Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Caen Controversy: The Battle for Sword Beach 1944 - Andrew Stewart

Title: Caen Controversy:
The Battle for Sword Beach 1944
Author: Andrew Stewart
ISBN: 978-1-909982-12-3
Publisher: Helion
Pages: 164
Photographs/maps: 34 b/w//10 colour 

What is the Caen Controversy? In a nutshell, this centre’s upon a school of thought that suggests that the 3rd Br Inf Div, tasked with the capture of Caen following their landing at Sword Beach on D-Day, did not achieve their goal in the anticipated time period due to an excessive amount of caution on the part of the command staff. Stewart has taken it upon himself to address this question with in-depth analysis of D-Day planning expectations, Divisional preparation, German defences and conditions as the attack unfolded. 

Stewart commences his discussion with a macro discussion of the planning surrounding the invasion. He provides particular emphasis on those aspects of the plan that are not often focussed upon, I believe, in order to provide a broader spectrum of insight for the reader. To that end, he discusses at some length the influence and stress under which the meteorologists laboured coming up with their go/no-go recommendation. He also spends a great deal of ink describing the complexities of the various elemental aspects of the invasion: naval, air and land; emphasized when one considers that the naval operations order alone was over 1100 pages long and covered over 22 separate actions. 

In order to provide an overall appreciation of the challenges facing the Allies on D-Day, the author undertakes a study of the German forces, their challenges, command climate and capabilities and a synopsis of their strengths and weaknesses. It is a fascinating study to view the development of the German preparations, intelligence efforts and response as they await what they know will be an inevitable attempt by the Allies at an invasion. 

As he draws the narrative into the actual invasion, he narrows the focus to Sword beach itself and the supporting activities of the 6th AB Div which would provide flank support and capture or destroy key bridges across the river Orne to the left of the landing beach. The command decisions of Maj Gen Rennie, CO of the 3rd Inf Div and, more importantly, Brigadier KP Smith, CO of the 185 Inf Bde, the spear point of the 3rd’s drive inland on 6 June, are reviewed in depth with a view towards understanding how their experiences and the environment affected their decision making. Stewart’s narrative closes on the evening of 6 June with the 3rd Div having achieved a solid lodgement but not the close to capturing the city of Caen as planned.  

Stewart’s evaluation of the battle for Sword beach is excellent. His operational insight and ability to seamlessly flow into a tactical narrative make this a battlefield study of some significant worth. He is very balanced in his evaluations with a keen eye towards the impact of the human condition on the limited success of the 3rd on D-Day. It is clear why Brig Smith was relieved within a few days of the landing; his tactical decision making was not in keeping with the audacity demanded by the D-Day plan. His troops certainly did not lack courage but they did lack a single-mindedness of purpose and focus that was permeated from the top.

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal although it would have been helpful to have included an organizational chart and some additional maps that laid out the lines of approach of the 3rd Div more clearly. The inclusion of a concise review of the planning and naval aspects of D-day and Sword assaults was very enlightening and provided additional insight into not only the complexity of the attack but what was also effectively achieved. Stewart is to be commended and Helion has published another quality book well worth the investment.

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