The Normandy invasion was a critical victory for the Allies. According to military historian Kershaw (24 Hours at the Somme: 1 July 1916, 2017, etc.), it could have been a crushing defeat.
If the other Normandy beaches that Allied troops stormed on June 6, 1944, had been as bloody as Omaha Beach, argues the author, a veteran of later wars, then Dwight Eisenhower might have had to send out the memo of defeat that he instead pocketed, the one that famously said, “if any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As it was, the Allies squeaked by. Studying the operation from a military point of view, without the stagy but effective set pieces of Cornelius Ryan and the political interests of Anthony Beevor, Kershaw describes an awful day of battle. Commendably, his account includes plenty of testimonials from the German side, which had all the advantages of the well-entrenched defender but a few odd weaknesses as well. For instance, unbeknownst to Allied intelligence, a heavily battle-tested German infantry division, with plenty of survivors of Stalingrad and other flashpoints, was well dug in near Omaha, which explains all the carnage Steven Spielberg so vividly depicted in Saving Private Ryan. At the same time, some of the German defenses, such as an anti-tank barrier, were just this side of Potemkin villages. The Germans knew invasion was coming; they just didn’t know quite where. But they were ready, with one grizzled commander ordering, “if possible, do not take prisoners under ten men.” That the American landing force survived Omaha at all—as it is, the day posted one of the greatest casualty counts of any battle Americans fought in—seems little short of a miracle and is evidence of how badly good intelligence is needed in any fight. That said, Kershaw singles out for praise numerous fighting elements, such as the U.S. Army Rangers, who helped break the German lines.
A revisionist look that won’t cheer America-firsters but that helps broaden our understanding of a crucial battle.