June has come to Tulsa, Oklahoma and with it 108 F heat...which makes walking across the street feel like a stroll through a furnace. But June always focuses my mind on those dramatic days in Normandy from June 6th through August 13th, 1944. As an American, I might be expected to be drawn to studying the Battles of Carentan, St. Lo, Cherbourg, Mortain and Operation Cobra. And indeed, I have studied those engagements...but by and large my personal library reflects my interest in the efforts of the British, the Scottish, and the Canadians engaged in the many operations to seize Caen. After all, it seems that the greatest tank battles of the Normandy Campaign were waged in the space between Villers Bocage and Caen.
And smack in the middle of this collision of Allied and German armor was a non-descript hill dubbed Cote 112. The Germans would throw the might of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions into the fight against a host of British, Scottish and Canadian Regiments and Divisions. A hill in perhaps name only would be the scene of agonizing carnage on both sides. And whoever would eventually control the hill would be one step closer to winning the most important campaign on the Western Front.
My first real academic study of the campaigns around the battles for Caen came when I purchased a copy of Max Hasting's outstanding book, Overlord. I was still in college at the time and took to reading it each night in my wife's (then girl-friend) apartment each evening as she fell asleep. I would read a chapter, turn out the lights and walk back to campus to my dorm room. During those late night walks, my mind would be focused on details of the Normandy campaign as penned by Hastings.
Overlord whetted my interest. While a very good book, it was not overly detailed and didn't give me enough specific info about Buron, Carpiquet, Maltot, Villers Bocage or Hill 112. I wanted to know more and I wanted great source material for SL scenarios. In 1986, I was still playing SL in my own personal defiance of spending the money for ASL. I wouldn't embrace ASL until 1989, when my resistance was finally revealed to be futile.
So, what follows are the books in the Grumble Jones library, which I have been fortunate enough to obtain and which I believe provide the ASL player with the best combination of history and scenario source material. The books covered in this visit are not the whole of my Normandy collection, but instead those most focused on the events around Caen. We'll save the other tomes for another visit to the library.
For whatever reason, Hill 112 really grabbed my interest and I began learning as much about the battle for this bump in the Normandy landscape as I could. Back in 2003, my wife presented me with two excellent books covering the German forces engaged at Hill 112 by French publisher, Heimdal.
The first of these covers the 9th SS Hohenstaufen Panzer Division. This book is massive...I mean massive and is filled with great photographs and a great many directly from the fighting for Hill 112. On the downside for me, it's in French. So my English and German are not much help. Nonetheless, I consider this one of the truly great books in my collection.
Hemidal does a tremendous job in telling a well put together history of the German units which fought in France in the summer of 1944. At times, it has seemed odd to me that a French publisher would put together such great books about specific German units...but then again, who else has a greater right than the French to tell the story.
The second of the books my wife got me in 2003 was Hemidal's 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. In many ways this volume seems a pale cousin to the huge Hohenstaufen volume. It's about a third the size of the former and while every bit as good with the photographs, etc. it does seem a bit smallish. It is still a great book, but of the two, Hohenstaufen is the King Tiger. These two volumes, taken together don't necessarily offer much in the way of scenario development, but the pictures and maps go a long way to helping the ASL player understand the battles around Hill 112. So I do recommend them, if you can find them at a reasonable price. At one time or another I have seen Hohenstaufen range between $150 to $500.00 It's good...but not that good.
So, while I loved the picture quality of the two Heimdal books, I still felt like a I wasn't learning about Hill 112 the way I wanted to. So off to Amazon I went and the following books were ones that I purchased for my Kindle and kept me occupied during my many business travels.
The Battle Ground Europe series of books are truly outstanding. Great pictures, maps and the detailed narrative to inform the reader of the battles being covered. These are also intended to serve as guides for any visit to the specific battles. I love them and try to snag them on Amazon whenever they are on sale.
This series of books is very extensive and covers nearly every major engagement of the Normandy Campaign. In addition to Hill 112, I also picked up Operation Epsom and Mont Pincon. And as time and money permit, I hope to pick up other volumes.
Mont Pincon is another of those engagements in the fight for Caen and beyond, that I was rather unfamiliar with, so I have very much enjoyed learning something new.
And as stated before, the picture quality of these books is first rate with equal time given to the Allies and the Germans.
I have noted that there are a great many more pictures available from the Allied perspective, but to some extent that might be expected given the Allied success in the campaign.
Much of the German photo history can again be found in the Heimdal publications.
Another of the books in my library was one that I found in the local Books A Million, which does have some great history books from time to time.
Tigers in Normandy is one of those books, which is an absolute must have. The detailed narrative of the fate of Germany's Tiger Tanks in Normandy is without rival. Simply stated, this is one of those books that gets you down to the Turret Number and tells you what happened to that Tank and oh...has the pictures to back it up. I love this book and have poured through on numerous occasions for scenario inspiration.
Now, some ASL'rs might find a book like Tigers in Normandy to almost be too much detail. I know...is that really possible...well yes, I suppose it can be and certainly, books like Tigers in Normandy are not for everyone. A similar treatment of Allied Tanks would be welcome...but unfortunately, the fascination with the Tiger Tank has ensured that their history was a bit better preserved than the hundreds of Shermans and Churchills which battled them in the hills and hedgerows of Normandy.
But there is an author, whose book I'm saving for last, who at least does great justice to the Allied side of the conflict.
The next two books are very recent acquisitions, which I'm yet to complete reading through, but nonetheless are volumes, which have the kind of detail I've been searching for to inspire ASL scenarios.
Ken Touts, The Bloody Battle for Tilly is the first of these two books. I chanced upon this at used bookstore here in Tulsa and for $6 dollars, could hardly pass it up.
My brief perusal of its pages confirms that it will provide the narrative details that I am partial to.
It's not chock full of pictures or maps. It's that kind of book...you know the ones...with a series of pictures in the middle and a drought both before and after. The Battle Ground Series really does shine when compared to the standard WW2 volume. Editors should take note, that pictures mixed with the relevant text makes for a better reading experience. Just my two cents worth.
The next volume, is Maj. How's Hill 112. Again, I am just getting into this particular book, but can already tell it will be very useful in educating me on the battle while at the same time providing the inspiration for ASL Scenario Creation.
This hardbound book is thin, but chock full of pictures, maps, firsthand accounts from both Allied and German participants, and plenty of maps. It's an all around great volume.
We are heading into the home stretch for June's visit to the Grumble Jones Library. 10 books is a bit more than I had anticipated talking about...but hey, these are some great books, and any one of them would be a great resource for the average historian or ASL player.
And finally, no accounting of the Normandy Campaign would be complete without Ian Daglish's excellent, Goodwood. This book was produced not only by an outstanding historian, but an ASL player as well. Ian's book is absolutely filled with maps, pictures and the most detailed, action narratives of any of the books we have talked about. It stands head and shoulders above the others.
There are moment's in Ian's book that really make your head spin as you are forced to understand how truly awful it was to be in a Sherman Tank advancing against German anti-tank guns, tanks and Panzerfausts. Ian does not hold back the punches and brings the reader face to face with the human cost of war. Some of the losses suffered by Allied Tankers is simply staggering. You will ask yourself..."how did they find the courage to keep attacking??"
Ian's book will give you insight into the terrible carnage of armored conflict in Normandy.
So, it's nearly closing time in the Grumble Jones Library. Thanks for visiting this month and we look forward to visiting again with you in July.