Normandy '44

Normandy '44

James Holland
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
I thought that I knew all about ‘D’Day. I’ve watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’ a couple of times, ‘The Longest Day’ several times and played ‘Call of Duty; WW2’. How much else do I need to know?

Well, James Holland’s latest book, ‘Normandy ’44 ‘ has shown me just how little I did know. I didn’t know that in 1939 the U.S. Air Corps only had 72 fighter planes or that only 18 ….yes! Eighteen tanks were made. These are a smidgeon of facts available in this book, most of the others are quite staggering; but this is not a dry book about logistics, nor a catalogue of facts and figures. It is much, much more than that, although the sheer scale of the undertaking, the invasion of France, a country occupied by a strong and very capable enemy is mind boggling.

The planning for the invasion had, obviously, been started long before the actual event, but I had had no idea how long, nor had I even thought about the amount of co-ordination, co-operation or research had gone into those plans, from air reconnaissance to requests to citizens for old holiday snaps of France.
The difficulties attending this operation were many, ships were at a premium. Not just warships, but transports of every sort were needed and although a joint operation, because of the United States’ heavy commitments in the Pacific region, Britain had to supply the bulk of these.

Aircraft were another problem; there was a surprising amount of in-fighting between various commands and their commanders, which is only to be expected. Empires take time to build. However, the lack of suitable aircraft for paratroop operations was another problem and one that had a poor solution to it.

I would stress that the book is not one of conflicts and jealousies between allied commanders, in fact, they all seemed to get along swimmingly, which when you consider Montgomery was in the mix along with Patton, makes it seem unlikely.

This book is probably the most comprehensive account of the planning, logistics build up and command and control of OVERLORD published, but it is more than that; it is a thrilling account of the people involved. Not just the Generals and Admirals, but the foot soldiers, the tank crews and the pilots; and that includes both sides, the Allies and the Germans. There are some examples of bravery and heroism on both sides, or actually, on three sides because the French people were magnificent. The maquis and the ordinary citizens are well portrayed. If I had a disappointment, it is that “Jean has a long moustache “ is not mentioned.

James Holland is a serious historian who writes lightly, his research is impeccable and thorough and his narrative catches the imagination and holds your attention. I have met the author a couple of times and he is a nice bloke, but more importantly, he is a damned fine author.

A long book, although I only had the proof copy it ran to over 600 pages and was suffused with helpful and informative maps. No photographs, sadly, but the released copy will have plenty.

A book that should be on the shelf – if not in the hand – of anyone with an interest in history and WW2 in particular.

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  1. Re Normandy '44

    What I have neglected to mention is the attention to detail in the book. The armies of all...