Stephen Napier has obviously spent a lot of time and effort in researching the necessary information in order to be able to write this book, which is really about how the armour of the Allies engaged that of the Germans in Normandy during the summer of 1944, from the beach landings in June to the end of August. However, it is not just a book of statistics concerning who fired what at which enemy but a very thorough explanation and analysis of what happened.
- Stephen Napier
A simple Introduction looks first at the initial landings on D Day, 6th June, explaining briefly why that particular date was chosen, the appearance of amphibious tanks, and the mix of Allied armoured units involved. The author points out that many other books have been written with varying figures for the tank loss statistics, both Allied and German, and only now are the real figures given. Taking into account the performance of each armoured division in relation to training in tanks and the development of both Allied and German tanks, the final paragraph pays tribute to the bravery of those who fought the battle in tanks.
The first chapter considers the DD (known as Duplex Drive) tanks in detail, which were meant to be in action immediately during the landings on the beaches. Apparently the Dieppe operation had convinced the Allies that infantry needed to be supported by armour and considerable work was carried out on Sherman tanks in order to enable them to “swim” after being launched until they reached the beach when they would revert to being tracked vehicles. This is followed by a relatively short chapter detailing a comparison between the tanks, their organisation, self propelled guns and infantry anti tank weaponry. Stephen Napier also provides comprehensive information on the crews, how they lived, fought, and died with their tanks, with a good description of what happens in order to replace/repair tanks and human casualties.
Getting the tanks onto the beach with the subsequent intentions and actions of both Allies and Germans is covered in the chapter described as the Bridgehead Battles, followed by the rest of the book covering all the major operations culminating with the closing of the Falaise Gap. Chapter 8 is more or less devoted to the American 1st Army effort during Operation Cobra where the intention was to push through and break out in a corridor opening the way to Brittany while the Germans were occupied in resisting the advance of the British, Canadian and Polish attacks around Caen and south toward Falaise. However, the majority of the book is about the armoured offensive of the British, Canadians and Poles from the original beaches through the Bocage to the attempts to close the Falaise Gap. The chapters covering this include those on Operations Epsom, Goodwood, Totalize and Tractable.
The detailed analysis by the author is very critical of the strategies and tactics of the allies and Germans alike. Where the Allies are considered he goes into detail about the training, mix of new and seasoned troops, the terrain and armour involved, and the higher commands. A lot of detailed information is included which could have made for a very solid book but for the addition of the narratives covering the various battles by using quotes from those taking part. These, too, are mostly corroborated by his references to the historical records of both Allies and Germans.
The final chapter is a Summary of the whole period considered looking at the general picture of the weeks spent in hard fighting all the way through Normandy to Falaise. By that time, the Germans were in retreat but withdrew in good order despite the changes in their command and the expectation that the Allies would be far more aggressive in their own advance. The author uses the Summary chapter to recap and enumerate the losses, strategies, and performance of those involved on both sides.
The references are in the form of chapter endnotes though, perhaps, it might have been better to have considered a mix of footnotes and endnotes because at times it is rather inconvenient having to use extra bookmarks to find the relevant references. There are a number of annotated plates approximately halfway through the book and a considerable number of sketches and improvised maps. Unfortunately the sketches, although authentic, did not help when attempting to visualise the movements and terrain described in the text. To this end, more explanatory diagrams would have been of great use and, at the risk of being pedantic, exhaustive proof reading/editing would pick out the minor mistakes.
A very comprehensive Bibliography and Index rounds out a good book. For those involved in armour it provides a good recount of what happened, while for those who are intent on learning part of the history of those who took part in World War Two it is well worth reading.