This is a largely visual history of the Normandy campaign, from D-Day to the breakout and the battle of the Falaise Gap, which saw the destruction of most of the German army in France. We start with the build-up to D-Day and the invasion itself (this section gets the largest blocks of text). This is followed by a timeline from D+1 to the week ending 28 August, covering the liberation of Paris and the crossing of the Seine. Next comes a series of articles looking at key elements of the campaign – air power, the artillery, communications, the Tiger tank and collateral damage. After that we move onto the bulk of the boo, a series of chapters that cover the main parts of the campaign – the fighting in the Cotentin, the American battles in the Bocage, the British and Canadian struggles around Caen, the eventual Breakout, the battle for Brittany and the climactic battle of the Falaise Gap. This is where the visual element takes over – after a brief introduction most of these chapters are dominated by two-page spreads with a mix of contemporary and modern photographs and maps, all with good captions. There are also useful side-bars and the odd piece of text to provide a broader narrative than provided by the narrative.
One of the nice features of the text is the inclusion of many of the less famous minor named operations of the battle. These are often merged into the account of the bigger operations, but here things like Operation Windsor, which took place between Operations Epsom and Charnwood, and saw Carpiquet village captured, are mentioned in their own right.
One unusual feature of the illustrations is the use of pairs of ‘then and now’ photographs, were an original wartime photograph is compared to the modern view. This includes some aerial photographs with numbered keys, explaining what we see in the original photograph and showing where it is in the present day photograph. As well as demonstrating the course of some of these key fights, it also shows how well many of these badly damaged villages and towns were rebuilt after the war.
I found this to be a well balanced book, with an amazing array of photographs, supported by an unusually detailed narrative of the battle for a book of this nature. The authors have also avoided the trap of being drawn into the contemporary controversies about ‘slow progress’ or the post-war debates about the American and British contributions, and have instead focused more on the overall success of the campaign, which saw almost all of France liberated within two and a half months of D-Day, one of the most impressive victories won by the western Allies during the entire war.
1 - The Cotentin and Cherbourg
2 - First Army in the Bocage
3 - The Battle for Caen
4 - Breakout
5 - Brittany
6 - The Falaise Gap
7 - Aftermath
Author: Simon Forty, Leo Marriott & George Forty