Another Outstanding Work

Antony Beevor has written another excellent World War II history in this volume of the D-Day and Normandy Campaigns.  I read Beevor's book on Stalingrad for my Urban Warfare course and it was a very gritty look at one of the turning points of World War II.

As much as I dislike 'revisionist' history, I would actually have to say that in many aspects Beevor's book would qualify.  He looks at the Normandy Campaign from a much  more balanced perspective than many recent works, such as Steven Ambrose's excellent books and John C. McManus' two volumes focused on the American perspective of the battles.

Beevor spends half of the book detailing the fighting by British, Canadian and Polish soldiers around Caen, where, as he correctly points out, the Germans had as many Panzer divisions engaged as they did during the Battle of Kursk, arguably one of the largest tank battles in history.  He takes a great deal of issue with recent histories that credit the Russians with actually being more responsible for defeating the Nazis than the Western Allies.  Although the Russians certainly fought more German divisions, the intensity of the fighting in Normandy, both in terms of casualties and destruction, easily matched any fighting on the Eastern Front.

Most interestingly, Beevor tells the long-neglected tale of the French civilians who lived on the battlefield and struggled to survive through the grueling battles during the summer of 1944.  He also devotes a good deal of long overdue attention to the political and personality issues facing the Allies as they tried to keep together a fractious alliance together long enough to defeat a common enemy.  Needless to say, the French have truly been a pain in the ass for over 60 years, starting with Charles deGaulle.  Beevor pulls no punches in his criticism of many of the bad decisions by Allied military leaders and has a great deal of disdain for Bernard Montgomery.

The truly narrow margin by which the Allies won, should be a fixture of World War II "revisionist" history, in my opinion.  The myth that the Allies steamrolled over the Germans with a bottomless reservoir of men and material is shown by Beevor to be simply not true.  Britain, in particular, had a great deal of difficulty providing infantry replacements for the meatgrinder taking the city of Caen and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that D-Day really was England's last throw in the war.  Although the Americans were in a little better shape, Beevor shows, but does not elaborate as much as he could, how the infantry replacements used by the U.S. Army were often cooks, artillerymen or other "soldiers" thrown into the line with little training, where they quickly suffered disproportionate casualties.  The U.S. Army's decision to limit the Ground Forces in World War II created a definite manpower crisis throught 1944 as heavy fighting caused 100% divisional turnover in many infantry divisions in the European Theater of Operations.  I reviewed Peter Monsoor's book detailing how the Army prepared infantry divisons for overseas missions and the many pitfalls in the manpower mobilization of the U.S. during the war.

This is a highly recommended book, no matter how many previous books you've read on D-Day and the Normandy Campaign.  As a first book on the subject for someone to read it really does shine.  He provides an extensive bibliography on his website and his research was clearly outstanding.