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D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor





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Daily Mail

03rd June 2009

The untold brutality of D-Day: Antony Beevor on the carnage suffered on the beaches of Normandy

By Antony Beevor


ANTONY BEEVOR'S D-Day: The Battle For Normandy is published at £25 by Viking Penguin.


On the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, one of our finest historians reveals the almost unimaginable horror Allied soldiers faced as they fought to free France from the grip of Hitler's most bloodthirsty and fanatical stormtroopers. With biting irony, Soviet propagandists claimed in 1944 that the British and Americans in Normandy were facing only the dregs of the Wehrmacht. 'We know where young and strong Germans are now,' wrote Ilya Ehrenburg in Pravda. 'We have accommodated them in the earth, in sand, in clay.'

But to claim that western Allies were fighting only second-rate troops was simply not true. By late June, the British Second Army was up against the largest concentration of SS panzer divisions assembled since their violent offensive against the Red Army in the Kursk salient in Russia the previous summer. Contrary to received opinion, the fighting in Normandy was even bloodier than on the eastern front.


At the beginning of June 1944, the war was reaching a climax. German troops had been brutalised by the savagery of the ongoing fighting in Russia, where the Red Army was secretly preparing its vast encirclement of the Germans' Army Group Centre.


Some of the Waffen-SS divisions facing the Allies in Normandy were the most fanatical and disciplined of all; soldiers indoctrinated by Hitler's propaganda and bent on revenge for the 'terror bombing' of German cities.


The Allies, meanwhile, had launched the greatest amphibious operation in history, with more than 5,000 ships. And although planning for the cross-Channel phase of Operation Overlord was meticulous, perhaps inevitably the next stage was not so clearly thought through.


Reluctant to accept heavy casualties after so many years of fighting, and almost unchallenged in the skies, the Allies decided to bomb towns and villages in Normandy at key road junctions to block the streets with rubble and hinder German divisions arriving to counter-attack their beach-heads. The Norman capital of Caen, just ten miles inland, was included on the list.


The relentless bombing of Caen over two days was a tragic blunder. It made a nonsense of General Montgomery's plan to take Caen within the first 24 hours of the campaign  -  turning it into rubble meant it was far harder for the Allies to penetrate the town and provided ideal terrain for its defenders. In addition, there were hardly any German troops left in the town, since they had all moved north towards their positions closer to the beaches. Instead, the civilians in the town suffered more than 2,000 casualties. In fact, on D-Day, as many French civilians died as Allied soldiers.


This is why I said in a magazine interview this week that the bombing of Caen was 'close to a war crime'. I was no doubt overstating the case in the heat of the moment, but it is hardly a new controversy.


The playwright William Douglas-Home, the brother of the future Prime Minister, was cashiered from the Army and served a year's hard labour for his protest over the bombing soon afterwards.


Whatever the case, the terrible fate of Caen was just one part of a campaign of untold brutality in Normandy in which the Allies encountered the worst fighting of what was already a long war  -  and responded to the savagery of German combat with equal ferocity.


In the early hours of June 6, two divisions of American paratroopers dropped into battle in Normandy fired up to kill 'Krauts'. Some had bought commando knives in London, and several had equipped themselves with cut-throat razors.


They had been instructed how to kill a man silently by slicing through the jugular and the voice box. Before departure, they had all received pep talks from their commanders.


'There was a great feeling in the air; the excitement of battle,' noted one paratrooper. After a short speech to arouse their martial ardour, their regimental commander swiftly bent down, pulled a large commando knife from his boot and waved it above his head. 'Before I see the dawn of another day,' he yelled, 'I want to stick this knife into the heart of the meanest, dirtiest, filthiest Nazi in all of Europe.' A baying cheer went up as his men brandished their knives in response.


The drop in the early hours of June 6 was chaotic. Those paratroopers whose chutes caught in trees presented easy targets. A number were shot as they struggled. Atrocity stories spread among the survivors, with claims that German soldiers had bayoneted them from below or even turned flame-throwers on them.


With revenge on their minds and nerves still taut after the jump, the American paratroopers-blood was up. A trooper in the 82nd remembered his instructions only too clearly: 'Take no prisoners because they will slow you down.'


Stories about German soldiers mutilating paratroopers inflamed the Americans still further. A soldier in the 101st recounted how after they had come across two dead paratroopers 'with their privates cut off and stuck into their mouths', the captain with them gave the order: 'Don't you guys dare take any prisoners! Shoot the bastards!'


In a number of cases, the paratroopers shot prisoners captured by others. A Jewish sergeant and a corporal hauled a captured German officer and noncombatant from a farmyard. Those present heard a burst of automatic fire, and when the sergeant returned 'nobody said a thing'.


Some men appear to have enjoyed the killing. A paratrooper recalled having come across a member of his company the following morning who appeared to be wearing red gloves instead of the standard issue yellow ones.


In fact, they were the yellow ones  -  just soaked in blood. 'I asked him where he got the red gloves from, and he reached down in his jump pants and pulled out a whole string of ears. He had been earhunting all night and had them all sewn on an old boot lace.'


There were cases of brutal looting. The commander of the 101st Airborne's MP platoon came across the body of a German officer and saw that somebody had cut off his finger to take the wedding ring. A sergeant in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment was horrified when he found that members of his platoon had killed some Germans and then used their bodies for bayonet practice.


On occasions, however, the killing of prisoners was prevented. A handful of paratroopers from the 101st, including a lieutenant and a chaplain, were standing in a farmyard talking to the French inhabitants. They were astonished when around a dozen troopers from the 82nd arrived at the double, herding a group of very young German orderlies.


They ordered them to lie down. The terrified boys pleaded for their lives. The sergeant, who intended to shoot them all, claimed that some of the troopers' buddies caught by their parachutes in trees had been turned into 'Roman candles' by a German soldier with a flame-thrower.


He pulled the bolt back on his Thompson sub-machine gun. In desperation, the boys grabbed the legs of the lieutenant and the chaplain as they and the French family shouted at the sergeant not to shoot them. Finally, the sergeant was persuaded. The boys were locked in the farm's cellar.


But the sergeant was not put off his mission of vengeance. 'Let's go and find some Krauts to kill!' he yelled to his men and they left again at the double. The members of the 101st were shaken by what they had witnessed. 'These people had gone ape,' one of them remarked later.


The hatred was equally intense 50 miles to the east, where paratroopers of the British 6th Airborne Division suffered from a drop every bit as chaotic as the American one. In one battalion alone, 192 men were never found. They had dropped into the flooded marshes round the River Dives and been sucked into the mud.


And a German senior NCO in the 711th Infanterie-Division executed eight captured British paratroopers on the spot, probably in obedience of Hitler's notorious 'Kommandobefehl' order which demanded the immediate shooting of all special forces.


Although the Allied invasion troops on June 6 managed to secure their beachheads, neither General Eisenhower nor Montgomery-had foreseen that the battle ahead would be far deadlier.


The Americans in the west had to fight across marshland and the small fields and tall, dense hedgerows of Normandy. The British and Canadians around Caen, on the other hand, had to cross huge, rolling wheatfields, while the Germans turned solid stone farmhouses and hamlets into formidable defensive positions.


On June 7, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles made a brave charge across open cornfields towards the village of Cambes. They fought their way in, but a newly arrived detachment of the 12th SS Hitler Jugend Panzer Division forced them to retreat.


