Military Writer's Society of America Review
For God and Country
New readers of Bowlin will find this third installment of the Texas Gun Club series to be strongly reminiscent of the best of W.E.B. Griffin - and every bit as satisfying. For God and Country tells the story of the 36th Division’s tragic assault across the Rapido River in January, 1944 - a bitter and controversial episode in American military history that resulted in Congressional hearings over Lt Gen. Mark Clark’s (Commander of Fifth Army in Italy) conduct of the battle.
Closely following the actual history of the “Texas Army” during the Allied advance through Italy, For God and Country begins as the 36th Division halts at Monte Cassino to recuperate from their epic battle at San Pietro - having taken 1400 casualties, and providing the subject matter for John Houston’s Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Battle of San Pietro,” (almost censored because of its graphic illustration of the plight of the ordinary infantryman). While the rest of Fifth Army prepares to resume its advance towards Rome, Captain Perkin Berger and First Lieutenant Sam Taft are sent to the Adriatic for a week, where they quickly become involved in a covert battle between the German Abwehr and a secret Vatican network evacuating Allied troops out of Italy (also based on historical events). After considerable adventures, the two officers find their way back to their unit in time for the Rapido River assault.
The German retreat through Italy was methodical and punishing for the Allies, who now waited behind the Gustav Line - considered by both sides to be an impregnable last line of defense. The brilliant German commander, Feldmarschall Albert Kesselring, had more than twenty dug-in and prepared divisions, many of them elite and hardened units, including the Herman Goring SS Division and the First Parachute Corps. The Germans occupied the high ground and commanded the flat open plains of the Liri Valley, traversed by three fast-flowing rivers (all mined) and dominated on both sides by sheer mountains from which the Germans fired preregistered artillery on all Allied movement.
Knowing the futility of trying to break through such a formidable defensive line by frontal assault, the Allies planned a flank attack with an amphibious landing at Anzio, to the north of the Gustav Line - an operation considered so important that it postponed the D-Day invasion from the first week of May until June so that the Anzio invaders would have enough landing craft available.
However, despite the knowledge that a frontal assault would be a slaughter, the Supreme Allied Commander in Italy, British General Alexander, ordered an assault across the Garigliano and Rapido rivers by Fifth Army as a method of holding the German forces in the Liri Valley and preventing them from reinforcing the relatively light defenses at Anzio. The crossing of the Rapido River was given to The Texas Gun Club, with predictable, and devastating results.
Bowlin handles the seriousness of his subject with alacrity. There is no romance in his retelling of the slaughter, but neither does he turn this book into a tale of carnage. Rather, he humanizes the characters and pulls us into the story, making the reader hope against hope (and history), that this time the boys will somehow manage to break through. Moreover, the lighter tone of the first half of the book and the Vatican subplot ensure that the book doesn’t get overly heavy or morose. Bowlin’s characterization is outstanding, and we can forgive him for making his heroes larger than life -- both physically as well as in their embodiment of the best qualities and values of military service. The real villains in the story aren’t the enemy forces, rather, they are the usual weaknesses and incompetencies found among servicemen and women whenever a nation fields an enormous force to fight wars of such magnitude on short notice.
Bowlin is a fine writer and For God and Country is an enjoyable, engaging, and enlightening read. You won’t want to put it down, and when you do, you’ll want to do more research on the 36th Division and the Battle of the Rapido River. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Robert Schaeffer (2013)
Military Writer's Society of America Review
Victory Road is the second installment of the award-winning World War II Texas Gun Club Novel series. Bowlin continues the story of cousins Sam Taft and Perkin Berger of the 36th Division, Texas National Guard, as they push on to Rome after horrific fighting at âBloody Salernoâ and the liberation of Naples.
Action this time is centered around the heavily-fortified German Winter Line in and around San Pietro Infine. The geography of the area with its mountains and narrow valleys made it a strategic German defense point, but an Allied victory was crucial for the advance to Rome. Bowlin has seamlessly woven his characters into actual events of that ten day bloodbath.
To counterpoint the battle scenes, Bowlin adds a twist of espionage and dangerous liaisons that will impact the tight-knit Texans. I appreciate that Bowlin also includes true-to-history scenes of what the German occupation and subsequent fighting did to the remaining local population of San Pietro Infine. War is brutal for the combatant as well as the civilian caught up in it. These Texas soldiers are tough yet a poignant scene between Captain Berger and an injured German breathes a bit of humanity into that living hell.
I'm hooked on the boys in the Texas Gun Club and the history that they are reliving for us in this series. I await Bowlin's third installment which continues with the hard slog to ultimate victory in the Italian campaign.
Review by Gail Chatsfield, Military Writer's Society of America (May 2011)
Praise for The Texas Gun Club -- 2010 winner of the Gold Medal Award from the Military Writer's Society of America
The Texas Gun Club is an excellent WWII war novel. Realistic, well-plotted, many actual events. Describes the successes and failures of command and battle: friendly fire, poor communications, death, destruction, courage, and valor.It has found a place on my bookshelf! I am looking forward to the author's promised next novel in the series.
Review by Lee Boyland, Military Writers Society of America (January 2010)
The Texas Gun Club is a well-written account of a very real critical World War II battle. Only the characters are fictional. Careful attention to detail in weapons and equipment as well as period soldier slang bring them to life as real people that we might have known back in 1939....The Texas Gun Club highlights one great tragic truth of warfare: Because of personal turbulence and logistic screwups, and despite Unit Lineage that may go back to the Revolution, we almost always fight the first battle with ad hoc organizations. The Salerno landing found the 36th Texas Division executing a difficult maneuver (establishing a lodgment on a distant defended shore) against a experienced well led (Field Marshal Kesslring) commander with precious little time and space to sort it out and get it right. A good read for those who would lead.
MG Don Daniel, USA (Ret.)
Former Commander, 49th Armored Division, TXARNG
The Texas Gun Club is an absolutely superb book. The characters are incredibly realistic, as is the action and the storyline of the two cousins dovetailing through history. That it will be a series is refreshing and I look forward to reading the next excerpt. For a Navy guy, Commander Bowlin has a great handle on the Army. Time for him to get back to the next installment.
BG Jack Grubbs, USA (Ret.) Ph.D., P.E., Author of Bad Intentions
Bravo Zulu to Mark Bowlin for writing an exceptionally entertaining, interesting and educational novel. I could hardly put the book down, and found the narrative and story line just captivating.I can't wait to read the further adventures of The Texas Gun Club, and I'll happily pass along this book as a great read to all those interested in history, Italy, military operations and, of course, just a good yarn!
RDML Tony Cothron, USN (Ret.), Former Director of Naval Intelligence
I found it a fantastic historical fiction that all members of the division should read. Having been a member of the 141st, it gave me a great sense of pride in the regiment and the 36th Division.I actually chose to have my regimental affiliation with the 141st after reading Commander Bowlin's book!
SGT Casey Mueller, TXARNG