Book review: D-Day by Stephen Band Of Brothers Ambrose.

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#1
This is a mini book review I scribbled down for no damn reason, please forgive my wavering writing styles and inability to either spell or edit (WTF do you want for free):

I enjoy military history and I enjoy a big book, this one gives me these in spades. Unfortunately what it also gives me is a fistful of contradictions, and an incredibly annoying perspective on the US's contribution*:

Fully 1/3rd of the page book is given up to Utah and Omaha whilst the other allies Sword, Juno and Gold get squeezed into 40 pages or so. That's not a huge criticism however as the book is based around eyewitness testimony and that is taken from the Eisenhower Collection where Ambrose used to work. You can't criticize a man for using what is available to him, but making this book a definitive history of D-Day it does not.

Here’s some likes:

The what if's are explored. Rare in books and a pity many feel (hence the recent preponderance of 'what if' novels on the shelves) - D-Day tackles many of them most interestingly.

Explanations of what happened in the build up to the day are excellent, the type and scope of training are talked about in very good detail. Allowing a modern day soldier to liken the WW2 pre-op experience to their own.

It is an interesting and well written book.

Good comparisons between the forces on style, training, equipment, situation keep the reader focused on 'what it must have been like' for the two armies facing off. No mention of the Russians really however but then their contribution to D-Day was minimal (or massive depending on your point of view).

Excellent and well used quotes from US soldiers, in the vast majority. British and Germans add flavour.

And Dislikes:

Occasionally references are made to UK units or individuals and then at other times they are not. Only if you happened to know that 8th Bn was British would you realise he wasn't talking about US troops, this wouldn't matter but references to the differences are constant throughout the book.

Annoyingly, because of the comparisons, it is difficult to read impartially, because you are looking for the next compliment or slight. And there are many.

A useless chapter summing up the similarities (or not) between Eisenhower and Rommel. I would have thought Bradley and Montgomery vs. Rommel might have been slightly more equal but personality wise that would have meant ignoring Eisenhower…. Or you could have had Eisenhower (SHAEF) vs. Runstedt (WHO?**)

That any American tourist visiting London can buy Spam and Jam sandwiches (FFS!)

Contradictions, contradictions, contractions:
British troops inexperienced - then quotes a Col advising a yank navel captain not to forget that his troops fought BEF to Dunkirk and then all the way across North Africa before being here.

US soldiers the finest trained in the war - yet on D-DAY the British Allied troops achieved to great feats of arms and secured all their objectives whilst of the 6000 101st Airborne soldiers, only 500 arrived in the right place on time and by the end of the day there were only 2,500 in the right place.

Of the landing forces, all failed to make their objectives but the Brits and Canadians had advanced 8 - 12KM inland where as the US 2-6 KM inland. I wouldn't have mentioned this but Ambrose started it….

Brits failed to make their objectives because they were too busy stopping to make tea..

British discipline was secondary to the yanks - though fights often broke out on US camps and in the British pubs between Southern whites and black soldiers that ended in shots being fired. "Quite a few murders were brushed under the carpet". Perhaps there's a difference to discipline where I come from but shooting each other seems like an disciplinary issue to me..

* Personally I have no issue with this. I read another book by an English historian recently who explained in his foreword that he would, as a Brit, concentrate in his book on the British contribution to the effort.

** As Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the AEF then so Runstedt who commanded the Blitzkrieg invasions of France and Poland (to name two) was the German equivalent. Rommel was one of his Generals on the ground who happened to be commanding some of the coastal region, in much the same way that Bradley and Monty were the Allied Generals on the ground.
 
#2
His team of researchers (and editor) failed to spot several errors in the chapters concerning British equipment, tactics and achievemnts. I'll post what I mean if I can find my copy.
 
#3
Recently read Monty by Nigel Hamilton. Interesting (and not rose tinted) view of the relationships between Ike, Monty, and Bradley. Also scathing of the US revisionist version of the European campaign post WW2, particularly Ike's version of several key events to show him in a better light.

Ambrose has been rightly slated on this forum before now. If you really want to start chewing the carpet on a Yank puffing Brit bashing bullshit book, read Ambrose's biog of Ike. Pure manure, from beginning to end.
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#4
I'll avoid the pain thanks. As Ambrose was one of the Eisenhower Centre's employees I can understand probably a lot of his views have come from the big man himself so can't blame the sycophantic SOB too much.
 
