Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

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In this riveting account, historian Stephen Ambrose continues where he left off in his #1 bestseller D-Day. Ambrose again follows the individual characters of this noble, brutal, and tragic war, from the high command down to the ordinary soldier, drawing on hundreds of interviews to re-create the war experience with startling clarity and immediacy. From the hedgerows of Normandy to the overrunning of Germany, Ambrose tells the real story of World War II from the perspective of ...
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In this riveting account, historian Stephen Ambrose continues where he left off in his #1 bestseller D-Day. Ambrose again follows the individual characters of this noble, brutal, and tragic war, from the high command down to the ordinary soldier, drawing on hundreds of interviews to re-create the war experience with startling clarity and immediacy. From the hedgerows of Normandy to the overrunning of Germany, Ambrose tells the real story of World War II from the perspective of the men and women who fought it.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
"Stephen Ambrose has again demonstrated his absolute mastery of military history. His brilliant narrative puts you on the field of battle.... An extraordinary book and worthy companion to D-Day."
General Colin Powell (Retired)

"What a wonderful book.... His arsenal is imposing and effective; Ambrose's pen is a machine gun: detached, hot, and devastating."
Ken Burns

About the Books America's preeminent military historian, Stephen E. Ambrose brings us two gripping books on World War II combat — told from the perspective of the noble men and women who fought the battles. Citizen Soldiers, a New York Times bestseller now available in paperback, follows the individual characters of this brutal war from the high command down to the ordinary soldier. The Victors traces the war from D-Day to the end, 11 months later, and includes stories of bloody battles, raids, and acts of courage and suffering.

In Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose — who was a consultant for Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" — takes to the World War II battlefields of western Europe to track a year in the life of U.S. GIs as they fought their way off the beaches of Normandy and across the Rhine into Germany. The author's uncanny ability to tell a compelling story without compromising the facts or his critical eye comes through as strong as ever.

Citizen Soldiers weaves several stories together: There is the large, strategic plan to defeat Germany; the story of the leaders who planned the advancementandbattles; the tales of the units who spent months in the coldest winter in 40 years; and the personal tales of individual soldiers whose commitment and bravery, according to Ambrose, were the deciding factor in the war. Although the canvas is broad, the focus is on the GIs in the trenches and the stunning hardships they endured. To make his narrative more personal, he draws on extensive interviews with veterans from both sides of the battles that saw the Allied troops push the Germans back to Germany and ultimately force them to surrender. As always, Ambrose's history is not bland hagiography but a critical and thoughtful narrative.

The Victors, a one-volume history of World War II from D-Day to Berlin, draws from Ambrose's bestselling accounts Eisenhower, Pegasus Bridge (the first engagement of D-Day), Band Of Brothers (about E Company, from Normandy to Germany), D-Day, and Citizen Soldiers. As always, Ambrose's attention is on the ordinary men who fought, endured, and won.

The Victors begins with the preparation and training of the Allied armies and moves on to describe Eisenhower's decision to cross the English Channel to capture the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and the men who pulled it off. It covers the bitter winter of 1944 and the horrible battles on the drive to conquer Germany. At the center of this epic drama are the citizen soldiers, the boys who became men as they fought and proved eventually unbeatable. The Victors displays Ambrose's scholarship and authority, his readability, and his powerful love and admiration for these young men, all of the qualities that make his books so popular.

R. Z. Sheppard
Citizen Soldiers [is] a high point in Ambrose's long fascination with the nature of leaders and followers. --Time Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The story of the front-line American combatants who took WWII to the Germans from Normandy to the Elbe River makes, in Ambrose's expert hands, for an outstanding sequel to his D-Day. These men are frequently dismissed as winning victories by firepower rather than acknowledged for their individual fighting power. Using interviews and other personal accounts by both German and American participants, Ambrose tells instead the story of enlisted men and junior officers who not only mastered the battlefield but developed emotional resources that endured and transcended the shocks of modern combat. Ambrose's accounts of the fighting in Normandy, the breakout and the bitter autumn struggles for Aachen and the battles in the Huertgen Forest and around Metz depict an army depending not on generalship but on the courage, skill and adaptability of small-unit commanders and their men. The 1945 offensive into Germany was a triumph of a citizen army, but the price was high. One infantry company landed in Normandy on August 8 with 187 men and six officers. By V-E Day, 625 men had served in its ranks. Fifty-one had been killed, 183 wounded and 167 suffered frostbite or trench foot. Nor do statistics tell the whole story. Ambrose's reconstruction of "a night on the line" is a brilliant evocation of physical hardship and emotional isolation that left no foxhole veteran unscarred. It is good to be reminded of brave men's brave deeds with the eloquence and insight that the author brings to this splendid, generously illustrated and moving history.
Carlo D'Este
...[A]n unforgettable testament to the World War II generation. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A worthy sequel to Ambrose's 1994 D-Day. Bestselling historian Ambrose (Undaunted Courage) uses firsthand recollections of combat veterans on both sides to flesh out his well-researched narrative. He picks up the epic drama by following, almost step by step, various individuals and outfits among the tens of thousands of young Allied soldiers who broke away from the deadly beaches of Normandy and swept across France to the Ardennes, fought the Battle of the Bulge, captured the famed bridge at Remagen, and crossed the wide Rhine to final victory in Europe. Ambrose observes that the US broke the Nazi war machine with massive aerial bombing, artillery, and the great mobility of attacking tanks and infantry. But, he argues, it was not technology but the valor and character of the young GIs and their European counterparts that ultimately proved too much for the vaunted German forces. While generally approving of Allied military leadership, Ambrose faults Eisenhower and Bradley as too conservative and believes the great human and materiel cost of victory could have been reduced by adopting Patton's more innovative and bolder knockout movements. He deplores the sending of inadequately trained 18-year-olds as replacements on the front lines, where they suffered much higher casualty rates than the foxhole-wise GI veterans. The troops fought under the worst possible conditions in the Ardennes, during the worst winter in 40 years; Ambrose describes the long, freezing snowy nights; the wounds, frostbite, and trench foot; and the fatigue and the tensions of facing sudden death or maiming. The troops rallied to drive the enemy back to the Rhine and into Germany, but took some 80,000casualties. With remarkable immediacy and clarity, as though he had trained a telescopic lens on the battlefields, Ambrose offers a stirring portrayal of the terror and courage experienced by men at war.
From the Publisher
R. Z. Sheppard Time Citizen Soldiers [is] a high point in Ambrose's long fascination with the nature of leaders and followers.

John Lehman The Wall Street Journal History boldly told and elegantly written....Gripping.

Kyle Smith People Ambrose proves once again he is a masterful historian....Spellbinding....The book captures the bizarre contradictions, random kindness and unexpectedly comic moments of the push to Berlin as memorably as a great war novel.

John Omicinski Detroit Free Press Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers is his best book ever, the culmination of a career largely spent immersed in the details of Ike's war.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594496960
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than thirty books. Among his New York Times bestsellers are Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage. Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History.


"I was ten years old when [World War II] ended," Stephen Ambrose once said. "I thought the returning veterans were giants who had saved the world from barbarism. I still think so." Years after he first watched combat footage in the newsreels, the popular historian brought fresh attention to America's aging WWII veterans through such bestselling books as Band of Brothers, about a company of U.S. paratroopers, and The Wild Blue, about the B-24 bomber pilots who flew over Germany. Though best known for his books on World War II, Ambrose also produced multi-volume biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, a history of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and a fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the American West.

As a young professor of history, Ambrose was one of many left-wing academics who spoke out against American involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet he revered the veterans of World War II, and he interviewed and wrote about them at a time when many of his colleagues considered military history old-fashioned. "The men I admire most are soldiers, sailors, professional military," Ambrose would later tell The Washington Post. "Way more than politicians."

He labored without much popular acclaim or academic renown until 1994, when his book D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II burst onto the bestseller lists. War heroism was suddenly a hot topic, and Ambrose's approach, which focused on the experiences of soldiers rather than the decisions of high command, was perfectly suited to a popular audience. More bestsellers followed, including Citizen Soldiers, The Victors and Undaunted Courage. Ambrose's vivid narrative accounts were devoured by readers and praised by critics. "The descriptions of individual ordeals on the bloody beach of Omaha make this book outstanding," wrote Raleigh Trevelyan in a New York Times review of D-Day.

Ambrose retired as a professor of history at the University of New Orleans in 1995, but he continued to write one or more books per year. He also founded the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, worked with his family-owned business organizing historical tours, and served as the historical consultant for the 1998 Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg later turned Ambrose's Band of Brothers into an HBO miniseries.

This rise to fame was accompanied by criticism from some of Ambrose's fellow historians, who charged that he could be careless in his research and editing. In early 2002, he faced accusations of plagiarism when reporters noted that a number of phrases and sentences in his books were lifted from other works. Ambrose responded that he had forgotten to place quotation marks around some quotes, but said he had footnoted all his sources. "I always thought plagiarism meant using another person's words and ideas, pretending they were your own and profiting from it. I do not do that, never have done that and never will," he wrote in a statement on his Web site.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months later, he began work on a memoir, To America. "I want to tell all the things that are right about America," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. Ambrose died in October 2002, at the age of 66.

Good To Know

Ambrose was a star football player at the University of Wisconsin and played in the Rose Bowl, according to his friend and co-author Douglas Brinkley.

As a college sophomore, Ambrose abandoned his pre-med major for history after he attended a class on "Representative Americans" taught by professor William Hesseltine.

For more than 20 years, Ambrose and his family spent their vacations traveling portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail. They canoed the Missouri and Columbia rivers, endured soaking rains and summer snowstorms, and read from the explorers' journals at night by the light of their campfires.

Ambrose named his house in Mississippi "Merry Weather," after Meriwether Lewis. His Labrador was called Pomp, after the nickname of Sacagawea's son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Ambrose
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 10, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Whitewater, Wisconsin
    1. Date of Death:
      October 13, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 14: Jerks, Sad Sacks, Profiteers, and Jim Crow

The GIs in ETO were highly selected in age and physical health, somewhat selected in intelligence, well disciplined. The Army's training system added inches to their chests and leg and arm muscles. It also instilled a sense of responsibility, along with a fear of the consequences of disobeying an order, not to mention criminal behavior: nicely summed up in the old drill sergeant's saying, "The Army can't make you do something, but it sure as hell can make you wish you had." It also did a good job of recognizing and promoting talented young men who were capable of standing the stress and leading effectively.

War brings out the best in many men, as the tiny sample of the men of ETO quoted or cited in this book testifies. To generalize, a large majority of the GIs in Northwest Europe in 1944-45 did their best at whatever they did, and in most cases they discovered that they were capable of doing far more than they had ever imagined possible. Thousands of men between twenty and twenty-five years of age responded to the challenge of responsibility magnificently. They matured as they led and, if they survived, they succeeded in their postwar careers. In one way, they were lucky: only in the extrernity of total war does a society give so much responsibility for life-and-death decision-making to men so young. Together, the junior officers and NCOs who survived the war were the leaders in building modern America. This was in some part thanks to what they had learned in the Army, primarily how to make decisions and accept responsibility.

The Army was unlike civilian society in most ways, but ETO and the home front were together in their shared sense of "we." It was a "we" generation, as in the popular wartime saying, "We are in this together." In the Army, this general attitude was greatly reinforced. The social bond within the Army was like an onion. At the core was the squad, where bonding could be almost mystical.

Lt. Glenn Gray (after the war a professor of philosophy) put it well: "Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship commonly known in war. At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy. Men are true comrades only when each [member of the squad] is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss."

After the squad came succeeding layers, the platoon, company, on up to division, all covered by the loose outermost layers of corps and army. The sense of belonging meant most GIs wouldn't dream of stealing from or cheating a buddy within the squad or company, or of slacking off on the job, whether as front-line infantry or driving a truck.

But the Army was so big -- eight million men at its peak, from a low of 165,000 four years earlier -- and put together so quickly, that thousands of sharp operators and sad sacks, criminals and misfits, and some cowards made it through the training process and became soldiers in ETO. Some were junior officers in infantry divisions and the price for their incompetence was casualties. More were rear-echelon soldiers, completely free of a sense of "we," who in one way or another took advantage of the opportunities presented by the war.

Joseph Heller's character Milo Minderbender in Catch-22 is an exaggeration, but not an invention. The United States was sending to Europe colossal quantities of goods. Given the amounts involved and the constant need for haste, there was a vulnerability that a few soldiers found irresistible. More than a few, really -- the figures on stolen goods are staggering. The matériel for the Americans fighting in Italy came in through the port of Naples. It came in day and night -- weapons, ammunition, rations, fuel, trucks, electrical equipment, and much more. Every item was eagerly sought on the black market. One-third of all the supplies landed in Naples was stolen. In Italy, once an entire train carrying supplies to the front simply disappeared.

The cornucopia of American goods coming into a Europe that had been at war for five years led to the greatest black market of all time. Most American soldiers participated in it to some extent, if in no other way than by trading cigarettes for perfume, or rations for jewels. A few got rich off it.