The Ulster Rifles had to leave their wounded from D Company in a ditch outside the village. They were certain that the young fanatics from the Hitler Jugend shot them all as they lay there.


On their right, the Canadians soon became involved in a bitter cycle of revenge with the 12th SS. The fighting was pitiless. Accusations of war crimes were made by both sides. The Germans claimed that the British started it, and that they had shot prisoners in retaliation.


But the Hitler Jugend argument sounds unconvincing, especially when a total of 187 Canadian soldiers are said to have been executed during the first days of the invasion, almost all by members of the 12th SS. And their first killings had taken place on June 7.


A Frenchwoman from Caen, who had walked to the town of Authie to see if an old aunt was all right, discovered 'about 30 Canadian soldiers massacred and mutilated by the Germans'.


The Royal Winnipeg Rifles later found that the SS had shot 18 of their men, who had been taken prisoner and interrogated at their command post in the Abbaye d'Ardenne, an ancient church surrounded by medieval buildings. One of them, Major Hodge, had apparently been decapitated.


Again, this was the work of the Hitler Jugend which was probably the most indoctrinated of all Waffen-SS divisions.


Many of its key commanders came from the 1st SS Panzer-Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. They had been formed in the Rassenkrieg, or 'race war' of the eastern front. Kurt Meyer, the divisonal commander, had shot 50 Jews near Modlin in Poland in 1939.


Later, during the invasion of the Soviet Union, he ordered a village near Kharkov to be burned to the ground. All its inhabitants were murdered. Nazi propaganda and the eastern front had brutalised them, and they saw the war in the west as no different.


Killing Allied prisoners was seen as their revenge for the horror being inflicted by Bomber Command on German cities. SS discipline was pitiless. According to a Führer decree, SS soldiers could be accused of high treason if taken prisoner by the enemy unwounded.


They had been forcefully reminded of this just before the invasion, so it was hardly surprising that the British and Canadians captured so few SS alive.


But perhaps the most horrific story of SS fanaticism came from a soldier from Alsace who was drafted into the 1st SS Panzer-Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. A fellow Alsatian in his company, who had also been forcibly recruited, could not face the fighting any more and tried to escape in a column of French refugees. He was spotted by members of their regiment and brought back. Their company commander then ordered his men to beat him to death.


With every bone in his body broken, the corpse was thrown into a shell-hole. The captain declared that this was an example of 'Kameradenerziehung', an 'education in comradeship'.


But it was not just the brute fanaticism of the Germans that the Allies had to contend with. Fighting in the claustrophobic confines of hedgerows and small fields of the Normandy "bocage" prompted American commanders to compare it to jungle warfare. The Germans described it as a 'schmutziger Buschkrieg'  -  a 'dirty bush war', but the great advantage lay with them, the defenders. The fear aroused by fighting in the "bocage" produced a level of hatred that had never existed before the invasion. 'The only good Jerry soldiers are the dead ones,' a soldier in the 1st Infantry Division wrote home in a 'Dear Folks' letter to his family in Minnesota.


'I've never really hated anything quite as much. And it's not because of some blustery speech of a brass-hat. I guess I'm probably a little off my nut  -  but who isn't? Probably that's the best way to be.'


Combatants were shown no mercy. Snipers on both sides were almost always shot on capture. American soldiers were advised to lie still if wounded by a sniper. He would not waste another round on a corpse, but would certainly fire again if they tried to crawl away. German snipers climbed trees and tied themselves to the trunk so that if hit they would not fall out. Another favourite hiding place in more open country was in a hayrick.


That practice, however, was soon dropped when both American and British soldiers learned to fire tracer bullets to set the rick aflame, then gun down the hidden rifleman as he tried to escape.


Both the British on the Caen front and the Americans found that the Germans were brilliant at camouflage and concealment. They dug themselves in like 'moles in the ground', with overhead cover against artillery treebursts and tunnels under the hedgerows.


A small opening onto the field from their hideout provided the ideal aperture from which to scythe down an advancing American platoon with the rapid fire of an MG 42 machinegun.


Fighting against the Red Army had taught German veterans of the eastern front almost every trick imaginable. If there were shell-holes on the approach to one of their positions, they would place anti-personnel mines at the bottom. An attacker's instinct would be to throw himself into it to take cover when under machine-gun or mortar fire.


If the Germans abandoned a position, they not only prepared booby-traps in their dugouts, they would leave behind a box of grenades in which several had been tampered with to reduce the time delay to zero.


They were also expert at concealing an S-Mine known to the Americans as a 'Bouncing Betty' in ditches. It was also called the 'castrator' mine, because it sprang up when released to explode shrapnel at crotch height.


Another German trick when the Americans launched a night attack was for one machine gun to fire high with tracers over their attackers' heads. This encouraged them to remain upright, while the other machine-gunners fired low with conventional bullets.


Both American and British tank crews had many dangers to fear. The 88mm anti-aircraft gun used against tanks was terrifyingly accurate, even from over a mile away. And in the close country of the bocage, German tank-hunting groups with the shoulderlaunched Panzerfaust armourpenetrating missile would hide and wait for several tanks to pass, then fire at them from behind at their vulnerable rear.


But however great the fear of being trapped in a burning tank, it was the infantry that suffered the greatest casualties.


Only 14 per cent of U.S. servicemen sent abroad during World War II were infantrymen, yet in Normandy the infantry suffered 85 per cent of the casualties. No fewer than 30,000 American soldiers suffered from the psychological breakdown of 'combat fatigue'.


British soldiers also suffered from acute stress. The advanced dressing station of the 210th Field Ambulance had to deal with 'a group of terrified, disorientated lads  -  battle shocked, jittering and yelling in a corner', a doctor wrote in his diary.


'Several SS wounded came in  -  a tough and dirty bunch  -  some had been snipers up trees for days. One young Nazi had a broken jaw and was near death, but before he fainted he rolled his head over and murmured "Heil Hitler!".'


Both British and American psychiatrists after the war concluded that the much lower rate of combat fatigue among German prisoners could only be explained by the militaristic nature of Nazi society which had prepared them better.


The greatest heroes of the Normandy battlefield were the unarmed medics, whom snipers often shot at despite their Red Cross armbands.


One wrote of the 'light of hope' in the eyes of wounded men when he appeared. It was easy to spot those about to die with 'the greygreen colour of death appearing beneath their eyes and fingernails. These we would only comfort. Those making the most noise were the lightest hit, and we would get them to bandage themselves'.


He concentrated on those in shock or with severe wounds and heavy bleeding. He hardly ever had to use tourniquets, 'since most wounds were puncture wounds and bled very little or were amputations or hits caused by hot and high velocity shell or mortar fragments which seared the wound shut'.


Newly arrived recruits were usually the first to die. Otherwise large men, however strong, were the most likely to be killed. 'The combat men who really lasted,' the American medic noted, 'were usually thin, smaller of stature and very quick in their movements.'


Real hatred of the enemy came to soldiers, he noticed, when a buddy was killed. 'And this was often a total hatred; any German they encountered after that would be killed.'


Work parties took the bodies back to Graves Registration services, which buried them. They were usually stiff and swollen, and sometimes infected with maggots. A limb might come off when they were lifted. The stench was unbearable, especially at the collection point.


'Here the smell was even worse, but most of the men working there were apparently so completely under the influence of alcohol that they no longer appeared to care.'


