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Three Days In Hell

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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