Saturday, March 12, 2016

March Visit to the Grumble Jones Library

A recent acquisition inspired this month's look at three much valued tomes from the Grumble Jones library. All three are works by Douglas E. Nash. Nash's works are synonymous with quality and incredible detail. Nash has few if any equals and honestly only Jason D. Mark comes to mind as an author of similar caliber. Hell's Gate was the first of Nash's works that I acquired due to my interest in the Battle of Cherkassy. 

I also ran across Mr. Nash while researching Guy Sajer's book, The Forgotten Soldier. Sajer's book opened me up to deeper explorations of German operations on the Eastern Front and in particular the activities of Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland. I discovered Sajer's book at roughly the same time I had begun playing Squad Leader and Cross of Iron. The introduction of the German 4-6-8's as representative troops for the Grossdeutschland Division was one of the great joys of Cross of Iron. 
As I learned years later, after reading Sajer's book, there were apparently a great many former GD veterans and other WWII historians, who doubted the veracity of Sajer's book. Nash was one of those who vouched for the book and actually had contact with Sajer regarding his wartime experiences. 

I have seen on various forums including Game Squad where the debate about the book's authenticity continues. For me personally, Nash's perspective on its authenticity serves are the final word.  If memory serves, there at least one Squad Leader scenario that was taken from The Forgotten Soldier. Regardless of the debates around this book, it remains a favorite of my library and it opened me up to a world of WWII study and scholarship that continues to this day.

As stated earlier, my first Nash volume, was the excellent Hell's Gate. I first ran across descriptions of the Battle of Cherkassy in the Time-Life WWII series. In that series, the Battle was referred to as the Witches' Cauldron. The desperate attempts of the Germans to escape the pocket in the midst of winter left a vivid impression on me. My primary Squad Leader player in those days was Brandt M. Brandt and I embarked on an effort to create a CG based on the Cherkassy Pocket. With only a handful of boards to choose from, we made a huge map with the various boards indicated across it. We then replicated the various German and Soviet Orders of Battle into Squad Leader. Now, of course, we had no idea of what a CG should have been like or even how it should have been played. We simply assigned our forces across the maps and randomly selected pairs of boards to fight on. We played it over a couple of weeks, before deciding scenario play was more enjoyable. Given the massive number of board available today, I can only imagine how much more enjoyable the effort would have been. Of course, access to Nash's book would also have really helped us flesh out the battle as well.

One of the great appeals of Hell's Gate is the quality of the photos included in this massive tome. A signature of any Nash and RZM collaboration is high quality pictures, which are not only related to the engagement, but which also include detailed and accurate captions. You learn as much from the pictures as you do the exhaustive text. This approach to relating an historical event is second to none. It helps to bring the events to life.
One of the more interesting photo subjects in Hell's Gate for me was Hans Dorr. Dorr's career with the 5th SS Wiking Division was legendary and the many images of him at Cherkassy helped place him as one of the more important characters on the German side. 

It's also one of the problematic aspects of studying WWII history and particularly German WWII history, when the subject matter is focused on the Waffen SS. Even in the ASL community, there are strong feelings about the Waffen SS. While some players enjoy pushing special Black SS Counters across the boards, others choose never to play SS forces. My opponent, Brandt was a player with some strong feelings about playing any German forces. In fact, in all of our games (over a two year period) he never once played the Germans, let alone field a Waffen SS counter.  

I on the other hand, love to play the Germans and am perfectly comfortable fielding Waffen SS counters...although I don't prefer the black counters. So all that aside, one has to be careful in any study of the Waffen SS to not become too much of a "Fan Boy" as I have heard stated from time to time in the ASL community.  But, history is filled with stories about military men whose exploits, courage and audacity served causes which were completely undeserving of efforts and sacrifice. Hans Dorr would be just such a man, whose exploits were unfortunately dedicated to the one of the darkest regimes in human history.

Nash's book also intrigued me because of the inclusion of many photographs of the 28th SS Walloon Division and their leader, Leon Degrelle. Yes, at this point, it's fairly obvious that I have an interest in the exploits of the Waffen SS. Guilty as charged. The Walloons are particularly interesting in somewhat the same way, that I have always found the Spanish Blue Division to be fascinating. Perhaps the only difference between the two is that strength of fascist ideas, which shaped the Walloons and Degrelle in particular, who for the remainder of his life was something of an unrepentant Nazi. Nevertheless the  efforts of Degrelle and his Walloons are hugely important to any study of the Cherkassy Pocket and Nash gives a good accounting of their participation in the battle. 

Overall, I found Hell's Gate to be an extremely engaging book and it is certainly one that I turn to frequently just to peruse the photos and reread this or that passage. Cherkassy in many ways provides a demonstration of what von Paulus might have accomplished had he tried to breakout in December of 1942. 

My next Nash volume was to be Victory was Beyond Their Grasp. This excellent book is focused on the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division as it fought from the Hurtgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich. Of the Nash books, which I will touch on during this post, this one is a more normal sized book and not quite as hefty as the other two, which are much more like coffee table books. As with his other works, Victory was Beyond Their Grasp is filled with great detail. It does however, lack the quantity of pictures that were a staple of Hell's Gate. That said, the pictures provided are outstanding and add to the understanding of the 272nd's activities at the end of the Second World War.

This book also provides a refreshing look at a German formation that was not a Grossdeutschland or a Wiking. The Volksgrenadier Divisions were clearly different in terms of equipment, support, morale and motivation. And of course the book's title leaves the reader with no doubt as to how the war will end for the 272nd. That they fought as well as they did, when clearly the war would not end in their favor is a credit to the determination of the average German Landser.

The final Nash book in the Grumble Jones library is also the newest. Kampfgruppe Muehlenkamp arrived only yesterday. And I have been hard pressed to set it aside long enough to write this blog post. Clearly said, it is a beautiful book. It's a large format volume that makes you think immediately of a artsy coffee table book of Ansel Adams photographs of Yosemite. You know the kind of coffee table book you've seen in other (non-ASL playing) homes. you, an ASL player can have the kind of coffee table book you've always wanted.  Kampfgruppe Muehlenkamp is so well put together...that it just begs you to pick up and get lost in the pictures of German Panther Tanks and Halftracks surging through Polish wheat fields on a high summer day in July 1944. 

Yes, once again, we are looking at a book about the exploits of a Waffen SS formation, the 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking". But hey, the photography and subjects presented in this book are just so compelling. 

The blow ups of the pictures draw you in to see details that are often missed with smaller images. The clarity of the reproduced images is also pretty amazing. 

I particularly enjoyed following specific tanks and half-tracks throughout the book as well as the many German officers involved in the engagement.  

It may be too early to call...but I will say it nevertheless. This book is the clear favorite of the three Nash tomes' we have discussed tonight. It lacks the exhaustive narrative detail of the previous two, but the quantity and quality of the pictures combined with just enough text make this book, not only an easy read, but a highly information one as well. And lastly, it's a book that you may never tire of pulling off the shelf for a perusal. It's just that good.

Well. that's a wrap on the March visit to the Grumble Jones Library. See you again in April!

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