Ryan wrote what many consider the definitive account of D-Day way back in 1959. Don't let this fool you. Having interviewed over 1,000 individuals who took part in the action on that day, he weaves their personal experiences together seamlessly leaving the reader thoroughly engrossed. Numerous tales of heroism, which those that took part simply considered normal, can seem somewhat unrealistic to the younger generations. That is what makes this book so rivetting. Unlike some authors more recently, Ryan does not become enmeshed in regurgitation of numbers. To him the most important objective was to get this story across in the words of those people who really understood what happened that day. Of great interest is how the book is finished. What jobs those who were interviewed had in 1959 when the book was published for the first time. So many extraordinary people with ordinary jobs. But their exploits will never be forgotten as long as people read books such as this.
I first read this many years ago (it's an old book (1959)), but prodded by the 60th anniversary celebrations, I bought another copy and re-read it. It retains its hold even over 40 years after it was written. Ryan presents the story simply and well, often letting the participants tell their own story (and back then the invasion had "only" been 25 years before and many more of the participants were still alive and their memories were fresh). One of the most amazing things for me was how ordinary guys, placed in extraordinary situations, can do extraordinary things. Like the young, inexperienced Americans, caught in the bloody shambles of Omaha Beach, who nevertheless fought their way off that beach and gained a beachhead. Or the British paratroopers, dropped to take a heavily-defended German artillery strongpoint of over 250 men, and having lost all but 150 of their 700 men and all their heavy equipment, nevertheless did it. Or the US Army Rangers who scaled the nine-story cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in the face of intense small arms and grenade bombardment to take out big German guns (which turned out not to be there yet!). To emphasise this, Ryan presents in the end a list of his interviewees and what they were doing then (when the book was published). "Bricklayer", "shop assistant", "chemical worker", "male nurse". These extraordinary heroes of the greatest amphibious operation ever undertaken against the foulest tyranny ever seen had simply disappeared back into ordinary life. Ryan also tells the story from the German side, dispassionately and with sensitivity, reflecting the fact that these other ordinary guys were also only doing their job. In the end, what shines through is the human qualities of all the participants, on both sides. If only our various governments would use these properly, and not misuse them, as Adolf Hitler did, we could have a much better world
Cornelius Ryan is a worthy spokesman for the people who's stories he tells so well. Stories that most certainly are based on interviews with, verbal and/or written accounts by the soldiers who took part in this epic operation of all operations and the civilians who found themselves caught up in it. Ryan has a remarkable way to present military history that is entertaining as well as truthful, honest and accurate. Close your eyes and you can probably recall some of the famous photos from Operation Overlord - the D-day landings. Read the book and experience these photos become a motion picture ... ! Capt. SLL Staff Officer, Tactics Branch, Danish Army Combat school.
The events leading up to and including the assault at Normandy represent, by anyone's standards, one of the most remarkable feats accomplished in the history of mankind. The assault symbolizes, for the world past, present and future a classic example of "good" overcoming "evil". To read Ryan's text, anecdote by anecdote, and not have a deep feeling of respect and gratitude for each of the men involved that day is not possible. Ryan demonstrated the ability to bring the reader into the transport boats with the men, feel the anxiety Ike felt out in the quiet of the England woods and the terror experienced by the heros at Omaha beach. Heros this country needs to remember and respect and thank every day they enjoy freedom in this free, if far from perfect, country. My vote is to make the text mandatory reading in public schools throughout the U.S. My final comment: If you have not read a thing on D-Day or don't even know what it is READ THIS BOOK. You owe it to yourself and the men who served and died for YOUR freedom.
Having been to the D-Day beaches on several occasions and also having seen the film the book was very useful in awnsering the many questions which I had. It does not detail the blodshed that took place in any gory fashion yet manages to bring home the horrors that the Allied Soliders (and indeed the Germans) must have faced...The end of the book is rather abrupt and leaves the reader thinking "Well, What happened next? "..I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has even the remotest interest in World War II and the events of June 6th 1944
"The Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan is the epic history of Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings of June 6, 1944. Brought to the big screen in the movie of the same title, it will be a very familiar read for many. This book employs a skillful weaving of the big picture with the human interest. Here we get an understanding for the objectives of the battle and the heroic, tragic and humorous incidents which arose during this momentous contest.
The days leading up to Overlord were demanding and nerve wracking for both sides. The Germans were split between Rommel, who believed that the invasion must be stopped on the beach or not at all, and Von Rundstedt, who wanted to let the invasion come ashore and then engage it beyond the range of Allied naval guns. Von Rundstedt based his opinion on what he thought that he had learned from prior landings. The Allies, for their part, had learned from the disastrous Canadian raid on Dieppe in 1942 that any invasion must have the advantage of overwhelming force. They had their own disagreements, such as how to employ air power. Should it be used in a Transportation Plan, to isolate the battlefield, or to pound the German heartland? The Germans had the disadvantage of having to defend the whole shoreline, while the Allies could choose where to direct their fury. The German Atlantic Wall of mines, barbed wire, gun encasements, "Rommel Asparagras", beach obstacles and other impedimenta presented a daunting front to the Allies and strained the productive capacity of the Reich. The Allies maximized their advantage through Operation Fortitude, the faux army commanded by Patton aimed at Calais. Still they had their own cases of the jitters, such as when a popular British crossword puzzle writer used several Overlord related words in the weeks leading up to the invasion. The final uncontrollable was the weather, which forced a one day delay and almost scrubbed the landings.
The complexity of the operation boggles the mind. The weeks of air bombardment, the parachute drops to secure causeways and crossroads behind the beaches, gliders to bring in more troops and heavier equipment, naval bombardment followed by the amphibious assaults on five Norman beaches had to be timed to the moon and tide. Considering the scope of the operation, the missed drop zones, the landings on the wrong beach, the assault on abandoned fortifications at Pointe du Hoc, and the other snafus are understandable.
A reader can get these big stories from many sources. What makes this book unique is the human touch, the narration of stories that we remember from the movie. We read about Pvt. Arthur B. "Dutch" Schultz, of the 82nd Airborne who really did win a wad in a crap game and then decide to lose it all, the troops who landed in the heart of Ste. Mare Eglise while a fire was being fought, including Pvt. John Steele of the 82nd who did get caught on the steeple and the chaplain who did dive five times to find his mass kit in the flooded drop zone, just to mention a few.
This is an interesting read for its human interest value. For anyone wanting an understanding of D-Day, it is essential. This and Stephen Ambrose's "D-Day" (see my Amazon review) are the two leading works available in English. The frequency with which Ambrose quotes Ryan gives testimony to the value of "The Longest Day" as a definitive historical source.