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Whitaker, W. Denis and Shelagh Whitaker.

Don Mills (Ont.), Stoddart, c1984. 461pp, cloth. $24.95, ISBN 0-7736-2024-0. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Neil V. Payne

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

Tug of War is the account of the battle for the Scheldt Estuary, which was one of the most important and most costly battles fought by the Canadian army in World War II.

This battle was vital to the war effort because Antwerp had been captured with its docks and harbour facilities, the second largest in Europe, intact. If the Scheldt Estuary could be taken from the Germans, the Allies would be able to use the port to supply their armies from a properly equipped port close to the front. Until access to Antwerp was opened, all supply had to go through the temporary ports in Normandy and moved 1100 km to the front by truck.

This is the story of a valiant battle by Canadian troops and their brilliant leadership by Gen. Guy Simonds in a pivotal battle of World War II; but it is more valuable for the account of the high-level bumbling, inter-command rivalry, poor communications and unnecessary obstacles to success that transformed what should have been an easy victory before Christmas 1944, into one that was very difficult, costly and slow. When Antwerp was taken, the German army was in full retreat, and the Allies could have advanced unopposed to the Rhine. In addition, over eight thousand German troops were trapped against the sea and could easily have been surrounded, captured, and removed from the war. Allied high command was fully aware and understood the situation. They had decoded top level German communications that acknowledged that defeat was sure if the trapped troops could not be extricated and Antwerp denied to the Allies, yet they did nothing. They had detailed information on the movements of the Germans, yet did not advise the commander on the ground of the situation, or give orders to permit him to advance, as he so often requested. The result was that the trapped army escaped, the Germans were able to reorganize their army and rebuild their morale, and the war dragged on for many more months with countless unnecessary deaths on both sides.

W. Dennis Whitaker is uniquely qualified to tell this story: he commanded the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHL1) during this battle. He and his wife Shelagh spent two years doing research on the battle through official histories and documents from both sides, including regimental histories, and interviews with many of the people who served there.

This is a well-written, interesting book. The text is clear and it is easy to follow the changing, relative positions of the two armies. There are several excellent maps and interesting photos that support the text. There is also a lengthy bibliography of sources and a good index to permit direct access to details.

This book would be a valuable addition to any public, high-school, college or university library with an interest in Canada's role in World War II, It is also an interesting look at the leadership problems of any task on the scale of the Allied war effort.

Neil V. Payne, Kingston C.V.I., Kingston, Ont.
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