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A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II

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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. 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 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. 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 Combining vibrant novelistic storytelling with extensive research, interviews, and previously unpublished accounts, Simon Parkin describes for the first time the role that women played in developing the Allied strategy that, in the words of one admiral,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.


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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. 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 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. 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.

30 review for A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    These two books are really difficult for me to review. The first book, A Game of Birds and Wolves reads like a thriller and I would give it a very solid four-stars. The British, out maneuvered and out gunned, are this close to losing WWII because Germany is throwing up a barricade of u-boats, cutting off supplies, sinking supply ships and killing huge numbers of sailors and civilian passengers. The Germans are surely and steadily winning the Battle of the Atlantic. They have Supreme Commander of These two books are really difficult for me to review. The first book, A Game of Birds and Wolves reads like a thriller and I would give it a very solid four-stars. The British, out maneuvered and out gunned, are this close to losing WWII because Germany is throwing up a barricade of u-boats, cutting off supplies, sinking supply ships and killing huge numbers of sailors and civilian passengers. The Germans are surely and steadily winning the Battle of the Atlantic. They have Supreme Commander of the Navy Admiral Karl Doenitz running the show and they have deadly, skilled submarine captains like Otto Kretschmer and Wolfgang Lüth playing for their team. The German u-boat captains had already made a game out of it -- awarding points for every ton of British ship they send to the bottom. Sink 100,000 tons and Admiral Doenitz pins a medal on your chest. Captain Schnee sinks the SS Aguila, killing 70 young women and gets 9,000 points. Captain Bleichrodt sinks the SS City of Benares, killing over 250 people, including 77 small children, and is awarded 11,000 points. Bleichrodt trades in his points for the Iron Cross. Captain Hardegen sinks the oil tanker Norness, resulting in the deaths of two crew members and a puppy and giving him a whopping 12,000 points. Inexplicably, Britain recruits Gilbert Roberts to head up a group to figure out how to push the Germans back. Still dangerously underweight, Roberts' had previously been mustered out of the service because he is suffering from tuberculosis. On top of that, the team he will be leading consists almost entirely of young WRENS (Women's Royal Naval Service) whose training, such as it was, consisted mostly of typing and other skills that were considered appropriate for females of the day. Even though we know how it turned out, (view spoiler)[The Germans lost the Battle of the Atlantic. (hide spoiler)] it's still pretty exciting to see how it was done. Lots of this was top secret until pretty recently. The second book, The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II is pretty much a two-star book, or an episode of "Ripping Yarns." There are a couple of pages scattered here and there about two outstanding WRENS, Jean Laidlaw and Janet Okell, and a handful of other WRENS flit through various chapters like ghosts. There is some chit chat about their designer uniforms and engagements to fellow naval personnel. There is a lot of lip service given to their importance to the success of the mission but not much information that actually backs it up. Really, the only thing that's new is the extent to which women are allowed to participate at all. Are there really two books? No, it just seems like it. Now the publisher is probably sorry that I was sent a free copy. Well, I gave 1/2 of the book a 4-star review ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . My peeve: An interminable anecdote in Chapter 13 about John Lamb partying in NYC is very entertaining but had only the most tenuous connection to the game of birds and wolves. The footnote there that the editor of Vogue magazine, who was at the party, died four months later is only half as interesting and twice as irrelevant.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Historyguy

    Told in vivid, thrilling detail, A Game of Birds and Wolves shines a light into one of the forgotten tactical units of the Second World War and the core role the men and women who worked there played in driving the U-boats from the Atlantic. The book often reads like a thriller, with well-rounded, memorable characters on both sides of the conflict, and high-stakes, but is clearly rooted in painstaking archival research and interview. A gripping, tight-focus expose, not only of the role of Told in vivid, thrilling detail, A Game of Birds and Wolves shines a light into one of the forgotten tactical units of the Second World War and the core role the men and women who worked there played in driving the U-boats from the Atlantic. The book often reads like a thriller, with well-rounded, memorable characters on both sides of the conflict, and high-stakes, but is clearly rooted in painstaking archival research and interview. A gripping, tight-focus expose, not only of the role of wargames in the battle of the Atlantic, but also of their usefulness to both sides in the wider war.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anneke

