Battle of the Odon...


...  from Pen and Sword


Title: Battle of the Odon

Author: Georges Bernage

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-1-47385-761-2

This is a new English translation by Heather Williams of a book first published in French, by French based publisher Heimdal, back in 2008.  Now Pen and Sword have done this new English translation this is great news.  I have to say at the outset that author Georges Bernage is one of my favourite historians who cover the many stories of the battle for Normandy.  He has long had his fascination with the history of the period and had the benefit of spending some 30 years working in the area where he was fortunate to meet many veterans, from both sides of the conflict, as they returned to visit the battlefields where they once fought.  He was able to get first hand accounts of particular events and see just where they took place.  Add to this the chance to speak to civilians caught up in the fighting as well he has acquired an excellent knowledge of the events that took place there back in 1944.

This particular book covers a relatively short period of time, just 5 days, but it is covered in great detail thanks to the many personal accounts of veterans from both sides.  The British army had been unable to capture Caen quickly, and Operation Epsom was one of the major offensives (the other being Goodwood) which Montgomery launched to outflank the city.  Despite a numerical superiority the offensive was brought to a halt in the Valley of the Odon, particularly with the fierce fighting around Hill 112.  The book is split into two main parts.  The first looks at 'The Scottish Corridor' and 'Operation Martlet' plus 'The First Day' of the main offensive (26th June 1944).  Part two then covers 'The Offensive Stops at Hill 112', which details each of the following four days, from 27 June through to Friday 30 June.  It provides a detailed chronology of the events of each day, with the units involved, where they fought and many personal accounts of the individuals who took part, explaining what they remembered.  Throughout all of this the book is heavily illustrated, using a mix of archive photos, portrait images of many of the people mentioned in the text and some great comparisons showing the places today and in the intervening years since those wartime events.

I have visited the area myself and the countryside today is beautiful and the villages full of character.  Ruined or damaged churches still remain, and their is a Churchill tank alongside some other memorials by the side of the road marking the story of Hill 112.  If you make your way up the rough track beside the memorial you can get to what remains of the wood at the top of the hill, kept today as a quiet memorial to all those who died in the fighting.  I found it a very moving place to spend some time.  If you have not visited the area before, then if you do I suggest you take a copy of this book with you.  Even if like me you have visited before, I will certainly take mine next time I visit to help add to the understanding of what you can see today.  I have no hesitation in highly recommending this excellent book.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.