Scorched Earth, Black Snow

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Andy_S, Jun 1, 2011.

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  1. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    I have just come across this fantastic mil hist book!
    By Gad, I can't recommend it highly enough!
    You simply HAVE to read this corker of a tome!
    Why - it's even written by an ARRSER!

    And, OK, I'll come clean.

    My new effort is out today.

    "Scorched Earth, Black Snow" covers the British (1st Argylls, 1st Middlesex, 41 Commando RM) and Australian (3 RAR) troops in the early - and most dramatic - days of the Korean War: From the defense of South Korea to the counter-invasion of North Korea and the immense military catastrophe and humanitarian tragedy that ensued.

    The story unfolds (as far as I have been able to pull it off) largely in the words of some 90 veterans and survivors. Their accounts include:
    Commando raids 230 miles behind enemy lines
    Sniper vs sniper duels
    Hand-to-hand combat
    Bayonet fights
    Infantry vs tank night combat
    'Human wave' attacks

    Featured actions and events include:
    Naktong Crossing: The worst friendly fire incident suffered by UK troops in recent history;
    Sariwon: An almost-unbelievable 'mistaken identity' battle fought at handshake range;
    Pakchon: In which 27th Brigade fight, unsupported, out of a Chinese divisional encirclement
    'Hellfire Valley:' The searing experience of 41 Commando, facing 9-1 odds as they fight to reinforce US Marines at Chosin Reservoir
    The winter voyage of SS Meredith Victory, 'The Ship of Miracles'

    One of the bootnecks interviewed told me he refuses to discuss Korea as he thought people would not believe him if he did so. He is probably right.

    I have been researching this for two years, and AFAIK, most of this material has never been covered in any detail by UK historians, even though Korea remains, to this day, our bloodiest post-WWII war. Given that, it was a privilege to speak to the Aussie, British and US troops - and the South Korean civilians - who survived these events so their experiences could be recorded.

    More controversially, the book alleges that Whitehall covered up the dying words of the first VC of the Korean War. It also includes eyewitness accounts of:
    The shooting of wounded enemy;
    The burning of Korean townsl
    The execution of POWs;
    And the murder of civilians by British and Aussie troops.

    Fair? Objective?

    I believe so - but you be the judge.

    A review copy is winging its way towards Auld Yin, but for the record, I wanted to get my retaliation in first. Some snippets are posted below.

    Thanks for reading and apologies for the blatant marketing/self-promotion...but my publisher does not have the marketing budget of the big boys and it is a limited edition book, so somebody has to do it.
  2. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    Hill 282
    Fire terrifies all animals and most humans with a deep, perhaps atavistic fear, for it is nature’s primary agent of destruction; many representations of hell across unrelated cultures and religions feature a burning pit. The demonic aspect of napalm was recognised by reporters in Korea who saw its effect and who dubbed napalm ‘hell bombs’. This was the munition dropped on Song-san at just after 12:15 on 23 September.

    The Mustangs, however, did not drop their loads on the enemy weapons on Point 390, the infiltrators advancing through the scrub on the ridge against C Company, or on the gully up which the North Korean attackers were swarming. They delivered their ordnance squarely on top of the Argylls of B Company.

    In echelon, Quartermaster Andrew Brown, watching the battle from afar, watched the air strike with satisfaction. ‘We thought, “Ah, tremendous,” it was just a sheet of flame,’ he said. ‘Little did we know it was our fellows. Later when we found out – oh, God …’ ‘We were cock-a-hoop when the Mustangs arrived,’ said Adjutant John Slim. ‘Then we heard the screams…

    Halloween 1950
    The Highlanders – those fey fighting men from the north – were also sensing the invisible malevolence settling over the wasted land. ‘It was beginning to feel slightly hostile, the natives had got more sullen, you got the feeling they knew something we didn’t,’ said Lauder. ‘I had a feeling – I wasn’t even discussing this with other officers – this uncomfortable feeling that we were too far north.’

