World War 2 produced many heroes, and many stories that haven’t seen print yet. Alex Kershaw has brought one truly fascinating story to light in this book, which tells the story of Felix Sparks and, to a lesser extent, the men he led through Europe. Kershaw sticks to Sparks’ perspective throughout the book, pausing only momentarily to introduce us to other characters who will become important to Sparks’ story. We see everything through Sparks’ eyes, which often leads to a skewed perspective on historical figures like Mark Clark. We see events through the filter of a “common soldier” — which is ultimately what Sparks is throughout the book, no matter what his rank. He continues to consider the soldiers he leads, and everything that happens, every order given, is seen not in a grand strategic or even grand political light, but in a very tactical light. Withdrawals that make sense strategically are seen as defeats because of the moral of the soldiers who fought for those gains, only to have to give them back. The truly moving part of the book comes almost at the end, when Sparks and his Thunderbirds liberate Dachau. This is an event that changes how each of his men looks at the war, and their duty.
Throughout the book, Sparks is an advocate for his men, often arguing with his superiors when his men’s lives are at stake and are about to be sacrificed unnecessarily. Kershaw paints him as the only real sympathetic character with any rank at all; while this makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, the history nerd in me wants to learn more — to see the other side of Sparks’ conflicts with his superiors, to find the warts and imperfections that would make Felix Sparks more than just a character in a book. That’s really the only shortcoming I found in this highly readable account of a part of the war that is far too often ignored.