Before I start the actual review of A Tour of the Bulge battlefields, I want to give my compliments to William C C Cavanagh, the writer of this book. He did an amazing job in researching and combining an account of the Battle of the Bulge with guidance to the historical sites. A big thanks also go out to William’s son, Karl Cavanagh, for keeping the book up to date. If you read this Karl, make sure to contact me as I would love to fill you up on some extra things 😉
The book covers a big deal of the Battle of the Bulge battlefields and it will take you along many different historical sites in Belgium and Luxembourg. It describes the effort of both U.S and German troops to fulfill their mission in high detail which will keep you jaw dropping from time to time. Every chapter focusses on a different spearhead by the German Army and will describe their activities until they were halted.
I don’t want to cover every part of the different chapters, so I’m just going to address the things that I found interesting and are worth mentioning. The first three chapters of the book focus on the northern shoulder and sometimes partially overlap each other. What I liked about the first chapter is that it actually starts at the village of Konzen, Germany, for it’s the most northern point in the Battle of the Bulge. It’s also the part I had little knowledge of and found it interesting to be guided among the battlefields here. In high detail Cavanagh takes you along the Dragon Teeth, structures which the Siegfried line is known for, to the Elsenborn ridge where the German advance here was halted. Chapter two focusses on the route that Kampfgruppe Peiper covered as one of the spearheads of the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. What I really like about Cavanagh here is that he just presents the facts and let them speak for themselves when talking about the Malmedy Massacre.
In the 3rd chapter Cavanagh covers the story of Lieutenant Eric Fisher Wood which some authors believe he formed a sort of guerrilla band with other American soldiers that were left behind in the forest around Meyerode. Wood’s body was found by civilians from Meyerode after the battle and around his body were several dead German soldiers. Cavanagh talks about the different theories that have been formed about Wood by other authors. Instead of giving his own opinion he gives you a historiography of the subject and tells you why some authors are wrong. As a history BA student I really appreciate this.
In the other chapters the writer does an amazing job in telling the various stories and eyewitness accounts of the Battle of the Bulge. Even though this book is full of stories that you might’ve never heard of, Cavanagh sometimes leaves out on some information. Chapter five goes from Dasbourg to Clervaux to Bastogne and in my opinion Cavanagh went to fast from Dasbourg to Bastogne. The 28th Infantry division did an amazing, but blood spilling job in holding the Germans up so that the 101st Airborne could take up positions around Bastogne. I think he could’ve added some extra information in covering the role of the 28th at the Village of Hosingen, for example. However, the high detailed account of the Taskforces that set up roadblocks around Bastogne was his focus in the chapter. The Dasbourg – Clervaux part really served as an introduction to Bastogne, but could’ve been way more interesting. Driving from Dasbourg to Bastogne is also very consuming so leaving out on some information will give you a different understanding of the battles. Nonetheless, the focus on Bastogne was easy to follow and very interesting!
Since my biggest interest goes out to the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg, I was very curious about Cavanagh’s approach on the last chapter of the book. The main focus here went to the German Westwall at the border with Germany. To the overall book this was a very good choice for the writer to make, because it was different than most other things we know about the Battle of the Bulge. Luxembourg shares so many interesting battlefield sites of the German Offensive and the Westwall played a big role in it, therefore it deserves every bit of attention. That’s why, on the other side, I was a bit disappointed when this chapter was much shorter compared to the other chapters of this book. If I’d write a tour book on the Battle of the Bulge I would at least dedicate two chapters, possibly three, to the battlefields in Luxembourg. For example, the area at Schumann’s Eck shares so much history. The area is filled with foxholes and other remains of the heavy fights. Also further north in the area of Wiltz, where so much blood has been spilled, contains the elements of fierce battles. And last, the whole sector of the 4th and 5th Infantry division between Echternach – Berdorf – Christnach -Haller – Beaufort is a wonderful and beautiful area for guiding. Not to mention the story of Generalleutnant Kurt Moehring, commanding general of the 276th Volksgrenadier division, who died in a hail of machine gun fire on his way from Beaufort to the Müllerthal. Cavanagh uses this as a ‘filler’ story, whereas he could’ve used it as a bigger part of a tour going through the Müllerthal area to Beaufort back to the Hoesdorf plateau where his chapter ends. This is not because it’s one of my favorite parts when visiting the area, but because I think it will add so much more to the knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg.
With this chapter I was also able to test the actual guiding part of the book to see if it was easy to follow. I think Cavanagh knows the area very well. He tells you to take the small hidden roads which take you to very interesting sites and are normally not your first choice to take. However, sometimes I felt like big distances were written as relatively small distances. For example, the road from Ettelbrück to Diekirch was a bit difficult to follow. The guiding part tells you to go to Diekirch while you’re still in front of Ettelbrück. In the same sentence it tells you to look out for a train station on your left. What the guiding part doesn’t tell you is that you actually have to go through the center of Ettelbrück first, then go on a small highway and enter the Diekirch area. Then just before you enter the center of Diekirch you’ll drive past a train station as mentioned in the book. Therefore, I suggest buying a map so you can plan your route in advance and make sure you know which route to take.
If you’re not familiar in the area, a map can be really crucial. I suggest to read the guiding parts multiple timesand buy a map. Cavanagh suggest using and buying a map for your coordination and route planning, so make sure you read the travel tips in front of the book. They are full of tips to make your trip along the battlefields much easier. I hoped to see a mention of Navigation Systems or Google Maps. Both will allow you to pinpoint locations and make it much easier for you to drive along with the direction given in the book. Cavanagh left out on this, but I think it’s not a bad idea to do this by yourself. Google also has the Street View ability in both Luxembourg and Belgium. This will give you great insight in the area while at the same time you can look for waypoints which are mentioned in the guiding parts of the book. For example: “Notice the red house on your right.” These tools will help you and make your trip along the battlefields much easier. Besides the tips you’ll find a list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter if you’re interested in more details of some battles.
Nevertheless, I think this book does an amazing job in guiding you through the Battle of the Bulge battlefields. I would definitely recommend this to people who are interesting and eager to know more than what you can see inside a museum. William Cavanagh did a wonderful job by creating this piece of history. Every part of the book is very well documented and is definitely a must when visiting the area of the Battle of the Bulge. Even if you know a lot about the Battle of the Bulge already, I guarantee it will take your Battle of the Bulge experience to another level.
The book is published by Pen and Sword books and is available on http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-Tour-of-the-Bulge-Battlefields-Paperback/p/7934 There’s also an eBook version out there which is cheaper, but it would make the guiding part less convenient.
My own battlefield tour in the area of Berdorf, between Echternach and Beaufort can be found here: http://www.joedemadio.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Relive-The-Past-Berdorf.pdf
I’m working on another article which shares 10 places of the Battle of the Bulge battlefields you MUST visit. As soon as it’s done I will make sure to publish this on my blog, so stay tuned and subscribe to my newsletter on the right!
Easy-to-Read Factor – 8.0
Historical Accuracy – 9.5
Presentation of Historical Material 8.0
Details – 9.5
Overall Rating – 8.75