GREAT WAR BOOKS: D-DAY: The Battle for Normandy by ANTONY BEEVOR

What They Say About The Book

At one point, during the fierce battle for the town of Saint-Lô, Beevor quotes a medic:
"It's such a paradox, this war, which produces the worst in man, and also raises him to the summits of self-sacrifice, self-denial and altruism." Two pages later he quotes a French gendarme appalled by looting by soldiers and civilians alike: "It was a great surprise to find it in all classes of society. The war has awakened atavistic instincts and transformed a number of law-abiding individuals into delinquents."

As Beevor says, there was a sharp contrast between the Allied foot soldiers and their German counterparts. The most fanatical of the latter (and "fanatical" is indeed the word), especially those in the SS and its Hitler Jugend offshoot, had been brainwashed by the Nazi propaganda machine into believing that the fate of the fatherland was in their hands, and they fought with that uppermost in mind. The British soldiers by contrast had been at war for five years and were exhausted by it. Americans and Canadians were not fighting for land they could call home and thus were motivated primarily by the group loyalty so essential to military morale.

The Canadian major is quoted as saying, “The thing that shocked me was the 51st Highland Division. The Scotties threw their weapons and equipment away and fled.”

Mr Beevor said: “The fighting was indeed ferocious, far more than has been recognised, and that was one of the main themes of my book.

“But many of its battalions were badly shaken, and it took several weeks and a new commander, before its fighting spirit was restored.

“The 51st Highland Division went through a bad patch, but its morale and fighting ability was rapidly restored in late July as I emphasise in my book.”

What makes Beevor's D-Day: The Battle for Normandy worth reading isn't revisionism (at least not of the distortion-of-history type) but rather the inclusion of previously unavailable first-person accounts and, perhaps more important, a keen awareness of two seldom-discussed factors: the Germans' true motivation for fighting a seemingly losing battle and the price the French people paid in blood for their liberation. (Beevor points out at the end of the D-Day chapters that some 3,000 French men, women and children died on June 6, 1944, twice the number of GIs killed on Omaha Beach.)

Beevor is harder on the British than the Americans, perhaps because with all their experience of war to date they should have known better. And it is significant that the dustjacket shows US troops landing, not British: the Americans were preponderant on D-Day itself and became ever more so in the build-up that followed. Indeed, the book is in many ways the classic story of “young stag, old stag”. But, most important of all, from the author of Stalingrad and Berlin, the Downfall, is the re-evaluation of the “second front”, of late seen increasingly as a sideshow to the great events in the east: “The ferocity of the fighting in northwest France can never be in doubt. And despite the sneers of Soviet propagandists, the battle for Normandy was certainly comparable to that of the eastern front.”

Don't worry if you do not survive the assault,' was how one British officer's pep talk to troops ahead of the Normandy landings went, 'as we have plenty of back-up troops who will just go in over you.' 

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Quotes about war....

"War grows out of the desire of the individual to gain advantage at the expense of his fellow man."
--Napoleon Hill

"We have failed to grasp the fact that mankind is becoming a single unit, and that for a unit to fight against itself is suicide."
--Havelock Ellis

'Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed."
--Mao Tse-Tung (1893 - 1976)

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
--George McGovern

"The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."
--Joseph Stalin

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
--Voltaire, War

In war, truth is the first casualty.
-- Aeschylus

"The ability and inclination to use physical strength is no indication of bravery or tenacity to life. The greatest cowards are often the greatest bullies. Nothing is cheaper and more common than physical bravery."
--Clarence Darrow, Resist Not Evil

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
--Adolf Hitler

"To walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt about the continuity of civilization."
--George Orwell

"Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country."
--Bertrand Russell

Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.
--Francis Meehan

Snippets From History

German Soldiers in Russia: Part 1

Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: 'We knew that in two years' time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time.... We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East.... At the time it seemed possible.'

Battle for Berlin, 1945

'We started to fire at the masses,' says one former German machine gunner. 'They weren't human beings for us. It was a wall of attacking beasts who were trying to kill us. You yourself were no longer human.'


Berlin after it fell to the Russians, 1945

"Vladlen Anchishkin, a Soviet battery commander on the 1st Ukrainian Front, sums up the horror of the whole event, when he tells how he took personal revenge on German soldiers: 'I can admit it now, I was in such a state, I was in such a frenzy. I said, 'Bring them here for an interrogation' and I had a knife, and I cut him. I cut a lot of them. I thought, 'You wanted to kill me, now it's your turn.'
Read More


Dramatic Pictures: Battle For Stalingrad
"...Effective command no longer possible... further defense senseless. Collapse inevitable. Army requests immediate permission to surrender in order to save lives of remaining troops."
General Paulus' radio message to Hitler on January 24, 1943

"...Capitulation is impossible. The 6th Army will do its historic duty at Stalingrad until the last man, the last bullet..."

Hitler's response to General Friedrich Paulus' request to withdraw from the city


Points To Ponder....

The fall of France was shocking. It reduced France to virtually a non-player in the Second World War. The efforts of Charles de Gualle were more symbolic than material. But the martial instincts of the French must never be doubted. Under Napoleon they were a formidable military power. The French definitely have more iron in their blood then say, the Italians [I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. War never makes sense]


Bias Of Western Historians

Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France, and ensured the final Allied victory over Germany.

It can hardly be called mere 'resistance'! If it hadn't been for the Russians, Hitler would have made mincemeat of British forces in Africa and landed on British shores in no time. Hitler attacked Russia first because it had more land and resources than Britain. It is as simple as that.

Eastern Front: Bias Of Western Historians