The Battle for Normandy was horribly savage. Despite the assumptions of many historians, the German losses per division engaged there were twice as high as the overall average on the eastern front. And the 225,000 Allied casualties were almost as high as the German total of 240,000.


In addition, the Wehrmacht also lost 200,000 men taken prisoner. French civilians, too, suffered terrible losses. Some 15,000 were killed in the preparatory bombing for the invasion and another 20,000 died in the battle for Normandy.


The Soviet sceptics who dismissed the German Army in the Normandy campaign as the dregs of the Wehrmacht could not have been more wrong. The divisions facing the Allied onslaught were driven by a fanaticism and bitter hatred that led to the most brutal fighting of the war.





Daily Mail

Poor goddamn bastards who won the war:



2nd June 2009


'Don't worry if you do not survive the assault,' was how one British officer's pep talk to troops ahead of the Normandy landings went, 'as we have plenty of back-up troops who will just go in over you.' They don't make pep talks like that any more, do they?

They made plenty of them back then, though. There was the German officer, for instance, who tried to gee up his men before battle by telling them all about the horrific injuries that the 101st Airborne's phosphorus shells would inflict on them.

And then there was the major of the Somerset Light Infantry who greeted his reinforcements with the words: 'Gentlemen, your life expectancy from the day you join your battalion will be precisely three weeks.' It would all have been a lot funnier if it hadn't been true. In the opening pages of Antony Beevor's new book, he describes how as the invasion troops moved up for embarkation civilians came to see them off, many with tears in their eyes. They knew what was coming.

The first air assaults were chaotic. Overloaded paratroopers were dropped too fast, too low, and in the wrong places. The man who ended up dangling from the spire of the church in Sainte Mere l'Eglise was luckier than many of his comrades, who broke ankles, legs and spines or were drowned in flood water: 'One paratrooper who landed successfully was horrified when a following plane dropped its stick of 18 men so low that none of the chutes opened.' He compared the dull sound of the bodies hitting the ground to 'watermelons falling off the back of a truck'.

Beevor quotes someone who watched the planes go in from the top of the USS Quincy, offshore: 'Often, a yellow ball would start glowing out in the middle of a field of red tracers. This yellow ball would slowly start to fall, forming a tail. Eventually it would smash into the black loom of land, causing a great sheet of light to flare against the low clouds.

'Sometimes the yellow ball would explode in mid-air, sending out streamers of burning gasoline. This tableau always brought the same reaction from us sky control observers: a sharp sucking-in of the breath and a muttered "poor goddamn bastards".' POOR goddamn bastards, indeed.

Like the poor goddamn bastards who drowned in their tanks before even reaching Omaha Beach, or were scythed down by machine-gun fire on the way up it, like the poor goddamn bastards 'brewed up' in tanks, roasted by their own phosphorus grenades, or driven mad by shelling.

Other poor goddamn bastards include the citizens of Caen killed and injured by the ineffective Allied bombing. ('It is a sobering thought,' Beevor writes, 'that 70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied action during the course of the war - a figure which exceeds the total number of British killed by German bombing.') And you can even spare a thought for some of the German conscripts, who learned the true meaning of 'Weltuntergangsstimmung' (apocalyptic mood) as their front was ripped to shreds and their bonkers Fuehrer refused to let them retreat an inch.

But the poor goddamn bastards on our side changed the history of the world - cock-up by cock-up, dead body by dead body, severed limb by severed limb. If it hadn't been for them, we'd all be living in a Robert Harris novel.

Yet it's very hard to imagine a more unexciting start, or a more downbeat end, than the sentences that open and close this huge story. 'Southwick House is a large Regency building with a stucco facade and a colonnaded front,' Beevor tells us at the off.

He bids us farewell with: 'The post-war map and the history of Europe would have been very different indeed.' He is not your man, old Beevor, for the ringing trumpet-voluntary. He often writes dull sentences. And that is his strength.

Confronted with a mass of the most extreme and distressing material - with necklaces of severed ears, young men gibbering in shell-holes, gang rapes and blown-out brains; but also with extraordinary instances of courage - Beevor tells it straight.

He doesn't try to compete with his subject. There's no messing about with imagining what people must have been thinking (an infuriating impertinence in a historian, and one currently spreading like bindweed through popular history), or maundering about the pity of war, or indulging in poetic descriptions of the drifting smoke of battle.

There's not the faintest stylistic flash, just a patient, level, brisk accumulation of facts - or, perhaps, to be exact, an orchestration of facts: because the dramatically effective deployment of his material, just like a general's deployment of his materiel, is what gives D-Day its compelling forward movement.

Beevor's authorial persona is unobtrusive. Both his considerable humour and his reservoirs of anger are kept sub rosa - to be deduced from a certain tension with which he treats his subjects; a terse way, you could say, with the massacres perpetrated on civilians by the retreating SS.

His hostility to the pathologically vain and mendacious Field Marshal Montgomery glints through also; as does a certain delight in General Patton's plainspoken charm.

Patton shared Beevor's view of Monty, and old 'Blood and Guts' had the pep talk thing down pat, too. 'When we get to Berlin I am going personally to shoot that paper-hanging son of a bitch,' he informed his troops, 'just like I would a snake.' Patton also really got mobile warfare. As his Third Army crashed through Brittany, every time they drove off the edge of a map and had to open a new one, he emitted a whoop of triumph.

Beevor's technique is what in telly they call the crash-zoom. His camera swoops in for the close-up: shows you a little vignette, then pulls out for the wide shot, turns elsewhere, zooms back in again.

That's why he manages to serve two constituencies at once. The military history nut, pushing his lead soldiers around on some colossal map of the Cotentin Peninsula, will be as happy as an armour-plated clam with this book. Every flanking manoeuvre and enfilade, every company and platoon, is present and clearly accounted for.

Beevor, himself a former cavalry officer, analyses movement on the battlefield with brisk authority. 'They should have cleared the whole minefield,' he says, and you think: righto, memo to self, clear whole minefield next time.

But where his books get their wider appeal is in the way they reach beyond Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby and towards the type of reader, like me, who can't tell a Tiger from a Sherman. D-Day is a triumph of research and dense with human detail: like one of those fractal patterns, it is as intricate at any level of magnification.

On almost every page there's some little detail that sticks in the mind or tweaks the heart: like the sentimental doughboys from farming communities who 'would cover the open eyes of dead cows with twists of straw'; or the way that an infantry company moving through a wood 'suddenly heard a soft, gentle clapping'.

'As we came closer, we could see the shadowy forms of French men and women and children, lining the roadway, not talking, some crying softly, but most just gently clapping, extending for several hundred feet on both sides of the road.

'A little girl came alongside me. She was blonde, pretty and maybe all of five years old. She trustingly put her hand in mine and walked a short way with me, then stopped and waved until we were out of sight.' It's also often very funny: and not just because it contains a Lt Col. Pine-Coffin and a General von Funck. Beevor tells, for instance, of an American war correspondent so keen to scoop the opposition that he turned up to witness the liberation of Chartres two days before the Allies - and was promptly taken prisoner by the Germans.

There's an extraordinary story, too, of one Private Smith and an unnamed, unarmed friend who, 'stewed to the ears' on Calvados, staggered into a German fort and captured it by accident.

