Top positive review
A false flag operation as ill-conceived as it was ill-fated
Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2011
In "Sitting Ducks" Steve Anderson manages to set straight a fragment of WWII history and tell what amounts to a thrilling potboiler involving a cat-and-mouse game between German commandos and American troops in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.
It's the story of Operation Griffin, a daring but unquestionably doomed mission by Hitler's High Command to send German soldiers impersonating American GIs behind enemy lines to disrupt the Allied war machinery with acts of sabotage and destruction.
Led with bluff and bravado by Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny an elite German unit named "Einheit Stielau" and made up of 150 English-speaking recruits and volunteers foolishly set out in American Jeeps and other captured military vehicles during the opening salvo of the Ardennes Offensive on Dec. 16, 1994. [Copy edit to correct: 1944]
Popular lore has glorified the false flag operation in fiction and movies. Anderson tells the story straight and wants to right the historical record by stripping away any myth or hype.
"Operation Griffin" was anything but a carefully planned mission carried out by a highly trained commando unit. Instead, it was a last-ditch, ill-conceived frenetic tactic pulled off by ill-equipped volunteers that was damned from the start.
In addition to correcting history Anderson tells a gripping story of how it must have felt to be a German infiltrator where "one can only imagine what it was like, moving among the enemy while disguised as one."
You get a sense of being pummeled by the winter weather, the sights and smells war, "from the black putrid smoke of exhaust and burning rubber to the sour vapors of leaking gasoline." Added to that was the pungent stink of "charred and rotting flesh of men, civilians and cows in all their grotesque death poses."
Once they had crossed the enemy lines, the Germans had means to identify themselves to each other. They should wear pink or blue scarves, leave the second button on their American jackets unbuttoned or tap their helmet twice if stopped by a German sentry.
If cornered or challenged by Allied forces the imposters were told to improvise with American slang such as "Go lay an egg" or "So's your old man." If the situation was grim, the infiltrators were advised to pretend to have diarrhea, drop their pants and trot off to nearby bushes.
Anderson tells a compelling tale. He corrects the historical record. What I appreciated most is that he does a thorough, well researched job of following the story through to an ill-fated conclusion that for many of the reluctant German soldiers meant execution by an Allied firing squad.