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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bolt Action - Review: The Bazooka

I recently had the chance to read "The Bazooka", by Gordon L. Rottman; published by Osprey Publishing. 

"The Bazooka", published by Osprey Publishing. Coincidentally, tiny bazookas have blown up a lot of tiny tanks on that table.

Mr. Rottman provides the best reason to read the book in his conclusion:

"When asked to name the four things that helped most to win World War II, Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "The bazooka, the jeep, the atom bomb, and the C-47 Gooney Bird."" (Rottman, p.77)
"The Bazooka" is an eighty page gem of a book, following in the tradition of many informative Osprey titles. The author is, of course, Gordon L. Rottman, and the credited illustrators are Johnny Shumate (battle scene artwork) and Allan Gilliland (cutaway illustrations). The book itself is soft cover with a protective coating, and its physical qualities are consistent with the high production levels we've come to expect from Osprey.

It would be enough to say that this book provides an in-depth explanation of the development, science, and engineering behind both the bazooka and the shaped charges it employed. For many readers, that raw information alone is exactly what they're looking for in a book about the bazooka. This book provides that sort of information in spades; but what separates it from a pure data stream are the outstanding anecdotes it also offers.
An example of the wealth of information even the illustrations provide. I didn't even know they had batteries back then. I thought the electric firing system was triggered by a soldier that had been rubbing his socked feet on carpet excessively.
On page 42, the author provides us with the following:

"One example of the use of the M1A1 bazooka was in May 1944 near Canaro, Italy. Tech Sgt Van Barfoot, a platoon sergeant in the 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division, found his platoon bogged down in an assault against a well-dug-in enemy on high ground. Barfoot struck off alone and attacked a machine-gun emplacement with a hand grenade, killing two  Germans and wounding three. Working his way to another machine-gun nest, he Tommy-gunned two enemy and captured three. Seeing this performance, another machine-gun crew surrendered without resistance. Leaving the prisoners for one of his following squads, he rounded up more prisoners, totaling 17. After reorganizing his platoon and consolidating the ground he gained, he prepared for a counterattack. This arrived in the form of three PzKpfw V Panther tanks. Arming himself with an M1A1 bazooka and completely exposing himself ahead of the rolling tanks, Barfoot knocked the track off the lead tank at 75yd. The other two withdrew to the flank to avoid him and with his Thompson he killed three crewmen abandoning the disabled tank."
"Hey, Joe, bring up another six bazookas. They're awesome," is probably not what's being said by the subjects of this beautiful artwork; but it's what I would have said.
It's these accounts that make this publication a book to read, instead of merely a technical manual to consult. I found the author's style to be engaging even in the "dry" sections of the book that delve heavily into the informative side of the bazooka's story. Here's an example:

"There were complaints of 2.36in and sometimes 3.5in rockets bouncing off enemy tanks and they were accused of not being able to penetrate the armor. That had nothing to do with the ability of the round to penetrate or the thickness of the armor - it was because the warhead struck at such a steep angle that the shaped charge failed to detonate and the projectile glanced off." (Rottman, p.36)

I'm the first to admit that my interest in the subject matter leans heavily towards the war stories themselves. I'm a gamer, man! The only statistics I want to know is the side armor value of your tank, so I can blow it up! So usually, technical information puts me to sleep. However, I found Rottman engaging even when describing such details.

Additionally, I can't say enough positive about the graphic design of this book. Nearly every page includes an image of some sort - and those images include the fantastic art shown above as well as photographs taken during the war.
"Seriously, sir. Just look down this tube for a second." Oh, how those enlisted guys love to "punk" their officers! Boom! Hilarious!
If you have any interest in learning more about the bazooka, or you enjoy seeing historical images and reading war stories (where the bazooka was employed, in this case), you need to read this book. It may not contain new revelations for someone that's already studied the bazooka, but for the rest of us, it's an enjoyable and informative read. 

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