Book Review Peter Caddick-Adams: 'Sand and Steel', a partial review.

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Old Git, May 4, 2021.

  1. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    So, I've had this in a pile for a few months now, alongside James Holland's Normandy '44 and several other tomes. I read Holland first as I rather enjoy his books. He's generally a good writer who can be relied upon to carry a good narrative, keep things buzzing along at a fair gallop, whilst also imparting a good deal of unbiased information.

    Of course Holland is on record as stating that he and Caddick-Adam are best friends and, indeed, used to be neighbours. This probably explains the effusive blurb Holland provided for 'Sand and Steel':

    "A superb and timely book that will change our overview of D-Day forever"


    "Peter Caddick-Adams is unquestionably one of our very finest historians of the Second World War. All that he writes is suffused with immense knowledge and wisdom, as this magisterial account shows. His D-Day must surely go down as the definitive narrative of that pivotal moment in the history of the war."

    High praise indeed, but I suspect he could expect no less when he gets one of his bestest besties to write the blurb for his book. On the whole I tend to avoid the blurbs on books and make my own judgement about content, in fact I would much prefer it if publishers eschewed the use of blurbs altogether, but hey ho.

    As a caveat I should state here at the beginning that this is the first book of C-A's that I've ever read, and up until this book I was only partially aware of who he was. I did ask for recommendations, on this very forum, for one of his previous books, 'Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives'. As I recall no-one replied in either the affirmative or negative so I gave it a miss. Nothing more damning than absolutely no response. Perhaps if I had read that book I might have been more prepared for what I found in 'Sand and Steel'. A second Caveat is that I haven't yet finished reading this book and in fact it is in abeyance at the moment, other pressures pulling me away but also because I am developing concerns and now wondering if I have to go back over the 350 pages I have read with a much more critical eye.

    This book is very heavy on detail and perhaps it suffers a surfeit of detail. There are whole sections where the reader is just overwhelmed with, what I would describe as superfluous detail. Of course that migth just be a reflection of my own biases and a desire to get on with the story. Overall, it feels like an attempt to collate every single fact into one volume in order to make it a single, valuable resource. However, I rather suspect that all of this detail needs a much better writer to pull it altogether into a cohesive narrative. My tendency is to read this book every morning over breakfast and yet, there are one or two areas where the tedium of the repetitive detail began to cause my eyelids to close. His handling of the myriad of detail is not helped by his own narrative idiosyncrasy of, "Whom we have met earlier", "Who we met earlier", "who we will meet in more detail later". I personally found this particular usage more than just a little irritating.

    Right from the off, one of the first things I noticed was an intense hatred of Monty. Now I'm used to people bashing Monty, especially American authors of a certain bias, but generally I've found most good historians and authors (no matter their own national bias) do try to be impartial and try to divorce Monty's difficult personality from his overall performance as a battlefield commander. Even D'este managed to pen a three part article on 'WWII's most misunderstood General". But this was different, there's hardly an occurrence of Monty's name in the text where it doesn't also attract negativity, derision and sometimes borders on the vituperative. I was so struck by this constant bashing of Montgomery that I assumed that C-A must have known Monty personally. I did look-up C-A and found that he's fairly young, 61 this year I believe, so if ever he met Monty he must have been a very young boy; C-A would have been about 15 or 16 when Monty died. Unless Monty sacked his Dad during WWII I can find no reason for the stark bias on show. It all seems very odd and not what one would expect of "one of our very finest historians". When I read history at Uni the need for impartiality was stressed at every turn, I guess that's no longer a requirement.

    Alongside this opprobrium for Monty there seems to be a desire to flatter the Americans, even going so far as to re-assert the old saw that Patton was "the most able Allied tactician, in German eyes", (page 298). Correct me if I'm wrong here, but haven't we moved beyond this belief in the Patton myth, based as it was on the ingratiating, self-serving post-war interviews of a German officer class looking to explain away their own failures. Pretty sure that Harry Yeide's book 'Fighting Patton' has done a good job in sorting the myth from the man and showing what actual German wartime, after-action reports said about the real German view of Patton, where they had actually heard of him!

    Overall, even though I'm only 350 pages in, I'm getting the sense that this book is designed to flatter American biases, possibly because cracking the American market for military history can be a sure-fire bank account filler, especially if one attracts the attention of those who make content for Movies, TV's and Games. Maybe I'm just too cynical but that is how it seems to me and not just with this book. I do get the feeling that many popular WWII history books, written by certain British authors, always have one, or both eyes, on the US Market when constructing their narratives.

