These are books written by veterans and historians about specific Airborne divisions, or smaller units. Most have photo sections in them and provide an insight into how the first paratroops were created and how they fought in WWII.

Band of Brothers
The book on which the HBO TV series was based. Stephen Ambrose follows the 506th PIR, 2nd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division from its formation at Camp Toccoa through Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Germany. A great book full with interesting facts for the collector, but also with a lot of human interest.
Shifty’s War
Sergeant “Shifty” Darrell Powers was part of the same unit of the famous HBO TV-series. He was the sharpshooter and not one of the main characters. I borrowed this book from the local library, and I warmly recommend this to all Band of Brothers and WW2 paratroopers enthusiasts. What’s special is that it’s written in the first person, so like an auto biography. Especially the part covering the Battle of the Bulge and his post-war biography are very gripping. Getting back to civilian life, the bond between veterans, and getting old, are aspects usually left out of other unit histories and are kept brief in most biographies.

One small, but interesting piece of information to remember from this book: according to Shifty Powers, neither he nor any of the sharpshooters in the 506th used a rifle with a telescopic sight, as did the paratrooper sniper in Saving Private Ryan.

Combat Jump
This is one of the few books about the airborne landing on Sicily by the 82nd Airborne in July 1943, almost a year before the Normandy jump. The operation proved to be a disaster and Eisenhower almost decided not to have any further airborne landings. But fortunately it was decided to learn from it, and come back stronger.
Four Stars of Valor
Here we follow the 505th PIR of the 82nd Airborne division throughout the war. Paratroopers were allowed to add one star on their jump wings for each combat jump. Many man of the 505th had four stars: Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Holland. This was unequalled by other units.
Road to Arnhem
Burgett is my favorite author when it comes to Airborne unit histories. This is also one of the few good books that describes the Market Garden operation from the American paratroopers’ point of view. He is specific about the preparations and the initial landings and devotes a good part of the book to the drawn out weeks after the jump, roaming through the Dutch countryside while continously under German counterattack. It’s so captivating because Donald Burgett was there himself.
Hell’s Highway
This book is also about Operation Market Garden, and also written by a veteran who was there, but it’s made up of testimonials from different paratroopers. This makes it a little hard to read because the timeline is not always followed and the same ground is covered several times.
Operation Market Garden
Not a unit history but a guide book. It comes with a good map of the area indicating all major points of interest. A good companion to your battlefield trip to Holland.
Seven Roads to Hell
I find this to be Burgett’s best book, but I haven’t read all of them yet. The Battle of the Bulge was gruelling. Reading it from his first hand account, you really get the shivers of the harsh winter conditions without the proper cold weather uniforms, and the confusion and disorientation that could result from fighting in a surrounded and snowed-in area.
War Stories
The only book I have found so far about the 17th Airborne. It is also made up of accounts of different paratroopers, which makes it a bit hard to digest, because you get the feeling you are reading the same story ten times. Nevertheless, it is interesting and I learned a lot about Operation Varsity from the perspective of the gliders. It serves to show how brave these glidermen must have been. I was a bit disappointed not to find any accounts of pathfinders in it, because I am trying to learn more about this aspect of Operation Varsity.
Beyond the Rhine
The third one by Don Burgett I have read. The title is somewhat misleading because the 101st Airborne did not participate in Operation Varsity, but it describes the period after “Seven Roads to Hell” when the 101st went into Germany by way of France, in their drive to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.


Unit histories — 1 Comment

  1. Another interesting title dealing with the 17th Airborne is The Sky Men: A Parachute Rifle Company’s Story of the Battle of the Bulge and the Jump Across the Rhine by Kirk B. Ross..
    This book is focused on F Co 513th PIR so no coverage of pathfinders in Operation Varsity unfortunately. I highly recommend it as a small unit history however.

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