Book Review: D-Day by Antony Beevor (Four Stars)


Book Review: D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

(Four Stars)

“I am more thankful than I can say that my misgivings were unfounded …. May I congratulate you on the wisdom of your choice.” Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory to Eisenhower after the airborne assaults which he thought would be disasters succeeded.

Thankfully Beevor credits readers with some sense of history; unlike many writers of popular history, he connects D-Day to its antecedents without reinventing the wheel. He describes the invasion itself in microscopic detail.

“We are going to liberate Europe, but it is because the Americans are with us. So get this clear. Every time we have to decide between Europe and the open seas, it is always the sea that we shall choose. Every time I have to decide between you and Roosevelt, I shall always choose Roosevelt.” Winston Churchill to Charles DeGaulle before D-Day

Will undoubtedly compared to Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 The Longest Day. Longest Day focused on the point of view of those involved emphasizing the Allies, D-Day adds French and German reminisces plus logistic and meteorological details. Beevor also extends his narrative through the liberation of Paris.

“‘One of Monty’s great errors was at Falaise,’ Air Chief Marshall Tedder said after the war. ‘There he imperiously told US troops to stop and leave the British area alone. He didn’t close the gap.’ Air Chief Marshall Coningham … was even harsher: ‘Monty is supposed to have done a great job at Falaise. [But he] really helped the Germans get away.’”

Montgomery comes off as an ineffective egomaniac. Again. Unusual to find an English author who holds that opinion and adds quotes from British senior commanders of that day who hated Monty. Beevor manages to identify heroes of whatever rank and whatever allegiance.

“The terrible paradox about democracies at war is that because of the pressure at home from the press, public opinion, and parliament, commanders will try to reduce their casualties by any means. That usually leads to excessive reliance on high explosives, both bombs and shells, in an attempt to neutralize the enemy without exposing their own men. This is bound to lead to heavy civilian casualties, and Normandy unfortunately provides an outstanding example.”

The battle for Normandy was a brutal affair. Every side committed atrocities. Beevor manages to find instances of humanity too.

“Two SS officers … announced that on direct orders from the Führer they were to ‘save’ the Bayeux tapestry … by taking it back to Germany.”

Good maps, well used. Quibble: the Allied Breakout to Brittany and the Seine map should be placed several chapters earlier. Good analysis of the limitations of air power.

“After four years of preparation for the invasion why are our machines inferior?” a British officer, who was killed in his tank the second week of June near Tracy-Bacage, wrote in his diary.

If D-Day has a fault it’s Beevor’s wordy, pedantic construction.

“The success of the Allied double invasion … had at least spared most of France from a long-drawn-out battle of attrition. The cruel martyrdom of Normandy had indeed saved the rest of France. Altogether 19,890 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy and an even larger number seriously wounded.”