LIBERTY ROADS – Review by Mark Barnes

Warning! Don’t buy this book on the assumption it has lots of fantastic photographs – it has. Don’t buy it on the breezy notion you will get a modicum of information about the Red Ball Express to go with the aforementioned snaps of trucks and maybe the occasional image of African American drivers. They are all here – but this book is way more substantial than that. It is an immense piece of work covering the whole gamut of American military logistics from the heart of the United States to the battlefield via land, sea and air. The author illustrates the colossal juggernaut shifting everything the wartime US Army in Europe needed from homeland to foxhole.

I don’t mind admitting the sheer mass of information in this superb book had a serious go at drowning me from time to time. But I executed my usual plan in these circumstances and read through it in bite-sized chunks and that seems to have done the trick.

Originally in French; it has been translated into English by Lawrence Brown with some care.  I often think I can get by strolling into a café in Calais or wherever ordering steak and chips with a beer; but getting your head round all this technical stuff is way beyond my powers. The text in the book is quite densely presented in a font I didn’t find entirely easy on the eye. But while this slowed me up a tad, the story itself rolls on in an impressive and approachable fashion. The author can take great heart for what he has achieved here. He is one of a strong band of French historians producing really superb books under the Histoire & Collections banner we are really lucky to have translated into English.

There is so much here for lovers of trucks, railways and shipping quite apart from what the book might do for students of logistics. As the author says, the learning curve experienced by the Americans offers an education in how and how NOT to do things. It’s all here. That they got it right or, in some instances, got a way with it; only adds to what you can learn from this book. We always seem to assume the Americans were perfect at everything they did. This book will disabuse this notion.

My photo archivist’s soul loves the book for the archive it reveals. Some of these snaps are old favourites from the Olyslagerdays and beyond, but many more are new to me. The captions are excellent.

Anyone with the slightest interest in the campaign in Europe from D-Day onwards knows that although we always think of the combat soldier first and foremost; there were thousands of others making sure he was fed, shod and armed. They deserve our thanks as much as any other. They did their bit.

This book will help you get the huge jig-saw of US logistics completed. It’s one of those thousand-and-one piece jobs that will take you time to get done, but you will be very satisfied with the result. If you don’t rush things you won’t lose any pieces under the sofa and will come out smiling.

I’ve been on the military show circuit here in the UK for too many years and through all of them there have been some truly excellent displays showing the reality of moving tons of kit to the front. This includes enthusiasts maintaining their trucks and piling them high with stuff. The effect is just a small window on the reality of 1944/45. Nicolas Aubin will give you a whole lot more to think about and the next time you are strolling round an event and see a group of blokes fixing the clutch on a GMC you might give them a nod because you will know they are presenting something as real and as important as the next lot of blokes sitting in foxholes living the Band of Brothers dream. Logistics mattered. They were and remain an art and getting them right took lots of trial, error and not a little sacrifice during World War II.

A respected historian once said that a lot of men in the logistics role during both world wars – drivers, bakers, train firemen, store men so on – didn’t like to talk about their experiences because they felt embarrassed they had not been at the sharp end. Time to give them all the credit they deserved. Starting with this superb book.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

The American Logistics in France and Germany, 1944-45
By Nicolas Aubin
Histoire & Collections
ISBN: 978-2-35350-320-0

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.