As he went from room to room 'shooting and shouting', the Germans became convinced the whole American army had arrived and gave themselves up. Afterwards: 'Declaring to all and sundry that the only good German was a dead one, Smith made good Germans out of several of them before he could be stopped.' I was slightly anxious when I was asked to review this book because I am - as it's only professional to acknowledge - friendly with its author. I wasn't confident that, if I found it bad, I'd feel comfortable saying so. I needn't, in the event, have worried. This is a terrific, inspiring, heart-breaking book.

It makes the argument all over again that the world would be an infinitely better place if it didn't keep producing subject matter for military historians; but as long as it does, we can rejoice that at the top of that profession is Antony Beevor.






The Economist




D-Day and the Normandy landings

The full version

May 28th 2009

France liberated, the full version

MOST of the young soldiers pictured above are now dead. The battles they fought in Normandy, France, are fading into history and acquiring the patina of Verdun, Gettysburg and Waterloo. This new historical distance gives Antony Beevor, who made his name with his 1998 bestseller, “Stalingrad”, the freedom to explore without inhibition the most controversial questions posed by the campaign that opened with the storming of the French beaches on June 6th 1944. It is a freedom he exploits to the full in his new book, “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy”.

The first issue Mr Beevor tackles is the courage of the German troops. Many wondered what the Germans would think when they caught sight of the allied armada, the largest fleet that had ever put to sea. Nearly 5,000 landing ships and assault craft were escorted by six battleships, four monitors, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers and 152 escort vessels, while 277 minesweepers cleared channels ahead of them.

The Germans did not flinch. Their doggedness earned them the “bitter admiration” of the allied forces as they fought their bloody way through Normandy to liberate Paris. Major-General Raymond Barton, the commander of the American fourth division, urged his unit commanders to tell their men: “We have got to fight for our country just as hard as the Germans are fighting for theirs.” Only the guts of their soldiers, Barton said, kept the Germans in the war. “We outnumber them ten to one in infantry, 50 to one in artillery and an infinite number in the air.”

Nonetheless, Mr Beevor believes that military analysts like Sir Basil Liddell Hart are unduly harsh when they criticise a “reluctance to make sacrifices” on the allied side. The “essentially civilian soldiers” of a democracy, he argues, could not be expected to show the same level of commitment as indoctrinated German soldiers convinced that they were fighting to defend their country from annihilation.

Mr Beevor moves on to even more delicate ground when he explores the disregard of the allies for the property and lives of French civilians. In the Normandy campaign the Americans and British sought to minimise their casualties by bombing places to smithereens before their soldiers went in. Asked how it felt under the bombardment, one elderly survivor in the town of Caen replied: “Imagine a rat sewn up inside a football during an international match.” As a consequence of this tactic, 70,000 French civilians were killed by allied action in the war, more than the number of British killed by German bombing.

The record of the French resistance is also examined critically. George Patton, the bellicose American general nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts” by his adoring soldiers, described its performance as “better than expected and less than advertised”. But Mr Beevor shows that the contribution of the resistance was considerable, especially in Brittany where its members loaded ammunition, cleared snipers, secured bridges, provided intelligence and harassed Germans at every turn.

By contrast, French mobs in liberated towns behaved appallingly badly. In the épuration sauvage, or unofficial purges, at least 14,000 alleged collaborators were killed. In Brittany, one-third of them were women. French people as well as allied troops were sickened by the treatment meted out to those accused of collaboration horizontale. After undergoing the humiliation of having their heads shaved they were paraded through the streets, occasionally to the sound of drums, as if France was re-enacting the Reign of Terror in the French revolution. Some were daubed with tar, others stripped half naked, many painted with swastikas.

Quite simply, Mr Beevor concludes, these young women were the easiest scapegoats, particularly for men who wished to hide their own lack of resistance credentials. The explosive growth in numbers in the French resistance was, of course, incredible. Village boys who had flirted and danced their way through the German occupation suddenly appeared with a brassard and a submachinegun.

Against this backdrop, the triumphalism of some of the top brass on the allied side during the campaign now sounds callous. Take, for instance, the boast of General Sir Bernard (later Lord) Montgomery: “The victory has been definite, complete and decisive. ‘The Lord mighty in battle’ has given us the victory.”



Review by Chris Patten

Published: May 30 2009 02:05 | Last updated: May 30 2009 02:05

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
By Antony Beevor
Viking, 608 pages


Before reading Antony Beevor’s D-Day, I questioned whether the arrival of June, which does after all come round every year, justified another history of what will probably stand as the last great invasion in European history. The redoubtable and very readable Max Hastings has only recently landed on the beach where many others had set foot before him.

We should never hold a publishing blurb against an author. But for Beevor’s book to bear the claim that its author has “single-handedly transformed the reputation of military history” suggests that the greatest of our modern military historians, John Keegan, has been obliterated by not-so-friendly fire.

Moreover, Keegan himself wrote a grand book on Operation Overlord and its aftermath, Six Armies in Normandy, which, among its other virtues, is beautifully written. In a sense it is Keegan who justified further books on the Normandy campaign – and when the book is written by as good a historian as Beevor, any argument is over.

At the end of his own book, Keegan suggests that the Allied victory in Normandy was the greatest military disaster Hitler had suffered in the field by that stage of the war, greater than Stalingrad, Tunisia and the battle which destroyed Army Group Centre on the eastern approaches to Germany. That alone would make the case for another book, and Beevor himself argues that without the successful opening of the Second Front, the Red Army might have got to the Atlantic not just the Rhine.

Where this book scores most heavily is that it tells a thrilling story, with all Beevor’s narrative mastery of awesomely complex detail.

“They are supposed to be coming. Why don’t they come?” Goebbels sneered. Well, “they” eventually arrived, nervously watching the weather, their commander Eisenhower awed by the enormity of what they were doing and his colleague Field Marshall Sir Alan Brooke fearing that they might have triggered “the most ghastly disaster of the whole war”.

Chaos reigned as had been confidently predicted, from the moment the soldiers descended the scramble nets into the landing craft from which, in the grey dawn light, they sought to disembark – many of them seasick – on to Normandy’s beaches.

The famous first 24 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan give some idea of what the experience must have been like, especially for the Americans on Omaha Beach, when German machine gunners turned the surf into a killing zone. Some men were cursing; others crying; the injured were drowned where they lay by the incoming tide; sand and sea water rendered useless many of the weapons; men fell, according to a sergeant who must have been a country boy from Wisconsin, like “corn cobs from a conveyer belt”.

Bravery, technological developments and the use of air and naval bombardment to isolate the landing zone avoided the feared repetition of Dieppe or Gallipoli. But the break-out from the beach-head proved more difficult than had been expected by many of the planners. Beevor describes this campaign brilliantly, not least the difficulty of fighting through the Norman bocage, or hedges and fields, in what the Germans themselves called a “dirty bush war”.

The hedgerows and high banks of Calvados provided cover for German snipers, tanks and artillery as the Allied soldiers advanced from one enclosed field to another. As the tanks moved through the cider orchards, they were showered with small hard sour apples which cascaded into the turrets, filling the hot vehicles with a foul smell of cordite, unwashed men and festering fruit.

A mark of Beevor’s skill, honed in his work on Stalingrad, Crete, the Spanish Civil War and the fall of Berlin, is that the detailed descriptions of the ebb and flow of the campaign on both sides – Allied and German – never leave the reader confused. The lively and clear writing is helped by a succession of simple campaign maps.

