The Mighty Endeavor: The American War in Europe (1992)
(Originally published in 1969 as The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II)
By Charles B. MacDonald
Dawn reached slowly into the Huertgen Forest, as if reluctant to throw light on a stark tableau that it seemed only the devil himself could have created. Once magnificent trees were now twisted, gashed, broken, their limbs and foliage forming a thick carpet on the floor of the forest. Some trees stood like gaunt, outsized toothpicks. Great jagged chunks of concrete and twisted reinforcing rods that together had been a pillbox. The mutilated carcass of a truck that had hit a mine. Everywhere discarded soldier equipment – gas masks, empty rations containers, helmets, rifles, here a field jacket with a sleeve rent, there a muddy overcoat with an ugly clotted dark stain on it. One man kicked a bloody shoe from his path, then shuddered to see that the shoe still had a foot in it. – Charles B. MacDonald, The Mighty Endeavor
The Second World War is the largest cataclysm in human history. As the title card to each part of Ken Burns’ The War says, it was “fought in thousands of places, too many for one accounting.” It was the bloodiest clash of arms the world has ever seen; the total deaths caused by World War II will never be known. Some historians say 50 million men, women, and children died, while others estimate that 60 to 70 million people were killed.
Due to its post-World War I neglect of its armed forces and isolationist foreign policy, the United States was the last of the three major Allied powers to enter the war. By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the war had been raging for over two years. Millions of soldiers and civilians in Europe and the Asia-Pacific theaters were already dead, and millions more were to die before sizable U.S. forces entered the fray.
As a result of its geographic location and its late entry into the war, the U.S. was relatively fortunate. According to the National World War II Museum, there were 418,500 American military and civilian deaths directly caused by the war. In sharp contrast, the Soviet Union’s death toll was an estimated 24 million, of which 8,800,000-10,700,000 were military personnel. No U.S. cities suffered aerial bombardment, and the U.S. homeland was never seriously threatened by an Axis invasion.
Though it can be argued that Nazi Germany was doomed to lose World War II when Adolf Hitler sent its armies into the vast expanses of Russia in June of 1941 without first defeating Great Britain, America’s entry into the European war was the decisive factor in the eventual Allied victory.
As Charles B. MacDonald’s The Mighty Endeavor: The American War in Europe points out, it’s hard to imagine how the British Empire and the Free French forces led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle could have liberated Western Europe without the massive naval, ground, or air forces deployed by the United States between 1942 and 1945.
”Almighty God—Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor.” It was with these words that President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the troops that were to mount the final assault on Nazi-dominated Europe on D-day, June 6, 1944. The Mighty Endeavor is a sweeping history of American action in the European theater in World War II, covering the entire scope of America’s effort ”to set free from Nazi tyranny a suffering humanity.” – Publisher’s blurb, The Mighty Endeavor
Originally published in 1969 as The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II, MacDonald’s book is a one-volume general history of American combat operations against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy between late 1941 and May 8, 1945. It covers every major aspect of the conflict in Europe, including the Battle of the Atlantic, the strategic bombing campaign, and the campaigns in which the U.S. Army fought as part of the Grand Alliance.
From the first landings at Casablanca straight through to the crossing of the Elbe River and V-E Day, this book tells the gripping stories of all the battles in which Americans took part. At its core are accounts of such dramatic episodes as Kasserine Pass, Salerno and Anzio, D-day, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, and the crossing of the Rhine. – Publisher’s blurb, The Mighty Endeavor
MacDonald, who died in 1990 at the age of 68, was well suited to write this engrossing account of the American war in Europe. At the time of its publication, he was the U.S. Army’s Deputy Chief Historian and a contributor to the military history of World War II. He wrote or co-authored three books in the official series United States Army in World War II, including The Siegfried Line Campaign, Three Battles: Arnaville, Altuzzo, and Schmidt, and The Last Offensive.
MacDonald was also a combat veteran of the European campaign. As a captain in the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, he commanded two companies during the Battle of the Bulge and the campaign in Germany during the war’s final months. He was wounded in action and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals for his wartime service. MacDonald chronicled these experiences in his now-classic 1947 memoir Company Commander.
Armed with a gift for narrative writing and the perspective of someone who was on the “sharp end of the spear,” MacDonald used every available source to create The Mighty Endeavor. Not only did he have access to official Army records, but he interviewed many veterans, ranging from enlisted GIs to five-star generals, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.
The resulting book is a nicely balanced account of the war in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Northwest Europe. Its 31 chapters encompass the evolution of American involvement in World War II from the dire straits of the U.S. military in 1939 to the Allied march to the Elbe River in the spring of 1945. It is fair and balanced in its treatment of such controversies as Anglo-American strategic disagreements and Gen. Eisenhower’s “lack of grip” on the battlefield after D-Day. MacDonald is not shy about criticizing some of the U.S. high command’s tactical decisions, including the failure to close the Falaise Pocket in August of 1944 or the misguided effort by the U.S. First Army to batter through the Huertgen Forest three months later.
The Mighty Endeavor’s first edition was published in 1969. Consequently, like most books about the war published before 1974 it does not mention the Allies’ success at breaking the Germans’ Enigma code.
Before the author died of lung cancer in 1990, he included an addendum on this topic titled “The ULTRA Secret.” Based on material for A Time for Trumpets, MacDonald’s 1984 history of the Battle of the Bulge, this section briefly covers how the Enigma code machine worked, how the Allies broke the Nazi codes, and how the resulting ULTRA intercepts affected (or did not affect) the outcome of various battles.
On the whole, The Mighty Endeavor is a highly readable one-volume account of U.S. military involvement in the European Theater of Operations. It is a good addition to any history buff’s library, either as an introduction to the topic or a handy overall look at the struggle to liberate Europe from Nazi oppression.
- Paperback: 622 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press (August 22, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0306804867
- ISBN-13: 978-0306804861