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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Subjects
Genres
Creative nonfiction
Published
New York : Little, Brown and Company [2020]
Edition
First US edition
Language
English
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
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-302) and index.
ISBN
9780316492096
0316492094
Main Author
Simon Parkin (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* This engaging account of the military games mastered by British Wrens (members of the Women's Royal Naval Service, and the birds of the title) while teaching British, American, Norwegian, and other Allied navy personnel standard tactics employed by German U-boats (the wolves) is history writing at its best. Parkin skillfully weaves in extensive background to establish context for readers unfamiliar with the Atlantic war at sea while offering documented details, telling anecdotes, and perceptive profiles that will appeal to audiences already familiar with WWII military campaigns. There are comparisons between the expected wartime roles of British and German women; a recap of how staging mock battles, or war games, became accepted military strategy; overviews of the leadership styles demonstrated by German and Allied commanders; and painstakingly precise descriptions of strategies such as Operation Raspberry, a counter-maneuver developed through scrupulous analysis. Parkin also shows a flair for the dramatic, recreating suspenseful, real-time scenarios that bring the urgency and full import of breakthroughs and battles into sharp focus. Most importantly, this account shines a spotlight on the largely overlooked contributions of the Wrens, many of whom were still in their teens. An informative, satisfying, and overall great read. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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 Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Tells the triumphant story of a group of young women who helped devise a winning strategy to defeat the Nazi U-boats and deliver a decisive victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. (military history). 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

As heard on the New Yorker Radio Hour: The triumphant and "engaging history" (The New Yorker) of the young women who devised a winning strategy that defeated Nazi U-boats and delivered 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 counter-maneuver 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.