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In the early morning hours of April 1, 1970, more than four hundred North Vietnamese soldiers charged out into the open and tried to over-run FSB Illingworth. The battle went on, mostly in the dark, for hours. Exposed ammunition canisters were hit and blew up, causing a thunderous explosion inside the FSB that left dust so thick it jammed the hand-held weapons of the GIs. Much of the combat was hand-to-hand. In all, twenty-four Americans lost their lives and another fifty-four were wounded. Nearly one hundred enemy bodies were recovered. It was one of the most vicious small unit firefights in the history of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
Fire Base Illingworth looks at one small area of the Vietnam conflict, focusing on an assault on an American Firebase near the Cambodian border. The book is a straight up history but told in a very narrative style that I have always felt works for this narrowly focused type of history.
The author clearly has an affinity for this area of the war and this is not his first history about it. He previously wrote a book about a small conflict just days before the events in Fire Base Illingworth and involving some of the same men. If anything this book is a continuation of that previous work, although he does a good job recapping the events of his previous book for readers not familiar with it.
Keith’s writing is excellent and he clearly has talent as a military historian, a very specific skill set to be sure but one I can appreciate as a fan of the genre. He makes sure to set the stage for the battle and explains some of the high level strategy that led to these men being in the situation they found themselves in April 1970. He also gives background on a random sampling of the soldiers involved in the battle. He uses these men as points of narrative for various stages of the battle so you as a reader can feel connected to the events, and then follows their personal stories through to after the war and even present day in the final chapter of the book. This focus on individual soldiers really helped me as the reader connect to the battle and care about what was going on, almost as if it was a work of fiction. Also following them through and giving a brief look into their postwar life makes a nice epilogue and gives the reader a sense of closure from the book.
The only real weak point is the battle itself. While individual scenes were well written and gripping it is hard to get a feel for the battle as a whole. The overall picture of what happened is pretty muddy. After reading this I could tell you why the battle happened, the events leading up to it and major moments in the battle but I could not explain exactly how the battle unfolded.
Even with that complaint this is an excellent military history. If you like reading about small unit engagements, the Vietnam War or personal style military history then this is a good choice.