Ambrose''s account of the D-Day fighting on the Normandy beaches and bluffs is unsurpassed for detail, emotion and suspense. Quoting liberally from the recollections of participants, he reveals how the massive cross-Channel effort stretched back two years and involved millions of people. He describes the choice of the site and date of the landings, the planning and special training, ship loading and embarkation, and finally the amphibious assault itself--that moment when "the Western democracies made their fury manifest." Ambrose, director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, interprets events as the narrative unfolds and much of what he has to say is bracing. He concludes, for example, that German military leadership was abysmal that day, even at the small-unit level; that Allied elite units such as Airborne, Rangers and Commandoes were superior in fighting ability to those the enemy had in the field; and that the German reliance on fixed defensive positions, the so-called Atlantic Wall, was one of the greatest blunders in history. Among the spate of books marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Ambrose''s overview will likely stand as definitive. Photos. 100,000 first printing; BOMC and History Book Club main selections; Reader''s Digest Condensed Books selection.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
World War II buffs have always liked books about the Normandy invasions, but most popular accounts are now several years old. Ambrose has updated the familiar story of the massive amphibious landings with new information, deft historical perspective, and a gripping narrative. Several opening chapters about the strategic situation and the laborious preparations for the invasion keep this book from becoming just another battlefield drama. His portraits of the various military commanders are superb. Numerous interviews with Allied veterans provide fresh material for the vital human element of the story, and accounts from German survivors show the enemy''s viewpoint. The result is the best popular history since Max Hastings''s vigorous Overload: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy (LJ 6/1/84), detailed enough for the historian yet with plenty of action for the lay reader. Recommended for public and military collections.
--Raymond L. Puffer, U.S. Air Force History Prog., Edwards AFB
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
An expert on D-Day, Ambrose heads a premier oral history archive based in New Orleans. He has written invasion-related narratives on both the macro (a two-volume biography of General Eisenhower, 1983 and 1991) and the micro (
Band of Brothers: E Company, 501st Regiment, 1992) scales. This fiftieth anniversary salvo brackets the big and small as it finds the range on its target: the critical first hours of American landings on Utah and Omaha Beaches, and concurrent paratroop drops behind the lines. Ambrose calls his text a "love song to democracy." Since it draws from some 1200 eyewitness testimonials collected in his archive, however, his book might more accurately be thought of as an organization of the chaotic, terrifying, and courageous experiences of the first soldiers to face the Nazi hellfire. An excellent editor of the raw material, who knows Pointe du Hoc as if he had scaled it himself, Ambrose situates his pungent, laconic, and gruesome quotations at virtually the exact spots where they were uttered, and he is completely unbashful in his patriotic reverence for the sacrifices these men made. A consuming and highly readable memorial to the day''s infantry-unit victors--one that World War II veterans will demand in strength. Ambrose''s is the leading and required element in the coming wave of commemorative books. (Watch for the round-up review in the May 1
A splendid, moving, and authoritative account of the most decisive day of WW II by Ambrose (History/Univ. of New Orleans), whose massive biographies of Eisenhower and Nixon have won widespread praise. Based on ``the most extensive first-person, I-was-there collection of memoirs of a single battle in existence,'''' Ambrose moves easily between the strategy of each side and the individual recollections of the battle. He conveys not only the magnitude of the enterprise but its complexity. He also suggests some significant changes to the conventional interpretation of the war, most notably in the view hitherto taken about the respective quality of leadership and soldiers on each side. He contradicts the belief in the superiority of the German soldiers and says that the higher losses they inflicted against the Anglo-American armies derived from the necessity for the latter to take the offensive. The German army was, he writes, ``inferior in all respects (except for weaponry, especially the 88s and the machine guns) to its allied opponents.'''' He call Rommel''s plan to stop the Allied invasion on