Much has been written about the Blitzkreig and how the Germans pushed us out of Europe in 1940, mainly dealing with either the Germans or with the evacuation at Dunkirk. Well before the Germans had had it all their own way they came up against the BEF in several battles, hard fought with ground only grudgingly given up, usually as flank cover disappeared. The Battle for the Escaut is one of these battles in which the Germans were reminded that they were not up against a soft enemy.
- Jerry Murland
The Escaut is the French name for the River Scheldt and this book covers the stretch from Oudenarde south to Hollain. This story takes place in mid May 1940, the Phoney War had ended and the shooting war started. This book gives a very good account of the actions that the British units took in trying to hold the Germans ion the Escaut. The book is really two things, it is a description of the actions that took place with notable events being described and then the second half is a battlefield tour guide, explaining how to go and walk or drive the area of the battle. Much of the area has changed since 1940 but the author goes to great length to explain how to see the best views as they would have been in 1940.
Several VCs were won here and these are described also with the guide telling you how to visit the places they were won.
There is also some sillyness which cost British lives where a CO had been chided for not taking action by another Bn CO, so he lined up his Bn HQ troops and advanced in arrowhead formation, 50 plus men over open ground. Only two came back!
The book starts with an intro to the First Steps to War containing thumbnails sketches of the Main characters and Formations. It also gives ORBATS for the BEF and then takes the reader through the actions of III Corps, II Corps and 1 Corps with a Chapter on Corps artillery. For such a short book it is quite detailed and well illustrated and good maps, some taken from unit War Diaries. This was a very confusing battle and some orders were not getting through to the right people and a lot of local initiative was required. It was a very hard fought battle and the book brings this out very well.
In the second half of the book there are four car tours and two walking tours were the author takes you back over the countryside of the battle, explaining how to reach hard to find bits, down virtually dirt tracks. I haven’t done any of the tours of course but I feel confident that with this book as a guide I would be able to piece together a good battlefield tour.
This book is part of the Pen & Sword Battleground series of which there are over 100 books in the series. If you want to learn of the BEF in the days prior to Dunkirk then this is an excellent start for that with explanations for why certain actions took place. Well worth getting g a copy if you are thinking of going over that ground.
A good, easy read which would hopefully entertain as well as inform the reader – it did for me. Four out of Five Mrs MRHs for a good battlefield book.