- Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe 1944–1945
Terry Copp's Cinderella Army is an outstanding account of the First Canadian Army in northwest Europe in the final months of the Second World War. Much like its prequel, the award-winning Fields of Fire, which recounts the exploits of the Canadians from the Normandy invasion through the end of the summer of 1944, this book is military history at its very best: thoroughly researched, detailed, articulate, and persuasively argued. He explains the Cinderella metaphor as a reflection of the many challenges facing the Canadian Army in October 1944, 'when it was depleted of resources and burdened with a multitude of tasks. It also reflects the challenges the Canadians faced in fighting a series of low-priority actions on a long left flank.' To examine these problems and challenges, Copp relies on exhaustive primary research and a [End Page 392] personal knowledge of the terrain of northwest Europe, and he provides a meticulous examination of the Canadian forces as they fought their way through Belgium, Holland, and across the Rhine River into Germany.
Copp's goal is to establish the reputation of the Canadian Army in the face of its international detractors who have 'underrated' the achievements of the Canadians and 'overrated' the effectiveness of the Germans in the last campaigns of the war. But his purpose does not include overlooking the mistakes and weaknesses of the Canadians. Indeed, he challenges the conventional wisdom that portrays the development of the Canadian Army in northwest Europe as a steady progression from an uneven and mistake-prone army in the weeks following D-Day into an efficient and tough fighting force by the end of the war. Copp argues, in fact, that the Canadian Army, despite its overall success, 'continued to experience both success and failure at the command, staff, and combat levels.'
Copp doesn't extend the Cinderella metaphor very far, but if there is an evil stepmother in this story it has to be Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, whose ambition and vanity led him to make costly errors that affected the Canadians in the field. Copp is especially critical of the political infighting and rivalry between the British and American commanders and he argues that, given the record of their actions and decisions on the campaign in northwest Europe in the last few months of the war, there are 'reasonable grounds for questioning the generalship of both Montgomery and Eisenhower.' And all of this serves as a reminder that international politics were never far from the surface in the war, and that the ramifications of political rivalries were felt on the battlefield and could literally mean the difference between life and death for the individual infantry soldier.
Copp is as comfortable in describing the specific actions of the average soldier on the front line as he is in analyzing the decision making of generals at headquarters, and he skilfully illustrates for the reader how decisions made by commanders were translated into action on the ground, with all the consequences – good and bad – for the soldiers. At the end of the book he suggests areas and topics in need of further research and he provides more questions to be answered by historians. But it is also clear that Cinderella Army has established a very high standard against which all future histories of the Canadian Army – and military history in general – will be measured.