on 1 June 2009
I would like to warn others against this book. The main ideas and arguments it puts forward have already been dealt with far more competently by other authors. It also claims to be based on extensive new research but it is not. If you have already read widely on the subject of the Normandy landings and the campaign that followed then it may just be worth reading this book so that you can discuss its shortcomings honestly if required to do so.
If you are new or relatively new to this subject area then I would strongly recommend you read the following authors before you read Mr Beevors book as their work is far superior-
Max Hastings - Overlord
Carlo D'este - Decision in Normandy
Robert J Kershaw - D-Day
If you really want to go into the detail of German combat readiness and performance in this theatre- in a properly researched book - then I would also recommend-
Niklas Zetterling Normandy 1944.
How many books have been written about D-Day? Dozens? Hundreds? The question we must therefore ask ourselves is does this book add anything to the already impressive list?
And I have to say it doesn't really. Most of what is here has been revealed before. Sure there are some new "voices" from the battlefield and elsewhere but we have seen innumerable such "memoirs" over the past few years (I notice another of the "Forgotten voices" series specifically for D Day has recently been published)
Where Beevor scored with Stalingrad and Berlin was that he had access to new material released in Russia which allowed a whole new dimension to be opened. Such material must be pretty thin on the ground regarding D Day so there is not much that is new here.
It is apparent that such a huge concern needs a multi-volume work or indeed perusal of the many books that come up if you type in "D day" in the search engine above. (7000+ books!) My personal favourites have always been the Purnell History of World War 2 series of books that came out originally in the 60's. They were and are (if you can find copies) fascinating reading for anyone interested in the military events of the time.
Having said all that, this is still well written and easy to read which would make it serve as a good introduction to the events of the 6th of June (This piece is being written on the 65th anniversary of the eve of the battle) but for more detail you'd be better turning to many of the other books on the subject
One final thought, I note that some of the other reviews of this book are aghast at how Amerocentric this book is. Equally I notice that Robin Niellands' book for example is seen as being too Anglo/Canadian centric. Why not read both and then make up your own mind? (And "Overlord" by Max Hastings, "Pegasus Bridge" and "Band of Brothers" by Stephen Ambrose, or "Piercing the Atlantic wall" by Robert Kershaw or....how long do you want the list to be?)
In any case if you haven't already done so may I also heartily endorse the Imperial War Museum's D Day Experience, absolutely brilliant especially for younger people interested in the period - just read the reviews on Amazon if you don't believe me.
on 13 July 2009
I was suspicious of the true historical value of this book after watching Antony Beevor commenting on the BBC during D Day commemorations. However, I took the plunge and ought the book as a holiday read. There is nothing of substance in the book and the text is littered with comments which originate from the mouths of 'Officers Mess Bores' and armchair experts and as such have little worth. The author tells us no more about D Day and the subsequent battle for Normandy than we already know. Beevor focuses on the failings on Monty which is not new. However, his constant referral to these failings when referring to the British influence on the battle became rather annoying. If you want a true history of the events, look elsewhere.
We all agree that Antony Beevor is a fine popular historian; you feel you are leaning over the Colonel's shoulder, maps spread out amid the confusion of battle. But D Day is more than a battle in France, it was an immense task conceived, organised and implemented then very hard fighting won. If you are interested in the Normandy campaign he is up to the task, but so too are a plethora of authors. What can Beevor add, could he link the pre 6th June preparation in equal measure to the fighting and present a complete D Day in one book? I wish he had given it a go.
Previous - serious - reviews suggest he has written a good but not an outstanding book. Given the confusion and complexity no one will ever write a definitive account. Of course narrative and academic historians will slog it out but for me it was a good "macro" account that added to the other books I have read. It is still the case D Day tends to be marginalised, gathering overwhelming forces in Southern England, a cross channel dash, some fighting against second tier troops, the allied generals -with "real time" Enigma intelligence - breaking out and processing to Germany. Allied air domination made it a turkey shoot. It was not like that and Bevoor details just how bloody the post invasion campaign was. Could the landing have been repelled on the beaches, or the breakout prevented? Disaster was real possibility, massive force never guaranteed success (ask the Romans). Beevor gave no sense of just how great the risks were.