At the opposite extreme from the young entrepreneurs were the sad sacks, those guys who could never be found when there was a patrol to run or a job to be done, who had mastered the art of getting lost in the Army so well they became practically invisible. In between were the jerks and assholes, usually men who had been made NCOs or junior officers who exploited their rank in chickenshit ways, but at the head of the list there stood the formidable figure of the general in charge of all supplies in ETO. At the bottom of the list were the cowards, and Jim Crow.

They were all part of the U.S. Army in ETO, and this chapter is a glance at a few of them.

Most GIs did their job, fought well, managed to stay out of serious trouble, and were generally regarded as "good guys." The ones who slipped and became jerks for a night, or a day, or a week, could usually blame it on wine, which was present in almost every cellar in France and Belgium (in sharp contrast to the Pacific Theater, where the men drank homemade stuff, always vile, but with a punch). Paul Fussell, in Wartime, catches the situation exactly in his chapter title "Drinking Far Too Much, Copulating Too Little."

When it came to drinking, the men of ETO were just boys. Growing up in the Depression, their experience with alcohol was pretty much limited to a few beers on graduation night, and a lot of beer on Saturday nights in training camp in Georgia or wherever, and in English pubs. This in no way prepared them for the challenge France had to offer.

On December 15 Dutch Schultz, 82nd Airborne, stationed in an old French army barracks, got a pass to Reims, champagne capital of the world. There he ran into three high school buddies from another outfit. The corks popped. "This was my first experience with champagne," Schultz recalled. "I started drinking it like soda pop." He can't recall anything that happened in Reims after the drinking started, but he does remember what happened when he got back to barracks.

"I headed for my bed which was an upper bunk on the second floor of my building. When I got to my bed, I found someone sleeping in it."

Dutch shook the man awake. "What the hell are you doing in my bed?" he roared.

The soldier roared back: "It's my bed, what the hell do you think you are doing? Get the hell out of here!"

They started throwing punches. The lights went on. Every man in the room wanted to kill Schultz. To his consternation, he discovered he was not only at the wrong bed, but also the wrong room, the wrong barracks, the wrong battalion. "I made a hasty retreat."

"Jerk!" the men called out as he fled, using a variety of obscene adjectives to express their feelings.

The guys who were permanent jerks were the usual suspects -- officers with too much authority and too few brains, sergeants who had more than a touch of sadist in their characters, far too many quartermasters, some MPs. The types were many in number and widely varied in how they acted out their role, but the GIs had a single word that applied to every one of them: chickenshit.

Fussell defines the term precisely. "Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige...insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so called -- instead of horse -- or bull -- or elephant shit -- because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war."

There were some at the front, not many. In most cases they were visitors who didn't belong there. Captain Colby led an attack down a road in the hedgerow country. His company got hit hard and dove into the ditches. A firefight ensued. After a half hour or so, Colby looked up to see his regimental commander standing above him, "nattily attired in a clean uniform, and his helmet was clean and sported a silver star. He was the picture of coolness."

"You can't lead your men from down there," he snapped. "Come up here and tell me what happened. Try to set an example of how an officer should behave."

"Come down here, sir, and we can talk about it," Colby replied.

"Come up here," the general replied. "That's an order."

To Colby's relief, a mortar round went off a few meters from the general. "He joined me in the ditch."

Most chickenshits were rear-echelon. There are innumerable stories about them. Sgt. Ed Gianelloni remembered the time in Luneville when his division was temporarily out of the line and the opportunity came to take the first showers in two months. For the officers, there was a public bath, where Frenchwomen bathed them. For the enlisted, there were portable showers in the middle of a muddy field. Everyone undressed, piled up clothes and weapons, and stood around shivering, waiting for the hot water.

"All right, you guys," the engineering sergeant in command barked out, "you got one minute to wet, one minute to soap, and one minute to rinse off and then you get out of here."

A private standing near the weapons pile reached in, grabbed an M-1, pointed it at the sergeant, and inquired politely, "Sergeant, how much time did you say we have?"

The sergeant gulped, then muttered, "I'll tell you what, I am going to take a walk and check on my equipment. When I come back you ought to be done."

General Patton had more than a bit of the chickenshit in him. He was notorious for being a martinet about dress and spit-and-polish in Third Army. He ordered -- and sometimes may have gotten -- front-line infantry to wear ties and to shave every day. Bill Mauldin did a famous cartoon about it. Willie and Joe are driving a beat-up jeep. A large road sign informs them that "You Are Entering The Third Army!" There follows a list of fines for anyone entering the area: no helmet, $25; no shave $10; no tie $25; and so on. Willie tells Joe, "Radio th' ol' man we'll be late on account of a thousand-mile detour."

But it was no joke. Patton's spit-and-polish obsession some times cost dearly. It not only had nothing to do with winning the war, it hurt the war effort.

Twenty-year-old Lt. Bill Leesemann was in a reconnaissance section of the 101st Engineer Combat Battalion, attached to the 26th Division. On December 18, the 26th, along with the 80th and the 4th Armored, got orders to break off the attack in Lorraine, turn from east to north, and smash into the German southern flank of the Bulge. This required frenetic activity. Leesemann's job was to go from division headquarters in Metz to the Third Army Engineer headquarters in Nancy, to pick up maps -- no one in the attacking divisions had any maps of Luxembourg. It was a sixty-kilometer drive. Leesemann and his driver took off late on December 19, as the 26th was forming up to head toward Luxembourg. It wouldn't be able to move out until the maps arrived.

It was raining; the road was muddy; troops moving north caused delays. It was full dark by the time Leesemann got to Nancy. He stopped at a crossroads, where "a real spit-and-polish MP was directing traffic." Leesemann asked directions to the Engineers hq. The MP took one look at the dirty, unshaven lieutenant and driver and ordered them to the MP post. He said they could not proceed into Third Army area until they had washed the jeep, shaved, and put on clean uniforms. Leesemann replied that such things were out of the question and explained the urgency of the situation. The MP called his corporal.

Twenty minutes later the corporal arrived. After further interrogation, he called the sergeant. The sergeant came, more talk, finally he called Engineers hq. Permission to come on was granted.

Leesemann drove to the hq, "a large chateau with surrounding gardens. The sentries at the large iron gate entrance gave us the same routine with threats of being arrested; 'No way will we be responsible for admitting you two into the Command area.'"

Another call, another wait. Eventually, but not without further adventures in the maze of Third Army, Leesemann got the maps and returned to 26th Division hq. It was 0500 hours, December 20. The division had been ready to move since 0100 hours. It was waiting for the maps.

The biggest jerk in ETO was Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee (USMA 1909), commander of Services of Supply (SOS). He had a most difficult job, to be sure. And of course it is in the nature of an army that everyone resents the quartermaster, and Lee was the head quartermaster for the whole of ETO.

Lee was a martinet who had an exalted opinion of himself. He also had a strong religious fervor (Eisenhower compared him to Cromwell) that struck a wrong note with everyone. He handed out the equipment as if it were a personal gift. He hated waste; once he was walking through a mess hall, reached into the garbage barrel, pulled out a half-eaten loaf of bread, started chomping on it, and gave the cooks hell for throwing away perfectly good food. He had what Bradley politely called "an unfortunate pomposity" and was cordially hated. Officers and men gave him a nickname based on his initials, J.C.H. -- Jesus Christ Himself.

Lee's best-known excess came in September, at the height of the supply crisis. Eisenhower had frequently expressed his view that no major headquarters should be located in or near the temptations of a large city, and had specifically reserved the hotels in Paris for the use of combat troops on leave. Lee nevertheless, and without Eisenhower's knowledge, moved his headquarters to Paris. His people requisitioned all the hotels previously occupied by the Germans, and took over schools and other large buildings. More than 8,000 officers and 21,000 men in SOS descended on the city in less than a week, with tens of thousands more to follow. Parisians began to mutter that the U.S. Army demands were in excess of those made by the Germans.

The GIs and their generals were furious. They stated the obvious at the height of the supply crisis, Lee had spent his precious time organizing the move, then used up precious gasoline, all so that he and his entourage could enjoy the hotels of Paris. It got worse. With 29,000 SOS troops in Paris, the great majority of them involved in some way in the flow of supplies from the beaches and ports to the front, and taking into account what Paris had to sell, from wine and girls to jewels and perfumes, a black market on a grand scale sprang up.

Eisenhower was enraged. He sent a firm order to Lee to stop the entry into Paris of every individual not absolutely essential and to move out of the city every man who was not. He said essential duties "will not include provision of additional facilities, services and recreation for SOS or its Headquarters." He told Lee that he would like to order him out of the city altogether, but could not afford to waste more gasoline in moving SOS again. He said Lee had made an "extremely unwise" decision and told him to correct the situation as soon as possible.

Of course Lee and his headquarters stayed in Paris. And of course there was solid reason for so doing. And of course the combat veterans who got three-day passes into Paris could never get a hotel room, and had to sleep in a barracks-like Red Cross shelter, on cots. The rear-echelon SOS got the beds and private rooms. And their numbers grew rather than shrank. By March 1945, there were 160,000 SOS troops in the Department of the Seine.

The supply troops also got the girls, because they had the money, thanks to the black market. It flourished everywhere. Thousands of gallons of gasoline, tons of food and clothing, millions of cigarettes, were being siphoned off each day. The gasoline pipeline running from the beaches to Chartres was tapped so many times only a trickle came out at the far end.

Most of this was petty thievery. It was done at the expense of the front-line troops. As one example, the most popular brand of cigarettes was Lucky Strike, followed by Camel. In Paris, the SOS troops and their dates smoked Lucky Strikes and Camels; in the foxholes, the men got Pall Malls, Raleighs, or, worse, British cigarettes.

But a large part of the black market was run by organized crime. Here is a story told to me by a former lieutenant who worked as a criminal investigator for the SHAEF adjutant general's office. There was a colonel from the National Guard, born in Sicily, who was in Transport Command. His administrative job gave him the use of a C-47. On every clear day he flew, with a co-pilot, from London to Paris and back. He took in cartons of cigarettes and brought back jewels and perfumes. His trade flourished but there were a lot of payoffs to make, too many people involved. By mid-December, SHAEF's criminal investigators were ready to arrest him, but he got a tip and fled in his C47, with a co-pilot and a box stuffed with jewelry.

"Over the Channel," the lieutenant told me, "he shot the copilot, then smashed his face beyond recognition. He was a hell of a pilot; he landed on the edge of the water at an extremely low tide near Utah Beach. The plane with the co-pilot's body wasn't found until the next day's low tide -- and the major had left his dog tags on the dead man. We learned later that a French farm couple had watched an American pilot as he stole a donkey and cart, loaded a box onto the cart, slipped into peasant's clothing, and was last seen headed toward Sicily."

The German army had its fair share of jerks. There too they were often quartermasters. Colonel von Luck recalled that in early September, during the retreat through France, he came on a supply depot. His tanks, trucks, and other vehicles needed fuel; his men needed ammunition and food. He demanded it be handed over.

The sergeant in charge gave what Luck called "the typical, impudent reply: 'I can issue nothing without written authority.' When I asked, 'And what will you do if the Americans get here tomorrow, which is highly likely?' the answer was: 'Then in accordance with orders I will blow the depot up.'

"As my men advanced threateningly on the sergeant, weapons at the ready, I replied, 'If I don't have fuel, ammunition, and food within half an hour I can no longer be responsible.'" The sergeant looked at the grim-faced Luck and his men and gave them what they needed."

Similar scenes were enacted a thousand times and more during the retreat. At the other end of the scale, corps commanders in the Wehrmacht could be as crazy as Hitler. Like their leader, they moved long-gone regiments and divisions around on their maps. From the safety of their headquarters, they ordered counterattacks by phantom units. In January 1945 in Belgium, Lt. Col. Gerhard Lemcke of the 12th Panzer Division, a career soldier, had a typical experience. He had his hq in a farmhouse on a hill. From the kitchen window he could see Sherman tanks in the process of surrounding his position. He got orders to attack, which he ignored.

A staff officer drove up. He had been drinking, to bolster his courage -- staff officers seldom came to the front, and when they did they were afraid of the combat commanders. In this case, the officer informed Lemcke that he had come to take Lemcke into custody.

"May I ask why?"

"You have not carried out the orders of the Corps commander."

"And what am I to do? Should I tell them to throw rocks? Or maybe snow, there's lots of that -- I have nothing else. The artillery battery behind me, they don't shoot anymore because they have no ammunition. But Corps has ordered them to stay and defend us. How about telling Corps hq to take back their guns and send their personnel up here to become part of my infantry."

"You tell them," the lieutenant replied.

Lemcke got on the radio. Corps repeated the order to attack. Lemcke again refused. Corps then told the lieutenant to arrest that man and bring him in. As the lieutenant made to do so, Lemcke's men surrounded him. "These were soldiers who had been with me since Russia," Lemcke recalled. "A number of them had long since earned the Iron Cross 1st Class. They would not allow this lieutenant to take me anywhere."

