VANGUARD OF THE CRUSADE – The 101st Airborne Division in World War II – Review by Mark Barnes

I said some time ago that if the 101st Airborne Division were a brand they would be Apple. If that is the case then surely Mark Bando is Chairman of the Board.

Mr Bando has been crunching away since the arse end of the 1960s building up his archive of material and these books are the pay off for us, while I am sure that for him the real deal is meeting the men he writes about with such passion. Sadly, too many of them have passed away in recent months.

This is not a brand new book by any means but I make no apology for including it seeing as the publisher still places it prominently in their catalogue. It adds strongly to the superb output from Heimdal and I am always happy to see their stuff translated into English editions. Visceral stories and immense amounts of detail fill every page. I am pleased to see so much emphasis on the work of the photographers and, indeed, this edition is dedicated to Albert A Krochka, the snapper who took so many important images.

The author never stands on ceremony and comes straight out of the corner laying down haymakers of no nonsense prose backed up with superb archive photographs. His formula is simple and without frills. It is as subtle as a flying chainsaw. But, as ever, he really does the business. There is no time wasting. I don’t think I would like to have got on his wrong side when he was a Detroit cop.

It is a given fact that the Ambrose/Spielberg axis that launched Band of Brothers on the world generated a huge amount of interest in the 101st Airborne Division. If you were at the War & Peace Revival a few weeks ago you would have seen x number of blokes depicting the Screaming Eagles with all the passion and gusto one can be either in awe or befuddled by. My colleague Joris at WHO is a battlefield guide in the Netherlands and he often rues how the 82nd Airborne have been saddled with being a bit like a Betamax VCR up against the VHS of the 101st. I think we’d all like to see the thing balanced out but while the likes of Mark Bando are punching out books of this standard I don’t know what the response is. My perception is a lot like the Spitfire and Hurricane thing. Being the perennial bridesmaid is never going to be pleasant.

In the end you might wonder how many more books on the 101st can we possibly take. I simply don’t know. Words like exhaustive or definitive get used quite often and I would suspect authors like Mr Bando steer well clear of them but it is difficult toavoid such descriptions in the wake of his output and this book affirms this in my opinion. Does he read reviews? Does he care what people think of his books? I am not so sure.

I am not wrapped up in the 101AB cult by any means, but I do like to see highly detailed and very readable books done with passion.

There is so much information that after a few chapters I began to feel like I’d had a good kicking, a bit like a colourful night in the Forrester’s Arms on Southend seafront. You don’t have to know the pub to get the picture.

This is an excellent book. It bridges a gap to a vanishing generation who managed to become giants for a few years of their lives. I am well aware that the author isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he sticks to his guns just like the men he writes about and that is good enough for me.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.

The 101st Airborne Division in World War II
By Mark Bando
Editions Heimdal
ISBN: 978 2 84048 338 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.