the beach ``one of the greatest blunders in military history,'''' and he compares the strategy to that of the French Maginot line. By contrast, he argues that Eisenhower''s judgment was generally right and that he not only inspired his subordinates but also showed courage in rejecting suggestions for an alternative strategy from Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. But most memorable in the account are the tales of individual heroism, from the 16-year-old French girl who, with a group of companions, paralyzed the German Second Panzer Division by removing the axle grease from its transporters and substituting an abrasive, to the Canadian soldier who threw himself down on barbed wire to enable his companions to use his body as a ladder. A brilliant account that blends perfectly the human and the strategic dimensions of this great battle. (First printing of 100,000; first serial to U.S. News & World Report; Book-of-the- Month Club main selection; History Book Club main selection) --
Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
At the beginning of 1944, Nazi Germany''s fundamental problem was that she had conquered more territory than she could defend, but Hitler had a conqueror''s mentality and he insisted on defending every inch of occupied soil. To carry out such orders, the Wehrmacht relied on improvisations, of which the most important were conscripted foreign troops, school-age German youths and old men, and fixed defensive positions. It also changed its tactical doctrine and weapons design, transforming itself from the highly mobile blitzkrieg army of 1940-41 that had featured light, fast tanks and hard-marching infantry into the ponderous, all-but-immobile army of 1944 that featured heavy, slow tanks and dug-in infantry.
Like everything else that happened in Nazi Germany, this was Hitler''s doing. He had learned the lesson of World War I -- that Germany could not win a war of attrition -- and his policy in the first two years of World War II had been blitzkrieg. But in the late fall of 1941 his lightning war came a cropper in Russia. He then made the most incomprehensible of his many mistakes when he declared war on the United States -- in the same week that the Red Army launched its counteroffensive outside Moscow!
In the summer of 1942, the Wehrmacht tried blitzkrieg against the Red Army again, but on a much reduced scale (one army group on one front rather than three army groups on three fronts), only to come a cropper once more when the snow began to fall. At the end of January 1943, nearly a quarter of a million German troops at Stalingrad surrendered. In July 1943, the Wehrmacht launched its last offensive on the Eastern Front, at Kursk. The Red Army stopped it cold, inflicting horrendous casualties.
From Kursk on, Hitler had no hope of winning a military victory against the Soviet Union. That did not mean his cause was hopeless. He had a lot of space to trade for time on the Eastern Front, and in time it was inevitable that the strange alliance -- Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States -- that only he could have brought together would split asunder.
His death and the total defeat of Nazi Germany would for certain lead to the breakup of the alliance, but Hitler wanted the breakup to take place while it would still benefit him, and he had good reason to believe that might happen -- if he could convince Stalin that he couldn''t depend on the United States and Britain. In that event, Stalin could well conclude that the cost of victory to the Red Army fighting alone was too high. Once the Red Army had returned to the start line of June 1941 -- that is, in occupation of eastern Poland -- Stalin might be willing to negotiate a peace based on a division of Eastern Europe between the Nazis and Soviets.
Between August 1939 and June 1941 the Nazi and Soviet empires had been partners, joined together in an alliance based on a division of Eastern Europe between them. To return to that situation, Hitler had to persuade Stalin that the Wehrmacht was still capable of inflicting unacceptable casualties on the Red Army. To do that, Hitler needed more fighting men and machines. To get them, he had to strip his Western Front. To do that, he had to hurl the forthcoming invasion back into the sea.
That is why D-Day was critical. In a November 3, 1943, Führer Directive (No. 51), Hitler explained it all with crystal clarity: "For the last two and one-half years the bitter and costly struggle against Bolshevism has made the utmost demands upon the bulk of our military resources and energies....The situation has since changed. The threat from the East remains, but an even greater danger looms in the West: the Anglo-American landing! In the East, the vastness of the space will, as a last resort, permit a loss of territory even on a major scale, without suffering a mortal blow to Germany''s chance for survival.
"Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds in penetrating our defense on a wide front, consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time." (What he meant was that a successful Anglo-American offensive in 1944 would pose a direct threat to Germany''s industrial heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr region. Southeastern England is closer to Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Essen than they are to Berlin; put another way, in the fall of 1943 the front line in the East was more than 2,000 kilometers from Berlin, while in the West the front line was 500 kilometers from the Rhine-Ruhr, 1,000 kilometers from Berlin. A successful 1944 Red Army offensive would overrun parts of Ukraine and White Russia, areas important but not critical to Germany''s war-making capability. A successful 1944 Anglo-American offensive would overrun the Rhine-Ruhr, areas that were indispensable to Germany''s warmaking capability.)
Thus, Hitler declared, it was on the French coast that the decisive battle would be fought. "For that reason, I can no longer justify the further weakening of the West in favor of other theaters of war. I have therefore decided to strengthen the defenses in the West...."
This reversed a policy established in the fall of 1940, with the abandonment of preparations for Operation Seelöwe (Sea Lion), the invasion of England. Since that time, the Wehrmacht had stripped down its forces in France, transferring men and equipment to the Eastern Front on an ever-increasing scale.
Hitler''s reasons for shifting priority to the West in 1944 were more political than military. On March 20, he told his principal commanders in the West, "The destruction of the enemy''s landing attempt means more than a purely local decision on the Western Front. It is the sole decisive factor in the whole conduct of the war and hence in its final result." He went on to explain, "Once defeated, the enemy will never again try to invade. Quite apart from their heavy losses, they would need months to organize a fresh attempt. And an invasion failure would also deliver a crushing blow to British and American morale. For one thing, it would prevent Roosevelt from being reelected -- with any luck he''d finish up in jail somewhere! For another, war weariness would grip Britain even faster and Churchill, already a sick old man with his influence waning, wouldn''t be able to carry through a new invasion operation." At that point, the Wehrmacht could transfer forty-five divisions from the West to the East to "revolutionize the situation there....So the whole outcome of the war depends on each man fighting in the West, and that means the fate of the Reich as well!"
This was Germany''s only hope. More correctly, it was Hitler''s and the Nazis'' only hope; for the German people and nation, the decision to continue the struggle spelled catastrophe. In any case, had Hitler''s scenario worked out, in the summer of 1945 the U.S. Army Air Force, secure in its bases in England, would have started dropping atomic bombs on Berlin and other German cities. But of course in early 1944 no one knew when, or even if, the American Manhattan Project would be able to produce such a bomb.
Hitler''s problem was not his priorities, it was how to hurl the coming invasion back into the sea. That problem was compounded by many factors, summed up in one word -- shortages. Shortages of ships, planes, men, guns, tanks. Germany was overextended far worse than she had been in World War I. Hitler had criticized the Kaiser for getting into a two-front war, but at the end of 1943 Hitler was fighting a three-front war. On the Eastern Front, his troops were stretched over more than 2,000 kilometers; on the Mediterranean Front, which ran from southern Greece through Yugoslavia, then across Italy and southern France, his troops were defending a line of some 3,000 kilometers; on the Western Front, his troops were called on to defend 6,000 kilometers of coastline, running from Holland to the southern end of the Bay of Biscay.
Actually, there was a fourth front -- at home. The Allied air offensive against German cities had driven the Luftwaffe out of France, forcing it to fight over German skies to defend German cities. The bombing had not had a decisive effect on German war production -- not even close, as Germany was increasing its output of tanks and guns through 1943, although not fast enough to make up the losses -- but it had put the Luftwaffe on the defensive.
Hitler hated that. Everything in his own psychology, everything in German military tradition, cried out for taking the offensive. But Hitler could not attack his enemies, at least not until his secret weapons came on line. It was gall and wormwood to him, but he had to stay on the defensive.
That necessity so stuck in his craw that it led him to make strategic and technological blunders of the greatest magnitude. When German physicists told him in 1940 that it might be possible to build an atomic bomb by 1945, he ordered them to abandon the project on the grounds that by then the war would have been won or lost. That was almost certainly a wise decision, not because his prediction w...