Next to Hitler himself, the biggest jerks in Germany were Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. In November 1944 Himmler was put in command of the eastern bank of the Upper Rhine. Himmler knew a lot about how to terrorize and slaughter civilians, but nothing about military affairs. On January 3, 1945, he ordered Maj. Hannibal von Lüttichau to attack.

"I don't doubt that these orders were developed with the greatest care," Lüttichau told Himmler. "But we must have fuel."

"You don't need to drive," Himmler replied.

"But a dug-in panzer is easily destroyed from the air," Lüttichau explained. "The panzer's strength is to shoot and move. Suddenly pop up and fire and get out of there! Besides, I don't have ammunition. It doesn't matter how much heroism we have, we won't last a day before our soldiers know that we are crazy and stick their hands in the air and give up. What should I do about that?"

Himmler ordered him arrested. He was, but his Iron Cross 1st Class protected him and he survived.

In general, the American press corps covering ETO -- whether for the wire services, individual newspapers or magazines, radio, or the GIs' paper, Stars and Stripes -- did an outstanding job. The names of the top reporters, like the names Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Collins, resonate through the ages. The list included Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, Ernie Pyle and Andy Rooney, Eric Sevareid and A. J. Liebling, Martha Gellhorn and Anne O'Hare McCormick, John P. Marquand and Robert Sherrod, James Agee and William Shirer, among others. Best known of all was Ernest Hemingway, correspondent for Collier's magazine. If being a jerk is first of all being self-centered, Papa was one.

When Hemingway sat down to write, he was the only person in view. His dispatches to Collier's were about what he saw, did, felt. His biggest moment came when he and his driver, Pvt. Archie Pelkey, hooked up with a Resistance group headed for Paris. It was August 19. The sun rose and "it was a beautiful day that day" and Hemingway got to carry vital information to headquarters. "I had bicycled through this area for many years. It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them."

"Never can I describe to you the emotions I felt," he opened his report from Paris, before going on to three columns about how he felt.

There were many adventures with the Resistance group, and much drinking. As only he could, Hemingway loved these French fighters for their courage, elan, and simplicity. They wanted to have one more drink, one more kiss from the barmaid, and be off for Paris. So did Hemingway. But on the edge of the city they were ordered off the road by an American MP.

That evening it rained very hard but Pelkey and Papa were snug in a bistro, with a bottle of wine and some cheese and bread, looking down on Paris. They talked about their newfound French friends.

"They're a good outfit," Pelkey said. "Best outfit I ever been with. No discipline. Got to admit that. Drinking all the time. Got to admit that. But plenty fighting outfit. Nobody gives a damn if they get killed or not."

"Yeah," Papa replied. Then, he concluded his dispatch, "I couldn't say anything more, because I had a funny choke in my throat and I had to clean my glasses because there now, below us, gray and always beautiful, was spread the city I love best in all the world."

Ernie Pyle didn't see the war that way, which is why he is read a half century later, and Hemingway isn't. In a 1995 two-volume anthology of the best of World War II reporting, done by the Library of America, there are twenty-six dispatches from Pyle, one from Hemingway. Everyone knew that Hemingway was brave, foolish, and sentimental. What they wanted to know was what the GIs and the high command were doing. That was what Pyle and nearly all of the others gave them.

Rumors and wisecracks help men endure the unendurable, which is why they are integral to every war. In ETO, thousands of rumors circulated. Some were frightening ("we're going to jump into Berlin" among the paratroopers, for example), but most were hopeful. They promised an end: Germany is in revolt; the war will be over before Christmas; Hitler is dead; and so on, endlessly. Or the rumors promised reward: every paratrooper (or combat infantry, or artilleryman, or medic, or whatever) was going to get a free car from Henry Ford when the war was won. Others promised relief: our division is being withdrawn from combat and returned to the States to train new troops. In POW camps, it was that an exchange of prisoners is imminent.

Pvt. Harold Snedden of the 28th Division marched through Paris on liberation day. As he paraded down the Champs-Elysées, he heard a rumor, one that spread almost instantly up and down the long columns: "The brass has decided to keep us here to police the city." Sadly, Snedden was quickly disabused.

Pvt. Ed Jabol of the 1st Division had the satisfaction of getting a reward from a rumor he started. In the hedgerow fighting, he and his buddy told one other person each that the local water was contaminated, just to see how long it took to get back to them. The following day, word came down from headquarters to drink only wine until the water could be treated.

Wisecracks and clichés abounded in ETO. Most of them were coarse, sexual, and punctuated by the vilest language. But some were directed to specific complaints and were heard almost as often as the words "GI" or "dogface." They included, "You never had it so good," "You've found a home in the Army," and "What more could you possibly want." Others were teasing: "Too bad you were asleep when the girls came by" or "I hear you are getting promoted." Some were just devilish: "I hear you are going to reenlist."

There were thousands of ordinary criminals in ETO. Hundreds of them were caught, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to the stockade or, in the case of rape or murder, to death by firing squad. Sixty-five men were ordered shot. Eisenhower had to pass the final judgment. In sixteen cases he changed the sentence to life in the stockade; forty-nine men were shot.

Desertion was also punishable by death by firing squad, but the U.S. Army had not carried out such a sentence since 1864. Desertion was a serious problem in ETO, partly because it was relatively easy to do in Europe (there were no desertions on the Pacific islands), partly because of the never-ending nature of the combat, partly because the Army tried to get deserters back to their outfits and give them a second chance, meaning deserters could figure there wouldn't be any punishment if they were caught.

In November 1944, Lieut. Glenn Gray, on counterintelligence duty, found a deserter in a French woods. The lad was from the Pennsylvania mountains, he was accustomed to camping out, he had been there a couple of weeks, living on venison, and intended to stay until the war ended. "All the men I knew and trained with have been killed," the deserter told Gray. "I'm lonely....The shells seem to come closer all the time and I can't stand them."

He begged Gray to leave him. Gray refused, said he would have to turn him in, but promised he would not be punished. The deserter said he knew that; he bitterly predicted "they" would simply put him back into the line again -- which was exactly what happened when Gray brought him in.

One deserter only, Pvt. Eddie Slovik, went through the process from confession to court-martial to sentence to execution by firing squad. Slovik got to France as a replacement in August. On the 25th, he spent the night in a village, dug in with some other replacements. There was shelling. In the morning, when they moved out, he stayed behind. That afternoon, he hooked up with some Canadian infantry, with whom he spent the next six weeks. Then he was turned over to American MPs, who escorted him back to the company to which he had been assigned.

Slovik told the CO he was too frightened of the shelling and swore, "If I have to go out there again I'll run away."

He later put that warning in writing, at the end of a written confession of desertion. He wanted to spend the rest of the war in the stockade. Bad luck for him; by the time he came to trial it was November 11, and the strain of the fighting at the Siegfried Line was leading to an increase in desertions. The high command was looking to set an example. Slovik fit perfectly. He was found guilty and sentenced to execution. By the time Eisenhower gave the case its last review, on January 30, the Bulge had made desertion an even greater problem. Eisenhower did not intervene. On January 31, Slovik was executed.

Slovik's case excited comment and controversy. There was a hue and cry about Army justice. Eisenhower never backed away from his decision. He thought the case about as clear-cut as one could get. But whatever the merits, it helps put the Slovik execution in some perspective to mention that during the course of the eleven-month campaign in Northwest Europe, when Eisenhower had one deserter put to death, Hitler had 50,000 executed for desertion or cowardice.

One of the stressful strains on platoon and company commanders was recognizing and dealing with battle fatigue. The best of them could anticipate the breaking point with an individual before it occurred, and get them some rest. Severe cases went to the rear, for treatment. A few returned to the front line; many more were put on limited duty. The temptation to fake combat exhaustion was there.

One evening in the Hurtgen, Lt. George Wilson welcomed two replacements, radiomen, to his company, and directed them to a foxhole. There was some shelling. In the morning, the smaller of the two replacements dashed over to Wilson's foxhole and dove in.

"He was shaking violently," Wilson remembered, "and tears streamed down his face. His whole frame quivered with the spasms, and he was barely able to tell me between sobs that he couldn't take it. He just had to get the hell out; I had to let him go to the rear. He sobbed like a baby during the entire outburst and beat his head on the ground."

Wilson tried talking to him, to no avail. Wilson tried getting tough: "I told him angrily that I had been in front-line combat for over five months and no one would let me go back. Since he had just arrived, he sure as hell wasn't going back."

That brought on more hysteria. He sobbed that he would desert. Wilson said go ahead -- and you'll get shot. Next Wilson told him how ashamed his parents would be. He sobbed that he didn't care. "I'm just a dirty, no-good, yellow, Jewish SOB."

Eventually he calmed down and returned to his foxhole. But later that day his buddy, a big man, came to Wilson and put on a similar performance, but he wasn't as convincing as the first guy. "I blew my top," Wilson wrote, "and shouted at him that the two of them were trying to play me for an idiot, and I'd had it with them.

"Surprisingly, he readily admitted it and even went on to describe how they had spent the night before planning the charade. It seems they had both been actors in college and had had some training."

The following day, another shelling. The bigger of the two replacements went bonkers. Tears streaming down his face, he begged Wilson to send him to the rear. "I turned on him angrily and pointed my rifle at his chest, saying that if I heard one more word out of him I'd shoot. He stopped bawling instantly."

The shelling resumed. The man got a piece of shrapnel in his arm, the million-dollar wound. He was out of there. Wilson never saw him again. Nor the first guy, who took himself to the rear and talked his way into a hospital as a battle fatigue case.

In the popular World War II cartoon strip The Sad Sack, the character was a naive, confused, lazy, bumbling private, but happy enough and almost lovable. In real life, a sad sack was a miserable person. Perpetually unhappy himself, he tried to make everyone around him equally miserable. He was filled with hate -- for his officers, for the Army, for blacks, Jews, Italians, whoever. Whenever he could get away with it, he was a bully. He was a habitual liar. He disappeared when real work or fighting had to be done. Not only did he fail to carry his weight, he was a constant and serious drain on the Army's efficiency. At his extreme, the sad sack was a mean, vicious son of a bitch, without a redeeming virtue.

The worst sad sack of all was Jim Crow.

The world's greatest democracy fought the world's greatest racist with a segregated Army. It was worse than that: the Army and the society conspired to degrade African-Americans in every way possible, summed up in the name Jim Crow. One little incident from the home front illustrates the tyranny black Americans lived under during the Second World War.

In April 1944 Corp. Rupert Timmingham wrote Yank magazine. "Here is a question that each Negro soldier is asking," he began. "What is the Negro soldier fighting for? On whose team are we playing?" He recounted the difficulties he and eight other black soldiers had while traveling through the South -- "where Old Jim Crow rules" -- for a new assignment. "We could not purchase a cup of coffee," Timmingham noted. Finally the lunchroom manager at a Texas railroad depot said the black GIs could go on around back to the kitchen for a sandwich and coffee. As they did, "about two dozen German prisoners of war, with two American guards, came to the station. They entered the lunchroom, sat at the tables, had their meals served, talked, smoked, in fact had quite a swell time. I stood on the outside looking on, and I could not help but ask myself why are they treated better than we are? Why are we pushed around like cattle? If we are fighting for the same thing, if we are to die for our country, then why does the Government allow such things to go on? Some of the boys are saying that you will not print this letter. I'm saying that you will."

In ETO, many black soldiers were assigned to prisoner duty. It is the universal testimony of the German POWs interviewed for this book that they got better treatment from black than white guards, to the point that the POWs had a saying, "The best American is a black American."

Old Jim Crow ruled in the Army as much as in the South. Blacks had their own units, mess halls, barracks, bars -- State-side, England, France, Belgium, it didn't matter. There were no black infantry units in ETO. There were nine Negro field artillery battalions, a few anti-aircraft battalions, and a half dozen tank and tank destroyer battalions. Some did well, some were average, some were poor.

The 969th Field Artillery Battalion earned praise from Gen. Maxwell Taylor for its supporting fire during the defense of Bastogne. "Our success," Taylor wrote the 969th's commander, "is attributable to the shoulder to shoulder cooperation of all units involved. This Division is proud to have shared the Battlefield with your command." He put the battalion in for a Distinguished Unit Citation, which it received on February 5, the first Negro combat unit to be so honored.

Patton had not been eager to accept black tankers, because he fancied that black men did not have quick enough reflexes to drive tanks in battle. But when at the end of October the 761st Tank Battalion, the first Negro unit committed to combat, showed up assigned to the 26th Division, Third Army, Patton welcomed the black tankers warmly: "Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army....I don't care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsabitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking to you. Don't let them down, don't let me down."

They didn't. The battalion spent 183 days in action. Every commander it fought under sent his commendations. It won one Medal of Honor and many Distinguished Service Crosses.

