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Fighting in Normandy

Authors: Guderian & Krammer et al edited by David C. Isby
This book almost needs two reviews, depending on the audience. As a casual read, it’s almost impenetrable, providing without much explanation or exposition the detailed translations of German unit reports, diaries and subsequent interrogations over the crucial weeks immediately following the D-Day landings. The maps, in the paperback edition reissued by Frontline Books, are neither large nor clear, and little help is given to keep track of units and locations. This is very definitely not a book for beginners on the subject.

On the other hand, with some previous knowledge of the events and geography, it’s a fascinating collection that illuminates the wider sweep of the campaign with insights and flashes not often seen (for instance, Oberstleutnant Friedrich of the 6th Fallschirmjägers describing how SS Panzertruppe were straggling away to the rear individually, then by groups, and were only stopped at gunpoint) as well as the general tone - one Oberstleutnant Ziegel seemed unable to end a sentence except with an exclamation mark.

The first six sections of the book cover reports and accounts from each of the six days, from the 7th to the 13th of June: each with a dozen or so reports, opening with that day’s OKW War Diary and then collecting reports from corps down to regimental level. Following that, the eighth section has four views on the use of Panzers in the fighting (four different generals) and the last has nine pieces on “The Reasons for the Defeat”, either directly or commenting on others’ statements.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for a casual read, but as a historical resource supporting a study into the events it’s excellent; the ability to read recollections from different levels of command and identify the Clausewitzian ‘friction of war’ on both sides (as German defenders fumed as opportunities to counterattack were missed by higher command, even as they were puzzled by the Allies missing what seemed obvious opportunities) is not often found in such detail.

A point that screams through, and is articulated with frustration by at least one General, is that the Germans were fighting an Army battle against a combined-arms Allied force; the ground forces were fighting well, but naval fires and air attack had a crippling effect on the defenders’ logistics and mobility. In general, the roving fighter-bombers paralyzed road movement by day, while the impact of the successful location (by radio direction finding and traffic analysis, though not acknowledged here) and destruction of Panzer Group West’s HQ by air attack disrupted operations and planning for several crucial days.

This book does demand a comfort with military terminology and doctrine, and prior knowledge of the forces and equipment involved (and you’d be better off relying on your own maps than the reproductions in the paperback.) If you can get past that, and you want a detailed German view of the decisive week after D-Day, this book is well worth reading.

Score: Four and a half stars (only marked down for poor maps) provided you’re a student of the period.

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