Anecdotal history of D-Day, when Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.
As historian and journalist Milton’s (Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat, 2017, etc.) busy title suggests, the Normandy landings involved a vast machinery hinging on conditions of weather and tides and the hope that the German enemy would be surprised. In this skillfully woven narrative, the author depicts the complexity of Operation Overlord. In the predawn hours of D-Day, for instance, the operational planning officer had to secure signoffs from several senior commanders involved, which “was more time-consuming than he expected,” especially when the British air marshal began proofreading the orders, “sure that in detail lay victory.” The British meteorologists were cautious, the Americans perhaps too optimistic, but somehow the invasion was launched. Meanwhile, on the German side of the Channel, an observer predicted the landings nearly to the minute only to have his intelligence ignored. When news arrived of massive airborne landings behind the German lines, an argument broke out over whether “the paratroopers were merely liaison parties sent to help the French resistance.” For its part, the Resistance was present and active on the scene, while French civilians rendered aid as they were able—though in one memorable episode, a young French man had to turn over a badly wounded American paratrooper to the Germans in order to get him medical treatment. Milton’s narrative is episodic, much in the spirit of the book that looms over the literature of Overlord, Cornelius Ryan’s Longest Day (1959), populated by near-stock figures like a young American captain who “was a bulldozer of a man, with a thickset face and pronounced nose,” and a British “bruiser built of sinew and muscle” who single-handedly stormed a German bunker, earning a Victoria Cross for his troubles. World War II buffs will be pleased to see the tradition continue here.
A worthy commemoration of a key historical moment, the 75th anniversary of which falls in 2019.