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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Men of Steel, written by Colonel Bernd Horn. Dundern Press, 2010. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"Time seemed to stand still. The aircraft
was coughing, sputtering, and almost lurching
in the air. Robichaud fought the controls with
all his strength, trying to hold it steady for just
a little longer to ensure that Bill could bail out.
Then, the aircraft suddenly pitched to the
starboard. The wing had finally disintegrated
and the plane began its death spiral."

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944 and, after battling with the Germans, they returned to their base in England in early September. For anyone interested in military history, this book gives life to the invasion through the eyes of the courageous men who fought that tough battle. They had much hardship to face and were adept in their planned landings behind enemy lines and in helping to secure success for the Allied forces.

From the moment they dropped behind those enemy lines, the men experienced the same feelings that other military forces were feeling. They were elated that the mission had begun, apprehensive at their lack of knowledge of the region and frightened by the ferocity of the fighting. The book brings their experiences front and centre through quotations, conversation and the seasoned research of the author. He is a noted military historian and has written numerous books on military affairs. Colonel Horn does not sugar-coat the very real consequences of war. Many of the men who jumped from those planes did not live to tell their tales, or to see their loved ones again.

An epilogue adds information about the batallion upon their return to England, and their subsequent missions. They had much to be proud of as they set sail for Canada in May 1945, and were officially disbanded in September. They had earned a 'proud and remarkable reputation'. That standard of excellence challenged all who followed in their footsteps.  There is an index, a list of websites, and a selected bibliography. The illustrations and photos included add to the immediacy of the story and also provide six sketches by Montreal artist Ted Zuber, himself a paratrooper. A useful and informative map of the Normandy area is included.

Three types of information boxes add interest....DID YOU KNOW?, FROM THE INTELLIGENCE FILES and FROM THE WEAPON LOCKER  are interspersed throughout the text and they provide practical and compelling data. We can only assume the accuracy of the account, given the legitimacy of the author and the rigor with which he tells his story.

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