Thursday, 2 February 2012

By Tank Into Normandy - Book Review

At the start of the new year I read an excellent book; 'By Tank Into Normandy' by Stuart Hills.  Hills was a Tank Commander in the Nottingham Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry (practically a local regiment to wear I live), fighting from D-Day through to the end of the war.  The Sherwood Rangers were an independent tank regiment, attached wherever needed, so saw action throughout the war and with a number of other units, including the US 82nd Airborne as part of Market Garden, as well as numerous British and Commonwealth units.

It's not a long book by any means, but as a first hand account makes for a fascinating read.  It's not a book that delves into grand strategy or large-scale actions, but does give an excellent account of small-unit actions at company and platoon level, and the effect of combat on those who took part.

The bravery of the young men who time and again got into tanks knowing what could happen to them, and the randomness of the losses is very affecting, but particular mention must be made of the unit's padre, and amazing man who took it upon himself to personally recover every lost tanker and see to their burial, because he didn't think the crews should have to see what could happen to them and then have to get back into a tank and face combat again.

From a wargaming perspective it certainly brings a new perspective.  The actions described are often of a scale that would make for interesting scenarios, and are often accompanied by sketch maps of the action.  It also contradicts some things that many games and rules seem to encourage.

One thing that comes across strongly, in contrast to what most of our games would suggest, is how rare tank on tank combat was.  It's some time after D-Day before he first recounts a meeting with another tank; most of the combat the regiment see is supporting infantry units and, rather than their big fear being Tigers and Panthers, it's threat of an infantryman in a hedgerow with a Panzerfaust that pre-occupies the tank crews.

The other is the frequency with which the tanks would plaster the landscape with HE 'just in case'.  On the table we have a 'god-like' view, and many rules encourage this by having all fire as direct fire.  It's interesting that Kampfgruppe Normandy splits suppressive fire and Direct Fire, which requires a spotting test first.

All in all, a good read and recommended.  The only drawback is that at full RRP (£8.99) it's pretty pricey for what you get.  Not quality, just length.  However I picked mine up for much less in a small bookshop, and there are plenty of cheaper options on Amazon.


  1. Thanks for the review! I'll pick this one up!
    Another good read is "Tank Men" (Robert Kershaw)!
    Get this one, if you haven't read it already!


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    2. Thanks for the recommendation Mojo. I've not read that yet so I shall keep an eye out for it.

    3. Have just picked up a copy of 'Tank Men' to read, from a quick skim it looks like a good recommendation, thank you!

  2. I agree, this one is good. What strikes you is also the age of the writer; he was 20 during D-Day, already an officer. When the war was over he was 21, no longer the boy he was only two years before. Also, the random SNAFU's that keep cropping up, like when he was forced to defend a village at night with two fireflies and only one ordinary Sherman, making it very hard because of the Firefly's lack of a Hull MG and small amount of HE shells.

    1. Yes, these are things that don't always get reflected in games, especially where we get to choose what we want for the mission from a nice, neat list! I was actually thinking earlier that incident would make for a very interesting scenario.

      I was also struck by the fact that, as well as his young age, during the whole time he had no idea of how his parents were faring in the far east.

    2. When he was reunioned with his father, just before going off to South Africa (IIRC) to become a career officer, almost brought tears to my eyes. It would make a terrific movie ending :-)