No Holding Back: Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 1944
Brian A. Reid

This is the second book from Robin Brass that I have purchased, based on my very good experience from ‘The South Albertas – A Canadian Regiment at War’.

It has not been a disappointment! Brian Reid’s book is a superb study of the genesis and execution of Operation TOTALIZE, Canadian general Guy Simonds’ master-stroke in attempting to break the German hold on the high ground south of Calais. Even those who have studied Operation TOTALIZE and the Normandy campaign in detail will be able to learn something new from this book.

Brian Reid is starting from a review of the history of the Canadian army command and the Canadian army between the wars, to address the capabilities of the men who were in charge of the Canadian formations, and to understand the limitations that were placed on the ability of Canada to field large-scale formations capably of undertaking complex operations.

He then proceeds to discuss in detail the strategic background and the operational planning of TOTALIZE, including a detailed review of the air and artillery plans (the latter probably a first), and the battle plans for the individual divisions. The second half of the book is devoted to the narrative of the battle itself, while the appendix is covering such interesting issues as the use of airpower in support of ground operations, a discussion of comparative tank capabilities of the two sides, a new take on who really killed Michael Wittmann (Reid maintains it was not Trooper Ekins, without taking anything away from him), and a short article by John Grodzinski on the history of 1st Polish Armoured Division.

The narrative is superbly supported by excellent maps, photos, detailed vehicle drawings with a wealth of information, drawings of the columns used in the approach march during the night operation, and schematic drawings and tables outlining complex military items such as TO&Es, or the artillery fireplan.

For the battle narrative, he relies on witnesses through direct or written testimony, as well as primary and secondary sources. The only item of criticism here is that it would have been nice to see more original sources on the German side of things. This is made up for to some degree by the use of Canadian army documents referencing captured German records, but a spell in the archives with the German record would have taken this book from ‘superb’ to ‘stunning’. Within the confines of wanting to provide a record of the operation from the Canadian perspective, this omission can be excused, however.

Reid’s style is direct, no-nonsense. He dishes out criticism and praise in equal measure, whether it relates to historians, or soldiers on either side. His writing is certainly coloured by being a member of the Canadian Army in the 1950s and 60s, but only in that it appears to make him more blunt in his criticism of this very army. For example, he refers to Brigadier Booth’s performance in TOTALIZE as ‘professionally inadequate and personally disgraceful.’.

Highly recommended, and his promised book on TRACTABLE is looking to be another ‘must-buy’. Based on this and Donald Graves’ book, I would unhesitatingly part with my cash to buy any book from Robin Brass Studios that covers a topic of interest to me. They cannot be praised highly enough.

(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)

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