Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have finished the second of my birthday present books from Anne, Antony Beevor’s D Day: The Battle for Normandy. Beevor is an excellent military historian. He begins with the tension prior to the launch of the invasion as the weather turned iffy. At this stage the level of attention is top brass as Ike makes the decision to go. It turmed out for the best. – a fortnight later, which would have been the fallback position, there was a massive storm.

So to the carnage, heroism, cock-ups and chaos of the landing. Once the beachhead was established – Beevor’s description is first-rate – the result was probably inevitable. Allied air supremacy made sure of that. The Resistance helped. Hitler’s meddling and indecision assisted. Rommel was quite correct – the landings had to be repulsed.

The invasion was more successful than envisaged. But the breakout proved more difficult as savage battles of attrition took place. The Allies had underestimated the problems of the hedgerows. These slowed the advance and increased the casualties. Beevor argues the fighting was ferocious, little quarter given on either side. The poor civilians – and their livestock – caught up in the battles. 20,000 were killed. But also old scores were being settled.

I had accepted the Montgomery myth - The victor of El Alamein and the British best general. Beevor is very critical. Monty claimed his battles around Caen enabled the American breakout to the west. Beevor says that’s a rewriting after the event. Admittedly the Germans had their finest panzer divisions facing him but Monty and his men made many tactical mistakes and were too cautious.

The Allied troops were a civilian army. They were up against very skilled, disciplined and tenacious men who on the whole believed they were fighting for the survival of their fatherland. Beevor’s account of the resultant struggle is both illuminating and appalling.

The Allied High Command heard the news of the attempted assassination of Hitler with mixed feelings. They felt his interference in the battles gave them an advantage.

There are many tales of bravery, drama and horror. There are some amusing incidents. During an Allied bombing raid a American medic dived into a foxhole. It was already occupied. By a German medic. Both unarmed they frantically pointed out their red cross arm bands. Within five minutes they were showing photos of wife and fiancée. The bombing over, they shook hands and went their separate ways.

And so to the liberation of Paris. De Gaull wanted that. Ike wanted to bypass the city. De Gaulle’s arrogance is almost admirable. He got his way. Hitler’s order to raze the city was not obeyed. That would have been a colossal tragedy.

If D’Day had not been successful the Russians might have got to the English Channel and European history would have been different.

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