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Whenever there is an anniversary related to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, many publishers rush to produce something (anything) in order to capitalize on the renewed interest. Usually, quality suffers, or if competently done, the book will still be essentially a re-hash of previously available information. I am delighted to report that this excellent title from Osprey is in a class by itself.
The 13 chapters on this book are as follows:
1. The Great Crusade.
2. Remember This Is An Invasion.
3. The Great Shadow-boxing Match.
4. A Very Lofty Perch. 5. Throw Them Back.
6. In The Air, On The Ground, And In The Factories.
7. The Greatest Military Armada Ever Launched.
8. A Visitor To Hell.
9. Blood Upon The Risers.
10. Their Road Will Be Long And Hard.
11. With Unbelieving Eyes.
12. Much The Greatest Thing We Have Ever Attempted.
13. The Eyes Of The World.
The text attempts to take a fresh look at events that are by now quite well known to students of the campaign, and mostly succeeds. The broad picture of who, what, why, when, where and how, is very well presented in an easy, basically accurate and quite readable style. I am not familiar with most of the writers, with the exceptions of Col. Carlo DíEste, and both R. Hart and S.A. Hart. Of course, the now legendary Major Richard Winters of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, US 101st Airborne Division needs no introduction. However, as I went along it became apparent that these folks do indeed know their stuff.
Major Winters provides the bookís foreword; the rest of the authors each take a single chapter, while Professor Murray takes two. The text takes the reader through the political and strategic reasons that led to the conception of the invasion. Planning, especially in light of the failed raid on Dieppe is also detailed, as the role of the various nations and the leaders charged with the execution of the actual invasion. German planning for a response to what they knew was coming (but not when or where) is detailed, with the highlight being a discussion of their force structure, their commanderís disunity, and the well-known tendency of Hitler to interfere. The actual invasion and its immediate aftermath is viewed from various perspectives. Finally, the bookís last chapter looks back on this historic occasion from the perspective of the intervening 60 years.
I noted very few obvious errors within the text, but here is a short list. Page 118 states that the Doolittle Raid was carried out by B-26 bombers, when it was actually B-25s; page 123 places the 17th Panzer-Grenadier Division at Normandy, when in fact it was the 17th SS Panzer-Grenadier Division; page 157 misidentifies the German 352nd Infantry Division by naming it as a Panzer Division; on page 153 it is said that two German Infantry Regiments opposed the US landings at Omaha Beach, while page 157 says it was two battalions. Which was it?
In reality, however, these miniscule gaffes could be the result of either the editor not catching on, or the author being in error. Regardless, they do not really detract from what is indeed a fine effort. Some other items within the text either surprised me, or caused me to question a particular author’s judgment. For instance, there is mentioned for the first time, (to my knowledge) personality clashes amongst the major US Airborne commanders Taylor, Ridgeway and Gavin, and its effect upon planning. Also, considering that Major Winters wrote this book’s foreword, I was puzzled when the description of the attack to take Carentan only describes the taking of the causeway leading to the town by elements of the 502nd PIR, and not the later capture of the town itself which included elements of the 506th PIR, specifically, Winters’ own Easy Company. Both of these fall into the category of “surprise”.
There is also an unusual statement made by Dr. Hall on page 246. In downplaying Allied tactical doctrine, he says that, “As ‘managers’ gave way to ‘leaders’, the tactical performance of the Allied forces diminished”. One would think that this (as well as hard-won battlefield experience) would have the opposite effect. This last one falls into the category of “huh?”
Typical for an Osprey title, the book’s graphics are su perior. The photographs, although mostly familiar, compliment the text quite nicely and are well captioned. Indeed I only noted one glitch on page 247, where a Spitfire PR (photo-reconnaissance) aircraft is captioned as being a Mk. IV. It appears to be a later Griffin engine-powered PR Mk. XIX, but it is difficult to know for certain, given the angle in the picture that the aircraft occupies. The maps are also well done, especially those that deal with specific actions.
Thus, we now have an excellent primer on the subject of the Normandy invasion, written by a team consisting of some very fine historians. It’s all very well illustrated and presented, for quite a reasonable price. Thus, aside from this book’s appeal to the general student of history, there should be enough graphic information within the covers to give AFV, figure and diorama modelers ideas for their next project.
Frank De Sisto