- Simon Forty
- ARRSE Rating
- 5 Mushroom Heads
Caen, the objective that should have been taken on D-Day, eventually fell on 18 July, some six weeks late! Much of the blame for the failure to capture the city fell on Montgomery's shoulders, but he was as frustrated as the rest of the allies. Facing the British and Canadians was a vast array of SS Panzer and Infantry Divisions. There were five SS Panzer Divisions in the city alone and the rubble caused by aerial bombardment and artillery acted as an effective roadblock for tanks trying to press on!
While enemy action was one reason for failure for so long, another was the time it was taking to clear troops from the beaches. There were that many that all routes around the beaches were gridlocked for days at a time. This obviously meant important material and men were not getting to where the were supposed to be and lines of communication were severely hampered.
Forty tells of the hard-won yards in the vicious war of attrition that was Caen. His book is filled with haunted exhausted faces perhaps wondering where the next shell or bullet would land. This is a no-holds barred book, showing the uncomfortable side of warfare and readers should be aware there are some pictures which may be distasteful or upsetting. Unfortunately death and injuries are by-products of warfare!
The seven chapters that divide this book follow the succession of operations to take the City of Caen. Following the introduction, the first chapter outlines the objectives from D-Day. Chapter two covers Operation Perch, the push through Tilly-sur-Seulles to Villers-Bocage. It was here that the legend of Michael Wittmann was born, when he took out a number of tanks and other vehicles. Happily, the legend did not survive Normandy! The operations to break out of the Bocage, Martlet and Epsom, are dealt with in depth in chapter three. It was here that 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division forced a crossing on the River Odon, allowing the much-needed breakout, despite suffering heavy losses at the hands of 12 SS (HitlerJugend) Panzer Division.
The next operation, featured in chapter four, was Charnwood; an attempt to take Carpiquet village, close to Caen and it's adjacent airfield. Stubborn resistance from 12 SS Panzer meant that assaulting troops could only control the North of the airfield. With this minor success, the Allies were only a mile from Caen. Three days later, a full scale assault commenced by 1 Corps from the North. To maintain the momentum of attack on the German positions around Caen and to keep Panzer Group West occupied while the U.S. completed their breakout, Operation Greenline was launched and is covered in chapter five.
Operation Goodwood (chapter six) was the last major operation in the fight to liberate Caen. Initially it was meant to hold the enemy for as long as possible, but German defence led to some of the bloodiest fighting yet seen and cost over 5,500 allied lives! From that point of view, Goodwood was a failure. Montgomery wanted to keep casualties as low as possible. Chapter seven is a critique of the problems the Germans were now facing. They had no control of Sea or Air, the Allies learned quickly and integrated well between Infantry and Armour. It was as Churchill called it "The beginning of the end" and for the Allies, it was a vindication of their intent and proof of their ability to realise it. An interesting list at "Further Reading" concludes this outstanding book.
Rarely have I read a book like this and felt I was actually there. One could almost smell the smoke and hear the guns. Forty's narrative style is compelling and leaves the reader wanting more.
A rating of five out of five is the best I can do.