As I indicated, I am off on holiday and the best I can do blogging-wise are book reviews of the books I am reading. So far this has been less than expected. Only roughly a week to go and I finished one of the four books I have taken along.
So what do we have. It is “In the shadow of Arnhem” by Dr. Ken Tout OBE. For those who do not know him, Tout himself was a tanker in Normandy and I immensely enjoyed his previous books, both on his personal experiences as well as other Normandy actions.
This book deals with the wider parts of the Market Garden operation, that are often overlooked. Many historians go on about what would have happened and how soon the war might have ended, had the bridge at Arnhem been captured. But in reality, this would hardly have mattered. The Allies still needed to open the port of Antwerp to make sure they did not have to drive everything hundreds of kilometres from the Normandy beaches and they would still have had to conquer the areas besides the Market Garden route. Eventually they did, but most people choose to ignore this part of the war due to a fixation on Market Garden itself. And this is what this book tries to achieve, give people an insight into these operations. It takes the reader through the operations to clear Merxem, Walcheren, the Berksen Pocket, the liberation of the Scheld and the other connected operations.
If I remember correctly, Tout was twenty when he was in Normandy. This book was published in 2004, which made him and impressive eighty years at that time. When I read the first chapter, I was not too sure, if his age had gotten to him. If I had not had a deeper knowledge of the operations I would have been confused where to place it. For me the book face seemed to suggest, that this would be a tactical or even strategic analysis of the operations and that first chapter simply did not achieve that for me. But once you get to the second chapter the scope of the book becomes clearer.
It is not to give an in-depth analysis of the operations. It rather sums up the operations through the eyes of the participants. Telling their stories and how they experienced those weeks and the wettest and coldest of all conditions, fighting over terrain that greatly suited the defender of which the Germans made good use and hindered the attackers. Tout does this through the recollections of the Commonwealth (mainly Canadians for they bore the brunt of operations) and Polish soldiers, Allied aircrews in case of the Walcheren raids and the Belgian and Dutch civilians. And with this he paints a grim picture of the conditions they had to endure. Some of them can be found in other books as well, others, especially when it comes to the Canadians, were new to me. But I think this is also a big shortcoming of the book. A good number of the German defenders survived the fighting and in my opinion their accounts would have been available as well, but went unused with two short exceptions. I felt that many of the skirmishes Tout describes could have been greatly enhanced with an inclusion of German accounts.
Otherwise I found his writing style to be precise and quite comprehensible.
Unfortunately some of the descriptions of the actually engagements or parts of the operations, ended a bit anticlimactic and abrupt for my taste. And I think he also failed to give the reader and idea of where exactly a given action fit into the wider scheme of things or indeed how an account fits into the action itself. In this regards and map or two would have helped the reader. As a result the book might be a bit hard to understand to those readers who no knowledge of this part of the war.
Overall, I would give the book a split rating. Official retail is 14.99 GB£. For those who only want to get to know how it felt fighting in these actions a fair price would be 10 GB£, for those who want to learn about the operations to open the port of Antwerp a fair price would be 3 GB£.
Anyway, I will leave you with this. Ken Tout is still going strong. This is a recent photo that shows him at the Tank Museum at roughly age ninety!