A noisy, bloody, and highly readable account of the three-month-long Battle of Normandy.
Omaha Beach, so memorably depicted in the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan, was a slaughter. But, writes McManus (History/Univ. of Missouri), “once the strong German waterline defenses had been pierced, the advance inland was comparatively smooth.” Utah Beach, conversely, was an easy enough landing, but the Germans put up a fierce fight in the hedgerows beyond, and soon the resistance spread throughout Normandy, eventually costing the Allies 209,703 casualties, “of whom 125,847 were American.” Drawing on interviews with survivors as well as a wealth of documentary sources, McManus offers an almost firefight-by-firefight account of the battle, which is repetitive to the extent that the encounters were uniformly vicious and to the extent that the top leadership was so often badly informed. On the second point, for instance, McManus uncovers an unpleasant incident in which Allied pilots mistakenly bombed their own lines, killing scores of American troops (and nearly killing the famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who would die a year later at Okinawa). “The bombing had done some damage to the Germans, too, but that was beside the point,” McManus writes—that point perhaps being that miscommunications among Americans and British, among pilots and ground troops, among generals and privates, yielded constant danger for all involved. More disasters ensued, including a useless, costly detour into Brittany, for which McManus lays the blame squarely on Gen. Omar Bradley. What saved the day, it appears, was only the willingness of the soldiery to endure, coupled with some exceptional leadership from George Patton on down, including one junior lieutenant who authorized a truce after the colonel in charge of the line left orders not to be awakened.
Of great interest to students of WWII history, and a fine textbook for the military academies, with as many negative as positive examples for future strategists.