#5
Good choice. Ambrose seems to have the reputation of not letting the truth get in the way of a good opinion. This isn't too important when he's describing small unit actions (Band of Brothers, Pegasus Bridge), but does let him down when he looks at the larger issues.
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#6
I've only read D-Day but I'd say you are correct. He dips in and out at all levels which I like but his opinions need to be ignored. It also seems to have escaped him that even war hero;s can have exaggerated memories or views that shouldn't be repeated as gospel, for example:

US Rangers attached to the British xx Bn said they were prevented from progressing further because "the british were always stopping to make a cup of tea" - Hmmm, likely true story or off hand remark? You decide.

Either way, it didn't stop him using it as a reason xx Bn failed to make its objectives by nightfall...
 
#7
Ive read D-Day, Pegasus Bridge and Citizen Soldiers and one thing that is clear is that Ambrose tries to shaft Monty over every mistake made in the European campaign. If you want a more balanced view of Monty then read 'The Lonely Leader' by Alister Horne.
I agree, the comment about the British stopping for tea pissed me off but at the same time made me incredibly proud of the British philosphy of War. Its incredible how the British can be so calm and gentlemanly in the face of advercity.

Finally if you think Ambrose has incredible bias in D-Day, citizen soldiers is something else. He labours the point about the Guards Armoured Division stopping for the night after the yanks had captured Nijmegen and then doesnt really mention anything the Brits did.

I've heard that 6 armies in Normandy is a good book. Anyone had a butchers??
 
#8
Funny old thing, even in his book Pegasus Bridge (about the Ox & Bucks coup de main glider assault on the eponymous), he managed to get in a crack about Arnhem, although it must be said that most of the book was extremely complimentary about Brits, albeit in a Dick Van Dyke - chirpy cockney stylee.

The venom against Montgomery (who by all accounts was a prize sh*t, but the best General the Allies had), from Ambrose in the Ike biog was IIRC extremely vitriolic, to the point of virtually making up stuff to be his fault. I did read it a while ago, but I seemto remember him being blamed for bad weather during Op Veritable by Ambrose. Or I may have dreamed it...
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#9
Themanwho said:
The venom against Montgomery (who by all accounts was a prize sh*t, but the best General the Allies had), from Ambrose in the Ike biog was IIRC extremely vitriolic, to the point of virtually making up stuff to be his fault. I did read it a while ago, but I seemto remember him being blamed for bad weather during Op Veritable by Ambrose. Or I may have dreamed it...
IIRC from D Day:

"Montgomery was too hesitant"

later

June 5th: "the weather was bad, Eisenhower called together his senior commanders and asked in turn if they thought they should proceed tomorrow or wait another two weeks........ Montgomery called for the assault to go in the following morning...... Eisenhowever had the biggest decision of the war to decide upon"

Hesitant.. clearly...

Not to mention that I suspect the there were some pretty big decisions made around Sept 9th 1939 as well....
 
#10
Didn't Monty have to bail out the Americans during the battle of the bulge, slowing the British advance to the north whilst troops were sent south. This was then kept very quite as no to upset American moral over their 'victory'?
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#11
oooh, do tell....

I think I heard something about the Brits stopping the advance in the northern bit (which IIRC as the krauts LOE was Calais, Zeebrugge or some other port probably quite key)???
 
#12
If memory serves, Monty was given command of a US Army to the North of the Bulge, and it was these troops (UNDER HIS COMMAND) that pretty much halted the german advance although British Arty was in support, and British armoured formations were deployed in depth behind the yanks. Monty had overall command of all Allied forces taken from him after the final breakout from Normandy, just prior to the liberation of Paris. This command was then taken up by Ike who proceeded to do f*ck all with it, due to beiong more of a political than fighting General. No shame in that, the same can be said of Alan Brooke, and it was vital to have such a man in overall command. It was however equally vital to have a fighting general in charge of prosecuting the war, with minimal political worries. This had worked well in Normandy, and the lack of a single field commander ended up with the flawed "Broad front" policy which may have extended the war by 6 months.
 
#14
There was a book out several years ago about British troops including the Parachute Regt and other UK troops who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, so I think our involvement may have been larger than just arty support.
 
#15
Some intersting stats here...http://ice.mm.com/user/jpk/battle.htm


BATTLE FACTS

· The coldest, snowiest weather “in memory” in the Ardennes Forest on the German/Belgium border.

· Over a million men, 500,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans (more than fought at Gettysburg) and 55,000 British.

· 3 German armies, 10 corps, the equivalent of 29 divisions.

· 3 American armies, 6 corps, the equivalent of 31 divisions.

