Review of Hill 112
This is a review of the book “Hill 112 Battles of the Odon-1944” by Tim Saunders. It is part of the Battleground Europe series published by Pen and Sword in 2000.
Hill 112 is a low hill almost imperceptibly standing above the open arable land around the city of Caen. Far less well known than the D-day landings or the more, perhaps, glamorous airbourne operations, the ferocious and bloody battles around Caen were hugely important in terms of the overall allied invasion strategy. They also arguably represent the last time the SS fought in such strength (the Germans being completely and exhausted by the time of the Ardennes offensive). The June and July battles around Tilly Sur Seulles, Carpiquet, Hill 112, Rots, etc are rapidly falling from both living and cultural memory and it is scant testimony to the appalling losses that so few books are written on this aspect of the liberation of Europe. That you are reading this review suggests that unless you have a family connection to the battle, you have more than just a general interest in the battle of Normandy. However Tim Saunders is good enough of a writer that the book will be a vivid and compelling read even for the general reader.
Tim Saunders sets the battles in their strategic and tactical context well, and places them in the general time frame of the Normandy campaign. He also does a fine job of demonstrating the effect of the battle on both the German and British ability to fight and the strategic outcomes of the battles.
The book is arranged chronographically with sections on travel to the France and directions for a battlefield tour bookmarking the description of the battle.
The book is clearly and concisely written and does a fine job presenting personal accounts while not getting overwhelmed by military details. The battles themselves were absolutely ferocious… people getting set on fire, battalions being destroyed….entire companies being cut off and wiped out….heading up into tiger tanks and getting destroyed…. officers with walking sticks….. limbless men being evacuated in wheelbarrows ….ceaseless SS counter attacks…. an officer nearly decapitated with an MG42. In the midst of this carnage was a hugely impressive level of professionalism and tactical excellence by both the British and German forces. Neither side missed a beat and with the full range of modern weaponry at their disposal losses were of course dreadful. One is humbled by the understated bravery of the British tanker going forward to face the deadly and German Tiger and Panther tanks, or the German SS Mann facing down such overwhelming material superiority. The book features an impressive collection of photos and period maps. The photos are also mostly relevant to the action which is a rarity in WW2 books.
My copy is about an A5 size, while this works fine for the text it makes maps quite hard to use, and though the author has used period maps I would have welcomed the addition or a modern map or two to orient myself on the ground. I would also have liked more detail on the included maps. That said the use of aerial photographs, period and contemporary pictures will be of huge benefit to the modern reader/visitor. I would also have appreciated pauses in the narrative to reorientate myself, I would have also liked graphic depictions of troop positions, losses and so on at the end of significant periods, 5th Dorset’s retreat from Maltot for example. A bibliography or “further reading” section would also be useful.
This is a fine well balanced piece of military history which neatly strikes a balance between drama and detail. I highly recommend the book to those interested in WW2 and the Normandy Battles. I have visited the site in Normandy and it is a large and poorly signed area especially compared to the D and J day sites, this book would have greatly enriched the experience and in fact I would say it is invaluable to getting the most out of one’s stay.
I will certainly look to buy more books in this series.