Across northern France British and German tanks go head to head. The Allies soon discovered that the Sherman tank 'brewed up' when it was attacked, killing everyone inside, while the German... See full summary »

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Across northern France British and German tanks go head to head. The Allies soon discovered that the Sherman tank 'brewed up' when it was attacked, killing everyone inside, while the German Tiger tank seemed indestructible. Harold Currie, who left school in Liverpool when he was 19 to join his heroes the Desert Rats, still has horrific memories: 'It was devastating 'cos you'd go forward in your tank in line and then you might find a tank on your right being blown up and the other one on your left being blown up and that was sheer luck whether you would be the next one or not.' Eventually Allied tanks were upgraded and were able to take on the Tigers, and with air support they moved on to the stronghold of Caen. Unfortunately, these were the days before precision bombing and hundreds of Allied soldiers lost their lives to Allied bombing. Canadian stretcher bearer Arthur Haley was on the road into Caen when Allied bombers came in. Written by Enzedder

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22 October 2011 (UK)  »

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The Destruction of a Medieval City in France.
29 May 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

I understand the nobility of the motives behind this series. The participants are now in old age and the generation is disappearing. This is the last opportunity to hear the personal stories of the survivors, but I wish the programs weren't introduced with close ups of their seamed faces and swollen fingers. They're old. We already know that. Sometimes the close up is extreme -- two red-veined eyeballs.

We don't hear much about the battle for Caen. The event that lends itself best to drama is D Day and the landings that took place along the beaches of Normandy. That battle was momentous. It had a beginning and an end, which came about when our troops were no longer being challenged at the water's edge.

The battle that followed was a series of slow slugging matches, the British and Canadians' repeated attempts to take the city of Caen, and the Americans fighting yard by yard through the bocage to the west. Not much glamor and no single moment of victory.

The bocage country consisted of innumerable grassy fields separated by thick hedgerows. The placid cows were quickly disposed of, but the Germans were a different matter. Wizards at withdrawal under fire, they had turned every other hedgerow into a fortified position. And they covered the sunken roads that ran through the hedgerows. None of the Allies were prepared for these hedgerows. For most of the planners, hedges were hedges. You hopped over them or drove a tank through them. But these were ancient plantings, too thick for tanks to get through, and so tall that in places they overhung the roads like roofs. All the positions that the German infantry abandoned had already been zeroed in on by artillery. And if the Wehrmacht left a good defensive position, a ditch or a shell hole, they place anti-personnel mines in them, figuring correctly that the Allies would make use of them too.

The countryside was more open behind the British and Canadian beaches but no less well defended. The plan to take Caen in three days was defeated. Then a frontal attack by armor was ordered but the American-built Sherman medium tanks were up against the practically impenetrable and well-armed German Tigers, as well as the formidable 88 mm. guns, the best artillery piece of the war. The frontal attack failed. Then the city of Caen itself was bombed into rubble, which neither helped the Allied advance nor endeared them to the French population. The wreckage-strewn streets of Caen were no longer passable to tanks. Flanking movements failed too.

The Germans themselves were ensconced on a nearby hill that commanded a view of all the territory from Caen almost to the English Channel. They could see every move despite the absence of air reconnaissance.

It's always interesting to me to see what sort of spin is implicit in a program about conflict. In the case of this series, not much of a celebration of Allied superiority. Of course the series does deal exclusively with battles that ended in victory for our side -- from the Normandy landings to the Rhine. And the only people interviewed are British, Canadians, and Americans. But, thankfully, there is no ranting about the enemy and instead the interviewees come up with narratives of their personal experiences, sometimes describing the weaknesses of Allied equipment.

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