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Attack on the Scheldt

Graham A Thomas
One of the less studied parts of the Second World War is the opening up the port of Antwerp. Following the collapse of German resistance in Normandy the Allies advanced at an impressive pace (actually faster than the planning timetable). This of course placed logistics under huge pressure and, as ever in armoured warfare, the availability of fuel became an increasing concern as the tanks moved ever further from Normandy. Although the port of Antwerp was taken with relative ease the Scheldt estuary that led to it was not cleared. German costal artillery on both sides of the estuary made the approach impossible and thus the port useless.

With the Germans in full retreat and the Allies in pursuit mode bouncing the Rhine and getting into Germany in the summer of 1944, thus hastening the end of the war, seemed a reasonable option and operation Market Garden was launched. As we know, that ended badly and so clearing the Scheldt estuary became a necessity and priority. This book is the story of how it was cleared.

The author, Graham Thomas, is the Editor of the British Army Review, the subject matter is interesting and new so I settled down with this book with high hopes. I should have remembered what Confucius didn’t say, “travel in hope, arrive in disappointment.”

The rot set in early on with a fatuous end to the author’s note “…the next time politicians want to get involved in a war readers will be able to cite this book along with many others and say never, ever again.” History shows that politicians continued to go to war after the end of the war to end all wars. This book would not change that, even if it were writing with the wisdom of Solomon and the light prose of PG Wodehouse. Sadly it isn’t.

The next pages contained 4 maps on such a large scale as to be illegible and then the misery began. The text consists largely of cut and paste from operational orders and after-action reviews with a thread of the author’s words seeking to link them together, but failing. Worse, the prose often uses the passive voice, resulting in ridiculously long sentences and seems desperate to pad out the word count. Formation level groupings are recited in tedious detail, but the relevance (if any) is omitted. In the later chapters the book switches from division level to Battalion and Company but one gets no sense of the action -although I don’t think many readers will get that far. If they do they will face a description of actions to capture gun positions identified as W123 etc. but without any map to gain an insight as to where they are.

This is one of the worst books that I have ever read – reading it was a chore and took forever as it sapped my will to finish it. That the author is the editor of the BAR is alarming, and if I could award it less that one mushroom-head I would.

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