The Negro 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion, however, had a poor record, so bad that the Army almost disbanded it and many commanders refused to have it. The causes were familiar: untrained, with white officers who were the castoffs of other units, poorly equipped. Shortly after the end of the war Walter Wright, chief historian of the Army, commented that the real trouble was the inferior officers. Blacks had to have the best, Wright insisted, because "American negro troops are illeducated on the average and often illiterate; they lack self-respect, self-confidence, and initiative; they tend to be very conscious of their low standing in the eyes of the white population and consequently feel very little motive for aggressive fighting."

Why should they, Wright went on, when every black soldier knew "that the color of his skin will automatically disqualify him for reaping the fruits of attainment. No wonder that he sees little point in trying very hard to excel. To me, the most extraordinary thing is that such people continue trying at all."

It wasn't only that the whites wouldn't reward a black soldier who did his job well; those blacks who did strive were ridiculed by their fellows for doing so. Isaac Coleman was the second oldest of fourteen children, raised on a farm in Virginia. He had quit school at age fifteen to work; besides, there was no public high school for blacks in his area. He enlisted in 1941 and moved up rapidly "because I was ambitious and did my job the best I could. I was obedient and accepted responsibilities. Others called me 'Uncle Tom' and worse, and I had a few run-ins with black soldiers, but I was satisfied. I made Master Sergeant when I was twenty-years-old." That meant $140 a month, most of which he sent home.

Sergeant Coleman fought his way through Europe. He got back to Virginia in January 1946. "When I got home there was snow on the ground and a white fellow at the bus station gave me a ride home. My father came out barefoot and picked me off the ground. Daddy cried and we visited and saw everybody that night. Daddy had seven boys in the war, six overseas at once, and we all came home. I wouldn't have minded staying in the Army but my wife was a teacher and didn't want to quit, so I gave in. I bought a farm with the GI Bill."

Most black soldiers never got a chance to fight. For a few, an opportunity came during the replacements crisis at the time of the Bulge. Within General Lee's SOS were thousands of physically fit black soldiers whose jobs could be done by limited-duty personnel. Lee offered them an opportunity to volunteer for the infantry, then be placed in otherwise white units, without regard to a quota but as needed.

When SHAEF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Walter B. Smith read a circular Lee had put out, he stormed into Lee's office. Smith had been in charge of "negro policy" for the Army in 1941; he told Lee, "It is inevitable that this circular will get out, and equally inevitable that the result will be that every negro organization, pressure group and newspaper will take the attitude that, while the War Department segregates colored troops into organizations of their own against the desires and pleas of all the negro race, the Army in Europe is perfectly willing to put them in the front lines mixed in units with white soldiers and have them do battle when an emergency arises."

Breathing deeply, Smith went on, "Two years ago I would have considered this the most dangerous thing that I have ever seen in regard to negro relations."

"I can't see that at all," Lee replied. (Whatever his faults, he stood tall on this one.) "I believe it is right that colored and white soldiers should be mixed in the same company."

"I'm not arguing with that, one way or the other," Smith snapped. "But the War Department policy is different."

Smith couldn't persuade Lee, but he did convince Eisenhower to maintain an essential segregation in ETO: the Supreme Commander declared that Negro volunteers would be trained as platoons and put into the line on that basis.

At this point, Catch-22 took over. The Replacement Depots were not prepared to train platoons, only individuals. Individual replacements were badly needed in the all-black artillery and tank battalions, but the depots could train only infantry. There were 4,562 volunteers, many of them NCOs who took a reduction to private to do so. The Replacement Depots were not prepared to handle so many.

On March 1, 1945, the first 2,253 volunteers had completed their training. They were organized into thirty-seven rifle platoons and sent to the front, where they were distributed as needed to the companies. The platoon leader and sergeant were assigned from the company, and of course were white. With some exceptions, the platoons preformed well. A few were outstanding. In general, their performance was so good it led many officers who served with them to reject segregation in the Army of the future. If anything, the judgment was that they were too aggressive. In one case, three black soldiers used a captured panzerfaust to knock out a Tiger tank. They were rewarded with a week in Paris. Thereafter, there were many black soldiers seen stalking the enemy's armored monster with panzerfaust in hand.

Maj. Gen. Edwin Parker, CO of the 78th Division, said of his Negro platoons: "Morale: Excellent. Manner of performance: Superior. Men are very eager to close with the enemy and to destroy him....When given a mission they accept it with enthusiasm, and even when losses to their platoon were inflicted the colored boys pressed on."

Jim Crow was on the run, but not done. In the last month of the war, the worry became: what happens when we move into barracks? It was unthinkable that blacks and whites would share the same barracks. In the event, that worry proved to be misplaced. After two months in an integrated barracks, a battalion commander in the 78th Division said he had no problems of any kind and explained, "White men and colored men are welded together with a deep friendship and respect born of combat and matured by a realization that such an association is not the impossibility that many of us have been led to believe....When men undergo the same privations, face the same dangers before an impartial enemy, there can be no segregation. My men eat, play, work, and sleep as a company of men, with no regard to color."

There were other hopeful signs that the Army would soon be rid of Jim Crow. Yank magazine did print Corporal Timmingham's letter. A couple of months later, he wrote again. "To date I've received 287 letters," he said, "and, strange as it may seem, 183 are from white men in the armed service. Another strange feature about these letters is that the most of these people are from the Deep South. They are all proud that they are from the South but ashamed to learn that there are so many of their own people who are playing Hitler's game. Nevertheless, it gives me new hope to realize that there are doubtless thousands of whites who are willing to fight [Jim Crow]." Yank noted that it had received thousands of letters from GIs, "almost all of whom were outraged by the treatment given the corporal."

After the experience of World War II, by the end of 1945 the ground had been prepared for Jim Crow's grave. Chief Historian Wright concluded his wartime report on the employment of Negro troops with these words: "My ultimate hope is that in the long run it will be possible to assign individual Negro soldiers and officers to any unit in the Army where they are qualified as individuals to serve efficiently." That was done, under the command and leadership of the colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants of ETO, who had seen with their own eyes. Within a decade, the Army had changed from being one of the most tightly segregated organizations in the country to the most successfully integrated.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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Table of Contents

Maps 11
Introduction and Acknowledgments 13
Prologue 17


7 THE ARDENNES, DECEMBER 16-19, 1944 180
8 THE ARDENNES, DECEMBER 20-23, 1944 210

12 THE AIR WAR 290

18 CROSSING THE RHINE, MARCH 7-31, 1945 418
19 VICTORY, APRIL 1-MAY 7, 1945 444

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First Chapter

Chapter 1 Expanding the Beachhead

June 7-30, 1944

Shortly after dawn on June 7, Lt. Horace Henderson of the Sixth Engineer Special Brigade landed on Omaha Beach. Going in on his Higgins boat, "I noticed that nothing moved on the beach except one bulldozer. The beach was covered with debris, sunken craft and wrecked vehicles. We saw many bodies in the water...We jumped into chest high water and waded ashore. Then we saw that the beach was literally covered with the bodies of American soldiers wearing the blue and gray patches of the 29th Infantry Division."

Although the fighting had moved inland, sporadic artillery shelling and intermittent sniper fire from Germans still holding their positions on the bluff hampered movement on the beach. Henderson's job was to distribute maps (a critical and never-ending process -- eventually in the Normandy campaign, the U.S. First Army passed out 125 million maps), but because the front line was just over the bluff at Omaha, only men, ammunition, weapons, and gasoline were being brought ashore, so he had no maps to hand out. He and his section unloaded jerry cans of gasoline, the first of millions of such cans that would cross that beach.

Sometime that afternoon, Henderson recalled, "Before the bodies could be removed, the first religious service was held on Omaha Beach. We prayed for those who had been lost and thanked the Lord for our survival. I promised God that I would do all in my power to help prevent such a terrible event ever happening again."

That evening, toward dusk, Henderson dug in at the foot of the cliff opposite the Vierville draw. Just as he lay down, four German bombers appeared. "A sea of ships began to fire hundreds of antiaircraft guns with a noise that was terrifying." That was the lone Luftwaffe foray against Omaha Beach that day.

To the west, inland from Utah Beach, on the morning of June 7, Lieutenant Wray's foray had broken up the German counterattack into Ste.-Mère-Eglise before it got started. But by noon the Germans were dropping mortar shells on the town. Pvt. Jack Leonard of the 82nd was in a foxhole that took a direct hit. His stomach was blown away. His last words were, "God damn the bastards, they got me. The hell with it."

That afternoon E Company, 505th PIR, moved out to drive the Germans farther back. Those who participated included Sgt. Otis Sampson, an old cavalry soldier with ten years in the Army, by reputation the best mortarman in the division, something he had proved on D-Day; Lt. James Coyle, a platoon leader in the 505th PIR; and Lt. Frank Woosley, a company executive officer in the 505th. In some ways the experience they were about to have -- fighting in the hedgerows -- typified what others were going through that same day, or would be experiencing in the days to follow; in other ways they were atypically lucky.

The company had two tanks attached to it. Lieutenant Coyle's order was to take his platoon across the field and attack the hedgerow ahead, simple and straightforward enough. But Coyle had been in Normandy for a day and a half, and he knew this wasn't Fort Benning. He protested. He explained to his CO that the Germans dug into and hid behind the hedgerows and they would exact a bloody price from infantry advancing through a field, no matter how good the men were at fire-and-movement.

Coyle figured there had to be a better way. He received permission to explore alternate routes. Lieutenant Woosley accompanied him. Sure enough, Coyle found a route through the sunken lanes that brought the Americans to a point where they were looking down a lane running perpendicular to the one they were on. It was the main German position, inexplicably without cover or observation posts on its flank.

The paratroopers were thus able to observe an unsuspecting German battalion at work. It had only arrived at the position a quarter of an hour earlier (which may explain the unguarded flank) but it already had transformed the lane into a fortress. Communication wires ran up and down. Mortar crews worked their weapons. Sergeants with binoculars leaned against the bank and peered through openings cut in the hedge, directing the mortar fire. Other forward observers had radios and were directing the firing of heavy artillery from the rear. Riflemen at the embankment also had cut holes through which they could aim and fire. At the near and far corners of the lane, the corners of the field, German heavy machine guns were tunneled in, the muzzles of their guns just peeking through a small hole in the embankment, with crews at the ready to send crisscrossing fire into the field in front.

That was the staggering firepower Coyle's platoon would have run into, had he obeyed without question his original orders. Because he had refused and successfully argued his point, he was now on the German flank with his men and two tanks behind him. The tanks did a ninety-degree turn. The men laid down a base of rifle and machine-gun fire, greatly aided by a barrage of mortars from Sergeant Sampson. Then the tanks shot their 75mm cannon down the lane.

Germans fell all around. Sampson fired all his mortar shells, then picked up a BAR. "I was that close I couldn't miss," he remembered. "That road was their death trap. It was so easy I felt ashamed of myself and quit firing. I felt I had bagged my quota."

The German survivors waved a white flag. Coyle told his men to cease fire, stood up, walked down the lane to take the surrender. Two grenades came flying over the hedgerow and landed at his feet. He dove to the side and escaped, and the firing opened up again. The Americans had the Germans trapped in the lane, and after a period of taking casualties without being able to inflict any, the German soldiers began to take off, bursting through the hedgerow and emerging into the field with hands held high, crying "Comrade!"

Soon there were 200 or so men in the field, hands up. Coyle went through the hedgerow, to begin the rounding-up process, and promptly got hit in the thigh by a sniper's bullet, not badly but he was furious with himself for twice not being cautious enough. But he had great self-control, and he got the POWs gathered in and put under guard. He and his men had effectively destroyed an enemy battalion without losing a single man.

It was difficult finding enough men for guard duty, as there was only one GI for every ten captured Germans. The guards therefore took no chances. Corp. Sam Applebee encountered a German officer who refused to move. "I took a bayonet and shoved it into his ass," Applebee recounted, "and then he moved. You should have seen the happy smiles and giggles that escaped the faces of some of the prisoners, to see their Lord and Master made to obey, especially from an enlisted man."

Sergeant Sampson saw another NCO shooting directly down with his BAR. He was the only man shooting. On investigation, Sampson discovered that he was shooting disarmed prisoners who were standing in the ditch, hands up. The GI was blazing away. "There must have been some hate in his heart," Sampson commented.

E Company's experience on June 7 was unique, or nearly so -- an unguarded German flank was seldom again to be found. But in another way, what the company went through was to be repeated across Normandy in the weeks that followed. In the German army, the slave troops from conquered Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia, would throw their hands up at the first opportunity, but if they misjudged their situation and their NCO was around, they were likely to get shot in the back. Or the NCOs would keep up the fight even as their enlisted men surrendered, as Coyle discovered.

Lt. Leon Mendel was an interrogation officer with Military Intelligence, attached to the 505th. He did the interrogation of the prisoners Coyle's platoon had taken. "I started off with German," Mendel remembered, "but got no response, so I switched to Russian, asked if they were Russian. 'Yes!' they responded, heads bobbing eagerly. 'We are Russian. We want to go to America!'

