In the initial phases of the Normandy Campaign (the beginning of the break-out from the landing areas) that the largest number of deployed vehicles were, surprisingly, British and Commowealth. One of the problems with the available books on the Campaign has been an over-emphasis on U.S. forces, not enough has been published on British/Commonwealth forces.
The real gap has been in one source which would look at the components of the deployed Divisions and Brigades along with their attached regiments and the vehicle types which were used within them. Although by no means the definitive word on the subject, this book does go a surprising way in providing this kind of information.
British Tanks in Normandy is written by Ludovic Fortin and published by the French publisher Histoire and Collections. The (hardback) book consists of 176 pages which are divided into four broad headings, each of which contains a number of sub-chapters. All the contemporary photographs are black and white - all of the additional graphics are in full-color.
The structure of the book is logical and easy to follow. These are the chapter headings: Divisions: - 7th Armoured
- 11th Armoured
- 79th Armoured
- Guards Armoured Division Brigades: - 4th Armoured
- 6th Guards Tank
- 8th Armoured
- 27th Armoured
- 31st Tank
- 33rd Armoured
- 34th Tank Men: - Tactics, Organization & Results
- Daily Life in Normandy Tanks; - Medium Tanks
- Cromwell, Centaur and Challenger
- Medium Tank Sherman
- Firefly Infantry Tanks:
- Churchill Light Tanks:
- Stuart Tank Destroyers:
- M10 Wolverine
- M10 Achilles Self-Propelled Guns:
- Priest & Sexton 'Funnies':
- AA Tanks
- Sherman Crab
- Churchill AVRE
- Churchill Crocodile Appendices:
- Tank Markings
- British Armoured Units
- Sector of Operations
- Bibliography and Acknowledgements
In this area i'll give a broad assesment of each section. Concentrating on the highlights and drawbacks. Divisions: The four deployed divisions in the first month or so of the campaign each get a seperate chapter. This gives a brief history of the Division and (importantly) gives a sub-divided section looking at the component Regiments of the division. This, for the modeller, is very useful indeed. Each of the various battles and Operations that the Division was involved in are listed and given a good degree of detail. Although not to the interest of every modeller, it nevertheless serves to give an idea of the situation. An additional chart is also provided giving the full 'Order of Battle' for each division. Inevitably, the 'stars' of the chapters are the photos. In the case of the 7th Armoured Division chapter - some excellent photos of Cromwells and Fireflys. There are also some invaluable images of AA Crusader Mk. IIIs.The 11th Armoured chapter is good for Sherman images. the chapter on the 79th has (as one would expect) a good number of excellent images of Crabs and Churchill AVREs. Brigades: Very much following the structure of the previous section with text interspersed with images, there are some real 'gems' within the section. Particularly notable is the second sub-chapter, that of 6th Guards Brigade which has some very good images of Churchills on deployment. Men: Although superfiicially at least, not directly related to the modeller, this section does assist in 'drawing' a more personal picture of the Campaign. There are some excellent images within this section of particular value to those who like to 'inhabit' their vehicles. Tanks: About this section, i'll begin by 'grinding' a personal axe. Frankly, although of interest, the majority of photos DON'T have the value of the 'in-country' images. Too many of them are the 'official' WD or DoD images which have been reproduced countless times in many other books. Any modeller who is serious about their references, will have a mixture of sources - amongst them the 'operator's manual' type and those of the vehicle in combat. There are however some invaluable images - although little to make the book 'stand-out' from other, similar publications. Part of the problem is the hard-core specialist versus those who need a good primer on the subject so, in that respect the author and editors have to draw a balance between what is needed and what one would like to see. Within this section are some excellent color plates which seem to be (approximately) 1/48th scale. Nice as they doubtless are, I still wonder about the real value of these..
There are, in my opinion, some curious 'absences' in this section - the Archer being one. However, on balance, there are some interesting inclusions - the Challenger for example and the coverage of the DD Shermans is good and detailed.
The final section in the book Appendices: contains some invaluable information for the modeller - particularly in the first section 'Markings' this really makes an effort to explain the complex nature of British tank markings. This is done by using a complete page which shows the placement and nature of markings for Divisional, Tactical, Troop, Squadron and registration numbers. Briefly, the the Allied stars are shown along with a brief explanation of unit serial numbers. The final part covers the Regiments (senior, second and junior), motor battalions and Armoured Regiment markings. This section also has some images of captured vehicles - the actual point of which escapes me as the spaces could be used for other subjects..
The strongest part of the book is undoubtedly the work done by the author to give an overview of the Normandy Campaign. Secondly, to provide an excellent look at the 'hardware' of the British forces. There are areas which could be explored in further books in this series - SPGs and Armored Cars being just two of them...
As to value for the modeller it's a good buy. The photos are well chosen and, overall, it's been very well researched and is extremely well-written. Now, this is no criticism whatsoever, but I would like to see books on British/Commonwealth Armor going beyond the 'traditional' source of images - the archives of the Imperial War Museum. There has been a growing trend in the last year or two for publishers (particularly in the case of Tankograd) to actually buy images from private collections which has given us access to completely new material. British troops did take photos like any others - perhaps more effort should be made to track down these images?
As to who the 'target' market is, I would say that it's very clearly aimed at the modeller and, in particular as a book which would serve as a core reference for a not overly-documented part of history. Back this up with more 'technical' sources such as the excellent Armor Photo Gallery series and you'll have a very reliable archive. In conclusion, it's a book well-worth considering and for modellers of British AFVs of the Normandy Campaign will be well-used.
Highs: The archive images, the structure of the book and undoubtedly the color plates.Lows: The use of the 'official' photos from the U.S. War department is an unnecessary duplication - these are covered in many other sources. Some of the images add little to the subject covered..Verdict: Overall, in combination with other books on particular vehicle types, a highly useful publication. There are many images which will suggest new projects and in this respect it should receive a 'High' rating..
About Jim Rae (jimbrae) FROM: PROVINCIA DE LUGO, SPAIN / ESPAñA
Self-employed English teacher living in NW Spain. Been modelling off and on since the sixties. Came back into the hobby around ten years ago. First love is Soviet Armor with German subjects running a close second. Currently exploring ways of getting cloned to allow time for modelling, working and wr...