Friday, August 12, 2016

August visit to the Grumble Jones Library

Well, it's a quiet Friday night. My regular STL opponent has a habit of cancelling on me. Tonight, he chose to help someone with their plumbing issues. will I ever decide!?! I's so hard to choose...they are both so much fun...(ok enough sarcasm for one

So instead of playing the world's greatest WWII tactical board game, I decided to go ahead with this month's visit to the Grumble Jones Library. It's a bit timely, as I finally received a book that I ordered on July 5th. I honestly didn't think it would ever arrive. It will be the only book I talk about tonight. Now, I know I hinted at talking about some Pacific books...but tonight's volume will be focused on my favorite campaign...the Normandy Campaign. 

It is my favorite you know!

I would hazard to guess that most of you are aware of the After the Battle magazine series and the various books they have put out over the years. They are generally the first and last word on the topics which they cover. I haven't actually purchased any of their publications until this one about Villers Bocage. I have had a huge fascination for the fighting at Villers Bocage for many years. Most of us are familiar with the myth telling about Michael Wittman's charging lone Tiger I that stopped an entire British offensive. And like many of you, I really...really wanted to understand what actually went down and how  Wittman and his fellow German tankers were able to accomplish their successes that day. 

Daniel Taylor's Villers-Bocage Through the Lens is a relatively small book with about 88 pages or so. But those 88 pages are packed with text, maps and outstanding photographs, which were all taken by the Germans following the action. So, that fact alone seems to confirm that indeed, this initial round of fighting at Villers Bocage was a German victory in so much as they controlled the field at the end. The author does point out that some of the surviving British tankers were still in hiding as the German photographers snapped these pictures of the battle's remains.
 For the ASL player, this book is an invaluable tool in walking the reader through the action and providing very detailed maps indicating individual tank and AT Gun locations.  Wittmann's actions that day have often been the subject of a scenario creation attempt, but I could never come to grips with the limits of ASL to allow a single Tiger I to do the sort of carnage attributed to Wittmann's single Tiger. It just seemed that this wold be impossible to replicate
in ASL. And really, I just found the entire episode to be hard to believe. Fortunately, Taylor tackles that issue head on. And one of the key eyewitnesses to support an accurate account of the day's actions comes directly from Wittmann himself. That was one of the best aspects of this book for me. Taylor does an outstanding job of deconstructing the mythology of this battle and yet, still manages to show that Wittmann was indeed one of history's greatest
tankers. Did he actually stop the British by himself. No, he didn't, but together with the other participating units, Wittmann and his Tiger blunted a major British operation that had it been successful, might have opened the door to taking Caen much sooner. 

Another terrific aspect of Taylor's book is that we get to see the Allied participants of this battle. Far too often, these brave men are forgotten
as the focus falls on Wittmann and the Tiger Tanks. History is a funny thing. We often decry that the winners get to tell the history and in a strange way, Taylor points out, that the British themselves helped to fuel the mythology of the battle. Failures of adequate planning and reconnaissance are replaced with a rampaging, unstoppable Tiger and its Panzer Ace. Coupled with the German propaganda, it's no surprise that Wittmann's legend grew and has been sustained through so many years. The Crow Indians of the American West, often measured their tribe's prominence by the strength of its enemies. Villers-Bocage is a classic example of explaining a defeat, by showing the power and prowess of your foe. In Wittmann, both the Germans and the British had their hero and arch-nemesis that rode into battle like some Black Knight. In the end, Taylor brings Wittmann back down to earth and shows that was not the cardboard caricature of Nazi or British propaganda, but instead a dedicated, military man, who would fall in battle on August 8th, 1944 like so many of his foes who similarly fell at Villers-Bocage.

Lastly, Taylor's book brings into focus men like John Cloudsley-Thompson who faced Wittmann at Villers-Bocage, survived the
encounter and went on to lives of post-war fame and adventure, which would forever be accented by the day they faced Germany's greatest tank ace at Villers-Bocage.

In closing, I highly recommend this book for the ASL player interested in the key battles associated with the Normandy Campaign and in particular, the fighting to secure Caen. Taylor's book is spot on in bringing the battle to life and will certainly be invaluable in helping you create a scenario to be replayed on the cardboard fields of Advanced Squad Leader. 

Thanks for visiting us this month. We will check out some new books in September!

In remembrance of the 15 men of 1st and 2nd Kompanie, schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 who fell at Villers-Bocage.

In remembrance of the men of Allied Units, who fell at Villers-Bocage:

4th County of London Yeomanry (12 men)
8th Hussars (7 men)
1st Royal Tank Regiment (10 men)
11th Hussars (1 man)
5th Royal Horse Artillery (4 men)
1/7th Queen's Regiment (13 men)
5th Royal Tank Regiment (4 men)
1/5th Queen's Regiment (8 men)
1st Rifle Brigade (16 men)
65th Anti-Tank Regiment (2 men)

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