"Me too," Mendel said in Russian. "Me too!"

The Wehrmacht in Normandy in June of 1944 was an international army. It had troops from every corner of the vast Soviet empire -- Mongolians, Cossacks, Georgians, Muslims, Chinese -- plus men from the Soviet Union's neighboring countries, men who had been conscripted into the Red Army, then captured by the Germans in 1941 or 1942. There were some Koreans, captured by the Red Army in the 1939 war with Japan. In Normandy in June 1944, the 29th Division captured enemy troops of so many different nationalities that one GI blurted to his company commander, "Captain, just who the hell are we fighting, anyway?"

Ethnic Germans also surrendered. Even veterans of the Eastern Front. Corp. Friedrich Bertenrath of the 2nd Panzer Division explained, "In Russia, I could imagine nothing but fighting to the last man. We knew that going into a prison camp in Russia meant you were dead. In Normandy, one always had in the back of his mind, 'Well, if everything goes to hell, the Americans are human enough that the prospect of becoming their prisoner was attractive to some extent.'"

By no means were all the enlisted German personnel in Normandy reluctant warriors. Many fought effectively; some fought magnificently. At St.-Marcouf, about ten kilometers north of Utah Beach, the Germans had four enormous casements, each housing a 205mm cannon. On D-Day, these guns had gotten into a duel with American battleships. On D-Day Plus One, GIs from the 4th Infantry Division surrounded the casements. To hold them off, the German commander called down fire from another battery of 205 cannon some fifteen kilometers to the north, right on top of his own position. That kept the Americans at bay for more than a week while the German cannon continued to fire sporadically on Utah Beach.

The casements took innumerable direct hits, all from big shells. The shells made little more than dents in the concrete. The casements are still there today -- they will be there for decades if not centuries, so well built were they -- and they bear mute testimony to the steadfastness of the Germans. For eight days the gun crews were confined in their casements -- nothing to eat but stale bread, only bad water, no separate place to relieve themselves, the ear-shattering noise, the vibrations, the concussions, the dust shaking loose -- through it all they continued to fire. They gave up only when they ran out of ammunition.

Among other elite German outfits in Normandy, there were paratroopers. They were a different proposition altogether from the Polish or Russian troops. The 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division came into the battle in Normandy on June 10, arriving by truck after night drives from Brittany. It was a full-strength division, 15,976 men in its ranks, mostly young German volunteers. It was new to combat but it had been organized and trained by a veteran paratroop battalion from the Italian campaign. Training had been rigorous and emphasized initiative and improvisation. The equipment was outstanding.

Indeed, the Fallschirmjäger were perhaps the best-armed infantrymen in the world in 1944. The 3rd FJ had 930 light machine guns, eleven times as many as its chief opponent, the U.S. 29th Division. Rifle companies in the FJ had twenty MG 42s and 43 submachine guns; rifle companies in the 29th had two machine guns and nine BARs. At the squad level, the GIs had a single BAR; the German parachute squad had two MG 42s and three submachine guns. The Germans had three times as many mortars as the Americans, and heavier ones. So in any encounter between equal numbers of Americans and Fallschirmjäger, the Germans had from six to twenty times as much firepower.

And these German soldiers were ready to fight. A battalion commander in the 29th remarked to an unbelieving counterpart from another regiment, "Those Germans are the best soldiers I ever saw. They're smart and they don't know what the word 'fear' means. They come in and they keep coming until they get their job done or you kill'em."

These were the men who had to be rooted out of the hedgerows. One by one. There were, on average, fourteen hedgerows to the kilometer in Normandy. The enervating, costly process of gearing up for an attack, making the attack, carrying the attack home, mopping up after the attack, took half a day or more. And at the end of the action, there was the next hedgerow, fifty to a hundred meters or so away. All through the Cotentin Peninsula, from June 7 on, GIs labored at the task. They heaved and pushed and punched and died doing it, for two hedgerows a day.

No terrain in the world was better suited for defensive action with the weapons of the fourth decade of the twentieth century than the Norman hedgerows, and only the lava and coral, caves and tunnels of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were as favorable.

The Norman hedgerows dated back to Roman times. They were mounds of earth to keep cattle in and to mark boundaries. Typically there was only one entry into the small field enclosed by the hedgerows, which were irregular in length as well as height and set at odd angles. On the sunken roads the brush often met overhead, giving the GIs a feeling of being trapped in a leafy tunnel. Wherever they looked the view was blocked by walls of vegetation.

Undertaking an offensive in the hedgerows was risky, costly, time-consuming, fraught with frustration. It was like fighting in a maze. Platoons found themselves completely lost a few minutes after launching an attack. Squads got separated. Just as often, two platoons from the same company could occupy adjacent fields for hours before discovering each other's presence. The small fields limited deployment possibilities; seldom during the first week of battle did a unit as large as a company go into an attack intact.

Where the Americans got lost, the Germans were at home. The 352nd Division had been in Normandy for months, training for this battle. Further, the Germans were geniuses at utilizing the fortification possibilities of the hedgerows. In the early days of the battle, many GIs were killed or wounded because they dashed through the opening into a field, just the kind of aggressive tactics they had been taught, only to be cut down by pre-sited machine-gun fire or mortars (mortars caused three quarters of American casualties in Normandy).

American Army tactical manuals stressed the need for tank-infantry cooperation. But in Normandy, the tankers didn't want to get down on the sunken roads, because of insufficient room to traverse the turret and insufficient visibility to use the long-range firepower of the cannon and machine guns. But staying on the main roads proved impossible; the Germans held the high ground inland and had their 88mm cannon sited to provide long fields of fire along highways. So into the lanes the tanks perforce went. But there they were restricted; they wanted to get out into the fields. But they couldn't. When they appeared at the gap leading into a field, presited mortar fire, plus panzerfausts (handheld antitank weapons), disabled them. Often, in fact, it caused them to "brew up," or start burning -- the tankers were discovering that their tanks had a distressing propensity for catching fire.

So tankers tried going over or through the embankments, but the hedgerows were proving to be almost impassable obstacles to the American M4 Sherman tank. Countless attempts were made to break through or climb over, but the Sherman wasn't powerful enough to break through the cementlike base, and when it climbed up the embankment, at the apex it exposed its unarmored belly to German panzerfausts. Further, coordination between tankers and infantry was almost impossible under battle conditions, as they had no easy or reliable way to communicate with one another.

Lt. Sidney Salomon of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, one of the D-Day heroes, found that out on June 7. He was leading the remnants of his battalion, which had come ashore on the right flank at Omaha and been involved in a day-long firefight on D-Day, westward along the coastal road that led to Pointe-du-Hoc. Three companies of the 2nd Rangers had taken the German emplacement there, and destroyed the coastal guns, but they were under severe attack and had taken severe casualties. Salomon was in a hurry to get to them.

But his column, marching in combat formation, began taking well-placed artillery shells. To his right, Salomon could see a Norman church, its steeple the only high point around. He was certain the Germans had an observer spotting for their artillery in that steeple. Behind Salomon a Sherman tank chugged up, the only American tank to be seen. It was buttoned up. Salomon wanted it to elevate its 75mm cannon and blast that steeple, but he couldn't get the crew's attention, not even when he knocked on the side of the tank with the butt of his carbine. "So I ultimately stood in the middle of the road directly in front of the tank, waving my arms, and pointing in the direction of the church. That produced results. After a couple of shots from the cannon and several bursts from the .50-caliber machine gun, the artillery spotter was no more."

Salomon's daring feat notwithstanding, it was obvious that the Army was going to have to work out a better system for tank-infantry communication than having junior officers jump up and down in front of American tanks. Until that was done, the tanks would play a minor supporting role to the infantry, following the GIs into the next field as the infantry overran it.

The U.S. First Army had not produced anything approaching a doctrine for offensive action in the hedgerows. It had expended enormous energy to get tanks by the score into Normandy, but it had no doctrine for the role of tanks in the hedgerows. In peacetime, the Army would have dealt with the problem by setting up commissions and boards, experimenting in maneuvers, testing ideas, before establishing a doctrine. But in Normandy time was a luxury the Army didn't have. So as the infantry lurched forward in the Cotentin, following frontal assaults straight into the enemy's kill zones, the tankers began experimenting with ways to utilize their weapons in the hedgerows.

Beginning at daylight on June 7, each side had begun to rush reinforcements to the front. The Americans came in on a fight schedule, long since worked out, with fresh divisions almost daily. Sgt. Edward "Buddy" Gianelloni, a medic in the 79th Division, came ashore on D-Day Plus Six on Utah Beach. The men marched inland; when they reached Ste.-Mère-Eglise, a paratrooper called out to Gianelloni, "Hey, what outfit is that?"

"This is the 79th Infantry Division," Gianelloni replied.

"Well, that's good," the paratrooper said. "Now if you guys are around this time tomorrow you can consider yourselves veterans."

The Germans came in by bits and pieces, because they were improvising, having been caught with no plans for reinforcing Normandy. Further, the Allied air forces had badly hampered German movement from the start.

The German air force (the Luftwaffe) and the German navy were seldom to be seen, but still the Germans managed to have an effect on Allied landings, through their mines and beach obstacles. The most spectacular German success, the one they had most hoped for, came at dawn on June 7.

The transport USS Susan B. Anthony was moving into her off-loading position off Utah Beach. Sgt. Jim Finn was down in the hold, along with hundreds of others in the 90th Infantry Division, set to enter the battle after the ship dropped her anchor. The landing craft began coming alongside, and the men started climbing up out of the hold onto the deck, prepared to descend the rope ladders. Finn and the others were loaded down with rifles, grenades, extra clips, BARs, tripods, mortar bases and tubes, gas masks, leather boots, baggy pants stuffed with cigarettes, toilet articles, helmets, life jackets, and more.

"There was a massive 'Boom!'" Finn recalled. "She shook. All communications were knocked out. All electricity was out. Everything on the ship went black. And here we were, a massive number of troops in confined areas, with tremendous amounts of clothing and gear on, all ready for the invasion, and not knowing what was going on, in total darkness."

The Susan B. Anthony, one of the largest transport ships, had hit a mine amidships. She was sinking and burning. Panic in the hold was to be expected, and there was a bit of it, but as Finn recalled, the officers took charge and restored calm. Then, "We were instructed to remove our helmets, remove our impregnated clothing, remove all excess equipment. Many of the fellows took off their shoes." They scrambled onto the deck.

A fire-fighting boat had pulled alongside and was putting streams of water onto the fire. LCVPs began pulling to the side of the sinking ship. Men threw rope ladders over the side, and within two hours all hands were safely off -- minutes before the Susan B. Anthony sank.

Sergeant Finn and his platoon went into Utah Beach in a Higgins boat, a couple of hours late and barefoot, with no helmets, no rifles, no ammo, no food. But they were there, and by scrounging along the beach they were soon able to equip themselves from dead and wounded men.

Getting the Susan B. Anthony was by far the greatest success of the German navy's efforts to disrupt the landing of American reinforcements in Normandy. Thanks to the fire-fighting boat -- one of the many specialized craft in the armada -- even the loss of the ship hardly slowed the disembarking process. The U.S., Royal, and Canadian Navies ruled the English Channel, which made the uninterrupted flow of men and supplies from England to France possible. The fire-fighting boat that saved the lives of the men on Susan B. Anthony showed what a superb job the three navies were doing.

At Omaha, too, reinforcements began coming in to the beach before the sun rose above the horizon. Twenty-year-old Lt. Charles Stockell, a forward observer in the 1st Division, was one of the first to go ashore that day. Stockell kept a diary. He recorded that he came in below Vierville, that the skipper of the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) feared the underwater beach obstacles and mines and thus forced him to get off in chest-deep water, that he saw equipment littering the beach, and then "The first dead Americans I see are two GIs, one with both feet blown off, arms wrapped about each other in a comradely death embrace." He was struck by the thought that "dead men everywhere look pathetic and lonely. You feel as if you would like them to be alive and the war over."

Stockell didn't get very far inland that morning. The front line, in fact, was less than a quarter of a mile from the edge of the bluff, running along a series of hedgerows outside Colleville. That was as far inland as Capt. Joseph Dawson, CO of G Company, 16th Regiment, 1st Division, had gotten on D-Day -- and Dawson had been the first American to reach the top of the bluff at Omaha. On June 7, he was fighting to secure his position outside Colleville, discovering in the process that he had a whole lot to learn about hedgerows.

The 175th Regiment of the 29th Division came in on schedule at 0630, June 7. But it landed two kilometers east of its intended target, the Vierville exit. Orders came to march to the exit. In a loose formation, the regiment began to march, through the debris of the previous day's battle. To Capt. Robert Miller, the beach "looked like something out of Dante's Inferno."

Sniper fire continued to zing down. "But even worse," according to Lt. J. Milnor Roberts, an aide to the corps commander, "they were stepping over the bodies of the guys who had been killed the day before and these guys were wearing that 29th Division patch; the other fellows, brand-new, were walking over the dead bodies. By the time they got down where they were to go inland, they were really spooked."

