Days of Infamy: Military Blunders of the 20th Century

Michael Coffey, Author, Mike Wallace, Author, Mike Wallace, Introduction by Hyperion Books $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6556-7
From the chauffeur's wrong turn that helped start WWI to the (unexploded) nuclear bomb that the United States Air Force once dropped over Spain, this engaging set of brief cautionary essays--a companion volume to a History Channel series--presents some important and some amusing errors of wartime (and Cold War-time) judgment and execution. Coffey (The Irish in America), managing editor of PW, covers about two score blunders, in chronological order. The earliest concerns that swerving chauffeur (who accidentally brought Archduke Ferdinand face-to-face with his assassin); the latest is Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. About half the others concern WWII. Lost Luftwaffe pilots in 1940, though instructed to hit only military targets, panicked and let bombs go over London: thus did the blitz unintentionally begin. Later, in the Pacific theater, British ""naval commanders blundered by underestimating air power's threat to major warships,"" and hence lost the Malaya peninsula, Singapore and two important battleships. Coffey's set of snafus and misjudgments extends, quite deliberately, from the nearly comic to the truly awful: some killed a few people and embarrassed top brass, while others (such as the Japanese loss at Midway) arguably changed the course of world events. A few of the errors (e.g., the Battle of Stalingrad) are staples of most textbooks. Others are less familiar, and less horrific than ironic: when the Allies decided to bomb the 1500-year-old Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, they created precisely the shelter for German troops they intended to destroy. (The devout local German commander would not install his troops in an intact monastery, but had no qualms about occupying its ruins.) Like the best general history volumes, Coffey's book, in clean, muscular prose, expertly informs as it artfully entertains. (Aug.) FYI: The History Channel's Great Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century begins its 26-week run in August.
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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