"Autopsy of a Battle", new book about First Airborne Task Force in southern France

"Autopsy of a Battle", new book about First Airborne Task Force in southern France

JeanLoup
Registered User
Joined: 01 Oct 2012, 01:46

18 May 2014, 16:11 #1

Hi all
 I would like to inform you that the book I have been working on since 2004, Autopsy of a Battle, the Liberation of the French Riviera, at Schiffer Publications, is now finnished and availlable for purchase in English. The French edition at Heimdal should follow in July.
 The book is an extremely detailed account of the Operations of the First Airborne Task Force through the French Riviera, from August 15th to September 7th 1944. It is mainly based on oral interviews, cross checked meticulously with period reports, letters, diaries, photos, casualty reports, cemetery registers, etc. There is quite a big battlefield archaeology component aswell.
 Units such as the 509th PIB, 517th PRCT, 551st PIB, and 1st Special Service Force, are extensively mentioned in the book. There are a large number of unpublished accounts, as well as quite a few known accounts (Left Corner of my Heart, etc) that I have reused, in order to make a minute by minute reconstruction of events. I also tried to find as much information about the Germans, and found a few of their veterans and many of their documents as well, in order to make a well rounded and balanced view of what happened. The book also mentions the 141st IR, 602nd Field Artillery, 676th Ambulance Colection Co, the 46th and 48th Graves Registrations companies, the 887th Airborne Engineers, etc. There is also quite a lot about the French resistance.
 More information can be found in the little information blog I have set up for the book:  http://autopsyofabattle.blogspot.com/

 Jean-Loup
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JeanLoup
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Joined: 01 Oct 2012, 01:46

15 Jun 2014, 10:22 #2

Here is the first review the book has received on amazon (from a complete stranger). I was also told by Heimdal that one of the proof readers of the French edition had nightmares after reading the book, which I take as a sign of quality.

M. Pitcavage:
Let me say right off that I have a very dim view of the publisher of this book, Schiffer, which is notorious for its nazicentricity. It is a measure of how desperate I am for books on World War II to read that I decided to order this at all.
Yet I turned out to be more than pleased with this particular book, Jean-Loup Gassend's "Operation Dragoon: Autopsy of a Battle: The Allied Liberation of the French Riviera August-September 1944."
Paying more attention to the first part of the title (Operation Dragoon: Autopsy of a Battle) than the second part when I pre-ordered it, more than a year ago, I assumed it was going to be about the Anvil-Dragoon landings. The main reason I decided to chance it was because it was by a French author and I had hoped that it might cover the exploits of the First French Army in its rapid liberation of Toulon and Marseilles, a remarkable feat of generalship and fighting.
But it wasn't about that at all. Rather, it was about one tiny sliver of the landings in southern France (and far from the French army): a month of warfare in a single French department (essentially a county), the department of the French Riviera (where Cannes and Nice are located), the southeastern most department in France, right next to the Italian border along the coast. This department is mostly sparsely populated mountainous areas (the Maritime Alps), with the beautiful resort areas along the coast.
With the Anvil-Dragoon landings in late summer 1944, part of the First Airborne Task Force (an ad hoc British-American airborne division) and part of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division landed in this area, by air and by sea, on the extreme right wing of the Allied landing (so too did a tiny French commando unit). The 36th pulled away for other tasks, leaving the FATF (minus the British brigade, which pulled out fast, replaced by the American-Canadian First Special Service Force), which was tasked with protecting the bridgehead and moving east to the Italian border. It faced the German 148th (training) Division, an understrength infantry division consisting of low-morale, often incompletely trained soldiers, many of whom were of Polish rather than German origin (and thus apt to desert). The 148th's task was to manage a controlled retreat to the Italian border, where defenses were being prepared.
Thus you have, in effect, a small unit action: one understrength division pitted against another understrength division in a small geographic area. However, there is also a major third player: the French Resistance, which was quite active.
The book is written by a non-historian, Jean-Loup Gassend. He is actually a forensic physician from the French Riviera who grew up with stories of the fighting that occurred in his home region and became fascinated by them. He participated in attempts to locate and identify war dead from the region and eventually decided to write a book on what transpired there in August-September 1944.
Gassend created what can only be called a labor of love--and something really only possible by someone willing to spend years devoted to a project. The book is coffee table book sized, but not coffee table book thick. Rather, it is a massive tome, about 560 pages long (and weighting nearly 8 pounds).
Gassend did research in French, English, and German, laboriously writing veterans or their surviving relatives, or conducting interviews. He also did the same for French civilians. He also did extensive research in secondary sources and primary documents. Moreover, as a forensic physician, he also engaged in forensic battle research, analyzing casualties and the physical items found on them (in some cases, looking at casualties was the only way to establish that which German unit was in which place at which time). In other words, the subtitle "autopsy of a battle" is a more literal title than one would think. The level of research is impressive.
Gassend, probably wisely, decided to write his book mainly as an oral history, allowing participants (military, resistance, civilian) to tell the story themselves, for the most part. As a non-historian, this was probably the best way for him to go. The book is reasonably well-written (Gassend speaks/writes English), though Schiffer's copy-editors should have caught a few things.
The Riviera "campaign" was really nothing but small scale skirmishes, sometimes very small scale, with no truly big action at all. The largest single combat was when the French resistance rose up against the Germans in Nice. What this does is allow Gassend to treat each little skirmish, each little episode, as a treasure to explore and relate, from every perspective possible--American/Canadian, German, French resistance, French civilians.
Gassend's emphasis on casualties and deaths--in numbers that are meaningful as opposed to the vast deaths of the Bulge or Kursk or Iwo Jima--gives the book a special character. When a person dies here, it is a death, not a statistic. And we often find out exactly how that person died--war isn't pretty. This is something that really is missing from the overwhelming majority of military history works, but it is possible here because of the nature of the historical situation as well as Gassend's patient, loving dedication to detail.
I haven't read many World War II books like this one, I will certainly say. But it is a book worth reading, even though in the larger scheme of things, virtually none of the actions here mattered at all. Gassend shows us that sometimes it is not the larger scheme of things that we should be paying attention to.
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glider
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Joined: 23 Dec 2007, 16:46

