Reference, Osprey Elite 158, African American Troops in World War II
December 21 2007 at 10:23 PM
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Elite 158, African American Troops in World War II. By Alexander Bielakowski, with illustrations by Raffale Ruggeri. Soft cover, 7.25 x 9.75-inches, 64 pages. Contains 47 B&W photos, eight pages of color art, index and bibliography. ISBN 978-1-84603-072-7. Price: $17.95 USD.
During the Second World War, and for decades afterwards, the contributions to victory made by American warriors of African descent were largely ignored by historians, the media and the public in general. As time passed and American society’s views regarding race relations began to change, the stories of these men and women began to emerge. While there is still much to be done to redress this imbalance, this recent Osprey title is an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with the subject.
The text describes how all of the United State’s armed services (Army, Army Air Corps/Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) as well as the Merchant Marine coped to a greater or lesser degree with the changes, often, but not always, in a negative manner. Amongst all of the travails over 700,000 African-Americans underwent, there were a few bright spots. And for the most part, the author gets them right.
But, having been honored to have personally met many of these Americans while a curator at NYC’s USS Intrepid Museum, I noted a few factual mistakes as well as a curious lack of some very pertinent details, especially when referring to one Alonzo Swann, who was an Intrepid crewmember. While the author notes that Mr. Swann was recommended for the Navy Cross (endorsed by the ship’s captain) for gallantry while serving on the “Fighting I”, he fails to mention that it took him about 50 years to receive it!!! He also erroneously states Mr. Swann manned a 40mm gun; he and his fellow Steward’s Mates manned Gun Tub Number 10, which was equipped with 20mm Oerlikons. They all volunteered for training, in addition to their kitchen duties, and when a Kamikaze headed for their ship, they stayed at their posts, being hit by the Zeke’s wing; many were horribly burned and some died. None of this is mentioned, which, as I said, is truly a puzzle.
Furthermore, in some cases the author dwells too much on the negative at the expense of providing the readers with some truly inspiring (and ironic!) stories.
Some other errors of fact are the notion that baseball legend Jackie Robinson (a US Army lieutenant) joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1947. As anyone who has the least interest in the game should know, when Robinson joined “Dem Bums”, they still resided in my home-borough, Brooklyn, NY. Another glitch is the author’s description of the USMC’s “undress-blue” uniform. He states that the dress blues simply had a different belt substituted, when in fact, the jacket was not worn and a khaki shirt and tie was added to the blue trousers and white cap. On page 19, the photograph depicts an M4 Sherman medium tank, not an M4A3 as stated.
Otherwise, the photos are all well-chosen and fit the subject matter “like a glove”. With the noted exception, they are also well captioned. Reproduction is very good, with most being of a usable size. The eight pages of color art cover all the armed services but not the Merchant Marine; several “portraits” of specific individuals, as well as a single woman provide some extra detail, since the commentaries go into the particular individual’s “story” as well as describing the appearance of same.
A lengthy bibliography and an index will help the interested reader study the matter further.
Essentially, this book is a fine primer on the subject, which I wish could have gone into more detail. Unfortunately, the format won’t really permit that. Finally, for figure modelers who truly wish for something unique to accompany a WW2 diorama or vignette, this title will certainly prove to be an inspiration.
Frank V. “Curley Stooge” De Sisto
Osprey books are available from mail order and retail outlets. They can also be acquired direct through their web site at: www.ospreypublishing.com.