But so were their opponents. Lt. Col. Fritz Ziegelmann of the 352nd Division staff was one of the first German officers to bring reinforcements into the battle. At about the same time the 175th Regiment was swinging up toward Vierville, Ziegelmann was entering Widerstandsnest 76, one of the few surviving resistance nests on Omaha, a kilometer or so west of the Vierville draw. It had done great harm to the 29th Division on D-Day, when the 29th and the 352nd Divisions locked into a death embrace.

"The view from WN 76 will remain in my memory forever," Ziegelmann wrote after the war. "The sea was like a picture of the 'Kiel review of the fleet.' Ships of all sorts stood close together on the beach and in the water, broadly echeloned in depth. And the entire conglomeration remained there intact without any real interference from the German side!"

A runner brought him a set of secret American orders, captured from an officer, that showed the entire Omaha invasion plan, including the follow-up commitment that was taking place in front of Ziegelmann's eyes. "I must say that in my entire military life, I have never been so impressed," he wrote, adding that he knew at that moment that Germany was going to lose this war.

At dawn, all along the plateau above the bluff at Omaha, GIs shook themselves awake, did their business, ate some rations, smoked a cigarette, got into some kind of formation, and prepared to move out to broaden the beachhead. But in the hedgerows, individuals got lost, squads got lost. German sniper fire came from all directions. The Norman farm homes, made of stone and surrounded by stone walls and a stone barn, made excellent fortresses. Probing attacks brought forth a stream of bullets from the Germans, pretty much discouraging further probes.

Brig. Gen. Norman "Dutch" Cota, assistant division commander of the 29th, came on a group of infantry pinned down by some Germans in a farmhouse. He asked the captain in command why his men were making no effort to take the building.

"Sir, the Germans are in there, shooting at us," the captain replied.

"Well, I'll tell you what, captain," said Cota, unbuckling two grenades from his jacket. "You and your men start shooting at them. I'll take a squad of men and you and your men watch carefully. I'll show you how to take a house with Germans in it."

Cota led his squad around a hedge to get as close as possible to the house. Suddenly, he gave a whoop and raced forward, the squad following, yelling like wild men. As they tossed grenades into the windows, Cota and another man kicked in the front door, tossed a couple of grenades inside, waited for the explosions, then dashed into the house. The surviving Germans inside were streaming out the back door, running for their lives.

Cota returned to the captain. "You've seen how to take a house," said the general, still out of breath. "Do you understand? Do you know how to do it now?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I won't be around to do it for you again," Cota said. "I can't do it for everybody."

That little story speaks to the training of the U.S. Army for the Battle of Normandy. At first glance, Cota's bravery stands out, along with his sense of the dramatic and his knowledge of tactics. He could be sure the story would get around the division. A lesson would be learned. His own reputation would go even higher, the men would be even more willing to follow him.

But after that first glance, a question emerges. Where had that captain been the last six months? He had been in training to fight the German army. He had been committed to offensive action, trained to it, inspired to it. But no one had thought to show him how to take an occupied house. He knew all about getting ashore from an LCVP, about beach obstacles, about paths up the bluff, about ravines, about amphibious assault techniques. But no one had shown him how to take a house, because there were no standing houses on Omaha Beach, so that wasn't one of his problems.

Not on June 6. But on June 7, it became his number one problem. The same was true for the 200 or so company commanders already ashore and would be for the hundreds of others waiting to enter the battle. As Cota said, he couldn't be there to teach all of them how to take a house. They were going to have to figure it out for themselves.

Normandy was a soldier's battle. It belonged to the riflemen, machine gunners, mortarmen, tankers, and artillerymen who were on the front lines. There was no room for maneuver. There was no opportunity for subtlety. There was a simplicity to the fighting: for the Germans, to hold; for the Americans, to attack.

Where they would hold or attack required no decision-making: it was always the next village or field. The real decision-making came at the battalion, company, and platoon levels: where to place the mines, the barbed wire, the machine-gun pits, where to dig the foxholes -- or where and how to attack them.

The direction of the attack had been set by pre-invasion decision-making. For the 1st and 29th Divisions, that meant south from Omaha toward St.-Lô. For the 101st Airborne, that meant east, into Carentan, for a linkup with Omaha. For the 82nd Airborne, that meant west from Ste.-Mère-Eglise, to provide maneuver room in the Cotentin. For the 4th and 90th Divisions, that meant west from Utah, to the Gulf of St.-Malo, to cut off the Germans in Cherbourg.

The objective of all this effort was to secure the port of Cherbourg and to create a beachhead sufficiently large to absorb the incoming stream of American reinforcements and serve as a base for an offensive through France. SHAEF's detailed projections of future activity -- where the front lines would be on such-and-such a date -- were already wrong on June 7. That was inevitable. What wasn't inevitable was the Allied fixation with Cherbourg -- how heavily, for example, the SHAEF projections for August and September were based on having a fully functioning port there. So strong a magnet was Cherbourg that the initial American offensive in Normandy headed west, away from Germany.

Eisenhower and his high command were obsessed with ports. Whenever they looked at the figures on supply needs for each division in combat, they blanched. Only a large, operational port could satisfy the logistical needs, or so Eisenhower assumed. Therefore the planning emphasis had been on ports, artificial ones to begin with, Cherbourg and Le Havre next, with the climax coming at Antwerp. Only with all these ports could Eisenhower be assured of the supplies a final fifty-division offensive into Germany would require. Especially Antwerp -- without it, an American army could not possibly be sustained in Central Europe.

The Germans had assumed that the Allies could not supply divisions in combat over an open beach. The Allies tended to agree. Experience in the Mediterranean had not been encouraging. Churchill was so certain it couldn't be done he insisted on putting a very large share of the national effort into building two experimental artificial harbors. Russell Weigley has speculated that without the promise of these experiments, Churchill might never have agreed to Overlord. As experiments, the harbors were moderately successful (the American one was destroyed by the storm of June 19; the British one was badly damaged but repaired and soon functioning). But as it turned out, their contribution to the total tonnage unloaded over the Normandy beaches was about 15 percent.

It was the cargo and troop ships, supported by the LST (Landing Ship Tank) and the myriad of specialized landing craft, that did the most carrying and unloading. It was a hodgepodge fleet -- a British crew of old salts on a Higgins boat in the Canadian Navy taking GIs ashore at Utah; LSTs commanded by a twenty-two-year-old American lieutenant carrying British troops to Gold Beach; LSTs at every beach, their great jaws yawning open, disgorging tanks and trucks and jeeps and bulldozers and big guns and small guns and mountains of cases of rations and ammunition, thousands of jerry cans filled with gasoline, crates of radios and telephones, typewriters and forms, and all else that men at war require.

The LSTs at Omaha and Utah and the other beaches provide a symbol for the Alliance. British-designed, American-built, they did what no one had thought possible: they came into open beaches to supply fighting divisions with their needs. The LST was in fact the Allies' secret weapon, far more practical and effective than the secret weapon Hitler put into operation a week after D-Day, the pilotless radio-controlled fighter aircraft carrying a high-explosive bomb, called the V-1 (the V was for Vengeance).

Through June, the Germans continued in the face of all evidence to believe LSTs could not supply the Allied divisions already ashore, and that therefore Overlord was a feint with the real attack scheduled for the Pas-de-Calais later in the summer. A continuing Fortitude deception plan and campaign of misinformation put out by SHAEF reinforced this German fixed idea. So through the month, Hitler kept his panzer divisions north and east of the Seine River.

Hitler had recognized that his only hope for victory lay on the Western Front. His armies could not defeat the Red Army, but they might defeat the British and Americans, so discouraging Stalin that he would make a settlement. But after correctly seeing the critical theater, Hitler completely failed to see the critical battlefield. He continued to look to the Pas-de-Calais as the site where he would drive the invaders back into the sea, and consequently kept his main striking power there. To every plea by the commanders in Normandy for the panzer divisions in northwestern France to come to their aid, Hitler said no. In so saying he sealed his fate. He suffered the worst humiliation of all, the one with the most consequences -- he had been outwitted.

The mission of the 101st Airborne Division was to take Carentan and thus link Omaha and Utah into a continuous beachhead. It took an all-out commitment from the airborne infantry. One of the critical actions was led by Lt. Col. Robert Cole, CO of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd PIR.

Cole was twenty-nine years of age, an Army brat and a 1939 West Point graduate, born and trained to lead. On D-Day, he had gathered up seventy-five men, moved out to Utah Beach, shot up some Germans on the way, and was at the dune line to welcome men from the 4th Division coming ashore. From June 7 on he had been involved in the attack on Carentan. The climax came on June 11.

Cole was leading some 250 men down a long, exposed causeway. At the far end was a bridge over the Douve River. Beyond that bridge was the linkup point with units from the 29th Division coming from Omaha. The causeway was a meter or so above the marshes on either side. On the far side of the inland marsh, about 150 meters away, there was a hedgerow, occupied by the Germans.

Once Cole was fully committed along the causeway, the German machine gunners, riflemen, and mortarmen along the hedgerow opened fire. Cole's battalion took a couple of dozen casualties. The survivors huddled against the bank on the far side of the causeway.

They should have kept moving. But the hardest lesson to teach in training, the most difficult rule to follow in combat, is to keep moving when fired on. Every instinct makes a soldier want to hug the ground. Cole's men did, and over the next half hour the Germans dropped mortars on the battalion, causing further casualties. Whenever an American tried to move down the causeway, he drew rifle and machine-gun fire. For yet another half hour, the GIs were pinned down.

Then Cole could take no more and took command. He passed out an order seldom heard in World War II: "Fix bayonets!"

Up and down the line he could hear the click of bayonets being fitted to rifle barrels. Cole's pulse was racing, his adrenaline pumping. He pulled his .45-caliber pistol, jumped onto the causeway, shouted a command in so loud a voice he could be heard above the din of the battle, "Charge!," turned toward the hedgerow, and began plunging through the marsh.

His men watched, fearful, excited, impressed, inspired. First single figures rose and began to follow Cole. Then small groups of two and three. Then whole squads started running forward, flashing the cold steel of their bayonets. The men began to roar as they charged, their own version of the Rebel Yell.

The Germans fired and cut down some, but not enough. Cole's men got to the hedgerow, plunged into the dugouts and trenches, thrusting with their bayonets, drawing blood and screams, causing death. Those Germans who dodged the bayonets ran out the back way and fled to the rear. Paratroopers took them under fire and dropped a dozen or more.

Cole stood there, shaking, exhausted, elated. Around him the men began to cheer. That added to the Civil War atmosphere of the scene. After the cheering subsided, Cole got his men down the causeway to the bridge and over it to the far side of the Douve River. There, the following day, Omaha and Utah linked up.

Cole's victory, memorable in itself, also serves as an example not only of heroism and spirit but also of the many things the Americans were doing wrong. Later in the war, in Holland and Belgium, the 502nd PIR would not have advanced over a causeway crossing a swampy area, with an unsecured hedgerow 150 meters away. It would have found a way to flank the hedgerow. Nor would the experienced 502nd have done what Cole did, make a bayonet charge over open, marshy ground. Not after having seen, too many times, what speeding bullets and hot shrapnel do to the human body. As veterans, the paratroopers would have called in artillery, and fighter aircraft, to blast the German position.

But in June, they didn't have the knowledge nor the communications capability to do any of that. No one had foreseen the need for air-ground communication, pilot to tank commander, infantry captain to forward observer over the radio; as no one had seen the need for the infantry to be able to communicate with tankers when the hatch was down.

Throughout First Army, young men made many discoveries in the first few days of combat, about war, about themselves, about others. They quickly learned such basics as keep down or die -- to dig deep and stay quiet -- to distinguish incoming from outgoing artillery -- to judge when and where a shell or a mortar barrage was going to hit -- to recognize that fear is inevitable but can be managed -- and many more things they had been told in training but that can only be truly learned by doing. Putting it another way, after a week in combat, infantrymen agreed that there was no way training could have prepared them for the reality of combat.

Capt. John Colby caught one of the essences of combat, the sense of total immediacy: "At this point we had been in combat six days. It seemed like a year. In combat, one lives in the now and does not think much about yesterday or tomorrow."

Colby discovered that there was no telling who would break or when. His regimental CO was "grossly incompetent," his battalion commander had run away from combat in his first day of action, and his company CO was a complete bust. On June 12 the company got caught in a combined mortar-artillery barrage. The men couldn't move forward, they couldn't fall back, and they couldn't stay where they were -- or so it appeared to the CO, who therefore had no orders to give, and was speechless.

Colby went up to his CO to ask for orders. The CO shook his head and pointed to his throat. Colby asked him if he could make it back to the aid station on his own, "and he leaped to his feet and took off. I never saw him again."