The political and military leaders on both sides fought with one another with almost as much dedication and guile as they directed against their real foes. Churchill regularly made a pest of himself. De Gaulle, who had written a history of the French army without ever mentioning Waterloo, infuriated his allies with behaviour rooted in the explicit assumption that it was France which was liberating itself.

On the German side, Hitler scolded his generals for cowardice, countermanded even the best of them such as Rommel, and convinced himself that, like Frederick the Great, manifest destiny – in his own case helped by Vengeance rocket attacks on London – would save the Reich.

Among the uniformed commanders, Montgomery is heavily criticised. While perhaps he didn’t deserve Eisenhower’s description of him as “a psychopath”, he was cautious to a fault, especially in the failure to trap the German troops at Falaise. He was also secretive to the point of dissembling and unforgivably covered up the inferiority of the British tanks.

Beevor is especially good at describing the extraordinary fighting spirit of the German troops, above all the Waffen-SS divisions among whom the Hitler Jugend brought some of the barbarity of the “race war” on the eastern front to the battlefields of the west, not least in the massacre and mutilation of Canadian troops. Were the soldiers of a totalitarian regime who were fighting for its survival inevitably tougher than the soldiers of democracies?

The people of Normandy are prominent among the heroes and heroines in Beevor’s book. Twice as many buildings were destroyed in France in the second as in the first world war. Nearly 20,000 civilians died on top of the 15,000 killed in the preparatory bombing for Overlord.

Some of the bombing, for example the flattening of Caen which was rebuilt so well and so rapidly, was militarily stupid. And air power, as ever, took a big toll on its own side. “Take cover, boys, they may be ours” was an ironic, but necessary, warning of the dangers of “friendly fire” such as that which, according to a regimental history of the Seaforth Highlanders, killed my wife’s father, Major John Thornton, near Livarot on August 18 1944.

He now lies buried in a small cemetery of rolling lawns and native English flowers at Banneville, one of the many Allied soldiers who died in Normandy to defeat Fascism and whose sacrifice definitely deserves another telling of their tale – especially when the account is as good as that of Beevor’s.

Lord Patten is chancellor of Newcastle University and of the University of Oxford and author of ‘What Next?: Surviving the Twenty-first Century’ (Allen Lane)






Friday May 8,2009

By Christopher Silvester


D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
By Anthony Beevor
Viking, £20


IT IS 20 years since publication of the last big book on D-Day, Max Hastings’s Overlord, and 11 years since we thrilled to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, depicting the American landing on Omaha beach.

Now Anthony Beevor, the award-winning author of Stalingrad, has turned his attention to the Normandy landings and the bloody three-month campaign that culminated in the Liberation of Paris.

The result is everything you might expect: dramatic, exciting, well-paced and lucid and full of considered judgments about incidents .

Several things went wrong on D-Day – though if the Allies had waited for better weather they would probably have been caught up in the greatest Channel storm in living memory.

The Allied bombers missed the German shore defences and many of the tank landing craft, launched too far from shore, capsized, causing their crews to drown and creating obstacles for other landing craft.

Against such disasters, however, must be reckoned the anti-submarine forces, both naval and in the air, that kept German U-boats from attacking the invasion fleet – not a single U-boat penetrated the English Channel – and the hugely successful disinformation efforts which persuaded Hitler that the Normandy landings were a diversion from an expected main attack in the Pas-de-Calais area.

The airborne landings by glider and parachute were also remarkably effective with very few transports destroyed.

The sheer scale of the invasion was a shock to the Germans. One soldier was overawed when he first caught sight of the invasion fleet. It was “like a gigantic town on the sea” and the naval bombardment “like an earthquake”, he wrote.

Fortunately for the Allies the Luftwaffe was a busted flush while the French Resistance was able to delay the arrival of panzer reinforcements from Brittany and south of the Loire.

Just as the Allied strategy of maintaining a broad front rather than going for breakouts sooner was criticised, so the German strategy of using panzer divisions “to reinforce infantry formations on the point of collapse” meant that they could not be deployed for a major attack.

But although Allied air power lacerated the Wehrmacht the Germans were nonetheless still able to inflict heavy casualties. In particular the SS divisions, who were eager to avenge Allied bombing of their homeland and believed that defeat would mean annihilation of their race, fought with vicious tenacity.

The best part of the book for me was Beevor’s account of the American battle for the bocage, a region of dense hedgerows quite unlike those in southern England where US troops had trained. This was described by the Germans as a “dirty bush war”.

The Americans had to advance field by field, hampered by the fact that their Sherman tanks fired less penetrative shells and gave off more tell-tale smoke than the German panzers, while German sniper fire inspired fear beyond its true effectiveness since “three times as many deaths were caused by mortars as by rifle or machine-gun fire”.

There is no writer who can surpass Beevor in making sense of a crowded battlefield and in balancing the explanation of tactical manoeuvres with poignant flashes of human detail.

A good example of the latter is the following quotation from an elderly inhabitant who recalled the day when Allied bombers were sent in to pulverise enemy positions outside Caen but missed and destroyed the city instead: “Imagine a rat sewn up inside a football during an international match.”


PUBLICO, Ípsilon, Sexta-feira 28 Agosto 2009



O desembarque que moldou a Europa


Antony Beevor dá-nos em “D-Day” um retrato completo das batalhas que mudaram o curso da Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Chega a Portugal em Outubro.


Manuel Carvalho


D-Day, The Battle for Normandy

Antony Beevor



Poucos episódios da Segunda Guerra Mundial serão tão conhecidos como a série de batalhas que se sucederam à Operação Overlord, o desembarque aliado na Normandia, na madrugada de 6 de Junho de 1944. As fotografias de Capa ou filmes como “O Resgate do Soldado Ryan”, de Spielberg, as lendas que se fizeram em torno de generais como Rommel, Eisenhower, Patton ou Montgomery, as aventuras meio literárias, meio militares, de Hemingway transformaram a frente aberta no Norte da França num enorme acervo de ícones da cultura ocidental. Qualquer novo livro que se dedique a analisar o Dia D e os quase três meses de combates que se seguiram até à reconquista de Paris corre por isso o risco de cair no “déjà vu”, na eterna repetição dos mitos criados pelos vencedores, na exaltação da glória americana e na denúncia da vileza nazi. De resto, há décadas que destacados historiadores militares, como Max Hastings ou John Keegan, se dedicam a esmiuçar os detalhes das operações ou as teses que estiveram na base da estratégia aliada.  

Todos estes receios seriam sensatos se em causa não estivesse um novo livro de Antony Beevor, publicado no final da Primavera no Reino Unido e nos Estados Unidos e que a Bertrand deverá publicar em Portugal lá para Outubro. Nada de novo haveria de facto a dizer se em causa estivessem apenas ofensivas, o jargão das frentes, a lógica do armamento ou as opções dos políticos e dos generais. Com Antony Beevor, não se corre esse risco. Em circunstâncias similares, as suas obras dedicadas a Estalinegrado, à queda de Berlim ou ao assalto a Creta conseguiram impor-se à vastíssima bibliografia pré-existente pela sua enorme capacidade de nos fazer compreender a guerra nas suas múltiplas causas e consequências. Se até há muito pouco tempo a História militar se afirmava pelas opções dos altos comandos e se decifrava por mapas e setas que revelavam o sentido das ofensivas, Beevor inaugurou com “Estalinegrado”, a sua obra mais conseguida, de 1998, um novo balanço entre a frieza da decisão política e a carga dramática do quotidiano de milhares de homens no terreno, soldados e civis, vencedores e vencidos. A leitura das suas obras torna-se assim muito mais absorvente porque consegue aproximar-nos da realidade total da barbárie europeia iniciada há 70 anos.  

