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Letters to the Editor

review of fields of fire

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Two soldiersI would appreciate the opportunity to comment on several of the points raised in the review of Fields of Fire [Volume 4, No. 3 Autumn 2003]. The book is based on a new reading of the archival sources, British and Canadian. The purpose, as with all my books, was to raise new questions, and, where possible, provide compelling answers. The book argues that the Canadian Army was a far more effective force in the battle of Normandy than previous accounts have suggested. The chapters examine each phase of the battle, analyzing what went right as well as what went wrong. Readers will have no difficulty in understanding my comment that the limited operational skills of the Canadian division commanders mattered little in an Anglo-Canadian army micromanaged by Montgomery and his corps commanders. Divisional, and, indeed, brigade commanders were presented with detailed fire plans, air support commitments, and instructions on how each phase was to be carried out — with exploitation to be carried out only on the orders of the corps commander.

The book also argues that the Canadians played a role in the Normandy campaign out of all proportion to their relative strength among the Allied armies, and suggests that this accounts for the oft-quoted statistics on higher casualties suffered by Canadian divisions. I had thought the evidence for this was presented throughout the book, but perhaps a more complete study is required. Until then, let us recall that the 3rd and 50th British Divisions, which landed alongside the Canadians on D-Day, were not involved in major offensive operations during most of July and August. The 51st Highland and 49th West Riding Divisions, serving in I British Corps as part of First Canadian Army, protected the long left flank, and, apart from the Highland Division’s participation in the first phase of “Totalize”, their job was to follow up a German withdrawal. During most of August, while Canadian forces fought their way south towards Falaise and Trun, Second British Army was being pinched out, resting and refitting divisions in preparation for the advance to Germany. There were good reasons for many of these decisions, but the result was to place an exceptional burden on II Canadian Corps.

Terry Copp
Professor of History
Director, Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic
and Disarmament Studies

Two soldiers