Contributor: Bryan Hiatt
Review Date: 5 Aug 2005
Complete Title: Hell’s Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September-November 1944
George Koskimaki Hell’s Highway is the story of the 101st Airborne Division during the Market-Garden campaign in World War II. It is an extremely dense book, 453 pages in length, filled with first person accounts from over 600 Division troopers and Army Air Corps men, 89 Dutch contributors (many who were part of the underground), and numerous Regiment After-Action Reports. Even Walter Cronkite makes an appearance in the book, entering the battlefield via glider to report on events in the field.
In Hell’s Highway, readers will no doubt notice a wide variety of photos and maps. These visual aides certainly add to the complex narrative Koskimaki weaves. After all, this isn’t a story about one company in a division. This book is about a few thousand men who were one part of vast airborne operation, a calculated gamble by Bernard Montgomery to end the war.
What Koskimaki does well is set the scene with information about an action in a certain area by regiment. Then he allows the participants of the action to tell their stories. Many of these personal narratives sound surprisingly similar, too, and indeed chronicle the human cost of conflict. In scenes repeated throughout the book, we read of numerous company actions, German counter attacks, artillery barrages, and ALWAYS of near-death experiences and of friends or leaders who were killed. The tone from these men is always “matter of fact”: “X was killed,” “we lost X,” or “X was blown apart.” In this sense, Hell’s Highway is a sobering read, given that 858 men were killed, 2,152 wounded, and 398 were MIA or captured through the course of campaign (434).
While I don’t claim any special expertise in the airborne operations of World War II, and of the 101st Airborne Division specifically, after reading Hell’s Highway, I certainly know more “context” surrounding the Division’s actions in Holland. This is the kind of scholarship readers should expect from authors working in this period: thorough, clear, and presented in a way that allows readers of differing experiences to gain access to events in our shared past.
George Koskimaki is also the author of D-Day with the Screaming Eagles and The Battered Bastards of Bastonge: A Chronicle of the Defense of Bastonge.
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