Operation Totalize; The Allied drive south from Caen by Osprey Publishing is the story of the newly activated 1st Canadian Army’s second combat operation in the Normandy campaign. The 96 page book is written by Stephen A. Hart, a British historian who currently is a senior lecturer at Sandhurst. The illustrator is Johnny Shumate, an American freelance artist. The volume is the 294th in Osprey’s Campaign series.
The book is divided into 10 unnumbered sections;
Origins of the Campaign and Chronology which really make a short preface to the action detailed in the book.
Opposing Commanders, Opposing Forces, Opposing Plans, and The Campaign which should be considered as the four main chapters.
Aftermath and The Battlefield Today comprise what is the much smaller epilogue or afterword section while the appendix would be the final two sections, Further Reading and the index.
The campaign that the book discusses is the attempt by General Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to drive south toward Falaise between the 7th and 11th of August 1944 in order to complete the encirclement of the majority of German forces fighting in the Normandy region. Hart provides a decent thumbnail sketch of each of the major commanders and even outlines the shameful treatment of Maj. General Maczek, commander of the 1st Polish Armored Division, by the British government in the post war period.
I thought that the book bogged down a bit in the Opposing Forces section with too much reliance on specifications of different vehicles and armaments of both Allies and Axis formations. Some readers may enjoy this kind of information presented as part of the overall narrative but I prefer it organized in a table for easier understanding and comparisons. What I felt was omitted was the nature of the actual units involved. Hart does include an order of battle but offers only the briefest of descriptions of the formations that took part in the fighting.
The section that I really appreciated was Opposing Plans of both forces. Here Hart outlines exactly what is meant by a set-piece battle as well as Canadian commander Henry Crerar’s creation of the plan and the five observations that Crerar made leading to the eventual final strategy. These five observations of Crerar’s that Hart describes can then be easily understood much like a strategy for five moves across a chess board.
The most involved section of the book, and easily the longest, is the Campaign segment. Here is where we find out just how well Crerar’s five ‘moves’ worked out. The initial assaults make for an exciting narrative which Hart handles well. Like all plans converted into action the opposing forces will, given time and opportunity, attempt to disrupt the enemy and impose their own will upon the battlefield. The German forces in Normandy at this time were certainly well versed in the operational art of the counter-attack and used it to good effect.
Indeed, it is Hart’s description of the German counter attacks that rank as some of the most exciting narrative in the book. It is here that he describes the entirety of the German armored riposte that ended with the death of German tank ace Michael Wittman and his entire crew at the hands of Northamptonshire Yeomanry Sherman Firefly gunner Joe Ekins. Hart is clear that while the German attacks were unsuccessful they did delay the second phase of Crerar’s overall plan. It was this delay along with the tepid advance of the two Canadian armored divisions that would lead to the tragedy surrounding a cobbled together unit dubbed Worthington Force after its commander, Donald Worthington.
Hart does an excellent job of keeping the narrative moving with his descriptions of Crerar’s frustration with disruptions to his plans and fateful decision to send the ad hoc mixed armor and infantry force on a four and half miles odyssey in the darkness through German held territory. Worthington Force’s objective was to seize Hill 195, the overall Totalize plans final objective. The ensuing navigational errors and breakdowns in communication and control would eventually lead to it becoming lost, surrounded, and virtually annihilated in what was dubbed The Thirty Acre Wood. With the destruction of Worthington Force the remainder of the offensive petered out over the next day.
The final two sections are quite short, the operation penetrated an impressive nine miles into German held territory and featured both audacious advances as well as frustrating delays on the Allied side. Hart points out that despite these impressive gains that the operation was not considered a success as it never managed to capture the high ground around Falaise and thus cut off the German retreat. Hart does point out that the area over which both sides fought has not seen much development and thus remains much the same today even with some farm buildings still displaying battle damage. This information comes with the caveat that some modern intrusions such as power lines and modern roads should of course be expected.
The volume contains ten full color maps, all but one of these are at least full page affairs. Also included are four different tables, two of which are in color.
Like every Osprey title that I have seen this one is sprinkled with a liberal amount of photos. Most of these are of Allied personnel or vehicles, as would be expected in a volume concerning an Allied operation. The photos, while generally small, do offer some nice visuals for modelers particularly concerning stowage. Also, a number of potential diorama ideas can be easily gleaned from the photographs. One image stood out to me in particular, a rare, full color, photo of a Canadian vehicle burning furiously after being hit by mortar fire. Not something you see every day.
The volume has three full color centerfold type two page spreads of artwork from Johnny Shumate. I was very disappointed in the artwork however as all three are rendered in Adobe Photoshop and resemble artwork that is reminiscent of something you might find in a graphic novel.
Operation Totalize was a compelling read with an exciting and fast paced narrative once the author Hart moved past the opposing forces section. The sections on Henry Crerar’s battle concept and the series of mistakes surrounding Worthington Force were two of the clear highlights in the volume. The maps did a very good job of telling the tale of the Allied advance of Crerar’s set-piece battle from the first ‘move’ through to the last as well as the German response to each new move. The artwork however was a disappointment as I don’t believe it quite reaches the high quality bar for material that Osprey is so well known for.
Thanks to Osprey Publishing for the review copy!
Highs: Very entertaining, fast paced narrative of the actual operation. The writer, Stephen Hart, gives an excellent depiction of the thinking and strategy that goes into the creation of a set-piece battle plan. Lows: Art work was a real disappointment. Verdict: Another great volume in the Osprey series but don't expect great inspiration from the art work.
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About Rick Cooper (clovis899) FROM: CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
I have been modeling for about 30 years now. Once upon a time in another century I owned my own hobby shop; way more work than it was worth. I tip my opti-visor to those who make a real living at it. Mainly build armor these days but I keep working at figures, planes and the occasional ship.