The grand Allied invasion of Normandy had myriad ways to go wrong, writes historian Beevor (The Mystery of Olga Chekhova, 2004, etc.) in this skilled account. Miraculously, it did not.
“Everyone in Britain knew that D-Day was imminent,” the author writes, “and so did the Germans.” What kept the Germans from knowing the exact details of the attack is the stuff of legend—and a massive program of disinformation and double-agenting, which Beevor deftly relates. The larger outlines of the story are well-known; historians and journalists from John Keegan to Cornelius Ryan have had their say about the matter. To this Beevor adds sharp observations derived from the archives, among them the unsettling fact that just before the invasion almost every American unit involved was rated “unsatisfactory,” most having never experienced combat before. Fortunately, the Germans across the English Channel were divided in how to respond. As the author notes, Erwin Rommel wanted to concentrate his troops near the landing sites, while his superior officers wanted to assemble a mighty counterattack in the woods north of Paris. Elements of both strategies were hastily assembled as needed, and in either event they cost the Allies plenty. One of the strongest elements of the book is Beevor’s inclusion of sometimes overlooked and discounted actors, including French Resistance forces and veterans of the Polish army who had made their way west, and who told their French counterparts, “You will be liberated…but we will be occupied for years and years.” As the author writes, the Germans had an international army, too, including Cossack forces that were mowed down as they rode into battle. His account of atrocities on both sides, of errors committed and of surpassing bravery makes for excellent—though often blood-soaked—reading.
Beevor gets better with each book.