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The Defence of St Valery-en-Caux 1940 (Hardback)

The 51st (Highland) Division from The Saar to Normandy

Military > Battlefield Guidebooks WWII

By Jerry Murland
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 160
Illustrations: Black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781473852273
Published: 10th April 2024

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The story of the 51st (Highland) Division during 1939 and 1940 is a short and largely tragic one and although it firmly burnt itself into the minds of Scotsmen it has never been granted the recognition it deserves. Even in Scotland it is often forgotten that the men, and attached troops, of the 51st Division, were fighting for survival in Normandy for some ten days after the evacuation from Dunkerque had been completed. Most present-day accounts of the Second World War in 1939/40 deal with the ‘Phoney War’ and the evacuation from Dunkerque but few mention the rearguard action at St Valery-en-Caux, other than a giving it a passing mention. Nevertheless, the action of the 51st Division against the might of German forces won the admiration of General Erwin Rommel and Charles De Gaulle, who fought against and alongside them.

One of the enduring beliefs is that Churchill deliberately sacrificed the 51st Division in an attempt to keep France in the war; this, apart from being palpably incorrect, fails miserably to address the intricacy of the circumstances that overtook the 51st Division after they returned from the Saar. In a situation where units were repeatedly changing affiliation, communication between the French Supreme Command and British forces suffered language difficulties and the inclination to blame each other for the debacle that inevitably ensued. Nevertheless, for all the criticism that is thrown at the French Army, it is clear that a number of French units fought hard and with great courage, the main fault with the French command lying with poor leadership and lack of tactical planning.

As far as the Highlanders were concerned it was bad luck that their term of duty on the Saar coincided with the beginning of Fall Rot. The speed and extent of the German advance from Abbeville took their own High Command and the French by surprise and it was with little wonder that Allied military thinking failed to keep up with actions on the battlefield. The theory that Churchill sacrificed the division to keep the French in the war owes a great deal to the Scottish need to attribute all the misery of the world to one scoundrel, a trait that exists to this day!

Supported by eleven maps and over 150 photographs, the book traces the history of the 51st Division from its inception until its final surrender at St Valery-en-Caux and deals with the fighting on the Saar and the often ragged skirmishing though Normandy. The book also touches on the actions of the 1st Armoured Division and the Battle of Abbeville. There are three walks and a car tour included in this volume which allows the battlefield visitor to base themselves firstly in Abbeville and, secondly, further into Normandy.

Another first class book to have on your reference shelf or in your car next time you take a trip over to France.

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About Jerry Murland

Jerry Murland is a retired headteacher who has written over twenty books and guidebooks coverering the events of the First and Second World Wars. His first book, Aristocrats Go To War, was published by Pen and Sword in 2010 and since then he has gone on the write a number of others, including the Battlelines Guidebooks to the Western Front, co-written with Jon Cooksey. He is currently writing an account of the Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal 1940, part of eight Battleground Europe books which cover the France and Flanders campaign of 1940.

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