Another thing Colby learned in his first week in combat was: "Artillery does not fire forever. It just seems like that when you get caught in it. The guns overheat or the ammunition runs low, and it stops. It stops for a while, anyway."

He was amazed to discover how small he could make his body. If you get caught in the open in a shelling, he advised, "the best thing to do is drop to the ground and crawl into your steel helmet. One's body tends to shrink a great deal when shells come in. I am sure I have gotten as much as eighty percent of my body under my helmet when caught under shellfire."

Colby learned about hedgerows. Once he got into a situation where "I had to push through a hedgerow. A submachine-gun emitted a long burst right in front of my face. The gun was a Schmeisser, which had a very high rate of fire that sounded like a piece of cloth being ripped loudly. The bullets went over my head. I fell backward and passed out cold from fright."

About themselves, the most important thing a majority of the GIs discovered was that they were not cowards. They hadn't thought so, they had fervently hoped it would not be so, but they couldn't be sure until tested. After a few days in combat, most of them knew they were good soldiers. They had neither run away nor collapsed into a pathetic mass of quivering Jell-O (their worst fear, even greater than the fear of being afraid).

They were learning about others. A common experience: the guy who talked toughest, bragged most, excelled in maneuvers, everyone's pick to be the top soldier in the company, was the first to break, while the soft-talking kid who was hardly noticed in camp was the standout in combat. These are the clichés of war novels precisely because they are true. They also learned that while combat brought out the best in some men, it unleashed the worst in others -- and a further lesson, that the distinction between best and worst wasn't clear.

On June 9, Pvt. Arthur "Dutch" Schultz of the 82nd Airborne was outside Montebourg. That morning he was part of an attack on the town. "I ran by a wounded German soldier lying alongside of a hedgerow. He was obviously in a great deal of pain and crying for help. I stopped running and turned around. A close friend of mine put the muzzle of his rifle between the German's still crying eyes and pulled the trigger. There was no change in my friend's facial expression. I don't believe he even blinked an eye."

Schultz was simultaneously appalled and awed by what he had seen. "There was a part of me that wanted to be just as ruthless as my friend," he commented. Later, he came to realize that "there but for the grace of God go I."

Allied fighter pilots owned the skies over Normandy. On June 15, Eisenhower crossed the Channel by plane to visit Bayeux. Every airplane in the sky was American or British.

Thanks to air supremacy, the Americans were flying little single-seat planes, Piper Cubs, about 300 meters back from the front lines and some 300 meters high. German riflemen fired at them, ineffectively. Still, the bullets worried the pilots. Like all men at war, they feared above all getting hit in the testicles. Ground maintenance men eased their worry by welding steel plates under their seats.

When the Cubs appeared, all German mortar and artillery firing stopped. As Sergeant Sampson described it, "They didn't dare give their positions away, knowing if they fired our pilot would call in and artillery would be coming in on them, pin-point. The results could be devastating."

Sgt. Günter Behr was a radioman with a German artillery battery. Because of spotter planes, two of the guns were blown apart within minutes of the first time the battery shot at Americans. From then on, Behr related, "as soon as we fired our guns, we had to run again, and look for a good place to hide. We were hunted. Always afraid. If you could not run, it was over. Like eagles and rabbits."

Air supremacy also freed Allied fighter-bombers, principally P-47 Thunderbolts, capable of carrying two 500-pound bombs, to strafe and machine-gun and bomb German convoys and concentrations. From D-Day Plus One onward, whenever the weather was suitable for flying, the P-47s forced nighttime movement only on the Germans, at an incalculable cost to their logistical efficiency.

During the day, Germans caught in the open quickly paid. The Jabos would get them. (From the German "Jäger Bomber," or "hunter-bomber.") Fifty years later, in talking about the Jabos, German veterans still have awe in their voice, and glance up over their shoulders as they recall the terror of having one come right at them, all guns blazing. "The Jabos were a burden on our souls," Corp. Helmut Hesse said.

The B-26 Marauders, two-engine bombers, continued their all-out assault on choke points in the German transportation system, principally bridges and highway junctions. Lt. James Delong was a Marauder pilot who had flown in low and hard on D-Day over Utah Beach. On June 7, it was a bridge at Rennes, on the Seine. On the 8th, a railroad junction near Avranches.

These were defended sites. "We were being met with plenty of flak from enemy 88s," Delong recalled. "That Whomp! Whomp! sound just outside with black smoke puffs filling the air was still scary as hell, damaging, and deadly." But there were no Luftwaffe fighters, partly because the B-26s flew fight formations and stayed low, discouraging fighter attacks, but more because most German pilots were on the far side of the Rhine River, trying to defend the homeland from the Allied four-engine bombers, and the Luftwaffe was chronically short on fuel.

Almost exactly four years earlier, following the RAF withdrawal from the Battle of France, the Luftwaffe had ruled the skies over Normandy and all of Europe. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's air fleet struck terror in the hearts of its enemies. But in June 1944 it was not even a minor factor in the battle. One German soldier, while being interrogated after being made prisoner, said, "Yah, I saw the Luftwaffe. Seven of them, 7,000 Jabos."

In Normandy in June 1944, German soldiers learned to always look up for danger. GIs seldom had to look up. So total was this dominance that the Germans became experts in camouflage to make themselves invisible from the sky, while the GIs laid out colored panels and otherwise did all they could to make themselves plainly visible from the sky. They wanted any airplane up there to know that they were Americans, because they knew without having to look that the plane they heard was American.

German Gen. Fritz Bayerlein of the Panzer Lehr Division gave an account of how the Jabos worked over his division on June 7: "By noon it was terrible; every vehicle was covered with tree branches and moved along hedges and the edges of woods. Road junctions were bombed and a bridge knocked out. By the end of the day I had lost forty tank trucks carrying fuel, and ninety other vehicles. Five of my tanks were knocked out, and eighty-four half-tracks, prime movers and self-propelled guns." Those were heavy losses, especially for a panzer division that had so far not fired a shot.

Without doubt, the Jabos had a decisive effect on the Battle of Normandy. Without them, the Germans would have been able to move reinforcements into Normandy at a rate three, four, five times better than they actually achieved, in both quantity and speed. Two examples: the 266th Division left Brittany for Normandy on June 10. Unable to use rail transport or major roads, the division marched, at night, averaging less than sixteen kilometers a day. It took more than two weeks to get to the front. The 353rd Division left Brittany on June 14 and finally marched into Normandy on June 30, having advanced to the sound of the guns at a pace slower than a typical Civil War march eighty years earlier.

But airpower could not be decisive alone. The Germans already in Normandy were dug in well enough to survive strafing, rocket, and bombing attacks on their lines. They could move enough men, vehicles, and materiel at night to keep on fighting. Once in Normandy, their mobility was somewhat restored, because they could move along the leaf-covered sunken lanes. The frequently foul weather gave them further respite. Low clouds, drizzle, fog -- for the Germans, ideal weather to move reinforcements to the front or to reposition units. And there were more of those days than there were clear ones.

Over the first ten days of the battle, the Germans fought so well that the Allies measured their gains in meters. By June 16, the euphoria produced by the D-Day success was giving way to fears that the Germans were imposing a stalemate in Normandy. These fears led to blame and recriminations among the Allies.

The difficulty centered around the taking of Caen. Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery, commanding the ground forces, had said he would take the city on D-Day, but he had not, nor did he do so in the following ten days. Nor was he attacking. The British Second Army had drawn the bulk of the panzers in Normandy to its front. It was at Caen that the Germans were most vulnerable, because a breakthrough at Caen would put British tanks on a straight road through rolling terrain with open fields headed directly for Paris. Therefore the fighting north of Caen was fierce and costly. But there was no all-out British attack.

The Americans, themselves frustrated by their glacial-like progress in the hedgerows, were increasingly critical of Montgomery. Monty sent it right back. He blamed Gen. Omar Bradley, commanding U.S. First Army, for Allied problems, saying that the Americans should have attacked both north toward Cherbourg and south toward Coutances, "but Bradley didn't want to take the risk." Monty added, "I have to take the Americans along quietly and give them time to get ready."

Normandy, the land of fat cattle and fine orchards, and thus of excellent cheese and outstanding cider, had gone from pastoral idyll to battlefield overnight. War came as a shock to the Normans, who had quite accommodated themselves to the German occupation. We get some sense of how it was for the Normans before and during the battle in a top secret report from OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in London direct to President Franklin Roosevelt. Dated June 14, it was based on "an entirely reliable source," an unnamed Frenchman who went into Normandy for a day and interviewed residents.

Highlights: severe gasoline shortages immobilized many German vehicles and even entire units; the general belief among both Frenchmen and Germans was that the Normandy landing was but the first of a series and the next one would be at Pas-de-Calais; people were well fed and clothed; the behavior of the Germans during the four years of occupation had been "extremely correct"; "there is no food shortage apparent in the restaurants, although prices are very high. Source states that the wine cellar of the Lion D'Or hotel is excellent."

The political gossip had it that "de Gaulle is regarded as a symbol of French resistance, but not liked personally. Pétain is not hated by the majority of persons with whom source spoke; he is regarded merely as a poor, tired, old man. A picture of him in the Mayor's office has been replaced by one of Marshal Foch."

All over France, citizens were looking at the portrait in their hôtel de ville (city hall), wondering about the right moment to take Marshal Pétain down and put Marshal Foch -- or, perhaps, who knows? -- General de Gaulle up. Or maybe Stalin. All over France, Gaullist and Communist-dominated resistance groups were wondering about the right moment to strike -- against the Germans and in a simultaneous bid for power in France.

At the top, through June, the Allied high command squabbled. At the front, the soldiers fought. They got through to the west coast of the Cotentin on June 18, to Cherbourg on the 20th. It took a week of hard fighting to force a surrender on the 27th, and even then the Germans left the port facilities so badly damaged that it took the engineers six weeks to get them functioning. Meanwhile supplies continued to come in via LSTs.

With Cherbourg captured, Bradley was able to turn U.S. First Army, now composed of the V, VII, VIII, and XIX Corps, in a continuous line facing south. St.-Lô and Coutances were the objectives of this second phase of the Battle of Normandy. To get to them, the GIs had a lot of hedgerows to cross.

To get through the hedgerows, junior officers in the tank units had been experimenting with various techniques and methods. One idea that worked was to bring to the front the specially equipped dozer tanks (tanks with a blade mounted on the front similar to those on commercial bulldozers) used on the beaches on D-Day. They could cut through a hedgerow well enough, but there were too few of them -- four per division -- to have much impact. A rush order back to the States for 278 additional bulldozer blades was put in, but it would take weeks to fill.

In the 747th Tank Battalion, attached to the 29th Division, someone -- name unknown -- suggested using demolitions to blow gaps in the hedgerows. After some experimenting, the tankers discovered that two fifty-pound explosive charges laid against the bank would blow a hole in a hedgerow big enough for a Sherman tank to drive through. Once on the other side, the tank could fire its cannon into the far corners, using white phosphorus shells, guaranteed to burn out the Germans at the machine-gun pits, and hose down the hedgerow itself with its .50-caliber machine gun. Infantry could follow the tank into the field and mop up what remained when the tanker got done firing.

Good enough, excellent even. But when the planners turned to the logistics of getting the necessary explosives to the tanks, they discovered that each tank company would need seventeen tons of explosives to advance a mile and a half. The explosives were not available in such quantities, and even had they been the transport problems involved in getting them to the front were too great.

An engineer suggested drilling holes in the embankment and placing smaller charges in them. That worked, too -- except that it took forever to dig holes large enough and deep enough in the bank because of the vines and roots, and the men doing the digging were exposed to German mortar fire.

A tanker in the 747th suggested welding two pipes of four feet in length and six inches in diameter to the front of a tank, reinforced by angle irons. The tank could ram into a hedgerow and back off, leaving two sizable holes for explosives. The engineers learned to pack their explosives into expended 105mm artillery shell casings, which greatly increased the efficiency of the charges and made transport and handling much easier. Some tankers discovered that if the pipes were bigger, sometimes that was enough to allow a Sherman to plow right on through, at least with the smaller hedgerows.33 Other experiments were going on, all across Normandy. The U.S. First Army was starting to get a grip on the problem.

It was also growing to its full potential. The buildup in Normandy, slowed but not stopped by the storm of June 19, was proceeding in fine shape. By June 30, the Americans had brought in 71,000 vehicles over the beaches (of a planned 110,000) and 452,000 soldiers (of a planned 579,000). The shortfall in soldiers was felt exclusively in supply and service troops: the combat strength of the First Army was actually greater than originally planned. It had eleven divisions in the battle, as scheduled, plus the 82nd and 101st Airborne, which were to have been withdrawn to England to prepare for the next jump, but which were retained on the Continent and kept in the line through June. The British Second Army also had thirteen divisions ashore, including the 6th Airborne.

The Americans had evacuated 27,000 casualties. About 11,000 GIs had been killed in action or died of their wounds, 1,000 were missing in action, and 3,400 wounded men had been returned to duty. So the total active duty strength of U.S. First Army in Normandy on June 30 was 413,000. German strength on the American front was somewhat less, while German losses against the combined British-Canadian-American forces were 47,500.

