A game of birds and wolves The ingenious young women whose secret board game helped win World War II

Simon Parkin

Book - 2020

"The triumphant true story of the young women who helped to devise the winning strategy that defeated Nazi U-boats and delivered a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic." -- From book jacket.

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2nd Floor 940.54516/Parkin Checked In
2nd Floor 940.54516/Parkin Checked In
2nd Floor 940.54516/Parkin Checked In
Creative nonfiction
New York : Little, Brown and Company [2020]
Main Author
Simon Parkin (author)
First US edition
Item Description
First published in Great Britain in November 2019 by Sceptre" -- Title page verso.
Physical Description
309 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-302) and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this dramatic but disjointed history, New Yorker contributor Parkin (Death by Video Game) explores the role that war games played in British efforts to defeat the German U-boat menace during WWII. After the fall of France in June 1940, Parkin explains, the British war effort depended on transatlantic shipments of food, oil, and raw materials. Knowing that England would be forced to surrender if U-boats sank Allied ships at a fast enough rate, the German navy developed aggressive tactics, including attacking at night in groups of six or more ("wolfpacks"). Seeking to stem Allied losses, British naval officer Gilbert Roberts and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service, nicknamed Wrens, created a giant board game to recreate actual U-boat attacks. Though the Wrens helped to prove that "support groups" of destroyers would prove effective against the wolfpacks, readers expecting a deep dive into the role of women in WWII will be disappointed--Parkin focuses more on German submariners than he does on the individual Wrens. Though it feels like three different narratives stuffed into one, the book is packed with colorful trivia, such as the number of condoms U-boats carried for use as weather balloons and antennae extensions (1,500). This overstuffed account misses its mark. (Jan.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Parkin (Death by Video Game) provides a vivid glimpse of a little-known World War II effort that pitted young British women against the full force of the Nazi U-Boat campaign in the Atlantic. The game to which the title refers was an actual game, played out on the floor in a secret British military installation by an invalid captain and a contingent of "Wrens"--young women who answered the call to serve with the Royal Navy in a variety of capacities during the war. This game, focused on evaluating and developing successful tactical strategies for outsmarting the ruthless German submarines that laid waste to many Allied ships, was played out on a large chess-like grid on the floor, complete with various props to illustrate ships and submarines as they plied the waters off Britain's coast. Parkin weaves this history together like a novel, switching back and forth among various characters and storylines to reveal a fascinating fight for freedom; both for Britain and the young women who defied contemporary norms to serve their country. VERDICT Vibrant and readable, recommended for anyone interested in the history of World War II, women in the military, naval history, and military history.--Philip Shackelford, South Arkansas Community Coll., El Dorado

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A New Yorker contributing writer and Observer critic tells the story of how volunteers in the Women's Royal Naval Service helped the British military win the battle against German U-boats during World War II.As Parkin (Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline, 2016, etc.) shows, in 1940, the British navy was struggling badly. German U-boats had sunk more than 1,200 vessels and done more damage to British shipping than the German navy and Luftwaffe combined. Civilians were dying, as well, and with every ship lost, Britain had one less way to carry much-needed food and supplies back from the United States. To protect public morale and keep the Germany military in the dark, Winston Churchill imposed a blackout on all information regarding shipping losses from U-boats. Meanwhile, Gilbert Roberts, a former British naval officer forced into early retirement by tuberculosis, came up with an idea that, though initially dismissed by members of the British admiralty, eventually turned the tide of war against the Germans. Using a Battleship-style game to simulate lost sea battles, Roberts reasoned he could help naval officers to understand each situation "from all angles." His assistants included a team of exceptionally gifted young women from the newly formed "Wrens" unit. Using "string, chalk, great sheets of canvas [and] linoleum," Roberts and the Wrens devised and tested countermaneuvers, including one dubbed "Raspberry," which they taught to skeptical British naval officers. By the summer of 1942, Britain began seeing an increase in the number of U-boat sinkings, but the greatest victory came in 1943, when a convoy of British ships survived attacks by "wolfpacks" that included some of Germany's most decorated U-boat commanders. With novelistic flair, Parkin transforms material gathered from research, interviews, and unpublished accounts into a highly readable book that celebrates the ingenuity of a British naval "reject" and the accomplishments of the formerly faceless women never officially rewarded for their contribution to the Allied defeat of Germany.A lively, sharp WWII history. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.