Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Book Review: Normandy 1944, German Military Organization, Combat Power & Organizational Effectiveness

This is a formidable piece of work, very well-researched with clear and well-presented analysis. The author aims to use German sources to redress the balance in the story of the events in the Battle of Normandy 1944. It covers the available German sources, a guide to German terminology, the organization of German combat units, the numbers of German troops employed in Normandy and the number of casualties they took, the German tank and assault gun-types used, the movements of German troops to Normandy and a brief organizational history of all the German formations that fought in the battle. The latter in particular will be very useful to enthusiasts for the era, presenting much useful information on the more obscure units involved. The author also examines the effects of Allied air power and the relative efficiency of German units and Allied ones.
For those interested in understanding the battle in a sophisticated way, this book is invaluable. I would extend this further: much of the current Western understanding of peer-to-peer combat has its basis in understanding the fighting in Western Europe in 1944 and some of this work will give those readers much to ponder over. An example of this is the author's finiding on the relative efficiency of tanks vs anti-tank guns against tanks. All the other works that I have read on this subject have tended to the view that anti-tank guns are the (much) superior tank-killers. Even recent reports (e.g. from the fighting in Georgia) indicate this. However, Zetterling's examination of German claims indicate that German tank crews were claiming more than anti-tank crews. Of course, this is not a definitive refutation: it may be simply that tank crews are more subject to overclaiming than anti-tank crews (I believe that bomber crews similiarly over-claimed in comparison to fighter pilots) or that given certain relative capabilities of tanks, then the utility of tanks versus anti-tank guns may change considerably. However, it points to a useful area for further study. This is only an example, there are a further examples of the kind.
I must note that I find a certain pro-German bias in Zetterling's work. This is not any kind of overt pro-Nazism, but rather that he seems to naturally adopt pro-German/anti-Western findings: perhaps this is a response to the many overtly pro-Allied - in particular pro-American - popular histories that have been written. For instance, he is at pains at one point to say that German figures should be discounted when evaluating relative combat efficiency because they did not contribute to the actual operations of the Army Group. Fair enough. But then he uncritically uses the full Allied strength for his calculations in Normandy, appearing to ignore the vast rear-echelon that was needed to conduct operations in Normandy at all. Similarly he notes that in general German soldiers surrendered more often to the Western Allies than the Russians with the exception of the big encirclements on the Eastern Front. But he doesn't consider the argument that the number of prisoners generally is simply a function of victory: the author has unconsciously given agency to German soldiers where non may actually exist and at the same time missed an important indicator of Allied efficiency. He accuses the Allied official history of lying but generally finds German officers reliable...except where they say that their units suffered heavy casualties, which he then uses partial strength returns to "disprove". And so on. None of this renders the book less useful and interesting, far from it, I merely note them to show counter-arguments that occurred to this reader whilst reading the book. As he himself notes, this book indicates very many useful areas for further research and analysis and he has very usefully shown where some received wisdom is simply wrong.
The book is extremely well-written with clear and extensive referencing. I highly recommend it to those interested in this campaign, or in WW2 or modern warfare in general. Enthusiasts, historians, military professionals and wargamers will all find much of interest here.


  1. Please remember that common parroting: "our losses have been serious" can mean almost anything. What we really need to know are accurate numbers. People should also try to understand what German terms like Kampfstarke really means. When Kampfstarke of infantry division is 500 men left it doesn't mean that division itself had just 500 soldiers left. In fact many divisions could have had Kampfstarke of let's say 400 or 800 but still having 5000-6000 men. To help understand these issues is to know that 90-95% of combat losses: KIA, MIA, WIA were concentrated to combat forces: infantry battalions, engineer battalions, AT-gun battalions, panzerjäger batallions, tank companies etc... which many times were about 50-65% of divisional strength.

  2. Sure, all that is well known. However, if the Kampfstarke of an infantry division is down to 500, that still implies losses in the region of 4,500-6000, plus those losses being concentrated in the bits of the division that actually do the fighting. Further, it is pushing it to say that "serious losses" can mean almost anything. The phrase can mean a wide range of things, to be sure. But where the divisional commander is saying that his troops suffered serious losses, but we think that the numbers are saying that means 10 men and 2 trucks, we should think very carefully about that disparity.