    The next thing that caught my attention was a reference to the troop numbers of 21st Army Group . On page 256 C-A states:

    "While bayonet-wielding infantrymen made up fifteen percent of Montgomery's 21st Army Group, it was His Majesty's Royal Artillery which comprised eighteen percent, or 700,000 men - roughly the size of the wartime Royal Navy."

    C-A then goes onto list the various branches of service in 21st AG and give actual figures for manpower, the combined totals for which (according to the C-A figures) would have been 1,738,073 men. I had always thought that 21st AG was comprised of just about 1 Million men, not nearly 2 Million as stated by C-A. I checked Wikipedia first and this gave a total of 1,020,581 men for 21st AG. From here I followed up C-A's source for these figures and discovered that they came from Nigel Evan's magisterial site on the Royal Artillery.

    Recruiting & Training.

    However, that's when things get interesting, for although C-A has quoted Nigel's figures accurately he has not paid close enough attention to the context for those figures. Nigel's figures are not for 21st AG but are apparently for all of the British army in June 1943...

    "Peak strength was reached in about June 1943 when all-rank totals for the British Army's arms were:

    Royal Armoured Corps - 120,433
    Royal Artillery - 699,993
    Royal Engineers - 231,985
    Royal Signals - 133,920
    Infantry - 551,742"

    Not only do Nigel's figures seem to reflect manpower for the whole of British armed forces they are also specific to June 1943. 21st Army Group was not established until July 1943 and then only as a HQ, the fully fledged Army Group components would only be worked out during the second half of 1943 and then be revised again when Monty took command in early 1944. This is basic stuff and anyone with a fair understanding of this subject should know it, or at least be able to mentally check the figures at a glance.

    So what are the correct figures for 21st Army Group? As I said earlier my understanding was that it about 1 Million men and Wikipedia seemed to confirm that. However, I also checked Holland's book, 'Normandy '44' and in the appendices on page 545 he gives a breakdown by percentage of 21st AG Personnel, like C-A he cites Infantry at 15% and Artillery at 18%, however Holland, in a footnote, indicates that these percentages are based on 660,000 men. Less than C-A said was in 21st AG Artillery alone and less than what Wikipedia states was the full tally for 21st AG. Holland doesn't appear to offer a source for these figures but they do seem to closely correlate to Wikipedia's estimate for the British Army contingent of 21stAG, which it placed at 695,000 men. I did note that many of Holland's percentage figures bear uncannily close resemblance to those in the Wikipedia entry for 'British logistics in the Normandy campaign', although those figures refer to the British contingent of 21st AG only. Finally, John Buckley's figures for British 2nd Army as of June 1944, appears as a pie chart of percentages which almost correspond to Holland's percentage figures. This pie chart appears on page 47 of Buckley's book 'British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944'. Buckley cites as his source a file at the National Archives, CAB 106/112. This may possibly be a typo as this reference applies to a 1939 file:

    'India and the War, statement issued by the Governor-General of India (Cmd. 6121) (H.M. Stationery Office, 1939)'

    In all likelihood the correct reference is CAB 106/1121, 'Organisation and Training', which comes under the Historical Section subseries, 'WAR OF 1939-1945: North West Europe (1944-1945), Narrators' notes and papers'. The typo might explain why others following Buckley's lead have not been able to tie down their percentages or figures and appear to be 'extrapolating' (for want of a better word). It should be noted that neither Holland nor Caddick-Adams cite this TNA file, in fact, beyond lots of published memoirs, there are no primary sources from any national archives listed in C-A's bibliography, a fact I find very strange. C-A does quote primary sources in the text but given what I am seeing so far I'm unsure if he's quoting these via some other secondary source or if he's actually consulted them directly. In short this appears to be yet another volume of synthesized history rather than any ground-breaking re-analysis of D-Day. So far it does not compare all that well to Holland's book and given that they seem to have shared some research material (at least that's how it seems to me from reading both books back-to-back) I find it odd that their figures do not match. I would have expected Holland to have picked up on C-A's numbers if he had actually read the book in proof before it was published. Which I assume he did to have written such a gushing blurb for it?

    The next thing to jump out at me was a quote that appears on pg 330, line 5:

    "Another lieutenant colonel told his second in command, 'you know, there's such a thing as over-training a battalion. ...".

