CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 41. . . .June 25, 2010.
Men of Steel: Canadian Paratroopers in Normandy, 1944. (Canadians at War).
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2010.
116 pp., pbk., $19.99.
Canada. Canadian Army, Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1st-History-Juvenile literature.
Canada. Canadian Army, Airborne troops-History-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1939-1945-Aerial operations, Canadian-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1939-1945-Campaigns-France-Normandy-Juvenile literature.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
Even though the parachute drop was filled with many unforeseen complications, such as the wide dispersal of paratroopers and the loss of the majority of their heavy support weapons, it was the composure, stamina, and excellent training of the Canadian paratroopers that allowed them to successfully accomplish all of their assigned D-Day missions. Their ability was so great that even the enemy quickly realized that they were fighting a skilled opponent.
Men of Steel is a history of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion from its landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944, and their conflict with the German army, until their return to England on September 6, 1944. It is told with a considerable understanding of what the soldiers faced and of their achievements. It is a valuable addition to the books written for youths about Canada’s military history. An Epilogue gives a brief history of the Battalion following the Normandy invasion.
Men of Steel captures the moment of the drop and subsequent battles and the feelings of excitement and fear that all paratroops must feel. The use of dialogue among members of the airplane crews makes the story very realistic. Men of Steel also illustrates the great tragedy of war since many of the men who plunged into the void, who would normally have lived happy, productive lives, never survived to tell the tale.
Men of Steel has an Index, a list of useful Websites and a small bibliography. It is very well illustrated throughout the book with functional black and white photographs and drawings. There is also an excellent map of Normandy showing where the Canadians fought.
The six sketches and the cover painting by Montreal artist, Ted Zuber, add greatly to the book’s appeal. Zuber, himself, was a paratrooper, having served with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Korea, and he understands what the Men of Steel faced. His art also brings a sense of realism to the book.
Men of Steel has many, very practical, sidebars which enhance the book’s value. Some ask questions of the reader, such as “DID YOU KNOW? D Day,” which explains why the letter D was used. Others present information “FROM THE INTELLIGENCE FILES” or “FROM THE WEAPON LOCKER,” both of which present interesting historical data. An Intelligence Files example explains the problems soldiers faced when coming into contact with an “Allways Fuse,” a grenade that always exploded when it hit a target. One Weapon Locker sidebar example discusses “Booby Traps” which were similar to the weapons that have killed many Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Bernd Horn, author of Men of Steel, is an adjunct professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada. In addition, he is a Colonel in the Canadian Forces and has written or edited 28 books of military history. His book is an accurate account of the experiences of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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