“Spearhead: The World War II Odyssey of an American Tank Gunner,” by Adam Makos (Ballantine Books)
With his two previous books, journalist Adam Makos established himself as a meticulous researcher who’s equally adept at spinning a good, old-fashioned yarn.
In “Spearhead,” he doesn’t venture far from what he does best. Again, he returns to World War II, but he follows men on the ground rather than in the skies. And, again, he finds a hidden hero worthy of highlighting. This time, it’s Clarence Smoyer, a gunner from a working-class family in industrial Pennsylvania.
We follow Smoyer and the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division’s Easy Company across the battlefields of Germany in 1944. In his third book, though, rather than speeding through the narrative’s twists and turns with nary a bump in the road, Makos regales readers with every detail of every firefight. For a World War II aficionado, it will read like a dream, but to the average reader, it gets to be a bit tedious.
That said, Makos’ writing remains strong and dramatic with passages like “The bark of German tank guns knifed the woods” and “As if the Germans had been listening, they suddenly cut their power. The hot engine hissed, then went silent.”
And some of the strongest storytelling comes near the end when Smoyer, now well into his 80s, meets his German counterpart. The seminal battle of Smoyer’s service took place on the streets of Cologne where he faced off with an enemy tank, and two civilians trying to flee were killed. Smoyer had been haunted by their deaths all his life. Turns out, Gustav, the only surviving German tanker from that day, had been haunted, too. Their meeting in 2013 at a Cologne hotel bar is cinematic.