Não se julgue, ainda assim, que “D-Day” é apenas o repositório de saberes adquiridos sobre a Batalha da Normandia revestidos com uma nova narrativa. Nas grandes divergências de interpretação sobre a condução da guerra, Beevor toma partido e ajuda-nos a perceber o contexto geral do conflito. No novo livro, sustenta que Churchill teve razão quando resistiu à pressão de Estaline e do próprio Roosevelt e decidiu adiar o desembarque de 1943 para 1944 para que a batalha pudesse ser ganha, “era necessária uma superioridade esmagadora e foi importante a lição do Norte de África, da Sicília e de Itália”, escreve Beevor. Um outro mito desfeito é o que aponta para a carnificina do primeiro assalto, principalmente na praia com o nome de código Omaha, onde, como avisou no dia crucial o coronel George Taylor, “as únicas pessoas” presentes eram “os que morreram e os que estão para morrer”. Na verdade, nesse dia perderam a vida entre 1200 e dois mil americanos, menos que os três mil franceses vitimados pelos bombardeamentos que antecederam e acompanharam a invasão. Outro mito, mais raro, que cai por terra é o que se refere à relativa brandura dos combates, principalmente quando comparados com a ferocidade na frente Leste. Ora, apesar de as bases de comparação não serem homogéneas, Beevor conclui que as perdas calculadas por divisão/mês foram superiores às registadas nos combates sanguinários das planícies da Ucrânia ou da Bielorrússia.  

No seu esforço por chegar o mais perto possível da realidade da guerra, Beevor, um britânico, não se coíbe de sublinhar a superioridade militar dos americanos no terreno face às tropas inglesas, canadianas e australianas, facto que terá confundido os alemães. Na já velha polémica em torno da avaliação dos soldados, o autor evita fazer a oposição entre a coragem e o fanatismo dos alemães e o calculismo dos soldados aliados. “Os alemães continuam aí apenas pela coragem dos seus soldados. Nós somos 10 para 1 na infantaria, 5 para 1 na artilharia e temos uma superioridade infinita em meios aéreos”, escrevia o General Barton no auge dos combates, acrescentando: “Temos de combater pelo nosso país como os alemães lutam pelo deles”. Antony Beevor, porém, recorda que “não devemos nunca esquecer que não se poderia esperar de soldados civis de uma democracia o mesmo nível de auto-sacrifício dos membros da Waffen-SS, doutrinados e convencidos de que defendiam o seu país da aniquilação”. Não seria esta a questão principal para o desfecho da guerra, mas a tenacidade alemã e a superioridade tecnológica de algumas das suas armas (metralhadoras, tanques e armas anti-tanque) explicam ao menos porque foram precisos dois meses e meio de combates duríssimos para que a resistência nazi sucumbisse. Quando o que restava da enorme força defensiva da muralha do Atlântico ruiu de vez na bolsa de Falaise, no final de Julho de 1944, a estrada para Paris estava aberta e restava ao ditador um acto de desespero: mandar arrasar a capital francesa e transformá-la num campo de batalha corpo-a-corpo. Uma loucura que o comandante alemão, Chotitz, teve a coragem de não cometer.  

A festa de álcool, de sexo e de júbilo que pós Paris às avessas nesses dias de euforia do final de Agosto são levemente referidas no livro (mas só detalhadamente descritas na sua outra obra, “Paris Após a Libertação, Ed. Bertrand, 2006). Estava na hora de os franceses iniciarem a sua “épuration sauvage”, uma vingança sobre os suspeitos de colaboracionismo que matou mais de 14 mil pessoas, grande parte delas mulheres acusadas de “collaboration horizontale”. Ou de se dedicarem à guerra “franco-francesa”, que opôs as diferentes franjas do gaullismo aos comunistas. Outras polémicas se iniciaram e que ainda hoje perduram, como se pode ler na obra de Beevor: seria necessário  bombardear to duramente Caen ou St. Ló, matando milhares de civis sem que a capacidade defensiva alemã se tenha ressentido? Teria sido possível evitar a brutalidade, os saques e a violência sobre civis cometidas pelas forças invasoras, num quadro de total desumanidade como o de uma guerra? Uma das feridas que Beevor, de facto, sublinha na operação é o número de baixas civis francesas, que superou de longe as mortes de britânicos no decorrer das várias campanhas de bombardeamentos aéreos.  

Lugar de actos de barbárie, mas também de pungentes testemunhos de humanidade (como aquele caso de um soldado alemão que se encontrava com um inglês numa adega abandonada na terra de ninguém), a guerra na Normandia é talvez o testemunho mais evidente de que um novo colosso, os Estados Unidos, se preparava para a era hegemónica que se seguiu a 1945.


Beyond Omaha Beach

By Jonathan Yardley

Sunday, October 11, 2009



The Battle for Normandy

By Antony Beevor

Viking. 592 pp. $32.95


It's not the title of Antony Beevor's new book that tells the tale, but the subtitle. One third of the way through his more than 500 pages of text, Beevor has finished off D-Day. Allied troops and materièl have successfully (if bloodily) secured the beaches of Normandy, but their job has only just begun. Ahead lies the battle for Normandy itself, two and a half months of vicious fighting, frequently hand-to-hand, before the liberation of Paris in late August.

It is a dramatic, important and instructive story, and Beevor tells it surpassingly well. "D-Day" is very much a work of military history, so of necessity it is chockablock with the sort of battlefield chess-playing that can leave the non-military mind in a state of considerable confusion. But Beevor is less interested in moving troops from pillar to post than in telling us what war was like for them and for the civilians whose paths they crossed. Readers fortunate enough to know his previous books -- among them "Paris After the Liberation" (with Artemis Cooper, 1994), "Stalingrad" (1998) and "The Fall of Berlin 1945" (2002) -- are aware that his fascination with warfare is compounded by a deep knowledge, not always encountered in military histories, that war is hell.

People looking for romanticized combat or Greatest Generation sentimentality will not find an ounce of either here. At one point, during the fierce battle for the town of Saint-Lô, Beevor quotes a medic: "It's such a paradox, this war, which produces the worst in man, and also raises him to the summits of self-sacrifice, self-denial and altruism." Two pages later he quotes a French gendarme appalled by looting by soldiers and civilians alike: "It was a great surprise to find it in all classes of society. The war has awakened atavistic instincts and transformed a number of law-abiding individuals into delinquents."

The two comments summarize war as Beevor sees it: humanity at its cruelest, most violent and most selfish, alleviated by occasional moments of compassion and heroism. He admires some of the generals and ranking officers on both sides -- most notably the Americans, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, and the German, Erwin Rommel -- but never hesitates to point out instances of "military prima-donnaship," whether practiced by the admired Patton or the British field marshal, Bernard Montgomery, whom an angry Eisenhower dismissed in a postwar interview as "egocentric" and "a psychopath."

