The title of Saul David‘s “Churchill’s Sacrifice of the Highland Division” is possibly erroneous, the book doesn’t come out for what happened to the 51st Highland Division in June 1940 as being a political gesture of allied solidarity on the part of Churchill.
It is certainly the fullest account of the 1940 campaign of the 51st Highland Division, expanding hugely on Eric Linklater‘s HMSO publication in 1942 (which perforce had to be limited for security reasons). The Highland Division was in the Maginot LineÂ attached to the French ArmyÂ when the German assault started on 10th May 1940 and so wasn’t with the rest of the BEF. By the time the ferocity and direction of the German planÂ was understood by the French & British High Commands most of the German ArmyÂ was between the 51st Highland Division and the BEF; so there was no real decision to sacrifice them on the part of Churchill. Saul David makes this readily understandable in his narrative, although he does highlight some of the points where a clear directive to withdraw them could have made a difference. Â However these would have to have been ordered by French Generals as the Division was part of the French IX Corps and under their command.
What is remarkable is that the Division only surrendered when surrounded and out of ammunition nearly a fortnight after the Dunkirk evacuations were complete.
This is a history of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (a battalion sized unitÂ for those not au fait with UK Armoured regiments). It starts with aÂ chapter of their origins in the First World War and then theirÂ subsequent peacetime evolution. 3RTR fought in the 1940 France campaignÂ at Calais, then in Greece in 1941 followed by the western desert. TheyÂ returned to the UK in late 1943 and took part in the NW Europe campaignÂ eventually meeting up with the Russians in the Baltic.
The Author was an artillery officer (with 13 RHA) who supported 3RTR inÂ the NW Europe campaign and this gives him a connection to those that heÂ has written about, much of the text is based on letters andÂ conversations with the surviving officers and men of 3 RTR.
During the desperate days of May 1940 that ended with the fall ofÂ France, the 3rd Battalion Royal Tank Regiment was sent to Calais whereÂ it played a vital role in the week-long battle. In helping to stem theÂ inexorable German armoured advance, the battalion was praised byÂ Churchill for giving the British Expeditionary Force vital extra timeÂ to effect the crucial evacuation from Dunkirk‘s beaches.
In the spring of 1941, 3 RTR fought the panzers once again in theÂ ill-fated Greek campaign. They fought a costly withdrawal against theÂ Germans, losing all their tanks, but inflicting heavy casualties.Â Hitler was furious: the six week Greek campaign delayed OperationÂ “Barbarossa” which allowed the Soviets time to re-group before theÂ Germans reached Moscow.
Following their evacuation from Greece they re-formed in Egypt andÂ fought in the Gazala battles, Operation Crusader and then in El AlameinÂ and contributed to the subsequent defeat of the Axis forces in NorthÂ Africa.
Taking part in the D-Day invasion in June 1944, 3 RTR was in theÂ thick of all the desperate Normandy battles. They took part in theÂ “Great Swan” to capture Amiens and Antwerp, then provided right flankÂ protection in Operation ‘Market Garden’ and helped halt the panzers inÂ the Ardennes. Equipped with new Comet tanks 3 RTR swept across theÂ Rhine and four other well-defended rivers to meet the Russians on theÂ Baltic.
This book is very well informed, the author was there personally for some of it and was able to speak to those that were directly involved in other parts as well as having access to war diaries etc. The style is very readable and it is an excellent unit history for a tank regiment that was involved in all of the main campaigns in NW Europe and the Med.