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Battle Zone Normandy (part 2)

by Simon Trew and Stephan Badsey

Battle Zone Normandy 4: Gold Beach
Hard covers, 9.5 x 6.25-inches, 192 pages, 53 B&W photos, 60 color photos, 14 maps, five charts, index and bibliography. MBI order number 137549AE. ISBN 0-7509-3011-X. Price: $19.95 USD.

Battle Zone Normandy 6: Utah Beach
Hard covers, 9.5 x 6.25-inches, 192 pages, 68 B&W photos, 56 color photos, 15 maps, six charts, index and bibliography. MBI order number 137555AE. ISBN 0-7509-3013-6. Price: $19.95 USD.

At the risk of repeating myself, the first part of this review has been copied over from my recent review of three other books in this series, as presented on this web site. I am of course, taking the lazy way out. However, you, the reader, will also be saved the trouble of looking for those reviews to get hold of this particular bit of introductory information.

So, to reiterate:The entire Normandy campaign is covered in this well-balanced series, with a total of 14 titles. This covers the battle from the D-Day landings (six books), through the Falaise battle and on to Operation Cobra, the eventual beginning of the end in Normandy. In between, such events as the legendary encounter at Villers Bocage, Operation Epsom and the Battles for Caen and Cherbourg are also detailed.

The unique approach of this series makes them especially valuable for those who plan to tour the battlefields, since the first part of each title covers the battles in question, while the second section of each book gives detailed information relevant to touring the areas in question. The text supports this approach by first giving a general, albeit well-detailed account of a particular battle, in the section of the book under the heading “History”. Then, within the section of the book entitled “Battlefield Tours”, many of the individual incidents are described in greater detail, along with hints and tips related to touring the actual areas where these took place. Then, each book also provides information related to the locations of local museums and their operating hours. The final segment of each book, entitled “On Your Return”, presents a select bibliography, which suggests books that either deal with the entire Normandy campaign in a general fashion, or in a more specific fashion. Tailored to a reader based in the UK, the authors also list museums and the pertinent records sections in government archives, along with select US resource sites.

All of this is supported by a very fine selection of contemporary photographs, as well as color photos of the areas as they appear today. The contemporary photographs depict men and equipment, including various AFVs, aircraft, troops, locales and fortifications and should prove to be of use to modelers. There are also quite a few maps within the covers, although the authors of each book generally recommend that the reader procure various other maps, if they wish to tour the areas. There are a few sidebars as well. Some concern themselves with the orders-of-battle of the opposing armies, while others detail such things as command structures and casualties.

Book Four, Gold Beach, relates the exploits of the British 50th Northumbrian Division, as well as attached units such as the legendary 79th Armoured Division, 8th Armoured Brigade, 56th Infantry Brigade, Royal Marines (and their armored support Centaurs), Royal Artillery, 9th and 10th Beach Groups and even the US Army’s 987th Field Artillery Battalion. Facing this onslaught was the German 716th and 352nd Infantry Divisions, supported by Heeres and Kreigsmarine static coast artillery units. This particular book’s author is also the Series’ Editor. I expected that, due to the high quality of the other titles in this series, the author would know his stuff. I was not disappointed, because this entire series is a credit both to him and his editorial team, as well as his stable of authors.

Following the established format, Dr. Trew details first the force structure of the German defenders, as well their muddled and divided command system. He then goes on to provide details of their defensive plans. The force structure, command set-up and plans of British are detailed not only in the text, but also in several charts. These provide Orders-of-battle for the Northumbrians and their support elements, the Breaching Squadrons, naval Bombarding Forces E and K, as well as the Force G landing groups. Oddly enough, no such charts are provided for the opposing German units. However this information is given in the text and can also be easily gleaned from the maps within the covers, especially the spreads on pages 16-17 and 68-69, as well as maps on pages 87 and 98. A final chart lists casualties from the Northumbrian Division and some of its attached units.

Dr. Trew very concisely details the trials and tribulations, as well as the successes of the British units as they carved their way inland against stiff German resistance. Where things went wrong, as on 231st Brigade’s Jig Green West Sector, the author gives a chilling description of what nearly turned out to be the British Army’s version of “Bloody Omaha” (in fact, Omaha was the next beach to the right of Gold). The faulty dispatch and re-direction of the German’s mobile reserve, Kampfgruppe Meyer (not to be confused with Kurt “Panzer” Meyer of the SS) is also touched upon. The much better coordinated assault on the King Sector, which represented the best in combined operations, as well as the eventual push inland is also described.

All of this is supported by a fine selection of photographs showing AFVs, troops and fortifications. All of these are likewise very informatively captioned.The final section of the book shows, through a combination of maps, photos and text, details of many of the smaller parts that made up the whole of the Gold Beach assault. While doing this, the author also takes the reader on a walking tour of the ground upon which the actions took place.

So, there are literally tons of diorama ideas within the book, which should make this very useful to those modelers with an interest in this period. The historic B&W photos show what it was like, while the modern color photos will help in detailing the terrain, fortifications and civil structures. Plus, this is simply an excellent read!

Book Six, Utah Beach, is, I believe, my favorite of the lot. For reasons which I cannot explain, it seems to me that the author has been able to recount the various aspects of this segment of the landings in a resoundingly straightforward manner. For instance, one particular passage grabbed me very early on in his narrative. It says, “The German higher command was notoriously badly organized, either through overlapping spheres of authority or lack of cooperation and personal rivalry.” Well said!

Mr. Badsey begins the text by describing the opposing forces, their plans and their command structure, as well as the terrain involved. He then describes the exploits of the US 4th Infantry Division and both the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Opposing these were the German 91. Luftlande-Division, 243. Infanterie-Division, 709. Infanterie-Division and Fallschirmjager-Regiment 6, as well as armored and other mobile reserve units. All of this text is supplemented with Orders-of-Battle charts for the US and German Armies as well as the US Navy and USAAF Troop Carrier Command. Other charts detail Allied and German command structures.

The book’s graphics are top notch. The photos are all well-chosen and properly captioned, except one. On page 81, there is a photo of “Hurricane”, a well-known M4 Sherman tank of the US 2nd Armored Division as it unloads from an LST after the landings. It is mis-captioned as belonging to the 746th Tank Battalion. The maps are well done and include a survey conducted by the US Army (that appeared in their official history), which pinpoints the US airborne drops as they actually occurred. This graphically shows how widely the US paratroopers were dispersed and indicates just how well they eventually performed despite beginning their operations at great disadvantage.

As is the form for these books, the author then breaks down individual actions into greater detail. This is accompanied by words and pictures that will help walk a prospective tourist through the various locales where the actions took place.

To again repeat myself: there are great ideas for the diorama and vignette modeler between these covers. And, those with a desire to know more about the events that inspired them to build a model will simply enjoy the excellent read.

Both books are highly recommended.

Frank De Sisto

Sutton books are available at retail and mail order outlets. Motorbooks is the North American distributor of Sutton books. Visit their web site at: www.motorbooks.com. Elsewhere, Sutton books can be acquired direct through their web site at: www.suttonpublishing.co.uk.