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Storming Hitler's Island Fortress,
This review is from: Walcheren 1944 (Campaign) (Paperback)
Walcheren 1944 was a vital campaign that was the responsibility of a joint British / Canadian task force. The task force included resources from the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines. The operation would include aerial bombing, navy shelling from the big guns of battleships, troop landings and commando raids.
The book begins with why it was so important to liberate the island. By September the Allies and especially the Americans had such a severe supply problem that curtailed prosecuting the war on a wide front. In the first week of September, Monty was given the responsibility of taking the island and opening the port of Antwerp to shipping but the Field Marshall considered crossing the Rhine more crucial and delayed plans for taking the island until Operation Market-Garden was completed. Antwerp wouldn't be opened until the end of November.
After the introduction a chronology of key events is presented, giving the reader a heads-up on what's to follow.
Opposing Commanders was brief but the key players were introduced. I wished the author had been a little more elaborate on the commanders but he was thrifty with the first chapters in order to devote 63 pages on the campaign. When faced with a finite number of pages, an author often has to discard items that he would have liked to include but in this instance Mr Brooks spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the role and types of landing crafts participating in the operation. Landing craft was a critical feature for the operation but less so for this short book. The space would have been better spent on enhancing the introduction or opposing commanders.
A lot of ground is covered in Opposing Forces. A discussion of finding several aged WWI battleships in a short timeframe, the landing craft which would be used for the landing and used in the flooded areas. The commandos and the supporting engineers and the specialty equipment that would used to clear the beach and clear mines off shore is also covered. The Germans had about 10,000 men, mostly from 70th ID. A handy Order of Battle is included for both sides.
Allied plans were relatively elaborate and there wasn't much time to implement them; the author does a good job of explaining the many different facets of the plans. The German side was brief. The Germans were isolated and limited in what they could do and with no easy means of reinforcement or resupply, all they could do is deploy and wait for the invasion. Hitler wanted the island held to the last bullet and last man but Daser didn't deploy his forces well and it made it a little easier to capture the island. Many men surrendered, ignoring Hitler's ultimatum.
For a short format, the campaign was handled well. It covered all the key engagements on Walcheren but not South Beveland. It mentions Operation Calendar, the clearing of mines in the Schedle, but doesn't really cover it. On Walcheren you'll read about the bombing of the dykes and the flooding of the island. You'll also read about the landings. destruction of the many coastal bunkers, the commando raids, the capture of the key towns from the relatively easy Middelburg , Veere, Westkapelle to the difficult Vlissingen. The crossing of the South Beveland-Walcheren causeway is also covered.
Included with the narrative is a great set of maps. There are six 2-D maps and three 3-D maps. They dramatically add to the story by showing you where all the key sites were, the axes of advance and where the battles took place. The accompanying photos also help the reader see the different towns, the bunkers and ships. One aspect of the photos that was disappointing concerns the poor photo selection of the commanders. There isn't one good up close portrait of any commander. There wasn't even a photo of Lt Gen Simonds. Three interesting dual page action scenes completes the graphics. A good reading list, a glossary and index close out the book.
In aftermath, the casualties of the battle are listed as well as the benefits of liberation. Besides eliminating the enemy from a key location, the greatest benefit was the opening of Antwerp to shipping. Antwerp was the second largest port in Europe and once it was opened the Normandy ports became superfluous. With the US 1st and 3rd Armies now receiving supplies, they would be able to respond better to the surprise Ardennes Offensive. Artillery shells would have certainly ran out without Antwerp being opened. With better logistics and more trucks available to move men, the five Allied divisions waiting on the sidelines could now be brought up to the line. While the storming of Walcheren may have been small in scale, the benefits of liberating the island were immeasurable.
This is a very good campaign and with the help of the maps is easy to follow. Anybody interested in learning about an underrated but critical engagement on the western front that had far reaching implications should consider this book.