Three Days In Hell

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  • Author:
    Georges Bernage and Frederick Jeanne
    Historian Georges Bernage has written extensively about the Second World War and in particular about the Normandy Campaign. This book covers the first three days after the landings on 6th June 1944 and focuses on a very small part of Normandy to the west of Caen and near the airfield of Carpiquet. The main protagonists are the Canadian forces moving inland from the beaches and units of the 12th SS Hitlerjugend who are trying to break up and stop the advance. Caught in the middle is the local population who despite having been under occupation have managed to remain largely unaffected in what up until now has been a rural backwater. They will suffer badly from the affects of "collateral damage" whilst trying to protect their families, farms and livestock.

    In these early days immediately after the landings chaos reigns as each side tries to gain the upper hand. With no established frontline each side seeks to take or hold strongpoints in this essentially rural battlefield. The fighting was brutal and in the aftermath of such engagements prisoners on both sides were sometimes killed in cold blood; each side apparently taking reprisals after hearing that their enemies were taking similar action. This was not the norm with many prisoners being treated correctly. The author does not avoid the issue nor does he seek to explain why it occurred. That it happened there is no doubt and the events are well documented by eye witness accounts as well as the presence of the bodies discovered after.
    Events are detailed in chronological order from both sides viewpoints. The accounts of hundreds of combatants from both sides have been gathered as well as the those of the civilian population. The quality and quantity of these accounts is impressive and there can be no doubt as to their veracity. The author also presents a huge number of maps, diagrams and photographs. The photographs of the men, their weapons and vehicles are excellent; there is even a section devoted to the Schwimmwagen, a vehicle very much ahead of its time and used in the fighting.

    For the researchers and enthusiasts of this period, this book is a treasure trove. However, for the general reader it may be harder work than it would first appear. Sometimes it appears to be a book of excellent illustrations supported by text and at other times the detailed text appears to be supported by illustrations. Also something has been lost in translation; with a little more effort the text could have been rendered in a more colloquial fashion, without affecting the factual detail, but making it eminently more readable; in its current form it can at times seem to plod along. These comments may appear trivial but given the quality and quantity of information it contains this book really deserves the widest readership possible.

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  1. LeoRoverman
    Three Days in Hell

    Foxtrot 40 found that something was lost in the translation in this book albeit he has covered most of the gist of the content and I can’t find much to disagree about. I didn’t. In fact I found it personalised the book from a hard clinical appraisal to something far more human.

    Be warned, it’s not an easy book albeit it has the format of a coffee table glossy and you think you will digest the contents in a day or two. The issue inevitably surrounds the atrocities of the SS in France. But the Canadians/Brits do not get off lightly in what appears to be tit for tat actions. The inhabitants of Normandy didn’t get off lightly not least because Caen was raised by bombing the, allies having learned nothing of the benefits this brings to a defending army and there are hundreds of parallels to draw. There appears to be no rancour about these issues which seem to be accepted as facts of life in war including the waste of young life as shells and bombs have no known morals. France has herself been an occupying force and invading army in Europe in the past. I liked the fact that there was little or no moralising and the photos from the German side were very personal too.

    “We will treat German prisoners according to the Geneva convention except the SS. They will be treated as what they are: Political vermin, Political shit.” If that comment, said to be in a statement presented to an inquiry has been accepted as fact it has overtones that affect us to this day. I had my doubts as to its veracity but it did ring bells. Montgomery had written in relation to the Irish issue “it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burned. Any civilian or Republican, Soldier or Policeman who interferes with any officer or soldier is shot at once”. All in all a very engrossing book, that needed passages rereading. Bearing in mind this a book written describing company or platoon level actions it can appear desultory, they are merely a snapshot of a particular locality.