A focused tale of the hellish ascendancy of the U.S. Army’s famed 1st Infantry Division on June 6, 1944, underscoring how the Normandy invasion nearly went terribly awry.
With several World War II volumes under his belt (September Hope: The American Side of a Bridge Too Far, 2012, etc.), military historian McManus elicits moving details of courage and hardship from personal as well as historical sources, spotlighting the feats of this heroic division that took the brunt of the first-wave assault on Omaha Beach. Hardened by heavy fighting only months before in Tunisia and Sicily, considered somewhat arrogant and full of themselves, many of the 1st expected to go home. Instead, Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of U.S. ground forces in the coming invasion, discarded “the niceties of justice” and needed to rely on those troops. Trained vigorously in England under Gen. Clarence Huebner to attack and destroy coastal defenses, the men were well-prepared yet hindered by the very technology that was supposed to cause the breakthrough of German defense. The Normandy beaches were wired and rigged with every contrivance of mines, “Belgian gates” and hedgehogs, with gunners perched in pillboxes on the bluffs. The troops, disgorged from landing craft in huge, unmanageable swells, were overladen with gear and unable to move quickly, offering sitting-duck targets for the German gunners, while the beaches became clotted with machinery and armament launched on an unsustainable schedule. McManus does not spare us the slaughter of those first hours: He even quotes one German soldier observing the carnage, murmuring, “Poor swine.” Getting the men off the beach became Col. George Taylor’s rallying cry (he is credited with the title’s quote), while the offshore destroyers helped dismantle the pillboxes to allow the intrepid leaders of the Big Red One to breach German defenses and push inland.
An exciting account from the personable point of view of the soldier.