D Day is a generic term for a staggeringly complex event. The harder you work, the luckier you get might be the real lesson. It demands an outstanding writer to present it to the general reader. To put the first soldier on French soil required a level of intelligence, audacity and imagination arguably without equal in war. How was the political will formed and the planning put in place? They did it with little more than pencils and card index boxes. Who were the people that organised the invasion, not bickering Generals but those in Nissen huts in Dorset? Many would have seen war in the Western Front in 1914-18 well aware of the disastrous events at Gallipoli and Dieppe. The 6th June is incomprehensible to those that did not see it - some 175,000 men, 1,500 tanks, 3,000 artillery pieces and 10,000 vehicles crossed the channel. This required nearly 7,000 vessels and 11,590 aircraft. Then the technological aspects, the Mulberry harbours, the fuel line PLUT0 and the beach storming equipment. How did they create a command structure for American, British, Canadian -Free French and Poles - operating in combined operations in sea, air, beach and paratroop landings? And the deception that convinced the Germans that Normandy was a feint for the Pas de Calais. Behind every front line soldier were at least a dozen in uniform and even more civilians. Who has told their story?
Had Beevor called his book the Battle for Normandy he would deserve full credit. But the prefix D Day - which we know sells books - begs a fuller account and here he has missed the target. What is on the "label" is not what is in the "can". Max Hastings the consensus suggests - has told it better while there are many competent, well-illustrated books written over the same ground. D Day - the whole story - is incredibly inspiring. The men that made D Day have a lot to teach us, understanding what they did is how we honour them. The objective was glorious, a colossal sacrifice to rid us of fascism. It seems Bevoor is stuck in a rut, although one he does well. This book is a disappointment, is it cashing in on his reputation and the 65th anniversary?
on 13 February 2015
Firstly forgive my flippant title. Mr Beevor - I think has got himself into the Rock star historian league: with his books flying off the shelves; this one is good but not that good. Its beautifully written, like all his previous efforts, painting vivid pictures of the triumph and tragedy. As history: if brings new insight (to me anyway) on the 'Hitler Plot', with the plotters usually remembered as noble men trying to banish evil - Beevor has none of this, pointing out some of them had views not far from Hitler's. Why only 3? Well I think whilst Mr B brings new things on the Hitler Plotters, in other areas I found him rather lazy and pompous in his assessment. Lazy in repeating things like the Allied Sherman blew up easily because it had a petrol engine: all tanks (except the Russians) had petrol engines, all of them blew up easily and the particular problem with the Sherman was ammunition storage which was latter corrected. Pompous in his airy dismissal of some senior allied officers' performance (Monty takes a particular pummelling) suggesting they should have advanced rather than stay put in some situation for example - without making any attempt to understand what the men on the ground had available to make their decision. More importantly I think, he repeats the nowadays fashionable assessment that the 'amateur' Allies overcame the 'professional' Germans by sheer weight of numbers, with the narrative seeming to describe a series of allied near disasters until suddenly the Germans were beaten. He points out that Allied air-power had a huge impact on German supply lines but was too inaccurate to hit tanks, yet doesn't really address how where the Germans beaten then? and how come the Allies had lower casualties than they? I think I know (some of) the answers from reading other books, by other less esteemed authors who've wondered the same. I like my history to ask questions and challenge the accepted view: I was a bit disappointed Mr Beevor didn't do the same.
on 19 July 2010
I found this book very poor. I really enjoyed Stalingrad which I thought provided a real insight into the Russian mindset during the war, and the dilemmas faced by some Germans too, but D-Day wasn't in that league. For a start little seemed new though Beevor is good with small details, he missed completely the great sweep of the battle and Montgomery's great strategy grinding down and destroying the German Army on the British and Canadian fronts while building up and breaking out on the American side.All the time completely hoodwinking the Germans as to the real intention of the Allies until the last moment.
Indeed the book seemed so anti-British I wonder if it was not deliberately written that way for the American market. There are a completely unjustified number of criticisms of the British commanders especially Monty, in respect of whom Beevor cannot bring himself to utter a single word of praise. Montgomery in fact is NEVER mentioned unless in critical terms. Montgomery did fail to deliver on some pre battle intentions but the great strategy for Normandy - including the American breakout, was his, set out at St Pauls School before the campaign and delivered in crushing style putting the allies on the Seine at D plus 90 just as Montgomery had predicted. This is the indisputable truth and Beevors work gives no sense whatever of this. Bradley of course did the detailed planning for Cobra, but the Strategic concept and direction was Montgomery's.Even Bradley who later fell out with Monty over the Ardennes gave Monty full credit for his performance in Normandy.
This aspect is so bad - even personal that I began to believe one of Beevor's relatives must have been slighted by Montgomery in some way, perhaps sacked or treated badly, to elicit such hostility. I thought there must be some sort of deeper explanation.
