The outcome of World War II changed on June 6, 1944 with the start of the much awaited Allied Invasion of Europe. That day went down in history as ” D-Day”. Many books have been written about the tumultuous events of that period. They have described the strategies adopted by the military planners and experts, the contributions made by Allies of many nationalities and naturally of the battles that followed the invasion of Normandy. What sets Jonathan Mayo’s “D-Day” apart is that it describes incidents relating to the battles on that day on a virtual minute-by-minute basis. The blurb describes it so well: “One historic day, hundreds of unforgettable stories.”
This unique approach gives scope to the author to cover the many details of the battle on land, in the sea and an in the air through a series of incidents involving, more often than not, the ordinary GI, the ordinary soldier/sailor or airman. To give you an idea of how the book is structured, it starts at 4.15 a.m on June 5, 1944. The top brass of the Allied Forces wait for one man to give them the go ahead to launch the biggest invasion force ever assembled. That day at Southwick House, the man whose word counted was not General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force but Group Captain James Stagg, the Meteorology expert. He had to signal that the break in the bad weather would stay long enough for “Operation Overlord” to be launched. Over 150,000 troops waited in camps ready to board fleets of ships to be taken across choppy seas to the beaches on which they would land.
The Allies selected a 60 mile stretch of the Normandy coastline for their attack. The Germans expect them to more likely attack in Pas-de-Calais where the English Channel is a mere 20 miles wide. Over 6000 vessels of all types including 1,213 warships and 4, 126 landing craft are used for the operation. The British and the Canadians will fight on beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword while the Americans will battle for Utah and Omaha. The first 24 hours of the invasion would be the most crucial.
Mayo covers the actions not only on the beaches of Normandy but also at Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Headquarters in La Roche- Guyon, near Paris and Hitler’s Supreme Headquarters, The Berghof in the Bavarian Alps. He covers incidents across many places in France where the Resistance is active to end the German Occupation which has already lasted four years.
Some of the fascinating nuggets I remember from the book include: Percy Wallace a coast guard at Dover telling his wife that night, “A lot of men are going to die tonight. We should pray for them”. Elsewhere, General George S Patton exhorts his troops to battle in his inimitable words and style. Tony Brooks the youngest SOE agent in France initiates sabotage activities to derail the railway network. Lt Clifton James of the Pay Corps is told his task his over. He has been Gen Montgomery’s double in the Middle East to fool the Germans. They would not imagine an invasion taking place with Monty away in the Middle East!!
Stories of Scottish bagpipers, French Resistance workers, German Panzer Grenadiers, American GIs and many others are intertwined in the absorbing account of an extremely complex military operation seen through their eyes. With masterly understatement Monty writes in his diary that night, ” Invade Normandy; left Portsmouth 10.30 !!
The Allies succeeded beyond their expectations in Operation Overlord. They had expected much more resistance from the Germans. On their part the Germans were totally taken by surprise. As events proved, Group Captain Stagg turned out to be right after all when it came to predicting the weather in those crucial days of June in 1944. Those few days turned the course of the War.
I would highly recommend this book to lovers of military history and those who like war stories. This book is easy to read and totally captivating.