Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Black Watch - a review..

Image courtesy of the Black Watch
museum shop site...
The parents in law bought me this for Christmas, and as someone who has been disappointed in the past with some presents people think I will like because of my hobby, this one was an absolute cracker, and read pretty quickly... so what's it about??

Well this is another personal account by a young soldier who fought in the British army from D Day to the armistice, but unusually this time, is from the view of a soldier in one of the veteran Highland regiments..

Tom Renouf joined as a 19 year old, and served with the Black Watch, who were part of the famed 51st Highland Division who had fought from Dunkirk (where they were mostly captured), reformed, went to the Mediterranean where they fought from Alamein to Italy before being withdrawn for refitting for the Normandy landings...

After initial training he landed with them in Normandy on the 7th and spent his formative soldiering fighting against the likes of 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend ("Hitler Youth")

After spending a brief period supporting 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, the division was sent across the Orne River, and spent two months supporting the 6th Airborne Division in its bridgehead. During this period it fought many difficult actions at places such as Breville (11–12 June) and Colombelles (11 July).

Its performance in Normandy was, overall, considered disappointing, which lead to them getting a replacement commander, Major-General Tom Rennie, who had served with the division in North Africa and Sicily.

On 1 August 1944 the division, became part of First Canadian Army and fought in Operation Totalize, before advancing to Lisieux. It then continued east over the river Seine and headed for Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, which had been the scene of the division's surrender in June 1940 and a particularly poignant moment. The division's massed pipes and drums played in the streets of the town, and a parade included veterans of the 1940 campaign.

Leaving St Valery, 51st Division was engaged in Operation Astonia, the battle for Le Havre. After the successful capture of the town, the division went on to take part in the Battle of the Scheldt in October 1944, finally passing into reserve and garrisoning the Meuse during the Battle of the Bulge, now as part of XXX Corps. It was not involved in heavy fighting during the early stages of the battle and was deployed as a stopgap in case the Germans broke through.

In January 1945 the division, helped to cut off the northern tip of the German salient, linking up with the US 84th Infantry Division at Nisramont on 14 January. Following this, the division was involved in Operation Veritable, the clearing of the Rhineland and the later Rhine crossings, ending the war in the Bremerhaven area of Northern Germany.

As an interesting aside Renouf was involved with the capture of Himmler himself (and he still has the Gestapo commander's watch) & was a witness to the horror of the concentration camps which the unit helped to liberate.

Seriously wounded and later decorated with a Military Medal for gallantry, Tom Renouf describes the events well, he's quite good on the battles and although none of the views are particularly controversial one's - even of Monty bringing in Rennie as the replacement commander - he's well worth a read....

Steve the Wargamer rates this one a six out of ten...

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