Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Operation Totalise (Totalize) - Part 2 - But why? (Caution: wall of text)

Hi folks,

Carrying on from my post on Operation Totalise (found here), I wanted to go into the reasons why I have such an interest in this battle.

First, a little personal history - feel free to skip ahead, as this isn't really wargames related, and is more the personal background behind my attachment. The section titled 'But Why Totalise?' skips all the introspective twaddle!

Back when I started gaming and collecting again in late 2012 I had been recovering from several prolonged periods of poor mental health. Part of my recovery had been dealing with unresolved issues from my childhood, which included the death of my Grandfather when I was in my early teens. 

I had a difficult childhood and the divorce of my parents meant my dad moved some distance away. My mum made efforts to make sure I still had access to my dads family. This included spending every second Sunday with my gran and grandad. As a child, I had always been terrified of my grandad. I think partly because he had suffered a stroke when I was young, and was never very active. To me, he was a grumpy old man who spent a lot of time sitting in his chair. As I learnt later he had a great sense of humour, but that sense of humour didn't translate well to a toddler! 

With these visits to my grandparents, I started to help out my grandad with chores around the house. He was a keen gardener, keeping a big garden and greenhouse - with the help of family members due to his restricted mobility. I was soon drafted in as I was keen to help (and being at a grandparents on a Sunday as a kid can be pretty boring). It wasn't long before he had a list waiting for me, ranging from changing plugs to painting fences and sheds, digging and planting, etc. I was even bought my own 'small' spade for digging the garden with.

With the absence of my dad (and the death of my mums father years before) my grandad became very much a strong and very important male figure in my life. I knew he had been a tanker during WW2, although he spoke very little about it. I think he is where my interest in WW2 came from, although he only told me little bits. Comments about watching Typhoons diving on targets and about their tanks gunner being 'a bit trigger happy'. Oh to be able to have those conversations again! 

He died when I was in my early teens, and despite being the youngest male grandchild I was one of the pall bearers at his funeral. At the time I had dealt with his death quite calmly, I don't remember being massively upset or grieving particularity much. He had just died and I just got on with things. 10 or so years later I had some issues with stress at work, which led to clinical depression - something I now think I suffered from throughout my teenage years and certainly my time at University. While coping (badly) with these health issues I started having dreams about my grandad (which for me was odd, as I never dream about people I know). This all triggered coming to terms with his death and as a part of healing, I started doing a little digging into his wartime experiences. 

Over time, with the help of some documents my gran had, I managed to identify the unit he served with. More research led me to copies of the war diary and a manuscript copy of the Colonels book. I began to focus on the operations he took part in (or at least, that his unit took part in - I have no specific details as to when he might have been fighting or in reserve other than an iindication that when he met my gran in 1943 he was in either HQ or C Squadron), and bought a lot of books with first hand experiences - Ken Tout fought in a regiment in the same Brigade and his book 'Tank!: 40 hours of battle, August 1944' describes the Tankers view of Totalise along with some of his other work giving a Tankers view of Normandy, Stuart Hill's 'By Tank into Normandy', Tank Commander by Bill Close, etc. Also accounts from soldiers who fought in similar actions. Between the description of Totalise in 'The Guns of War' and those of these other books and the war diary, I came to understand what a momentous battle this had been. 

A result of these health issues had been the selling off of all my (mainly GW related) wargaming collection. It was several years before I got back into wargaming. Specifically into Flames of War through Young David at the Carluke and Law wargames club. What started as an idea to do a small infantry army developed as I researched more into my memorial to my grandfather. The infantry became the unit he supported, the tanks the squadron I have evidence to believe he served in at one point. If I strive to get things 'just right', it's very much because it should be just right - for him, and for my memory of him. The painting itself has become something that helps me maintain my health - a from of 'active meditation' - and something that gives me a sense of completion that my day to day office job rarely can. This in turn helps keep the depression at bay, and it's been a long time since it has properly been an issue.

These two strands - family history and wargaming - came together to provide a core idea. That I should build a force based on Totalise. 

But why Totalise?

It has it all - new tactics and new equipment, the bold Canadians innovating to try and reduce casualties, stalwart Scots who's reputation had been damaged by earlier actions and courageous Poles fresh to the fight but eager to prove their worth, determined defence by overwhelmed and underrated Heer troops, (failed) counter attacks by elite and vicious SS units - including the death of one of the Nazi's top tank commanders and ultimately the start of the cascade failure of the German army that led to the Falaise pocket and the 'long swan' that took the allies up to the borders of Germany itself.

