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Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War Hardcover – Sep 23 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press (Sept. 23 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0773536264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0773536265
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.3 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #198,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 4 2011
Format: Hardcover
Engen's scholarly work on combat effectiveness during World War Two addresses research, assumptions and beliefs long held. These are that shockingly high numbers of soldiers fail to fire their weapon in combat, that the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS were superior soldiers, and that the Allies only won the Second World War through sheer numbers and greater material resources. This largely challenges the work of Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall who arrived at the conclusion that only 15-25% of combat infantryman fire their weapon. Marshall also advanced the theory that men had a natural "inner resistance" to take the life of another.

Marshall claimed to have conducted his research from World War 1 through the war in Vietnam. As such, his conclusions have been elevated to accepted doctrine which Engen argues is both deceptive and dangerous to the study of men-in-arms. Ferguson's War of the World, Bourke's An Intimate History of Killing, Dwyer's War, and Grossman's On Killing and On Combat all reference and advance Marshall's theories furthering a potential grand inaccuracy. Engen has combed through interviews with Canadian officers following WW2 and arrived at evidence that strongly overturns Marshall's longstanding work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By DARRELL L MCLAREN on March 17 2012
Format: Hardcover
This awesome piece of work answered a question I have had for many years. That question was, If soldiers were not firing, why is it not mentioned by their officers or NCOs in their books? This book answered the question with the soldiers were firing and Mr. Robert C. Engen proves it with his research. I hope for more work from him in the future.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mark Bourrie on Aug. 8 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a thoughtful and well-researched Canadian rebuttal to Marshall and other writers who claim that western Allied soldiers were ineffective because they could not be coerced to try to kill their enemy. It is also a solid analysis of the quality of the Canadian officers who led soldiers in Italy and western Europe.
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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Debating Combat Effectiveness Aug. 4 2011
By Jeffrey Swystun - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Engen's scholarly work on combat effectiveness during World War Two addresses research, assumptions and beliefs long held. These are that shockingly high numbers of soldiers fail to fire their weapon in combat, that the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS were superior soldiers, and that the Allies only won the Second World War through sheer numbers and greater material resources. This largely challenges the work of Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall who arrived at the conclusion that only 15-25% of combat infantryman fire their weapon. Marshall also advanced the theory that men had a natural "inner resistance" to take the life of another.

Marshall claimed to have conducted his research from World War 1 through the war in Vietnam. As such, his conclusions have been elevated to accepted doctrine which Engen argues is both deceptive and dangerous to the study of men-in-arms. Ferguson's War of the World, Bourke's An Intimate History of Killing, Dwyer's War, and Grossman's On Killing and On Combat all reference and advance Marshall's theories furthering a potential grand inaccuracy. Engen has combed through interviews with Canadian officers following WW2 and arrived at evidence that strongly overturns Marshall's longstanding work. Fascinating aspects include:

- espoused values versus values-in-use to explain how men can kill
- the impact of the Great War, namely the social acceptance of mass killing
- volunteer versus conscripted troops in terms of effectiveness (on a relative basis Canada had the largest volunteer force of the Western powers)
- antiquated warfare doctrine practiced by the Canadian General Staff
- limitations of both artillery and armour without infantry support

He concludes that, "Canadian soldiers displayed initiative and imagination in battle and proved to be capable warriors, frequently outfighting their enemies in close combat." Incredibly, Canadian infantry rifle companies made up less than 15% of the army's strength but accounted for 70% of all casualties. This would suggest that they got good at their job. Part of their combat effectiveness was actually fire discipline which turns Marshall's research on its head. Engen's work shows how Marshall's claims are considerably inconsistent with the Canadian experience.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Men Against Fire... Dec 29 2009
By D. S. Thurlow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
2009's "Canadians Under Fire: Infantry Effectiveness in the Second World War" is author Robert Engen's fascinating take on the controversial topic of the behavior of men under fire. This topic was dominated for years by US historian S.L.A. Marshall, who famously claimed that only a small faction of soldiers actually engaged the enemy in combat. Marshall's claims, which have more recently been challenged, contributed to the longstanding historical commonplace of the effectiveness of the German Wehrmacht against the Allies.

Engen studied a set of over three hundred combat experience questionaires filled out by Canadian captains and majors in 1944 and 1945 as they rotated back from battlefields in Italy and Northwest Europe. The questionaires provide a wealth of detail on the experience of those officers with respect to weapons, tactics, and soldier behavior.

"Canadians Under Fire", originally a graduate thesis, begins with a survey of the existing literature and of Engen's methodology. Readers may wish to skip ahead to the examination of the Canadian combined arms team and the effectiveness of Canadian infantry. Engen's results show the Canadian Army fielded highly effective infantry units which made the most of their weapons and tactics and whose biggest shortcoming, in the view of their officers, was a tendency to the overly liberal use of fire in combat. Engen provides significant insights into the use of artillery and tanks, and into issues of training and integrating replacements.

"Canadians Under Fire" is very highly recommended to students of the Second World War and of the behavior of soldiers under fire for its insights into a still very relevant topic. This reviewer looks forward with pleasure to Robert Engen's future contributions to military history.

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