Although the 7th Armoured Division, or Desert Rats, is best known for its role in North Africa, the division returned to Britain in time to take part in the invasion of Normandy, and the campaigns that followed. On their return to Britain the men of the division were greeted as heroes, but as Delaforce's book makes clear their reputation took something of a battering in the early days in Normandy. One of the strengths of this book is the author's willingness to acknowledge that, and to examine the reasons for the relatively disappointing performance of the division in the summer of 1944. A mix of reasons emerge, with an understandable belief that it was somebody else's turn to do the dying, and an equally understandable feeling of superiority that tended to be seen as arrogance amongst troops who had become used to the less formal nature of the army in North Africa. Delaforce also examines the way in while the division regained its form, going on to play a major part in the campaigns that followed.
The Desert Rats fought in most of the main battles in North-West Europe apart from the D-Day landings themselves, arriving on the continent a few days after the first landings. The division then took part in the fighting in the Bocage, and in Operations Goodwood and Spring, the grinding battles that helped pin the main German forces in the east, and helped the Americans made the dramatic breakout further west that ended the campaign in Normandy. During this period the division began to regain its form, and it went on to play a major part in the break out from Normandy, the 'Great Swan' across France and the liberation of parts of Belgium. A minor role in Market Garden was followed by a cold wet winter in Holland, before the final battles of 1945, starting with the crossing of the Rhine and ending around Hamburg.
Delaforce has produced an involving piece of work, well supported by first hand accounts of the fighting, bringing us along with the Desert Rats as they fought and died in the final campaigns of the war against Germany.
1 - The Old Soldiers
2 - Morale and Reputation
3 - An Armoured Division's Role in Battle
4 - Arrival - 'We Knew it was War'
5 - Villers-Bocage - Defeat, a Draw and Victory
6 - Bocage Fighting - 'the Quick and the Dead'
7 - Operation Goodwood - 'We're in the Wrong War'
8 - Operation Spring - 'Shell Happy Now'
9 - Operation Bluecoat - 'Step on the Gas for Vire'
10 - Break-out - 'Push On and Don't Bugger About'
11 - The Great Swan - 'Cracking Around'
12 - Belgium and the Liberation of Ghent - 'an Incredible Welcome'
13 - Unsung Heroes
14 - Left Flanking: Operation Market Garden - September/ October
15 - Operations Alan and Don - Late October 'der Moffe Aweg'
16 - Watch on the Maas in East Brabant and Limburg
17 - January and Operation Blackcock
18 - The Lull Before the Storm
19 - Crossing the Rhine - Operation Plunder
20 - The Battle for the Ibbenbüren Ridge
21 - Hot Pursuit
22 - The Last Lap - Relief of Fallingbostel POW Camp
23 - The Surrender of Hamburg - 'the Stink of Death'
24 - Final Round-up and VE Day
25 - Victory Parade in Berlin
Author: Patrick Delaforce
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2010 edition of 1994 original