    A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whole Secret Board Game Helped Win WWII Author: Simon Parkin Publisher: Little Brown and Company Publication Date: January 29, 2020 Review Date: January 4, 2020 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, From the blurb: “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. By 1941, A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whole Secret Board Game Helped Win WWII Author: Simon Parkin Publisher: Little Brown and Company Publication Date: January 29, 2020 Review Date: January 4, 2020 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, From the blurb: “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. 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 do not recommend this book, 3 starts tops. I recommend only for the most hung-ho readers of WWII history, who have plenty of time. The book was slow, dry, boring. I abandoned the book at 21%. The game had not even been introduced by then. There are just too many other fascinating books in my NetGalley TBR list, that I could not keep hoping this book would get better. Thank you to Little Brown for allowing an early look at this book. Good luck to the author #netgalley #wwII #littlebrown

  4. 5 out of 5

    Taunya Miller

    I received this ARC from Goodreads during an Early Reviewer Giveaway. The opinions stated in this review are mine and mine alone. During WWII, Captain Gilbert Roberts devised a strategy game to try to predict the movements and positions of the German U-boats in the Atlantic. He was tasked with figuring out the tactics used by the Germans, how they were sinking so many ships without being detected. Roberts was given a team of Wrens (members of the Womens Royal Naval Service). They (Wrens) worked I received this ARC from Goodreads during an Early Reviewer Giveaway. The opinions stated in this review are mine and mine alone. During WWII, Captain Gilbert Roberts devised a strategy game to try to predict the movements and positions of the German U-boats in the Atlantic. He was tasked with figuring out the tactics used by the Germans, how they were sinking so many ships without being detected. Roberts was given a team of Wrens (members of the Womens Royal Naval Service). They (Wrens) worked extremely long hours, with little recognition, sworn to secrecy, and treated with disrespect by many of their male counterparts. The strategy games were played in secret locations, on a mock Atlantic (grids made on the floors and walls, model ships, etc.), using prior battles as a model. There they came up with maneuvers for their Naval ships to apply that would level the "battlefield" so to speak. The work of Captain Roberts and his Wrens turned the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic and let to the destruction of many U-boats and the end of the Battle of the Atlantic. Before reading this book, although I am an avid reader of all things WWII (especially Holocaust), I do not recall ever reading about the Wrens. Especially not in any detail. It amazes me how parts of history are omitted or only vaguely mentioned because of the gender of these heroes. The book is very informative, factual, and beautifully written. Thank you Goodreads and Mr. Simon Parkin.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Teri

    A fascinating book that chronicles the rise of the u-boats utilized by the Germans during World War II and the tactics , specifically the “games”, the British developed to counter them. Sometimes the explanation of the games could get tedious, but I can envision the action packed movie that could come from this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Thanks to Hachette Book Group for sending me this good reads giveaway. An excellent telling of the war in the Pacific during WWll from the British view point. Mr.Parkin especially covers the little known part the women Wrens played in the saving of lives during this time. This is a must read to everyone interested in behind the scenes of warfare.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cass

    An excellent insight into naval tactics during the war, as well as the indispensable role that women played. Engaging and well-written, it varied between a thrilling narrative and an informative text - a mix that worked perfectly to maintain my interest and increase my understanding. Solid read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maria Galvez Mesimeris

    This book reads like a documentary and i lost interest after a while.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Suzi

    An interesting story of the Wrens in England during the second World War. a little known but important aspect of naval warfare.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Thompson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nelly

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amr Alfaisal

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ben Singleton

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Heap

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

  17. 5 out of 5

    Panchos

  18. 5 out of 5

    DCIrving

  19. 4 out of 5

    T.Rawlings

  20. 5 out of 5

    James N

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jon

  23. 4 out of 5

    Col Todd

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Jones

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marion Pampin

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Hall

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wilson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dan Williams

  29. 4 out of 5

    Galina

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jonathon Mcdonnell

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