It's also a battle that I feel is very overlooked, with set piece battles such as Charnwood and Goodwood getting a lot of coverage despite being tactically unsuccessful. Totalise was a result of Canadian and British ingenuity. The tactics and equipment developed from this operation went on to change the nature of fighting in NWE - as well as arguably the face of mechanised combat. Totalise proved that night attacks with tanks were feasible and that armoured tracked APC's were a valuable commodity - switching from the static grind of Normandy to the Mechanised assaults found later in Holland and into Germany.

Lee's gift of some German Flames of War troops and my move to an area where I had no immediate fellow gamers saw my project shift from only doing the Highlanders to doing the opposition. Some 'spare' funds, trades and good deals on more British tanks led me to the idea of doing the Poles and Canadians. Some gift vouchers from work for amazon provided a load of plastic Panzer IV's, Panthers and more Tigers to do the SS counter attacks. Plans for my own table and terrain has led to me researching the terrain and notable features of the battle with a view of being able to replicate the main terrain features. Talking to House of Hengist has led to the idea of some mega games set during the battle. The project has grown arms and legs!

So whats the plan?

The initial idea, subject to changes, alterations, revision and actual planning, is for myself and Mark over at House of Hengist to do a series of scenarios covering the stages of the battle to be included in his comic series. These games - hopefully to start in 2017 - will cover the initial night attack, the early morning consolidation, afternoon German counter attacks and then the later Polish and Canadian armoured drives. Within this there is scope to cover other elements - such as Wittmann's last charge and the destruction of Worthington Force. Dependent on space and time constraints, these battles could be focusing on either the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and 144RAC alone, or possibly the other columns as well - including the Canadian attacks.

My aim initially is go build up those units which cannot be 'generic' - such as British and Canadian infantry in De-Frocked Priests (Kangeroo's), provision of transport for the columns, etc. My British forces are at a point where I could use them now, although I do aim to expand the amount of infantry and transport available. I also want to look at the Canadian column that operated to the right of 'my' British column, This was composed of the 8th Canadian Recce Regiment (wholly mounted in carriers and White Scout Cars, according to my sources) along with some Shermans of the Fort Gary Horse (probably Sherman III's). Other units I would be interested in doing for these would be the Ram tows for the 17 Pounders and possibly Ram artillery OP tank. In the short term the load of infantry I have for a second company of Brits would substitute for Canadian and Polish infantry, but I may represent these units with their own figures...

I also plan to start work on the Sherman V's and Cromwell's of the Polish 1st Armoured Division soon, once the last German tanks are off the painting table.

To tie this all together, the aim is also to provide, via the blog, a series of army lists derived from 'official' FoW material in order to represent these units during this operation. Starting probably with the Brits and moving through the various armies as I get them finished. I am also working on scenario's to be used for the mega battles - which I hope to publish after I've had a chance to test them (and probably after we have tried them out) so as to not ruin any surprises!

Terrain wise, I'm looking at such things as modelling sunken roads, railway embankments, etc.

So that's the aim, and the detail of the why! Thoughts and comments welcome, as ever!


  1. Thanks for sharing your story James, very relatable for me. What a great project!

    1. Thanks John - I know it's not the type of stuff some people want to read about. Which I understand, you don't want to be dealing with all that heavy crap when your just interested in the hobby. But it's relevant to what I do so I thought I'd share.

  2. Great read Jamie, great choice to build your armies towards.

  3. James, that was both an informative and moving read, thank you for posting it. As you know from my 'therapy' blog depression has dogged my own life so I fully understand how those early experiences leave their mark, (in my case a cruel and abusive stepmother from the age of 6). Unless you suffer it, it's impossible to appreciate the terrible impact that depression has upon your life, and I am glad that you are keeping it at bay with this wonderful project :)

    On a more cheery note I have the FIB Germans packed and ready to go, just been busy with stuff around the house, but they will be on the way to you. Your blog is an absolute joy to follow.

    All the very best,


    1. Thanks Lee - I think having something to focus on and move towards completion is healthy. Although I've often wondered if the obsession with military history and the emotions, both high and low, that some topics can stir is a good thing to be involved with. Generally I think I would be passionate about whatever I did, so I don't think it makes much difference.

      Thanks for the figures - it might be a while before they get painted this time, but I've a range of German lists I could do as part of this, so they will be used!


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