15 Jun 2014, 11:50 #3

Hi
Seems to be a very nice book.Congratulations.
Best regardsBen
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JeanLoup
Registered User
Joined: 01 Oct 2012, 01:46

22 Aug 2014, 04:01 #4

The French edition of the book is also finnished now and has been availlable for a few weeks.
The English version has received lots of comments on amazon, and has a five star rating for the moment!
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KlondikeFox
Registered User
Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

27 Oct 2014, 05:19 #5

This book is massive and I can't believe all the photos and detailed info the author has amassed in less than a decade of research.The published results of his inquest could easily have been the result of a lifetime of research.  Few other author/researchers could have
compiled this amount of information, if they gathered photos and info for a lifetime. The author is a doctor and his approach to WWII history
is literally like that of an autopsy.  He has found not only death reports and death photos of members of the German military and French Maquis,
he has even recovered the remains of many forgotten victims of 1944 fighting, via battlefield archaeology.  As such, this book is a grim and
graphic reminder of the tragedy and human cost of war and perhaps such details are not for everyone.  His approach however, is conducted from
an angle close to my heart.  The fact that he lives in the area where the events took place allow him to immerse himself in the people, villages
and battlefields where the Dragoon invasion took place. Up until the last decade, this aspect of the ETO war had been largely overlooked and
forgotten by history buffs. Since little was written about it, the events of Dragoon remained obscure, misunderstood and poorly documented.
Now, with just the publication of two landmark books, Mike deTrez's 'First Airborne Task Force', a gigantic pictorial, loaded with vintage photos and
color pics of artifacts, and now 'Autopsy of a Battle' by Jean Loup, readers interested in learning about this different world of combat can inform themselves
with just the contents of these 2 definitive works.  I personally love this book and am taking a long time, to work my way through it.  I would recommend it,
with the caveat that you need to know what you are getting-in to if you buy this book.  This is real, gritty in your face history and it might prove to be
more than you can handle or want to know.  Is it a happy book?  Heck no, don't open it expecting anything other than a detailed and honest accounting
of the many tragic events that transpired as the Germans were forcibly driven from that region of France.
The word awesome is routinely over-used, to describe things in the 21st century, but this massive compendium does deserve that appellation. Taken as a whole,
the research and presentation are impressive and overwhelming. It's 8 pounds of unadulterated history.
Congrats to Jean Loup, on this huge achievement.
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Scorpio58
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Joined: 28 May 2009, 12:31

28 Oct 2014, 02:07 #6

Sounds like another book I need to get! Who has it and/ or where can I get it? JohnnyF
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KlondikeFox
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Joined: 03 Mar 2008, 14:33

28 Oct 2014, 03:57 #7

Sadly, my least favorite military book publisher put this work in-print, but you can order it from:
http://www.amazon.com/Operation-Dragoon ... up+Anatomy
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schaduwfax
Registered User
Joined: 27 Sep 2012, 17:03

29 Oct 2014, 10:32 #8

The books Operation Dragoon (Heimdal) of J-L Gassend and Operation Dragoon: Autopsy of a Battle of J-L Gassend , they are the same no? Or Am I seeing i wrong?
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JeanLoup
Registered User
Joined: 01 Oct 2012, 01:46

02 Nov 2014, 21:52 #9

Mark, needless to say I am deeply honnored to read such positive feedback from a renowed WWII historian such as yourself!
It was still possible to make such a book untill recently, but there are no longer enaugh surviving witnesses to be able to to perform such in depth oral history reseacrh any more.

The book can be ordered on amazon in both English and French. The Heimdal book is in French of course, and the Schiffer book in English. Both books are almost identical. The French one has a more appealing design, and the english one includes KIA lists and an index that were cut out of the french edition.
Last edited by JeanLoup on 02 Nov 2014, 21:55, edited 1 time in total.
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Scorpio58
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Joined: 28 May 2009, 12:31

07 Nov 2014, 15:06 #10

Got mine on order! Johnny F
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