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Campaign 143: Caen 1944

by Ken Ford illustrated by Peter Dennis

Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-625-9, 96 pages.

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I am fast becoming a fan of Mr. Ford’s work as he has apparently found a way to cram lots of information, in a very concise and straightforward style into the books he has authored in this series.

As students of the battles in and around the Normandy beach-head will know, Montgomery’s so-called (and much-maligned) “Master Plan” for the seizure of Caen on the day of the allied landings fell afoul of many mishaps. One of the most notable was Wittman’s legendary rampage through Villers Bocage, which has continued to spark interest amongst modelers to this day. One thing almost totally overlooked (but which the author clearly explains) was the tactical and operational setback this dealt to the allied effort to take Caen. In short, a few men and a few tanks, blunted an assault by an ENTIRE army. Another point, which is always mentioned in connection with this campaign, was Montgomery’s repeatedly stated (and possibly self-serving) objective of sucking in German armor to ease the American’s task. I have always thought this was an absurdity for two reasons. First, what commander (especially one wishing for a quick break-out) would seek to deliberately strengthen his enemy’s position, versus his own? And secondly, why would the Germans deploy the bulk of their Panzer Divisions in the claustrophobic bocage terrain containing the American beach head, rather than in the infinitely more suitable open areas which confronted the British and Canadians?

Montgomery’s later set-piece assaults were decimated, time and time again, by well-motivated (if less than ideally commanded and supplied) German Panzer-Divisions backed by various support units, particularly 8.8cm Flak batteries. The final seizure of Caen was nearly meaningless, since British and Canadian mechanized formations could not easily pass through the rubble-clogged city, and fan out as Monty had envisioned. Further taking the glory from the city’s conquest was the destruction of the vital bridges over the Orne River. British and Canadian casualties continued to mount, with tanks sometimes being lost in their hundreds, per DAY. Despite this, the British and Canadians eventually crushed the opposition and set the stage for the American break-out (“Operation Cobra”) as well as the German debacle at Falaise.

The text contains the usual chapters devoted to the origins of the battle, the leaders, available forces and plans of the opposing belligerents, followed by descriptions of the actions as they unfolded. This is followed by details of the battle’s aftermath and a brief discussion on touring the battlefield today. There are also Orders-of-Battle (OOB) charts for the opposing forces, as well as a bibliography for those who wish to delve further into the subject. Throughout the entire book, I only noticed one minor glitch. It concerns the date of the action at Villers Bocage (June 13) which is correct in the text, but not in the chronology.

The excellent and generally interesting photographs (including some taken of the battlefield as it appears today), 3-D CAD and conventional color maps and artist’s renditions of key elements of the campaign, this book really brings the details of the battle into focus. The photos feature many views of tanks and AFVs as well as ordnance, fortifications and areas in which the actions were fought. From a tank modeler’s point of view, there is more than one photo of Sherman variations with tracks in a mixed configuration (i.e., some fitted “backwards”, and others “properly” mounted), which could be used to vex contest judges and “experts”. The color art depicts fighting in the city of Caen, the assault on the very important terrain feature known as “Hill 112” and the oft-described stand of a Luftwaffe Flak battery around the village of Cagny, during “Operation Goodwood”. In this last plate, the details of the Flak guns themselves are technically suspect, but that’s no real problem.

This is another fine addition to this series and should appeal to modelers, as well as students of the period. I look forward to Mr. Ford’s next book in this series.

Highly recommended.

Frank V. De Sisto

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