There was a slim chance that I would finally get to review an English Civil War bodice-ripper complete with Puritans, abundant cleavage and general gadzookery. Instead, I got Stuart Tootal’s new account of 9 PARA’s D-day assault on the Merville Battery and the subsequent defence of Breville Ridge. After almost seventy years, it’s hard to believe that there is much new to be said about the greatest amphibious operation of all time and it says much about the overall quality of ‘The Manner of Men’ that Tootal is able to do so.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the Merville Battery dominated Sword Beach and was a high priority target. 9 PARA was tasked to destroy it, with the added complication that the Royal Navy had orders to bombard the position if a success signal was not received by a certain time. Following a disastrous drop and in an atmosphere of total confusion, a massively under-strength battalion went ahead with the assault anyway, achieving a temporary success at heavy cost. This allowed the landings on Sword to proceed largely unhindered by the four heavy guns positioned in the battery. What remained of the battalion then fought on in Normandy before being finally withdrawn in September after taking 423 casualties out of slightly less than 700 men.