A well-conceived study of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy in 1944, focusing on the more or less ordinary people who participated in that great battle.
Most of Stafford’s (Spies Beneath Berlin, 2003, etc.) ten subjects were, of course, far from ordinary. In keeping with the author’s interest in espionage, some are freedom fighters, members of the French and Norwegian resistance underground, and even secret agents; one is a British Wren, a member of the women’s naval corps, whose top-secret job it was to decode ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore signals. Others, German and Allied, are the soldiers who fought it out on the shores of France. By Stafford’s account, just about everyone had some inkling that the great battle was coming; it was by a stroke of very good fortune that the Nazis did not have detailed foreknowledge of the invasion, though for some time the Allies had been enforcing strict security measures—Churchill himself ordered that those measures be “high, wide, and handsome”—to protect the invasion force. Stafford’s representative German enlisted man suspects something is up when all leave is canceled, while Hitler himself remarks to the Japanese ambassador to the Third Reich that the Allies are planning to “establish a bridgehead in Normandy or Brittany and, after seeing how things went, would then embark upon the establishment of a real second front in the Channel.” Back in England, writes Stafford, ordinary folks sense something’s up when the streets, shops, and movie houses are suddenly emptied of soldiers: “The crowds were a lot thinner, taxis were now easier to find, and the streets felt quieter, even subdued.” Much of Stafford’s narrative is a buildup to the big event, which has disastrous consequences for some of his actors—Erwin Rommel on one side, a Canadian rifleman named Glenn Dickin on the other—even as they and others perform heroically against the odds.
A strong contribution to the literature of WWII, from an accomplished student of the era.