    Dug into a ridge above Chongju, Second Lieutenant Ted Cunningham gazed out of his trench as daylight faded. At his feet, the empty town presented a disquieting sight: Its grid of streets was blazing in the blackness, but there were no inhabitants to put the fires out. ‘We were overlooking the town, it was going up in flames, and it was very clear that we were out on a limb, just us,’ Cunningham said. ‘It was quite eerie; there was an unreal feeling.’

    31 October 1950 dawned with a chill: Halloween, the ‘Feast of the Dead’. In austere Britain, children recalled tales of ghosts and witches. Eight thousand miles to the east, their brothers, fathers and uncles were about to encounter something far more terrifying, a force that would stun the world as it struck with shock suddenness out of the winter descending over the Korean killing grounds. That day, a Middlesex patrol brought in two prisoners. One was North Korean. The other was Chinese.

    The marines and commandos were now entering a nightmare wonderland, for battle in Siberian temperatures had transformed Hellfire Valley into a surreal gallery of cartoonish monstrosities, of hideous grotesqueries.

    In normal circumstances – even allowing for the rigidity of rigor mortis – tensile integrity deserts corpses, giving them their rag-doll appearance as they lie sprawled or flat. Not so at Chosin Reservoir. Here, the bodies – like victims of an icy Pompeii – had frozen into rigid postures, limbs sticking out at peculiar angles: ‘stiffs’ in every sense of the word. Even though the corpses had been lying in the valley for six days and nights, they looked freshly killed, Moyse thought. Some tableaux were reminiscent of an abattoir: spilled blood had not coagulated to its usual brownish scab, but frozen into streams and puddles of crimson. The feelings and emotions that the men had been undergoing at their moment of death – shock, terror, agony – remained frozen in their faces. O’Brien recognised some. They were ‘terrible to see’, lying, trouserless, with their feet up in the air where the Chinese had stripped them to clothe themselves; their legs had frozen in the extended position. There were greater indignities. The Korean interpreter, Lieutenant Lee, could not help noticing how many corpses displayed signs of having soiled themselves. And Allen passed a marine who had been sniped while defecating. Dead, trousers round his ankles, he squatted at the side of the track, a frozen sentinel.
  3. Are you doing an Arrse discount then?

    Anywhere other then Amazon to get a copy?
  4. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    IS there such a thing as an ARSSE discount? Seems like the kind of thing my publisher might well investigate. Pls advise and I will pass on.

    Book should be out in shops today. Waterstones is carrying it, but I suspect it will only be in their larger stores. Sadly, my name is not Sir Max Beevor, nor does my book contain any Zulu Waffen SS Tank Commanders or SAS foreign legionnaires parachuting into Arnhem, via Rorke's Drift, on D-Day in it, which means it has low brand visibility. The Korean War is what is known in the trade as "Limited Interest."
  5. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    Andy your a necky bastard, but if it's half as good as "To the Last round" it's definatly going to be on my "must have" list
  6. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    Andy your a necky bastard, but if it's half as good as "To the Last round" it's defiantly going to be on my "must have" list
  7. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

  8. Ordered it today, if it's not as good as the other book I'm gonna blow yer tights off.
  9. OK you have my interest so I'll search out a copy, plus I'll do the rounds showing interest elsewhere to see if it can each a few more shelves.

    I'll get my local library to stock it too, so make sure you apply for your Public Lending Rights too. It's not much but makes a handy bit of dosh each year.

    Good luck with this.
  10. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    And so are you - I know (and you know) you have tried to tap him for a buckshee copy :) Good luck - I hope you get it!

    Review will be up on ARRSE in a couple of weeks (or maybe less).
  11. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    One can only try, anyway it's all your fault you turned me into a book whore

    And I'm slightly OCD on Pzkw VIs
  12. Is it going out in e-book format??
  13. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    Ye'll have a copy when I get to the UK in early July, so stand by.


    Fair question: I'll be discussing with my publisher over the summer. Apparently, first quarter e-book sales in the US overtook paperback sales (first time ever) so I'll have to leap on the bandwagon sooner or later. There is a lot more you can do with an ebook, content-wise - for eg, you can include many more images - but I, for one, will consider it a sad day when the "offline" book goes the way of the Brown Bess.


    No risk there, I don't wear or red stockings are more my style.
  14. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    Most kind!
  15. Me too, but I love my e-book.