with about a battalion of his troops a mile off target and the rest of his entire regimen dropped on the correct drop zone but again because of debri the y that he approached, he had made his men jump with as much combat equipment as they could carry to include radios, which again was
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a despised habit of his by his band because their radios in world war ii were large and bulky and heavy and you could easily injure your soft landing on one of them, but because of this he was able to get on the radio, coordinate the unit and improvise a new attack planned and get them moving off the drop zone they are in incentives. he had a similar mishap, where again as i mentioned he was in the artillery and the plan is that it was supposed to drop first if they would land for fire support. those that were in front of him, the plane planes veered off ando when he arrived on the ground, his unit was all alone and they ended up fighting his infantry for the first several hours on the groun ground endeavors to dd themselves and to push the germans back before they could get to the artillery pieces that needed to be assembled. frank's bill in came screaming and, had both of its wings knocked off and hit trees on its
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way in. they started jumping out of the glider before it came to a full start. this is where they're training came into play and the assembly drills that they had run served them well. his platoon quickly formed and moved out working its way to the bridges they were supposed to seize over the canal in mind and this was critical to the perimeter that i mentioned to prevent the thing that the germans from making their way into the perimeter. .. >> casualties of 1000 guys who died that day.
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and that really is the story behind of what i wanted to tell about my book. not numbers but the guys on who jumped in it is time their story is told to go thank you for coming out. i appreciate it. [applause] >> you did your account as the battle of the bulge being the biggest influence of the airborne. and i have not read your book yet, but i will. how much would you say montgomery has learned from
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the things that went wrong they are realize they went wrong for the british but the americans had trouble as well. >> that's a great question. so operation market garden that was the largest before this one that ended in tragedy for the british as they tried to cross the rhine. so as i mentioned montgomery was not well-liked by the americans who felt he had abandoned the airborne troops so a lot of the planning and arguing back and forth talks about how the americans basically did not mitigate any of montgomery's faulty planning so those that were coming in with supplies that
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was set up because if montgomery stick to the timetable they didn't want them hanging out there by themselves. so they made sure they dropped close enough for several thousand long-range artillery pieces in the troops drop within that range to support the artillery and not abandoning of the force that happened in the first attempt. >> talk how the glider pilots are trained because it seems it was a dispensable one-time use for the aircraft and how were they trained? in the us or mainland europe? >> the glider was the predecessor to the helicopter to bring in heavier equipment and the artillery piece that
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the glider pilots run a one-way trip going into the battlefield so they were trained in the united states it was an interesting recruiting problem because a lot of the glider pilots were older than the average pilot because they were too old for the window for the fighter or bomber pilots some had aviation training they said you could push a mop or fly glider and once they got to europe they started to do more ground training but they also
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needed to know how to maneuver on the ground as soon as things calm down they would do that as much is possible it was an important skill to have so the idea is you could survive for the first 24 hours. >> what were your best sources? what did you do if there was a gap? >> if i take a particular section from the ground combat piece what i did to help me is i went and found all the original maps so i could take the details and plot them directly onto. maps so to understand what is
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happening and then i went to germany to walk the same terrain and then to understand i can plot within a certain degree of accuracy so that was an important component to know what each person was going through that was one aspect and then to look at their experience like the camps or the airfields there were a number of embedded reporters going with them so we got a real flavor for the camps in those pictures and i was able to borrow imagery from that. >> was a hard to find those people?
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>> i did i met a gentleman who was 80 years old and i got his first-hand account and also at that point he designated himself as a global area historian so i spent two days with him traveling around the battlefield he also gave me a copy of what he conducted a lot of stories of those german civilians waiting on their farms come from that source and then the american archives a very rich interrogation report history to get input from the german military perspective. >> talk about the market
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garden forces talk about the bridge too far campaign not very successful in before that you mentioned of course the germans had their bloodbath that crete so we need to cross the rhine but a lot of things went wrong and then also the helicopters that we were talking about the first air cab in vietnam. is there any real future for the concept? or is it for special operations only? the answer is yes. [laughter]
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we have troops on mass in iraq so we continue to use that technique there'll always be a role on the battlefield for aggressive infantry. >> can you contrast the airborne training and compare that with your own? >> interesting question comparing my training experience with fort benning. i think depending on what timeframe they change the curriculum over time at one point not only jumping and included packing your own parachute for a demolition school afterwards. when i went to jump school you do not pack your own shoot
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that was a perishable skill that was better to have experts do that so we didn't have to do it yourself. [laughter] that was good but as far as the actual trading there is a 34-foot tower that you 3250-foot tires on - - towers those are still in use today they were installed 1940 they were purchased from an amusement park so that mechanism to jump out of a plane and the training that goes on at fort benning has a lot in common with world war ii and a lot of world war ii vets would recognize that. they probably ran a lot more than we did.
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>> the germans were the first to utilize so was it difficult for the americans to get those divisions organize store a true believer without resistance from the higher up? >> that's an interesting question how did the forces come to be? the allies saw crete in that invasion as a success but they didn't realize the casualties that occurred was heavily decimated to the point hitler decided he would never use the troops in that role again.
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so they just saw a successful airborne operation that charged winston churchill in particular with that effort and frankly there was a lot of debate in the army to the proper role of paratroopers was it a small combat team frankly they didn't have enough aircraft to transport a full division so not until 1943 or 44 that they settled the matter by having a very large exercise in the united states and tennessee where it was validated they could deploy a full position successfully and that set the motion forward at the division
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level. >> are there any stories that are poignant for the troop or the civilian side? >> on the military side, one of the stories was the story how his family emigrated to the united states when he was six years old he volunteered for the navy speaking it at home was recruited by the oss office of strategic services and took everything in such stride he did not care. he would do what he needed to do so his assignment was to
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land in germany and dress as a german the idea was he and his partner would take advantage of the chaos and make their way out of the drop zone to start to radio back the advance positions and they all knew that they got caught they would be executed they also knew there was a pretty good chance it would be shot by their own diet they were trying to get away. he took the assignment in stride coming from the civilian side just the tragedy you have a number of cases trying to make a living on the farm land and then wake up one morning and all hell broke loose in the front yard and
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with those casualties that occurred because of that the people that maintain their position with the german supplies and equipment? or do they have enough numbers to maintain? >> as one of the reasons diversity operation is the misconception of the end of the war. in germany was struggling for gas and ammunition but they fell further back into germany to reduce their supply to the famous story of the autobahn because of allied air supremacy in the myth of the
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germans going quietly the last four months of the war the americans lost almost 11000 soldiers killed in action at the same amount of troops killed 1944. didn't just peter out when people ask was that necessary it's important to remember the germans would not give up the only way for the third reich was to take the war all the way. >> pardon me for not having read your book yet but it hasn't gotten attention some of the others did even crossing the rhine was critical do you think the glory has been largely heaped
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on the bridge? >> interesting question. taking the bridge was important but during my research some would argue we already crossed the rhine why drafted crossett at the north with montgomery? that's where you have to state - - take a step back for those overall strategies because while it was cross the rhine river it was conducive to a breakout they always plast to one - - plan to cross further north where the train was open to use their mobile warfare to circle the valley which is the industrial area and even the u-boats so it was helpful to
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varsity because there were reinforcements down to stem the tide. [applause] thank you again
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