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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome account of the 1st Assault Brigade on D-Day, 23 Feb 2010
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P. Welch "Paul" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day (Hardcover)
This is a valuable addition to the literature on the 79th Armoured Division, `Hobo's Funnies'. The division had a range of exotic vehicles, which were intended to help the allies ashore and through the German defences on D-Day (and were to do sterling service in the remainder of the NW Europe campaign). The 79th had such vehicles as Sherman Crabs, to deal with mines, Churchill Crocodile flamethrowers and Sherman DD swimming tanks. Richard Anderson's book focuses on the engineer tank, the Churchill AVRE, which was looked after by the 1st Assault Brigade, Royal Engineers, of the book's title. This tank carried various devices like bridges and fascines for bridging gaps and climbing seawalls, carpets to lay on soft sand, and a large mortar that fired a 40lb bomb. The AVREs accompanied the leading waves of British and Canadian troops ashore around H-Hour on D-Day with the tasks of helping to clear exits from the beach, deal with enemy defences and help clear obstacles. This is the story Richard Anderson tells.

This is the first book devoted to the 1st Assault Brigade since the brigade's own history was published in 1945, and as such it is greatly welcomed. The book has a good overview of the development of the Brigade and a useful summary of the development of the AVRE and its equipment. The role of Canadian Lt Denovan is given suitable prominence in the AVRE's history. There is a good discussion of the Allied plans and the forces assigned to each beach. Anderson is particularly effective on how the proliferation of obstacles, under Rommel's orders, affected Allied planning. There is a good chapter on the German defences that would be faced along the Normandy coast.
The landings are well covered, in detail for each gapping team, largely using Regimental war diaries and other original documentation. The author puts the gapping operations of the Brigade into the context of the wider forces involved. He also compares the experience of the British and Canadians with those of the American landings on Omaha and Utah. Indeed the discussion of the American engineering efforts and the resulting operations on D-Day are some of the best parts of the book. Anderson also effectively uses a number of personal accounts from the Archives, using `after action' reports; this is especially the case for the Gold landings. There are many useful and interesting tables, and numerous photographs and maps.

Other highlights of the book are a good discussion of the contribution of the assault engineers to the success of D-Day, and an excellent examination of the so-called `offer' of funnies by the British, and shows that the accepted notion of a simple refusal by the Americans is simply misleading. Finally he discusses what impact the Funnies would have had if they had all been used on Omaha. In a well argued conclusion he shows that they may have helped on the western end of the beach, but that the superb natural defensive terrain, the fortifications and the effective German defence would have meant that it is unlikely they would have had any significant impact.