    Note 40 attached to this quote gives the source as the 1948 edition of 'From the City, From the Plough' by Alexander Baron. This is a novel, not a history book, but it is quoted here as though it were a history book and what is said as an actual historical fact. There's no indication in C-A's notes, covering this publication, to indicate that it is a novel, not here on page 330 or when it was quoted earlier on page 273. It seems a little disingenuous to me to quote a novel, albeit one loosely based on actual events, without indicating that it is in fact a work of fiction. Which again made me wonder if C-A had actually read the book or if he had cited via a secondary source but not mentioned this fact?

    In the midst of all this I received, in the post, a copy of the current issue of the 'Friends of the Tank Museum' magazine, 'Tracklink'. (issue 108, Spring 2021). Within this issue is an article written by a WWII Staffs Yeomanry veteran who has taken exception to C-A's depiction of the DD Sherman as a death trap. Bill Wright goes through C-A's analysis of the DD Sherman and gives pretty good rebuttals for each point, including the assertion that the DD Shermans were not used again after D-Day, until the Rhine crossing, because of the putative dangers. However, Bill Wright points put this is simply not true, that events in NWE, after the breakout, moved too fast for the DD Sherman to be re-used, as planned. He also pointis out that his squadron swam their DD Shermans seven miles down the Scheldt estuary, escorted by Destroyers, during the assault on South Beveland.

    Given that all of this appears in the first 350 pages of Caddick-Adams 900 page tome I do wonder what other issues might crop up, or indeed what I may have missed during my heavy-lidded moments. Has anyone else read this book and spotted similar issues?

    Before writing this post I did do a search on Caddick-Adams on this forum, to check for previous reviews or opinions. Apart from one or two negative but generalised comments there really isn't much here which kind of tells me that his work isn't penetrating the hard carapace of the average WW2Talk member. There was one thread, from July 12th 2018:

    Looking for a copy of Lloyd Clark's The Silent Battle

    Where a member was seeking a copy of Professor Lloyd Clark's book 'The Silent Battle: The British and the Ardennes Offensive, December 1944-January 1945'. Presumably because he'd seen it cited in Caddick-Adams previous tome 'Snow and Steel'. This certainly seems to be the gist of the thread, and the fact that this book, although cited by C-A as being published by Sutton in 2007, was never actually published. It turns out the book never made it into print due to contract issues. This news prompted member to observe:

    "Does raise questions about the credibility of Caddick-Adams’ research if he cited a book that was never published in his bibliography".

    Now I have no problem assuming that C-A may have seen an advanced proof, or a draft copy of this book, and certainly given his contacts it is possible. However, it should have been cited as a draft copy and the fact that it wasn't does raise questions about C-A's handling of sources, especially when taken alongside the issues I've noticed myself. As I said at the beginning, I think that the book suffers from an over-ambitious attempt to to be an all-encompassing take on D-Day, a surfeit of detail and, so far, some notable failures to properly coral that detail.

    So, anyone got anything else to offer on Sand and Steel, or C-A,? Anything at all, negative or positive? Or am I just being an old fusspot and should accept that mistakes do creep into most books.
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  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I don't have anything much to add. I also read the article in Tracklink about the DD Shermans, this week in fact.

    It's probably deeply unfair to mix up person opinion of an author with his work, but I got a vaguely negative impression of C-A from a couple of WW2TV video chats he was in - talking over other people, to be specific.

    Also, "bayonet-wielding infantrymen"? Really? I mean sure that's accurate - they had bayonets - but it somehow seems a bit derisive. Odd.
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  3. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Gushing effusions of praise from other authors always make me feel nauseous and instantly suspicious that the content is likely to be the precise opposite. Typical of books to be found in airport (remember those?) book shops. Any book with ‘steel’ in the title is also dubious. End of rant.
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  4. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    I completed Hollands, Normandy 44 last year and I found it very interesting and it gave me a better understanding of the landings and conflict in that area.
    I would recommend it based on the building of the picture, however I can not comment on the military personalities involved or indeed understand their military mindset.
    I have a few of his books yet to start on.
    Sadly when you are very interested in WW2 as a generalist (maybe others too) I have purchased many WW2 centric books and without the in depth knowledge of the author or even personalities of the Generals/Politicians or even an overview of the said battle ,I take instances as read unless I am then motivated to explore further.
    I would imagine it is easier if you have an interest in a specific area/time frame of WW2 then you can add your well read comments to the party.

    Sadly I am way off that and as my school report stated "needs to pay attention"

    One bonus I can always come on the forum and ask if I require info above my station.