The story of D-Day itself has been told so many times and in so many ways that Beevor is right to restrict his account of its central event, the assault on Omaha Beach, to a mere 25 pages, albeit 25 pages filled with blood and chaos. There were many times when the "situation on many parts of Omaha . . . was indeed horrific," and many of the deaths suffered that day were either excruciatingly painful or wholly unnecessary, or both, as when landing craft -- part of "by far the largest fleet that had ever put to sea" -- dropped their gates well short of the beach and deposited their human cargo in deep water where many men drowned. "The total number of American dead during the first twenty-four hours was 1,465," fewer than some had forecast but still a terrible day's work.

By the end of the day on June 6 and then well into the next day, Allied forces had secured Omaha and the other beaches they had invaded: Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword. Exact statistics for casualties for all the forces involved in the first 24 hours are just about impossible to come by, "since most formations' figures accounted for a longer period, never less than 6 to 10 June." But the figures for the first two weeks in Normandy are nothing if not sobering: American, British and Canadian casualties came to 5,287 killed, 23,079 wounded and 12,183 missing.

I draw two conclusions from those statistics. The first is that although the Canadian role in the invasion of Normandy (or for that matter throughout the war in almost all theaters) is often minimized or even ignored, in Normandy it was large and important. Canadian troops were involved in many hard encounters and often acquitted themselves with great bravery. "The strength of the Canadians lay in the quality of their junior officers," Beevor writes, "many of whom were borrowed eagerly by a British Army short of manpower." The second point is that the remarkably large number of missing soldiers cannot be attributed to those captured by the Germans. Though Patton cruelly dismissed victims of battle shock and those who went AWOL as crybabies, in truth they were as much war victims as those who had been killed or physically wounded. "US Army medical services had to deal with 30,000 cases of combat exhaustion in Normandy," and:

"Nothing . . . seemed to reduce the flow of cases where men under artillery fire would go 'wide-eyed and jittery', or 'start running around in circles and crying', or 'curl up into little balls', or even wander out in a trance in an open field and start picking flowers as the shells exploded. Others cracked under the strain of patrols, suddenly crying, 'We're going to get killed! We're going to get killed!' Young officers had to try to deal with 'men suddenly whimpering, cringing, refusing to get up or get out of a foxhole and go forward under fire'. While some soldiers resorted to self-inflicted wounds, a smaller, unknown number committed suicide."

As Beevor says, there was a sharp contrast between the Allied foot soldiers and their German counterparts. The most fanatical of the latter (and "fanatical" is indeed the word), especially those in the SS and its Hitler Jugend offshoot, had been brainwashed by the Nazi propaganda machine into believing that the fate of the fatherland was in their hands, and they fought with that uppermost in mind. The British soldiers by contrast had been at war for five years and were exhausted by it. Americans and Canadians were not fighting for land they could call home and thus were motivated primarily by the group loyalty so essential to military morale.

The Allied advance across Normandy was anything but a cakewalk, and might well have been turned back had it not been for the air supremacy that the Allies enjoyed, enabling their planes to give ground troops pulverizing air support (men on the ground soon learned to radio enemy positions to fighter and bomber pilots so they could pinpoint their fire), while Rommel was left to ask: "What's happened to our proud Luftwaffe?" German troops "often resorted to black humour. 'If you can see silver aircraft, they are American,' went one joke. 'If you can see khaki planes, they are British, and if you can't see any planes, then they're German.' "

En route to Paris, the Allies had to contend not merely with stout resistance from the Germans but with endless disputes among their top leadership, self-interested political maneuvering by Charles de Gaulle, suspicion and hostility (as well as cries of welcome) from French civilians. "The greatest weight on Norman hearts was the terrible destruction wreaked upon their towns and countryside," and the human cost was every bit as terrible: "Altogether 19,890 French civilians were killed during the liberation of Normandy and an even larger number seriously injured. This was on top of the 15,000 French killed and 19,000 injured during the preparatory bombing for [the invasion] in the first five months of 1944. It is a sobering thought that 70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied action during the course of the war, a figure which exceeds the total number of British killed by German bombing."

Yes, it was a great victory the Allies won in Normandy, and to this day all of us should be grateful to those who won it. But the cost, as Antony Beevor is at pains to emphasize in this fine book, was awful beyond comprehension.


 The Washington Times

Originally published 04:45 a.m., October 4, 2009, updated 01:47 p.m., October 4, 2009


By Antony Beevor
Viking, $32.95, 526 pages, illus.




The first impression on seeing "D-Day, the Battle for Normandy," on the bookshelf might be a question, "Why yet another book on D-Day?" The answer comes through in the detailed research and exhaustive treatment of individual stories as the Allies lodged ashore and then advanced on that fateful day and after, all the way to Paris. The author contrives to bring the reader into the presence of not only those who were at the very top of the planning and responsibility for Overlord but also into the lives, often very short, of the soldiers and sailors who actually hit the beaches, the airmen who supported them and even the German defenders. They are stories that never seem to pale in the retelling, especially when delivered in the style and with the thoroughness of Antony Beevor.

One of the features of Mr. Beevor's work that is most unusual is the wide range of his coverage. He not only describes the priorities, uncertainties and misgivings of Churchill, Montgomery and Eisenhower but also those of the German general staff and tactical commanders and the generals, colonels, sergeants and private soldiers of the Allied assault. Also, unlike other works covering the same operation he ensures that we understand the movements of not only the Americans coming ashore at Omaha and Utah Beaches and the ill-fated parachute and glider assaults but the Brits, Canadians, Poles and others who went ashore at Gold and Juno Beaches at the same time. Nor does he neglect the efforts of the French Resistance and the terrible blows that fell upon ordinary and innocent Norman farmers and citizenry.

Chivalry was not a factor and many an American, Canadian, Brit or Frenchman died in less than heroic circumstances, and ancient cathedrals and cities were left in ruins. Such was the result of the initial lodgement of the allies on Norman soil.

Due in some measure to Hitler's reluctance to realize that the Normandy landings were indeed the long-awaited invasion of Fortress Europe, and his refusal to unleash his Panzer divisions, the allies advanced, albeit with significant casualties. Little noted in other works, but not ignored by Mr. Beevor was the control of the sea and thus, fire support from the sea, by Allied naval forces and total control of the air by allied air forces. Not only did Thunderbolts and others provide close support to American troops but Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lightnings kept the Luftwaffe from interfering with allied ground advances. On the other hand, Allied high-level heavy bombers very often spilled their loads far off target, sometimes slaughtering hundreds of friendly troops. Those who live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will be interested to know that Lt. Gen. Leslie J. McNair, U.S. Army, for whom Fort McNair is named, was one of those killed by, "Friendly bombers."

Perhaps because they had been so long at war, in North Africa, Italy and elsewhere, the British, Canadians and their allies did not make the same spectacular advances later accumulated by the Americans. On the other hand, the Germans in the British and Canadian sector seemed to be more tenacious and the losses there actually exceeded those of the Americans; however, Mr. Beevor intimated that leadership, particularly the leadership, or lack thereof, on the part of Gen. Montgomery might have had a lot to do with it, too. Add Charles DeGaulle to the mix and one might wonder how the Allies ever got to Paris. In fact, Paris was not Eisenhower's preferred objective once a major breakthrough occurred. His aim was to get to the Rhine and beyond; but Montgomery wanted to turn toward the Pas de Calais on the English Channel while DeGaulle insisted on liberating Paris. In the end, with a Resistance-led uprising in Paris and a French division heading toward the city despite other orders, DeGaulle won his way. That there was ultimate success sheds new luster on the skills of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower who somehow led the allies to ultimate victory despite the continual clash of egos, interests and competing priorities.

