Battle for the Bocage, Normandy 1944

...from Pen & Sword

Title: Battle for the Bocage, Normandy 1944
Author: Tim Saunders
Publisher: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-52678-423-0

This new book from well known historian and battlefield guide Tim Saunders looks at the story of the introduction to the war in the close fields of the Bocage in the days immediately following D-Day for the troops of the British 50th Infantry and 7th Armoured Divisions. It tackles the days immediately following the landings, from the 6th to the 19th of June, 1944.
The sub-title of the book tells us of the 3 key features, Point 103, Tilly-sur-Seulles and Villers Bocage.The various regiments which made up the brigades within the divisions all saw a lot of combat. They had done so in North Africa under Montgomery and he had brought them to Normandy as experienced combat soldiers. Many of them felt they had done their bit and deserved a rest, but still they fought on, having to learn a new and quite different sort of combat in the close countryside of the Normandy Bocage. Lots of small fields, with high banked hedges and stone buildings of farms and villages, so different to the wide open spaces they were used to in the deserts of North Africa. They were trying to keep to the timetable of the invasion plans, but the German defenders had very different ideas. All the elements of the war in North West Europe are in here, from the Bocage countryside, to the tactics required of fighting in this new environment, the availability of plentiful Allied air and artillery support. Despite the heavy weapons and the tanks used by both sides, this is very much about an infantry war. A war of close combat, bursts of machine gun fire, grenades and the common use of mortar fire as close support by both sides. There were heavy casualties on both sides, and the various attacks described include a number of both attacks and retreats by Allied and German forces alike. It includes the heavy fighting which led to the widespread destruction of Tilly, and of course the famous sortie by the Tiger tanks of Michael Wittman at Villers Bocage. I found this an enjoyable read, the author Tim has mixed the timeline of events with extracts from unit reports and personal accounts from soldiers of both sides. Also in the mix are plenty of archive images from the period and plenty of maps illustrating the various parts of the actions being described. I particularly like that, as too often maps are not used enough in some accounts, that you need to have a separate map to try and keep track of the context of where things happened in sequence.
If you have an interest in the campaign in North West Europe, and particularly the events surrounding British units in the first couple of weeks that followed on from the landings themselves, this is an interesting read. I have been lucky enough to visit the area a couple of times, and these days the beautiful, peaceful countryside is a joy to see, with places like the Jerusalem cross-roads and CWGC cemetery, the rebuilt village of Tilly-sur-Seulles with its small museum, and the town of Villers Bocage itself. I'm happy to recommend this one.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.

Robin