Here John Keegan offers us the varying perspectives of the six armies of the title: the American, Canadian, British (both English and Scottish in separate chapters), German, Polish and French participants in the 1944 Normandy campaign. The motivational underpinnings and battlefield experiences of each army are brought under the microscope of Keegan’s keen intellect.
This up-close focus on the different participants brings a refreshingly original perspective to understanding the Battle of Normandy and offers an excellent contrast to the more generalist strategic overviews from writers like Hastings and Beevor, or the American-centric writings of Stephen Ambrose.
A small sample of Keegan’s most enlightening high-points: the contrast in historical experiences between English- and French-speaking Canadians which informed their differing commitment to the war; a revealing portrait of the men in the Polish armoured division who, when closing the Falaise Pocket, were preoccupied with and motivated by the concurrent Warsaw uprising in August 1944; what a polyglot force of ex-Vichy soldiers, African mercenaries and comparatively small number of Gaullist Free-French made up Leclerc’s Division, how they were effectively used by De Gaulle to impose his authority on France following the liberation and at the same time sideline the French Communists (in 1944 the most militarily effective urban resistance force to the Nazis in Paris).
Whilst highly literate, Keegan’s prose tends to long, multi-clause sentences making the book a less-than-easy read at times. He also overdetails the historic background to his participant-armies in places, and is given to going on long discursive detours instead of sticking to the essential narrative. These minor criticisms of style knock the book back one star for me, but should not detract from the essential value of this very good book.
If you’re interested in the Normandy Campaign and want to understand all the complex motivations of the men involved, Keegan’s SAiN should be on your essential reading list.