'Splendid... a triumph' John Lewis Stempel, Sunday Express
'Compelling' Sunday Times
1941. The Battle of the Atlantic is a disaster. Thousands of supply ships ferrying vital food and fuel from North America to Britain are being torpedoed by German U-boats.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill is concealing from the country the number of British ships sunk. He is concealing the number of British men killed. And worst of all, unless something changes, he knows that Britain is weeks away from being starved into surrender to the Nazis.
This is the story of the game of battleships that won the Second World War. In the first week of 1942 a group of unlikely heroes - a retired naval captain and a clutch of brilliant young women, the youngest only seventeen years old - gather to form a secret strategy unit. On the top floor of a bomb-bruised HQ in Liverpool, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit spends days and nights designing and playing wargames in an effort to crack the U-boat tactics.
A Game of Birds and Wolves takes us from the sweltering fug of a U-boat as the German aces coordinate their wolfpack, to the tense atmosphere of the operation room as the British team plot battles at sea on the map.
The story of Operation Raspberry and its unsung heroines has never been told before. Investigative journalist Simon Parkin brings these hidden figures into the light and shows the ingenuity, perseverance and love needed to defeat the Nazis in this gripping tale of war at sea.
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.