The book D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II was written by Stephen E. Ambrose, and published by Simon & Schuester in New York. This book begins with a prologue that is followed by 32 chapters, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, an appendix, and an index. The first ten chapters give the events that lead up to D-Day, it discusses a variety of topics ranging from, general topics like the attackers and the defenders, to topics like what kind of weather conditions would be necessary for the invasion. Chapters 11 through 14 discuss the air invasion that occurred shortly after midnight, and the air and naval bombardment of the beaches prior to the infantry landing on the Normandy shore. Chapters 15 through 25 cover the landings on the beaches and the struggles of the American forces to get up the bluffs and inland. Chapter 26 titled “The World Holds Its Breath”, is exactly what it says, it gives a view of the home front during the invasion. Chapters 27 through 31 talk about other allied landings on the beaches. Chapter 32 ends the book by giving a summary of the accomplishments of D-Day, and giving the general feelings toward the success of the invasion after the first day of fighting. This book was written to provide everyone with an up close and personal view of WWII.
The first two chapters on the book are titled ” The Attackers” and “The Defenders”. In these two chapters the author talks about the warring nations. The Germans who originally used blitzkrieg style warfare to remove the allied powers from Europe, by 1944 had dug in, and was now a complete opposite of what they once were. This would have probably worked just fine had the Nazis not conquered more territory than they could defend. Hitler knew that an invasion was immanent and that if he could send the allies back into the channel with great loses it would take months to organize another attempt, and hopefully by then Roosevelt and Churchill, would be gone.
The allies had to penetrate Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. This stacked the deck in Hitler’s favor, because the Allies would have to cross the English Channel an make an amphibious assault on the German fortifications. Prior to WWII there had only been two times that an attack such as this was successful One was led by Julius Ceaser, and the other was led by William the Conqueror. The Allies had managed three successful landings by 1943 in North Africa, and the Mediterranean. They would have the guns of the American and British Navy the two strongest at that time. They lacked a good landing craft for the infantry to go ashore in, this problem was solved with the advent of the Higgens boat. There was also a problem that no one could do anything about, they were allies, and there were many negative feeling between the American soldiers in Britain, and the British soldiers. Not only did the allied commanders have to face Hitler’s army, they also had to keep the peace between their own men.
The next chapter introduces the commanders of both armies. The fist part of the chapter talks about how the lives of Dwight Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel. Were almost a mirror image of the others both were of German descent both played sports, both joined their country’s respective military academies, both had risen to the top through there missions in North Africa in the earlier part of WWII. Next the author describes the confusion that Rommel has to deal with because of the German command structure. He also talks about the strenuous schedules of both Rommel and Eisenhower. This chapter is important because it allows the reader to understand where the leaders are thinking when they are making their decisions on what way to win the war.
Chapters four through ten discuss all of the little details that went into planning the operation. Many obvious things such as deciding on a landing place were very complicates, due to the geography of the French coast, not only did the landing site have to have a way to get infantry on land, it also had to have a port at the site or preferably nearby. Then they had to consider the strength of the German fortification on and around that site, and the ability to get reinforcements there quickly for a German counter offensive. The Allied commanders also had the duty of figuring out how to best utilize their assets. They had a far superior Navy, they controlled the skies over France, and they had more resources. Next they would have to plan the attack, and due to the size of the invasion, this proved to be a very difficult task, plans changed right up to the day of the invasion. This also meant that they would have to arrange for the transport of the troops, and their equipment.
The soldiers who were going ashore, trained for months for one day. The soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) endured some of the most strenuous training of any army ever assembled. The practiced landings and disabling pill boxes, and other things that they would have to do on the French beaches. Live ammunition was used often and there were a few deaths because of it. In the end though, the training appeared to have been a major factor when all else was going wrong on D-Day.