· The equivalent of 3 British divisions as well as contingents of Belgian, Canadian and French troops.

· 100,000 German casualties, killed, wounded or captured.

· 81,000 American casualties, including 23,554 captured and 19,000 killed.

· 1,400 British casualties 200 killed.

· 800 tanks lost on each side, 1,000 German aircraft.

· The Malmedy Massacre, where 86 American soldiers were murdered, was the worst atrocity committed against American troops during the course of the war in Europe.

· My division, the 106th Infantry Division, average age of 22 years, suffered 564 killed in action, 1,246 wounded and 7,001 missing in action at the end of the offensive. Most of these casualties occurred within the first three days of battle, when two of the division’s three regiments was forced to surrender.

· In it's entirety, the “Battle of the Bulge,” was the worst battles- in terms of losses - to the American Forces in WWII.
 
#16
Sorry - should have put that it wasMainly the US troops under Monty's command who bore the brunt of the fighting in the north.

My bad, etc.
 
#17
Another area that Ambrose had influence over was Saving Private Ryan. I am sure that I saw 'the making of' that film and Ambrose was very dominant in the programme. And it is probably him that had the line that the 101st Airborne Officer says to Tom Hanks about Monty being over rated due to the time it took to capture Caen added in to the film. How can Monty be overrated when he was the man who beat the Africa Corp and arguably turned the tide against the Germans. I'm sure I've heard a quote from Rommel where he says that now Africa has been lost Europe will fall soon after. And it seems that Rommel was one of the few non-Nazi brain washed officers.
 
#18
windrush said:
Another area that Ambrose had influence over was Saving Private Ryan. I am sure that I saw 'the making of' that film and Ambrose was very dominant in the programme. And it is probably him that had the line that the 101st Airborne Officer says to Tom Hanks about Monty being over rated due to the time it took to capture Caen added in to the film. How can Monty be overrated when he was the man who beat the Africa Corp and arguably turned the tide against the Germans. I'm sure I've heard a quote from Rommel where he says that now Africa has been lost Europe will fall soon after. And it seems that Rommel was one of the few non-Nazi brain washed officers.
Unlike most of the world, I thought SPR was sentimental rubbish; one of the parts that really hacked me off - apart from the utter absence of any indication that UK/Canada had been also involved in D Day - was when Tom Hanks states something like "Monty is still d*cking around at Caen". This one phrase reinforces a slanted view of history in the minds of millions of Americans - and others to dumb or ill-educated to look at what really happened. Ambrose and other US mythologists fail to point out that the germans had correctly identifed Caen as a critical point in their attempts to contain the landings, and they had accordingly concentrated the majority of their strength there - resulting in the savage attrition battle (Goodwood et al) with the Commonwealth forces.
 
#19
Speedy said:
There was a book out several years ago about British troops including the Parachute Regt and other UK troops who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, so I think our involvement may have been larger than just arty support.
One of the units I was in some time ago had a troop named after one of its battle honours Overloon. When we all went where the duck? We were told it was during WW2 some armour was heading off to attack some other part of the line found some Yanks in trouble, nuetralised that then carried out their original mission.

Overloon is part of the Battle of the Bulge, where 2 of the first Divs to hit Sword during D-Day were fighting, 3 Div and the 51st.

I've read most of Stephen Ambrose's books, the best ones are when he talks about a single unit or person. The copy of Pegasus Bridge had in it corrections between when he wrote it and the D-Day plus 40 celebrations, but most of these had been picked up by John Howard who along with Hans Von Luck had a lot of input into it.

Band of Brothers is good, I'd actually read it befrore the HBO series came out, and another good one is Wild Blue and the Americans bombing runs in Italy and the Adriatic. Bugger that. One of the pilots was a half colenel by the time he was 26, talk about promotion through dead man's shoes.

I've also read the Custer and Crazy Horse book, which was written in such a way as to leave me no doubt that George Armstrong Custer was a complete and utter t*t!

But I would agree that D-Day and Citizen Soldiers and probably too big and too vague, I've found that with a few books that like though. I find it easier to read about a unit and a person going through things rather than trying to cover the whole thing from many different view points. As long as you read more than one book on the subjects you should get a nice rounded opinion of your own.
 
#20
Just read another thread which put me in mind of my favourite part of D-Day.

The Free French bloke who now lives (or did?) in his mums house in Ouistream where his front room looks out onto the exact spot he landed at on June 6th.

Always makes me smile.

Wonder if he stopped off for a cuppa?
 
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