Non-Fiction Audiobook Review: A Game of Birds and Wolves
Title: A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II
Author: Simon Parkin. Read by Elliott Fitzpatrick
Publication Info: Audible Audio, 2020, 10 hours 10 minutes. Hardcover 2020 by Little, Brown, 320 pages.
The triumphant story of a group of young women who helped devised a winning strategy to defeat the Nazi U-boats and deliver a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic
By 1941, Winston Churchill had come to believe that the outcome of World War II rested on the battle for the Atlantic. A grand strategy game was devised by Captain Gilbert Roberts and a group of ten Wrens (members of the Women's Royal Naval Service) assigned to his team in an attempt to reveal the tactics behind the vicious success of the German U-boats. Played on a linoleum floor divided into painted squares, it required model ships to be moved across a make-believe ocean in a manner reminiscent of the childhood game, Battleship. Through play, the designers developed "Operation Raspberry," a countermaneuver that helped turn the tide of World War II.
Combining vibrant novelistic storytelling with extensive research, interviews, and previously unpublished accounts, Simon Parkin describes for the first time the role that women played in developing the Allied strategy that, in the words of one admiral, "contributed in no small measure to the final defeat of Germany." Rich with unforgettable cinematic detail and larger-than-life characters, A Game of Birds and Wolves is a heart-wrenching tale of ingenuity, dedication, perseverance, and love, bringing to life the imagination and sacrifice required to defeat the Nazis at sea.
I have to say that this was a fascinating story of a little-known bit of WWII history, but the publisher's blurb goes a bit astray. Can't say it's heart-wrenching, and the love stories aren't exactly central, though there is one kind of fun war-wedding. Nor, ultimately, is this book about the Wrens. Let's be clear: it's about Captain Roberts, Churchill, several captains of Allied ships and German U-Boats, the Battle of the Atlantic, and only after all that about the women. The game is Roberts' brainchild, though the women proved excellent practitioners of it, and did develop some of the strategies that came out of it. Perhaps still more inspiring, the Wrens managed to act as instructors to the officers who came to play the game and learn the strategies, almost all of whom outranked them, and most of whom were skeptical of the ability of a woman to understand anything about naval strategy. That tells you something about the skills these women had.
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