Anthony Beevor is probably most famous for his other World War Two book, 'Stalingrad', and in 'D-Day' he certainly shows the same ability to conjure up the realities of a single theatre of battle. His style is almost novelistic, and from the start, this book is full of evocative, telling details, such as the pockets of the Airborne men stuffed with chocolate, and the gambling they did to while away the hours before they took off. And in true English style, it begins with a chapter on the weather forecast.
It's quite a contrast to Max Hastings' book 'Overlord', up till now considered the central account of the Normandy landings. Where Hastings puts the military action into the context of the Russian front and the war as a whole, Beevor is very much focused on people. Hastings is fantastic on tactics and weaponry, and has earned deep respect for his assessments of the allied effort overall. But reading Beevor is far more like watching a film.
Beevor's 'D-Day' reminds me more of John Keegan's moving 'Six Armies in Normandy". Beevor has incorporated details of the day-to-day experience, such as their cooking, or taking wine from the cellars of an abandoned chateau, as well as the fighting.
To sum up the difference, with Hastings, you have the grim details, the grind of it, the effort, the planning, the grit. Yet with Beevor the reader understands what it had been like to be there: the companionship, the nerves, the odd little forays into the woods, even the traffic jams. But when I want to know WHY it happened like it happened and why it took so very long to break the German forces, I will be returning to Hastings.
on 28 May 2009
`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.
on 12 October 2010
After his previous books such as Stalingrad and Berlin, I was disappointed in this one. Other reviewers have covered much of what I would say - particularly how kind in general it is to both the US and France. It doesn't seem to add anything much to what is already known. I'd add that alarm bells rang when I read the chapter on Omaha. As this was written very recently, I expected it to contain highly relevant information found about 6 or 7 years ago regarding the deployment of the DD tanks at Omaha - and why they nearly all sank (the Anglo-phobic US Commander at Omaha ignored the RN instructions to send them in at an angle to the beach, the direction of the waves, and sent them head on - which is why they, and other vessels were swamped - a fact discovered by marine archaeologists diving on the tanks.)
There is also a tendency (though this is by no means unique to this author), to make judgements purely with the benefit of hindsight. For instance, he will heavily criticise the British for not advancing on an area vacated by German troops (usually during the night), when there is no way they could have known about this. Or there will be harsh critisism of an advance into a heavily defended area - which the day before hadn't been, but again, enemy troops had moved in during the night. The author seems to fail to appreciate that intelligence and communications of the day were not even close to the standards of today, but still judges the actions of military commanders as if they were, which is more than a little unfair. I also caught a couple of occasions when he contradicted himself - saying one thing, then later in the book showing this to be wrong (or misleading through over-generalisation).
The other, more minor (in the overall context of the book) criticism relates to his comments and treatment of France. It is apparent that the author knows little about Occupied and Vichy France between 1940-44 (and there is nothing in the bibliography to suggest otherwise), and has largely accepted the post-war mythology created by the French, which has now been thoroughly discredited.
Worth reading as an introduction, as it is very readable (although I found it a bit confusing determining who was doing what - country-wise), but like others, I would strongly advise looking at some of the other books mentioned by other reviewers. Not recommended if you're already familiar with the subject, as you'll spend too much energy fault-finding!
on 12 June 2014
Antony Beevor's books are usually so good but D-Day just doesn't seem to work. Perhaps the sheer scale of the D-Day Landings was too much for him to handle but he doesn't provide enough to bring it all alive. Anyone expecting a literary experience to rival the realism of the opening minutes of the film "Saving Private Ryan" will be disappointed. While the opening chapters are vey interesting and well-constructed, the battlefield chapters are just weak, thin vignettes with places, people and outcomes not explained. The shortage of maps doesn't help and the lack of a full index also lets the book down. (Try finding individual soldiers or officers in the index, for example). The make-up of individual elements....platoons, divisions, regiments, brigades, corps, etc..is not explained and pre-existing knowledge is assumed.
A recurrent theme with Beevor is a one-line description of who didn't like whom. It doesn't bring the characters alive at all, as I suspect is intended, but rather creates an impression that Beevor simply wants to downplay the achievements and courage of pretty much everyone. You quickly find yourself disliking certain Allied and German figures until you realise that you really only have the author's perspective and that the reality may have been very different.
Beevor can do better and should have done better. It's usually a good sign when a book leaves you searching for more information, but in this case you walk away feeling that you are looking simply because Beevor's account falls short.