Friday, September 9, 2016

September Visit to the Grumble Jones Library

The last days of summer are slowing slipping is in the air again and the promise of a cool, golden-hued Autumn await, as we head once more into the stacks of the Grumble Jones Library.

For today's visit, I intend to focus on just one book, Mark Bando's excellent Breakout at Normandy: The 2nd Armored Division in the Land of the Dead. There are only a handful of books that I would seek to save in the even of a fire...or in Oklahoma an earthquake. This volume is one of those. I chanced upon it during a visit to a Borders Bookstore in St. Louis, MO. I was killing time before an NAPM-St. Louis dinner meeting...when lo and behold I found Bando's book. It had me at hello! What a book.

Bando's books recounts the events of a single week in the Normandy campaign, which led up to a climatic night of 29-30 July 1944. On that night, elements of the German 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Gotz von Berlichen" and the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" would attempt to crash the thin lines of the 2nd US Armored Division "Hell on Wheels" and the supporting 41st US Armored Infantry Regiment. 

The shock and fury of a night battle between the elite soldiers of two proud armies would produce a battle often referred to as Death Night. And the rising sun would truly shine on a Land of the Dead as the extent of the damage done to the retreating Germans was fully revealed.

In his forward, Bando talks about stress and fear of fighting at night, which was exponentially intensified due to the abundance of armored vehicles on both sides. 

The retreating Germans were headed like a tidal wave straight at Combat Command B (CCB) of the US 2nd Armored Division. A unit known for it's excellent teamwork and aggressiveness that many attributed to it's time under the tutelage of General Patton.

On that terrible night, CCB would represent the last hurdle to freedom for German troops desperate to escape from the Allied encirclement.

For the ASL player, the descriptions of the various actions leading up to and during the Death Night are perfect for scenario ideas. Perhaps the only challenge is the aspect of night itself. Modeling it properly in ASL may be difficult, but certainly achievable. I have not attempted it yet myself, but for my December scenario, I may work to create one from this book. Hedgerows, night rules, lots of tanks and's just too much ASL goodness to pass up.


Bando's book also spends a fair amount of time on the mysterious death of  Lt. Col. Christian Tychsen, who was acting commander of the Das Reich. Bando's research attempts to unravel the mystery and makes for some very interesting reading. 

 What's even a bit more intriguing is that despite his research, interviews and on-site investigations, Bando was unable to conclusively determine the exact circumstances of Tychsen's death.  And there's a bit of melancholy to that truth...a highly esteemed officer of an elite German Unit is killed and forgotten as any other soldier caught up in that maelstrom of violence and death. Bando, even mentions that some veterans of the 2nd Armored Division, whom he interviewed could not understand why he was so interested in solving the mystery of just another dead German. For me personally, such sentiment says a bit about the truth of war's impersonal cruelty.

Bando of course spends a good deal of time on the American players in that battle with particular attention paid to the Death Night exploits of Sgt. Hulon B. Whittington of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment. Sgt. Whittington, a squad leader would win the Medal of Honor for his actions on the night of July 29th, 1944.   In short, Sgt. Whittington's inspired leadership would result in the blocking
of a column of nearly 100 German vehicles and tanks, which would ultimately be decimated throughout that night and the following morning. 

Certainly, from an ASL perspective, the role a single man can have in an engagement is well known. Not sure if Whittington would be better represented by a Hero counter of possibly a 9-2. I do think the -1 modifier which Heroes can impart to units in their hex clearly has some historical backing.

Hulon Whittington known as "Big Witt", would be a career soldier and retire as a Major. Sadly, Whittington would take his own life. Bando records the sad truth that Whittington would not be the only US Veteran of Death Night to take their own life. 

 A final aspect of this book that I also really enjoyed was learning a bit more about the US 41st Armored Infantry Regiment. At the time of Death Night, these men were still wearing camouflage uniforms. They are easily distinguished in photographs from that period in Normandy. As the war in Europe continued, they would lose the camouflage because it was too often confused with Waffen SS uniforms by other friendly units.

 So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this book enough for both the ASL player and the historian. This book ably satisfies the needs of both. It also tells a very interesting and tragic human side of a night that would bring honor to the US 2nd Armored Division. 

 Thanks for spending a Friday evening talking about books. 
We'll see you again in October!

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