Final Battles of Patton’s Vanguard
The United States Army Fourth Armored Division, 1945–1946
Don M. Fox
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2020, 319 pages
Book Review published on: August 28, 2020
Don Fox, author of Patton’s Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division, continues in telling the stirring accounts of the legendary 4th Armored Division following the Battle of the Bulge in Final Battles of Patton’s Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division, 1945–1946. In January 1945, Nazi Germany’s defeat was inevitable but a battered and beaten German army contested every inch of German soil. Fox masterfully tells of the fight experienced by the 4th Armored Division village by village, contested river crossings, and inclement weather.
Fox’s contribution of one of the more famous divisions in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army comes at an interesting time for unit histories. Though partly a celebratory account of the soldiers of the 4th Armored Division, the book seeks to integrate the stories of individual soldiers and subordinated units more fully with the division’s overall battlefield exploits following the Battle of the Bulge, taking advantage of the methodologies of social history that have exploded over the past half century and enriched the traditional “drums and bugles” accounts of the older military history. The result is a work that clearly reflects how the individual soldier and their units were tied into the larger fight in the European theater. Final Battles of Patton’s Vanguard goes beyond traditional works that have focused only on a certain perspective to give readers the big picture.
One of the more interesting events Fox examines in this work is Patton’s controversial decision to execute a raid intended to rescue American prisoners some fifty miles behind enemy lines at a German prisoner-of-war camp OFLAG XIII B near Hammelburg to allegedly rescue Patton’s son-in-law, Lt. Col. John Waters. Fox describes how the rescue element named Task Force Baum was formed with little to no planning, intelligence, rehearsals, on-call air support, or contingency considerations. The rescue attempt was a disaster. Fox’s examination of the raid would serve as a great case study for planning military operations and leadership.
Fox informs the reader that news of Germany’s surrender did not bring joy to the soldiers of the 4th Armored Division nor did it end their role in the war. The grim prospect of redeploying to fight the ongoing war in the Pacific or remaining in Europe for occupation duty dampened the spirits of the 4th Armored Division soldiers wanting to return home to their families and life as civilians. The sizeable area of Czechoslovakia between the 4th Armored Division and Soviet army lines was still uncontrolled with agreements to be made regarding German soldiers and civilians in the area. Germans fearing Soviet retribution desired to surrender to Americans or be allowed passage through American lines to Germany. The 4th Armored Division would deploy to Germany where it would serve on occupation duty.
The strength of Final Battles of Patton’s Vanguard is Fox’s exceptional prose and style along with exceptional use of maps and photographs that give the reader a “you are there” feel for events as they happened. It is simply hard to put down. Fox’s exhaustive research of both primary and secondary sources provides a comprehensive look of 4th Armored Division’s role and contributions in defeating the German army in the last months of the war. This would be an excellent addition to Fox’s previous work on the 4th Armored Division or in the library of any historian or student with an interest in the 4th Armored Division or European theater of operations during World War II.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas