`D-Day' is in many ways a very good book. However, its publicity and blurb make very big claims regarding the research that underpins it, and these deserve scrutiny. In particular, although significant sources in Caen and New Orleans have been intensively mined, close examination of Beevor's endnotes reveals a much more restricted research base than might be inferred from the book's publicity and a casual glance at the list of archives used. For example, although the author lists almost 300 separate U.S. National Archives references, over half of these originate in just five boxes of documents, from thousands that might have been consulted. Work in several other important foreign archives produced very limited results, and there is little evidence of systematic research even in archives closer to home. Beevor's bibliography of secondary sources, memoirs and unit histories omits numerous important works, among them (and this is a real surprise) some of the best personal accounts of the Normandy fighting. His awareness of academic research on related matters also appears thin. Some readers, for example, may feel that reference to recent books by David French (`Raising Churchill's Army'), John Buckley (`British Armour in the Normandy Campaign'), and Timothy Harrison Place (`Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944') would have enhanced Beevor's portrayal of British combat performance in Normandy. Similarly, Beevor's judgement on Allied deception plans ("more effective than the Allies had ever dared imagine" [p.157]) might have been more cautiously expressed had he read Mary Barbier's published work on the topic. Sadly, on these subjects - as in several other areas of enquiry - Beevor's comments appear somewhat out of date.
The consequences of Beevor's reluctance to engage with a broader range of reference material, or (perhaps) of his publisher's failure to employ a competent fact-checker, are felt throughout `D-Day'. Although the Normandy campaign is big and complicated, and honest mistakes are unavoidable in any study on this scale, the number of factual errors contained in Beevor's book is disconcertingly high. Admittedly, many of these are of a relatively minor kind that will probably not much concern the general reader (e.g. a `General Helmlich' [sic, p.214] did not die on 10 June, although General Hellmich WAS killed seven days later). Nevertheless, there are lots of them, and cumulatively they call into question the bold assertion that this is the most well-researched account of the Normandy campaign yet to appear. More to the point, there are places where insufficient familiarity with key sources contributes to narrative or analytical confusion (for example, when the author makes mistakes about the sequence of events on the Martinville Ridge in mid-July); for an author who is concerned above all with describing and explaining real human experiences of war, this is a problem. Similarly, although the book's accompanying publicity disparages "interviews conducted too long after the event" as a unreliable historical source, this did not absolve Beevor of responsibility to check the written (but still personal) accounts on which he so relies so heavily. Had he done so, he might have avoided errors such as those found on page 211, where he describes numerous Allied aircraft being hit by `friendly fire' off Utah Beach on 9 June (a day on which bad weather grounded almost all British and American planes), or on page 247, where a more careful reading of his source would have revealed that the author was referring to a battle that occurred on 29 June, not one taking place over a week later. Nor are the maps contained in `D-Day' of as much assistance to the reader as their number (19) might imply; none appears to be entirely free of errors, and that on pp.244-5 - to be blunt - is a complete shocker.
Arguably, `D-Day' also lacks balance in its treatment of Allied and German experiences of the campaign. Whereas most of Beevor's German sources originate with accounts written (mostly from memory) by senior commanders held in British or American captivity after the war, the vast majority of Allied accounts come from soldiers of junior rank. Although General Patton (whose published diaries are much quoted by Beevor) provides something of an exception, this means that the campaign is seen mainly from one perspective for the Allies, but from an entirely different one for their enemy. Perhaps the greatest victim of this approach is Bernard Montgomery, 21st Army Group's commander throughout the campaign. Beevor seems to have little time for Montgomery, whose personality and behaviour could admittedly be distinctly unappealing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Allies eventually won a crushing victory in Normandy, and perhaps Monty deserves just a little more credit for this, and understanding, than he gets from Beevor. Certainly, at the very least it would have been nice to see the author take account of arguments presented in Nigel Hamilton's multi-volume biography of Montgomery. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is among the sources absent from Beevor's bibliography.
`D-Day' offers considerable rewards to its readers, not least in terms of its value in re-invigorating unsettled debates on the planning and conduct of the Normandy campaign, as well as the light that it casts on how best-selling works of popular history are researched, written and marketed. But although it is full of the vivid colour and detail that we have come to expect from this most talented and readable of authors, this reviewer remains unconvinced by many of the claims made in its accompanying publicity. Indeed, it could be argued that despite the signs of age shown by both books, Max Hastings' 'Overlord'and Carlo D'Este's 'Decision in Normandy' remain distinctly superior works, both in their ability to balance narrative and analysis, and in some of their conclusions about the campaign. Still, at the risk of contradicting almost every response to Beevor's latest work that seems likely to appear in the next few months, this reviewer feels compelled to state his final position unambiguously. A great read D-Day certainly is; great history, however, it is not.