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  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have not read 'Sand and Steel', nor do I intend too - regardless of this thread. Now many years ago I attended an evening lecture by him on the May 1940 campaign, which was very good and so read his thin book on his favoured, local Midlands army unit - which was good to. Yes, he can be direct in manner.
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  6. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I did see this on twitter, recently...

    And as it was just prior to April 1st... I didn't quite know what to make of it ;-)

    Hopefully - not due to extensive research - although that said it did prompt me to do a few searches elsewhere for a few more references to these "24th Hussars" and it did bring up a few new references including...

    Facebook Groups

    I don't think I would have seen otherwise - so a bit of serendipity :)

    As this individual's portrait there was labelled as a "24th Hussar"... ;-)

    Last edited: Jun 20, 2021
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  7. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Peter Caddick-Adams’s book ‘Ten Armies in Hell’ is quite the worst military book I have ever read. As a bit of a geek on Cassino, I was horrified to be unpicking the book almost from the off. It was full of factual mistakes and typos.

    I once went to a lecture he gave on the Battle of Monte Cassino in which he showed the arrow for the Second Battle in completely the wrong direction and location. That did not fill me with much confidence.

    Nice enough chap though - but no master of the battles of Cassino.


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  8. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Ref book titles, add ‘hell’ to the list.
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  9. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron


    my point in my last post
    If I had read I I would have taken it as the facts

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  10. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    I am still trying to work out how there were ten armies at Cassino. In my book, there were only three - the US Fifth Army, the British Eighth Army and the German Tenth Army.

    If he meant ten post war nations then I count 16 - UK, Germany, Italy, France, Morocco, Cyprus, Tunisia, Algeria, Canadians, New Zealand, US, Poland, South Africa, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

    The book had all the hallmarks of being rushed out for the 70th Anniversary.


    Last edited: May 6, 2021
  11. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Frank i might have challenged that re the ten armies

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  12. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Perhaps it's no surprise to find that Ten Armies in Hell was selected for review by the Historical Novel Society! Screenshot 2021-05-05 at 21.35.42.jpg
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  13. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    I endeavour to keep an open mind (and door) on most things, which is becoming more of an uphill struggle with each passing day into my dotage.

    Said open door on dear P C-A has for me been slammed shut since I read this missive of his (from his wiki page);

    "Hitler was influenced by the 19th century opera composer Richard Wagner for his 1944 attack. “In Wagner's operas, a huge amount of the action takes place in woods and forests. This taps into old Nordic mythology – that woods are a place of testing for human beings. So it was no accident that the attack against the Americans was launched from large forests, in heavy fog.”

    Peter Caddick-Adams - Wikipedia

    Aaaaah, 'twas Wagner that made Adolph do it (at which point, for me, afore mentioned open door slammed shut).

    Kind regards, always,

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  14. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I thought Beevor said something like that too, although I may well be mistaken.
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  15. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I looked up the Washington Post review of 10 Armies and it quotes "some 200,000 casualties were inflicted on Germans, Italians, French, Americans, British, Indians, New Zealanders, Poles, Canadians and South Africans during 129 days of hell." So there is the list of 10.

    Canadians? I know we were down in the valley and I think we attacked the town, but...???

    PS Cypriot troops??
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  16. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Mule companies, if I recall.
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  17. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    What total tosh. I can’t imagine there is a shred of evidence for this fanciful suggestion.
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  18. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron


    this has certainly opened eyes up
    must go through my pile now

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  19. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    Apologies, I omitted the Canadians. I have now corrected my thread.

    Canadian armour supported the 8 Ind Div in the Fourth Battle and indeed were the first tanks across having used Kingsmill’s awesome bridge.


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  20. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Both of the Normandy books were targeted at the popular market - with a view to American sales. I enjoyed them both. Neither are academic works and the drafts may have escaped critical review.

    Peter C A's work on the D Day preparations were very good, including a fascinating chapter debunking the idea of a single heroic weatherman predicting that D Day could take place. The one weakness is that he has not made a similarly systematic study of the fire-plan, as this is an aspect of D Day that is still controversial. Maybe that is because the Firepower archives were closed over the period.

    James Holland's researchers rather let him down on various gunner matters. His organisation charts include a fanciful mixed Field Regiment with towed and SP 25 pounders.

    These omissions also gives me some cause for optimism. There is a space for a Gunner to write something new about D Day.
    Last edited: May 6, 2021
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