The D-Day Companion

The D-Day Companion

Black, Jeremy

The D-Day Companion Edited by Jane Penrose £20.00, 286 pages Osprey, 2004 ISBN: 1841767794

Possibly due to lapses in editing or to a lack of space, this is a somewhat disappointing volume. A distinguished group of military historians are not really given the space to discuss their subjects at length and too much space is taken up with generous margins, photographs that contribute little, and blank pages between chapters. In addition, there is some repetition between contributions and signs of inadequate copyediting.

A pity, as there is also much of value in the effective summaries. Dennis Showalter is, as ever, in stimulating, if not controversial, form, although expecting more of an acquaintanceship with poker than all readers will have. He claims that Britain’s moral and material capital was nearly exhausted and that ‘June 1944 in England invites comparison in US military history with July 1863 in Pennsylvania. Both occasions generated a sense of participation in something Hegel might have called a world-historical event’. Samuel Newlands emphasizes the value of allied cohesion; Duncan Anderson traces the development in planning, including an explanation of Churchill’s sense of foreboding: Montgomery was very conscious that he had under his command Britain’s last army and that shortages of manpower meant that heavy casualties could not be replaced. Major General Richardson, the chief military psychiatrist, had pointed out problems with morale. At the same time, as Anderson notes, Eisenhower was receiving reports that, with the exception of the airborne divisions and the rangers, most American units were inadequately trained for the task that lay ahead. There was a particular problem with finding adequate space in Britain for training for action, and Anderson suggests that, generally speaking, the fighting efficiency of the American divisions in Normandy related inversely to the length of time they had spent in England. Christina Goulter stresses the role of deception, particularly Operation Fortitude. She points out that it was one thing to make an enemy believe the deception but quite another to compel him to act on it. Initially, Allied intelligence was disappointed because they found in the lead-up to D-Day that the Germans had not altered their Order of Battle and dispositions significantly within north-west France to reflect any concerns about an invasion targeting Calais, but this did not mean that the Fortitude deception had failed because, while the Germans responded robustly to D-Day, they did not reinforce Normandy with every unit available in the region.

Stephen Hart finds the Overlord High Command organization generally very effective, although he argues that inter-service co-operation was somewhat lacking in the case of the support provided by Allied Strategic air forces, because of the conflicting interest represented by the assault on German industry. Williamson Murray sees the Combined Bomber Offensive as contributing powerfully to mastery in the army, and also provides a chapter on the actual beach landings. Andrew Gordon discusses the naval perspective, including the placing responsibility for accurate navigation on the shoulders of very junior officers. Allan Millett, in a detailed piece, criticizes the overly-ambitious plan for the American airborne landings pushed through by the division commanders. Ronald Drez narrates the push inland; Russell Hart recounts the experience of the defenders; David Hall takes the story forward to the liberation of Paris, and Carlo D’Este looks at commemoration and memorials. Despite some shortcomings, the book is worth adding to the D-Day library alongside Charles Messenger’s recent D-Day Atlas. Anatomy of the Normandy Campaign.

Copyright Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies Jun 2004

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