The 70th Anniversary of D-day

Seventy years ago today, American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in the largest amphibious invasion in history. It wouldn’t be overly dramatic to say they were on a quest to save the world.

The preparation for D-day was intense, involving specialized training, elaborate deception schemes, and more than 10,000 combat deaths in a bitter five-month air war that ensured the Allies would control the skies when the big day arrived.

Then came June 6, 1944. Shortly after midnight, approximately 24,000 paratroopers from the British 6th Airborne and the US 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions dropped into France. The next morning, an armada including roughly 160,000 soldiers and sailors began their landings on beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. Their task was not easy. No one knows how many people died that day, but estimates of Allied casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) are between 10,000 to 12,000. German casualty counts are more varied, from 4,000 to 9,000 for the day.

The full story of D-day can’t be given justice in a blog post, but after that historic day, the Allies had a foothold in Northern Europe. It was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Germany, and the world would never be the same. If you want to read about heroes, you will find them in abundance at places like Omaha beach, Pointe du Hoc, the Merville battery, and Ste.-Mère-Eglise.

I thought I would highlight a few books that focus on D-day, for anyone who would like further reading. I’m of the opinion that history isn’t boring—but sometimes the wrong teacher or the wrong book can make it seem dull. So here are some recommended books that can help bring D-day to life.

ldThe Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan. I’m a big fan of Ryan, and I must not be the only one, since two of his nonfiction books have been made into movies, including this one. This is probably the classic account of D-day. Ryan does a great job showing everyone, from General Eisenhower worrying about expected airborne casualties, to the lowly private experiencing combat for the first time. He includes interesting tidbits, like how a group of US Rangers, tasked with taking Pointe du Hoc, borrowed ladders from the London fire department (I’ve always wondered if the firefighters really expected to get them back), and how words like “Utah” and “Mulberry” in the crossword puzzle of London’s Daily Telegraph caused a security scare. A great book to give you an overview of what happened leading up to and on June 6, 1944.

PBPegasus Bridge, by Stephen Ambrose. This book is a focused look at a group of British soldiers who landed gliders near a pair of bridges on the eastern end of the D-day beaches, took them, and held them. It covers their training, their assignment to hold until relieved, and the aftermath. A great choice for readers who are hesitant to read a broad-picture book, because it involves a relatively small number of soldiers with a very specific task. As a bonus, it’s the story of a British unit, and the British can find humor in any situation, even something as grim as war.

BBThe Bedford Boys, by Alex Kershaw. I have to admit that I haven’t read this one yet. It’s on my short to-read list (no, my to-read list is not short, but I have a second list of books with a higher priority than the other 300 or so). I’ve read two other excellent books by Kershaw, The Liberator, and The Longest Winter, and feel good about recommending anything he’s written. Kershaw has a great eye for a story and does a wonderful job showing the human side of war. This book concentrates on the small town of Bedford, VA, population 3,000, and the 22 fatalities men from that town suffered taking Omaha beach (the highest per capita loss of any American town).

And a few other recommendations that cover D-day, but only in part: Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose and Dog Company by Patrick O’Donnell.

Do you have a favorite book on D-day? A favorite story?