The Black Bull – From Normandy to the Baltic with the 11th Armoured Division
By Patrick Delaforce
Published by Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
USE THE CODE "25PERCMILITARY" and RECEIVE 25% of the RRP WHEN ORDERING FROM THE PUBLISHER
The 11th Armoured Division is famous for its operations in Northern Europe between June 1944 and Victory in Europe (VE) Day in May 1945. Its insignia of a black bull inspired fear in its adversaries as the 11th Armoured were known as splendid fighters. The 11th Armoured were in the thick of the action from their landing in Normandy to the close of hostilities in Europe.
Often divisional histories are factual affairs and lack the personal touch of the men who served with the formation. Others are biographies of the war time experiences of the men who served with a particular unit. However this book combines the two. The factual data on the Division is presented but it is interspersed with personal anecdotes from the letters and diaries of the brave men of the 11th Armoured. There are first hand descriptions of the life at the front line from various men and these comments cover the range of the division’s constituent regiments.
The author uses the recollections and personal papers of the men of the Division to great effect. These anecdotes bring life to the division’s history and present the raw emotions of combat. He does not concentrate on his own personal exploits as some biographies do but rather on the story of the division with some personal notes. He presents a few pictures of himself and limited notes from his own diaries. There are plenty of recollections from other member of the division.
The 11th were fabulous fighters and there are excellent descriptions of the component regiments’ encounters with the Germans. The 11th Armoured were concerned that the principal armament of their Sherman tanks was not a match for the well armoured German Panthers, Tigers and King Tigers. The author describes how the shout “Tiger tank” would bring extreme dread and fear into the crews of the Sherman tanks. The Sherman was petrol driven and the effective range of the main gun was significantly less than that of the Germans’ tanks. In order to get an advantage the Sherman’s crews had to get close up to the German tanks for their gun to be effective on the enemy’s main armour.
Even later in the war when the 11th Armoured was re-equipped with newer and more modern tanks their equipment was still limited in its effectiveness. The author details how range based test firing against captured German tanks was conducted. The British often found that their tank shells when fired at a distance would either ricochet off the Germans’ armour or not penetrate the armour of the enemy tanks. Their only option was to fire at close quarters. Generally all the tanks used by the 11th Armoured were out-gunned and out-armoured when compared to the Germans’ tanks. However, the regiment fought bravely against these odds and their exploits are well documented in the book.
In the year or so in Northern Europe the division suffered about 10,000 casualties with almost 2,000 lost in action. They liberated Belsen concentration camp and discovered the horrors of this location. This book is a splendid read and very engrossing. If you are interested in the Northern European campaign of 1944 / 45 then this book deserves serious space on your bookshelf.