Overall, this is a very useful book, and a welcome account. There are a few minor errors here and there. In part this is due to time constraints limiting research to Regimental level war diaries rather than going down to Squadron level. Thus there are some errors in who was on what landing craft, the Ipswich company that produced the AVRE conversion kits was Cocksedge, not Cockbridge; there are also very small inaccuracies in the roll of honour - for instance in 77 Sapper Frank Winstanley was also a fatality; in 79's roll is Ray Marsden, but he served in 81 (and indeed was killed on D-Day). An addition is also Sapper Scott, who was a Dozer driver in 149 Assault Park Sq and was killed on D-Day. But this does not detract from an excellent well-researched book, highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A excellent book, but ?, 10 Mar 2012
This review is from: Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day (Hardcover)
This book is an excellent addition to the literature on the subject of Hobart and his funnies. However, that said it follows on from all other American accounts of of this issue in that it seeks to minimise the effect of the funnies on the British and Canadian beaches and continues the policy of all the American writers I have read in putting forward the view that using them on Omaha beach would have made very little difference to the terrible blood price the American's paid in getting ashore and breaking through the coastal defences. Right from the US War Department Historical Division's survey of September 1945 through to Stephen Ambrose's D-Day book in 1995 (we now know that Ambrose falsified his Biography of Eisenhower)there is a history of damning with faint praise and censorship by omission. The reason for this I suggest is that the conclusions which might be arrived at are both painful and also damaging to the reputations of those who rejected the use of the British specialist armour (General Bradley) for the assault on the beaches. The US army engineers (on foot under machine gun fire) trying to clear the beach of mines, the DD Sherman's struggling in the shingle in front of the sea wall, the problems in surmounting the sea wall and or forcing open the metal gates to the beach, and silencing the bunkers which rained fire down on the defencless US infantry in the open on the beach...all these problems would have been overcome by the specialist AVREs (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). The mines by Sherman 'Crabs' (Flailing mine-clearing tanks),the shingle could have been covered by the carpets laid by the AVRE 'Bobbins', the sea wall surmounted by AVRE SBGs (Small Box Girder)bridges and the drop coming off the wall by AVREs carrying 'Fascines', the metal gates could have been destroyed by AVREs carrying demolition charges called the 'Goat' and finally the bunkers could have been dealt with by AVREs firing Petard 'Flying Dustbin' demolition charges OR by 'Crocodile'AVRE flamethrowers OR by the gunfire of Sherman DD tanks ( had not nearly half of those allocated to Omaha beach not been pushed into to sea 6000 yards out in the Channel and then been almost immediately swamped by the rough seas and sunk). For factual information this is a good book but I'm afraid that the author was unable to shake off his nationality and be truly objective. It was no accident that the 29th Division's troops under Norman Cota managed to get off the beach quicker, their DD tanks were brought right on to the beach by LCT captains who were not deterred by German gunfire, the Big Red One's (1st US Inf Div)men however were let down and only 5 of their 32 allocated tanks made it to the beach and they had the misfortune to land very near a German bunker just above the high water mark, equipped with on 88mm anti-tank gun which faced down the beach (not out to sea)and thus were put out of action very quickly. You can go there today and see the bunker, the gun aperture is sealed with wire mesh but the 88mm gun is still rusting inside the bunker..I've seen it, and I looked back along that long flat sandy beach,..a terible killing ground. And, even a knocked out tank or AVRE is useful in that it will provide a shelter from machine gun fire, while you gather your resources and plane your next move. An unrelated but similar rejection of a British invention was the case of the 'Firefly' Sherman (a Sherman equipped with a British 17pdr anti-tank gun gun). Rejected, yet it was the only allied tank which could take on the German Tigers or Panthers on anything like equal terms, being able to penetrate a Tiger's frontal armour at 1700 yards range (the Tiger could kill a Sherman at 2000 yards). Watch the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan again and think about it ?
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and interesting, 18 May 2010
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This review is from: Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day (Hardcover)
Sometimes a specialist publication like this can throw unexpected light on a topic that a larger more general history would bypass. While this may seem to be a unit history - it illuminates the Breaching of the Atlantic wall and the development/use of specialised Armour excellantly. Even the more statistical listings reward repeated reading - although I admit I treated that section as a buffet to be visited at several different occasions, rather than all in one go. If specialist armour, specialist units and D Day are of interest to you - buy it. But it is not,however, an exhaustive technical/photographic record of 'Hobarts Funnies'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brit writes: Very detailed, lots of research done., 12 April 2014
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This review is from: Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day (Hardcover)
When an American writes a book about D-Day, you fear it is going to be US-biased, and less than well informed. Or so I thought. But this book is just what I wanted: detailed chapters describing action on each beach and each sector of each beach, highlighting experience of the crews of the 'Funnies', with many quotations from their official reports from the National Archives of both the UK and the US. There are a few line drawings (I wish there were more!) of the specialist AVRE tanks, and many excellent illustrations. The author explains just about all the abbreviations and jargon and clearly understands the British and Commonwealth armies of the day. The proof-reader (if there was one) did not excel, but this is a small price to pay for a book I shall treasure. I am well pleased. Can Mr Anderson now look at the often ignored DUKW of the RASC and the US Army? Please?
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5.0 out of 5 stars better than expected, 6 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day (Hardcover)
The book had more content than I expected and was extremely well compiled. A pleasure to read enjoy and study.
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Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day
Cracking Hitler's Wall: The 1st Assault Brigade Engineers on D-Day by Richard C. Anderson (Hardcover - 1 Aug 2009)
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