Cassel and Hazebrouck 1940...
...France and Flanders Campaign, a new Battleground guide, from Pen and Sword
Title: Cassel and Hazebrouck 1940
Author: Jerry Murland
Publisher: Pen and Sword
A new addition to the popular Battleground series from Pen and Sword, tackling a battleground that formed part of the battle surrounding the BEF retreat to Dunkirk. In WW1 both towns had remained behind the lines, though Hazebrouck had a narrow escape from the German offensive of 1918. It was a different matter in 1940 however when both fell to the German invasion of May 1940.
After an introduction to help set the scene, the first chapter gives the context of the Invasion and the situation that led to the fighting for Cassel and Hazebrouck and chapter 2 gives the detail on the units involved and the initial dispositions of them in the 'Desperate Situation'. Much of the information has been gleaned from individual unit histories, some better than others apparently, plus personal journals from some of those who took part in the actions. Chapter 3 then details the events in and around The Battle for Cassel, and this includes fighting for a large concrete blockhouse at le Peckel among others and these feature some detailed accounts of individual actions. Archive photos and even hand drawn maps noted in journals at the time all add to the stories. Their rearguard actions played a vital part in the delaying actions which allowed more allied units to be successfully evacuated from Dunkirk that little further north.
Chapter 4 is about the arrangements and road blocks in Hondeghem, where heavy casualties were taken before the German tanks finally won the day. Chapter 5 and 6 moves the story on to Hazebrouck, which at one point was considered to be the site for Lord Gort's command post, though that was a decision that needed to be rethought. Despite the disadvantages of operating in an urban area, the German 8th Panzer Division took the town. Things are rounded off in chapter 8, 'Breakout', telling the stories of those British troops who were encircled in Hazebrouck and Cassel but who managed to get out of the trap, while others became POWs.
With the story of 1940 told we get to the other vital part of these Battleground guides. As well as general hints about touring the battlefields and visiting the various war grave cemeteries you are also given a detailed car tour to make of Cassel and Hondegem with map and photos to tell you what to look for. Then a walking tour for Cassel Town East, followed by another walk covering Cassel and the Western Approaches. Finally a second car tour, this time of the Hazebrouck Defences. The tour description is very useful as the town much bigger now than it was back in 1940, a bit of a contrast to Cassel apparently. This tour takes in the Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery which has sections of French and British graves from both WW1 and WW2 alongside the civilian cemetery and a site which is one I have visited myself during one of my own trips to France.
I am a great fan of this Battleground series and author Jerry Murland has done a good job on this one covering an element of the fighting of the BEF in 1940. They are also a handy size to keep in the car or in a backpack when you visit the area. I will certainly take this with me next time I am in the area. For those who do want to visit the area, I would add a personal note that there is also a site from later in the war a short way west of Hazebrouck, near Morbeque, where a V1 site remains largely intact in the Foret de Huit Rues so an interesting area to tour and only a short drive from the Channel Tunnel as well.
Thanks to Pen and Sword for our review copy.