While the German forces were more homogenous in their makeup they too had their share of non-nationals, mostly Russians who chose to enlist with Germany after being captured on the Eastern Front. Then, although they ostensibly had unified command, Hitler felt that he knew more about strategy and tactics than his generals and had little trust in the loyalty of most of them, especially after the famous July 1944 bomb plot. Many times, the Fuhrer gave direct orders from his Wolfsschanze in East Prussia without knowing fully the situation on the ground. Worse, and the Germans didn't know this, the Allies were reading German signals with their Ultra system of communications intercept. Meanwhile, except for the SS Troops who seemed to border on the fanatic, the vignettes unearthed by Beevor give the reader an insight into the roots and longings of the individual German trooper, not much different from the individual American or Brit: proud of his country and fighting hard for it.

For anyone with any interest at all in World War II in Europe, especially the time from the landings through the liberation of Paris, "D-Day" is the book for you. The one downside is that Antony Beevor, an Englishman, writes too much as an Englishman, using too many expressions little known or appreciated in the United States. For example, "Vannoy," and, "They leaguered for the night…" the former some sort of ship's public address system and the latter some sort of bivouac one would guess from the context. Perhaps some good editing can fix such things. Editing might also help with the maps, too. They are good as far as they go but fold-outs would make following the flow of forces easier than having constantly to flip pages, especially in that the reader will want to keep up with the unfamiliar French place names.Those few shortcomings notwithstanding, "D-Day" is a good and interesting read and a worthy addition to anyone's WW II library.

Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn is the president of the Naval Historical Foundation and resides in Alexandria.






Published on Friday, Nov. 06, 2009 4:53PM EST Last updated on Saturday, Nov. 07, 2009 3:02AM EST

Victory, and carnage

Antony Beevor's new history of D-Day reveals the flip side of the massive invasion: the ‘cruel martyrdom' of Normandy


David Stafford


The D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, changed the course of the Second World War. The largest seaborne assault ever attempted, it landed 130,000 men on the shores of Hitler's Europe in just 24 hours and heralded the liberation of Western Europe.

Yet it could easily have been a catastrophe. The margin between defeat and victory was perilously thin, and had the Allies failed, it would not just have been a bloodbath but a tragedy for the peoples of Europe. No new invasion could have been attempted for at least another year, condemning them to endless months more of Nazi rule and SS terror. Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen and other Western capitals would likely have been liberated by Stalin's Red Army instead of by Eisenhower's forces. The whole of Germany, instead of its largely impoverished eastern half, would have become part of the Soviet Empire. The Cold War's iron curtain would have followed the banks of the Rhine rather than those of the Elbe.

Yet, thanks to meticulous planning and execution, D-Day was a brilliant success. Within weeks, the Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle was walking down the Champs-Élysées in Paris amid wild jubilation. In September, Brussels witnessed similar scenes, and a month later Allied troops captured Aachen, the first German city to fall into their hands. \

No wonder that for decades historians have pored over D-Day, describing the battles, recounted the exploits of individual divisions, corps, regiments, battalions and platoons, analyzed the leadership of generals, debated Allied and German tactics and strategy, and endlessly refought the Normandy campaign with all the bountiful benefit of hindsight. The recent 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004 saw a veritable tidal wave of books on the topic.

So it seems odd to write yet another book on the subject so soon. Antony Beevor, who made his name with a surprise bestseller on the battle of Stalingrad, is a military historian and former commissioned officer in the British army. Combined with his ability to write well and fluently, the magic of his Stalingrad book and its successor on the battle for Berlin was to weave strategic and tactical details with the experiences and memories of individual participants from generals to foot soldiers. This gave his narrative a refreshing human perspective that broke with the mould of most traditional military history. What made them especially successful, however, was that they provided the first really accessible popular accounts for a Western readership of the Eastern Front campaign.

Endlessly written about in the West, however, D-Day and the Normandy campaign are a different matter. Inevitably, there is a powerful sense of déjà vu about Beevor's tale, and despite all his best efforts, his book will mostly be enjoyed by those who like the minutiae of military campaigns. He is keen to remind us even before he begins of the difference in size between British and Canadian regiments on the one hand and U.S. and German regiments on the other. The almost 600 pages that follow tell us a great deal more of this kind.

Happily, however, his judgments are broad, and give no quarter. Above all, he is scathing about Montgomery's preposterous assertions that all in Normandy had gone to plan, his diplomatically disastrous bad-mouthing of his U.S. allies, and his alienation of the higher ranks of the Royal Air Force. In general, Beevor shows, the allies gravely underestimated the tenacity and discipline of Hitler's thoroughly indoctrinated troops. D-Day was a triumph. What followed was a dreadful battle of attrition. No one can be in doubt about the reason why after reading his account.

But the real merit of the book lies less in the detail than in two major points. For all his success in bringing home to Western readers the heroism of the Red Army, Beevor is refreshingly clear-eyed about the nature of the Soviet Union. For years after the war, Soviet propagandists sneered at D-Day and the Normandy campaign as a mere sideshow. It was on the Eastern Front, they insisted, that the real fighting took place and where Hitler was truly defeated. This is a refrain still echoed by some Western historians, as well.

Yet, as the author shows, the battle of Normandy was comparable in its intensity to the fighting on the Eastern Front. During the three summer months of 1944, the Wehrmacht suffered nearly a quarter of a million casualties and lost another 200,000 men to Allied captivity, a rate of 2,300 men per division per month, which was higher than in the East. The Western allies sustained more than 200,000 casualties. The fighting was savage, and on both sides the killing of prisoners was much greater than generally recognized.

Yet of the casualties, the truly revealing story here is that of French civilians. Visits to the military cemeteries of Normandy, with their rows of crosses marking the final resting places of thousands of young men at the dawn of their manhood, are moving experiences. But they misleadingly tell only part of the story. For missing in these shrines are the graves of the thousands of civilians killed in the liberation of France.

Military historians too often forget that the battles they describe involve others than soldiers. Beevor reminds us that in Normandy almost 20,000 French civilians were killed during the campaign and a much larger number seriously wounded – and all this was on top of the 15,000 French citizens killed by the preparatory bombing. “It is a sobering thought,” he writes, “that 70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied action during the course of the war, a figure which exceeds the total number of British killed by German bombing.”

The flip side of the liberation was what he calls the “cruel martyrdom” of Normandy. Caen, its capital, was devastated by Allied bombing. Beevor thinks that this was stupid, counterproductive and close to a war crime. Perhaps so. But he also tells us that the Gestapo deliberately and systematically shot to death all its political prisoners in Caen on the day of the landings. Whatever their faults, such crimes against humanity were not on the Allied agenda.

All history, it has been said, is contemporary history, meaning that historians inevitably reflect the times in which they write. With Beevor's emphasis on the civilian as well as the military costs of liberation, and of the wreckage delivered to France's infrastructure, there are powerful echoes here of the war in Iraq. Perhaps, after all, another book on D-Day is not out of place.


David Stafford is the author of , among other books, Ten Days to D-Day (2004).



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