In the next three chapter the author tell how troops were concentrated to southern England, loaded onto the boats and the factors that made them decide to go on June 6th. Beginning in early May troops began to pour into the southern England in the thousands. They lived in sausages, which were similar to a giant livestock pen that you would have seen before you sent a cow off to slaughter. They remained in these until loading began on May 31st . The men of the AEF passed the time on the boats by gambling.
The original plan was to go on June 5th or the first available day after that. They chose the 5th because of the tide. The plan was to come in on low tide to allow the engineers to demolish the obstacles in the tidal flat before the water came in. they would also need a day without heavy cloud cover, because they needed air support and on a cloudy day it would have been ineffective do to a lack of visibility. A third consideration is that if the surf were too rough the small landing craft would not be able to make it to the beach without sinking. The weather on June 5th was at best poor so the landing was postponed. Late in the afternoon on the 5th the weather report came in for the next day conditions wouldn’t be perfect but if they didn’t go then they would have to wait until the 19th for the tide to be right. Eisenhower decided to go.
The next four chapters of the book describe the preinvasion efforts of the AEF. First it described the airborne paratroopers and gliders that went into Normandy during the night to gain control of the causeways and bridges that had not been destroyed by bombing in the months preceding the war. Next the book describes the air and navel bombardment of the beaches. There were three main types of bombers used to bomb the beached the B-17, the B-26, and the B-24. Most would be flying high. It was later decided that the planes were too high to be accurate. Once the planes had dropped their bombs the naval bombardment began.
There were some 2,000 ships involved in the naval bombardment of the beach. Their big guns blasted away at the strongholds on the beaches for about an hour before the landing. Destroyers were in the front with the bigger battleships, and cruisers behind them. Then immediately before the infantry went ashore, 1,000 rockets were launched from the LCTs (an LCT is one of the transports that was used for the invasion). This ended the naval bombardment and began the landings.
Chapters 15 through 25 talk about the landings of the American troops on Utah and Omaha beach and their struggle to get off of them. The landing of the 4th infantry on Utah beach was badly off target. However, it worked out rather well, the soldiers managed to land with relatively few casualties. They were able to clear the beach of obstacles and move inland to meet up with the airborne units fairly quickly. The landings on Omaha were not as easy. The Infantry made it to the beach before the tanks so they took all of the fire form the pillboxes and strongholds on the bluff. The first waves used the beach obstacles for cover as they mad there was from the Higgens boats to the seawall. The men that made it this far often were to scared to move. After some time groups started to form and a few brave souls set out to get off of the beach, and the rest began to follow. Omaha beach was catastrophe not only for the army but also for the navy. The bombardment that was suppose to wipe out the coastal defenses of the German wall missed. Most of the shells went over the bluff instead of hitting the beach and the pillboxes. For a short period landing on Omaha was suspended until men could move up the cliffs and get off the beach. By noon thing had started to improve, the men had gotten past the seawall and moved to higher ground. They had gone on the offensive.
The book then talks about the civilians sitting at home listening to the radio. It could have been compared to the way a person holds their breath as an athlete takes a last second shot to win the game. People all over America joined together in prayer. In the occupied countries people felt a sense of relief as the long anticipated invasion had finally begun.
The remaining chapters talk about the British and Canadian soldiers, and give a finally summary of the accomplishments of the day. The landings stopped at 2200 after landing approximately 175,000 troops and taking about 5,000 casualties. The allies had invaded 90 kilometers of coast. The allies did make many mistakes in doing this, one was the airborne troops should have landed at first light, instead of during the night. The Germans however made an even greater mistake of trying to defend everywhere, in doing so they were able to defend nowhere.
This book provides the reader with a very in-depth view of D-Day, and the events leading up to it. I found it to be very well organized and easy to follow despite having a great deal of information to keep track of. The use of stories from survivors of the landings helped to make some of the more tedious reading at the beginning easier to read. It also provided a more believable account of the events on the beaches. It was a pleasure to read an sometimes even humorous despite the solemnity of the subject. I would personally recommend this book to anybody, but especially those who find it difficult to get interested in learning about history.