That the GIs were there in such numbers, and so well equipped if only partly trained, was the great achievement of the American people and system in the twentieth century and equal to the greatest nineteenth-century achievement, the creation of the Army of the Potomac. In 1864 and again eighty years later the American democracy gathered itself together and although sorely tested by three years of war was able to provide the men and matériel Grant and Eisenhower each needed to carry out a war-ending offensive.

In most cases the GIs were much better equipped than their foe. Some German weapons were superior, others inferior. In vehicles, the United States was far ahead, in both quality and quantity. The Germans could not compete with the American two-and-a-half-ton truck (deuce-and-a-half) or the jeep (the Germans loved to capture working jeeps, but complained that they were gas-guzzlers). The German factories making their vehicles were a few hundred kilometers from Normandy. Their American counterparts were thousands of kilometers from Normandy. Yet the Americans got more and better vehicles to the battlefront than the Germans did, in less time.

Simultaneously, the Americans were on the offensive in Italy and in the Pacific, and were conducting a major air offensive inside Germany. But the Germans were fighting on four fronts, the Eastern, Western, Southern, and Home. They could not possibly win a war of attrition, no matter how much closer to Normandy the German industrial centers were than the American.

The senior German commanders in the West, Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel, were perfectly aware of that fact. Having failed to stop the Allied assault on the beaches, having failed to prevent a linkup of the invasion forces, completely lacking any air support and seriously deficient in air defense, chronically short on fuel, sometimes of ammunition, taking heavy casualties, they despaired. On June 28, the two field marshals set off for Hitler's headquarters in Berchtesgaden. On the drive, they talked. Rundstedt had already told Hitler's lackeys to "make peace." Now he said the same to Rommel.

"I agree with you," Rommel replied. "The war must be ended immediately. I shall tell the Führer so, clearly and unequivocally."

Rommel knew what that meant. Hitler had told him, six months earlier, "Nobody will make peace with me." But the failure to stop the landing on the beaches had put victory out of the question. Hitler would have to go, be forced to resign and give himself up, for the good of Germany. And now, at once. Every day the war went on made a terrible situation worse.

The showdown meeting with Hitler came at a full-dress conference attended by the top echelon of the high command: Field Marshals Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, and Goering, along with Admiral Karl Dönitz and many lesser lights, were there. Rommel spoke first. He said the moment was critical. He told his Führer, "The whole world stands arrayed against Germany, and this disproportion of strength --"

Hitler cut him off. Would the Herr Feldmarschall please concern himself with the military, not the political situation?

Rommel replied that history demanded he deal with the entire situation. Hitler rebuked him again and ordered him to stick to the military situation only. Rommel then gave a most gloomy report.

Hitler took over. He said the critical task was to halt the enemy offensive. This would be accomplished by the Luftwaffe, he declared. He announced that 1,000 new fighters were coming out of the factories and would be in Normandy shortly. He talked about new secret weapons -- the V-2 -- that would turn the tide. He said the Allied communications between Britain and Normandy would be cut by the Kriegsmarine, which would soon be adding a large number of torpedo boats to lay mines in the Channel, and new submarines to operate off the invasion beaches. And large convoys of brand-new trucks would soon be headed west from the Rhine toward Normandy.

This was pure fantasy. Hitler was clearly crazy. The German high command knew it, without question, and should have called for the men with the straitjacket. But nothing was done.

As the meeting broke up, Rommel said he could not leave without speaking directly to Hitler, "about Germany."

Hitler wheeled on him: "Field Marshal, I think you had better leave the room!" Rommel did.

For the Americans, numbers of units and qualifies and quantifies of equipment helped make victory possible, but it still took men to make it happen. And out in the hedgerows, it wasn't so apparent to the GIs that their side enjoyed great manpower and equipment advantages. Indeed it often looked the other way to them. As, indeed, sometimes it was. Meanwhile all those American vehicles would be idle until the GIs managed to break out of the hedgerows. And that rested on the wits, endurance, and execution of the tankers, artillery, and infantry at the front.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.
Afterword copyright © 1998 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2001

    A little short on soldiers storys

    This was a good bood, but not up to what the reviews claimed. I was expecting more from the individual soldiers experiences. There were many GIs mentioned and quoted, but they were just little snips of that GIs experience. I wanted something more in depth. I also thought the maps were poor. They were a good idea but just not put together quite right. The way he set up the chapters was good. Each group of people giving a new point of view. It was worth reading but left me wanting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2011

    Excellent book

    I found this to be a fascinating book, in the manner of Band of Brothers, as it gives a little bigger picture of the various men in the trenches that were responsible for fighting across Europe. Well worth reading especially if you are interested in the events of World War II.

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  • Posted February 10, 2010

    Good book

    I found this book to be a very good purchase. The stories of the men and their accomplishments are outstanding. In addition, it was fascinating to see how the war was viewed by the German soldiers. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in the everyday life of the WWII soldier.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    Ambrose touches them all

    From the invasion of Normandy to the surrender of Germany, Citizen Soldiers depicts life in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) from a vast array of perspectives. Beginning at junior officers down to the enlisted men, Ambrose portrays the learning process of citizens becoming soldiers. Whether it be crossing a river in the Rhineland or fighting through the hedgerows of Normandy, soldiers were forced to adapt to situations that basic training failed to prepare them for. To add to the challenge, a majority of the soldiers were fresh out of high school and as a result, severely lacked experience and composure in combat. Furthermore, the soldiers were subjected to the occasional suspect decisions of the brass and the repercussions that followed. That said, Ambrose utilizes oral accounts to recreate the experiences of combat through the eyes of the soldiers who lived it. Ambrose delves into the various aspects of life in the ETO, documenting the sheer horror of spending one night on the front line, the practically criminal nature of the replacement system, the perils of those involved in the air war, the heroics of the medics, nurses and doctors, the cowardice of the jerks, sad sacks, profiteers and Jim Crow, and the atrocities endured by prisoners of war. Not only does Ambrose portray combat from an Allied perspective, but he also explores the experiences of Nazis soldiers. Rather than belittling their endeavor, Ambrose recognizes that the Nazis bore the burden of war comparable to that of the Americans. By doing so, he achieves a holistic view of life in the ETO, complete with unique accounts portraying the war from both sides of the conflict. His methods of research produce an aura of realism unparalleled to others in the genre. Although Citizen Soldiers does contain plagiarism and historical inaccuracies, Ambrose compensates for his errors with his vivid detail of life in the ETO and eloquent writing style that keeps readers on the edge of their seats throughout the novel. Consequently, I highly recommend Citizen Soldiers to any reader interested in World War II, specifically from the point of view of the men and women who valiantly endured the hardships of combat to triumph over the Nazis tyranny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2004

    Awesome, a military masterpiece

    Citizen Soldiers is one of the best books I have ever read. Not only does it tell the complete story of World War II, it tells about the hardships, victories, and mindsets of some of America's finest men. Beginning from the invasion of Nomandy on June 6, 1944, the book tells of the huge numbers of men who went to war to rid the world of Nazi Germany, the ways the soldiers survived, and even gave multiple accounts and quotes of the German army. Every section of the book tells of the different jobs and responsibilities of the men and women who served in the army. Wether you like war or not, these outstanding citizens got the the job done and I'd recommend everyone read it to get a better grasp on the greatest battle ever fought.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    Great Book

    This book goes into great detail in explaining the struggle of the war through the eyes of the common soldier. Very well written

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2003

    An unreliable popular history

    Having just finished a critique of Citizen Soldiers, I have found more errors and uninformed opinions in this book than any other history of WWII that I've ever read. According to the Washington Post and others, Ambrose was a flat out plagiarist. What I've found him to be is a bombastic purveyor of misleading or downright false information and opinions. His ideas about the Sherman tank and bazooka, as an example, couldn't be more mistaken and false. He also mistated the capture of the Bridge at Remagen, crediting Lt Larsen for things that never happened I checked with the author of The Bridge at Remagen, Ken Hechler, and he confirmed my suspicians about Ambrose - in this instance and many others. Read Ambrose for the pleasure, but don't believe much of what he says. He has 15(!) divisions attacking Bastogne, obviously doesn't understand the Small Solution as applied to the Bulge, calls German soldiers 'Nazis', calls American soldiers 'Citizens', and proclaims D Day as the 'climactic battle of WWII' in the ETO. These are just a sample of the flood of mistakes and mistaken opinions that are found in this text. Don't quote Ambrose in any college history course - you're liable to be very embarrassed. As I've often been told by history scholars - consider Ambrose a 'newsman,' not an historian. He ran a 'history factory' apparently with his son gathering the info he put in his texts.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2003

    Great book, hard to put down!

    I found this book to be a very good read, hard to put down. Great how Ambrose presents the story from the German as well as the American perspective. Brings home the brutal realities of war for everyone involved. One of the best books I have read on WWII.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2003

    Great Stephen E. Ambrose Book!

    This book has short stories of the GI's that fought from D-day to the surrender of Germany. You have to read this book you would be able to know more of how these soldiers decided to pull off this war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2002

    One of the best on WWII

    Well researched and put together - this and the Longest Day are the defacto other war books are compared to for non-fiction war novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2001

    The Drive on Germany from a Miserable, Cold Foxhole View

    Citizen Soldiers begins the day after D-Day in Normandy and continues through the surrender of Germany in May 1945. While there are many history books about this period, all of the ones I have read take the perspective of either the big picture as seen by the politicians and generals or the little picture as seen by individual units. Citizen Soldiers is unique in my experience in combining both perspectives in one book. Citizen Soldiers is the only book I have read about World War II that contains every single negative story about the GI experiences that I have heard from individual veterans over the years. As such, Citizen Soldiers is a cautionary tale about grim realities of war. If you are easily offended by inhumanity, you will not enjoy this book. Combat is full of such, and Citizen Soldiers honestly captures everything from mass murder to random cruelty. I learned a lot from this book. Did you know that soldiers were often as likely to become casualties because of trench foot as with a bullet wound? Despite this, the recruits and draftees were never taught how to avoid trench foot. Other training errors cost lots of lives and wounded, such as not preparing the soldiers for the raised hedgerows in Normandy. The Germans were well prepared, but the Americans were not. Although no one can know what combat is like without experiencing it, Citizen Soldiers does a fine job of giving a flavor. The remorseless statistics of how many casualties were taken gives a grim sense of the fatalism that many soldiers must have felt. If 200 percent of a unit became casualties, and no one was released without becoming a casualty, what do you think you would assess your chances at? Where in the big picture histories, the cities and regions are mostly names. Here, there is a strong sense of place. You will know the difference between one forest and another, and from one river crossing to another. Important criticisms are aimed here at both the American and German leaders. Atrocities done by both Americans and Germans are handled openly and honestly. I hope these lessons will not be forgotten. I was pleased to see that Professor Ambrose made an effort to interview German soldiers as well. The mutual perspective on the battles and on the overall war experience is much more powerful than it would be by just hearing how it was for the winners. I came away from this book with a greatly heightened respect for the ordinary infantry soldiers of both the American and German armies on the northwestern front. I think you will, too. More than The Greatest Generation, this book made me realize the incredible character involved in winning World War II in northwestern Europe. I was also fascinated by the stories of how important innovations occurred, such as the coordination artillery, aircraft, tanks and infantry using radios and developing methods for breaching hedgerows in Normandy. It was the ordinary soldiers who usually came up with the good ideas, not the heavy thinkers. After you finish this book, think about where else lack of training and preparation needlessly wastes lives. How about people who have trouble learning in school, and feel humiliated in the process? At the same time, examine what the lessons are here for dealing with the escalating terrorism aimed at Americans. Look squarely in the face of violence and evil intentions with honesty! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2001

    Major Disappointment

    This book suffers from one of the worst cases of fact-checking failures that I have ever read in a book about WWII. I'm not being nitpicky, its just that the book is full of them: mis-identifications, incorrect photo captions, flat-out wrong statements of fact. The sad thing is, you can use the books in his listed bibliography to correct his errors, as I have. I am sending a compiled list to Simon & Schuster with a letter of complaint. I really enjoyed reading a number of Ambrose's previous work, but to readers well-versed on WWII in Western Europe, and especially the U.S. Army's role in it, Citizen Soldiers is a sloppy piece of scholarly work, but some good story-telling if you are a casual WWII reader. I am going to return my copy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2000

    Best Yet

    Stephen Ambrose has outdone himself with this great work. It brings the true hardships of war to the civilian.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2000

    Ambrose's best book yet

    Stephen Ambrose is a talented writer and historian. His realism that he brings to his books are suberb. He continues to amaze me with his writing and World War II knowledge.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2000

    Thank You

    Being only twenty years old and not really knowing much more about WWII than I have studied in class and seen on TV and in the movies, I was mesmerized by Ambrose's portrayal of the action in the ETO. I have talked to some vets since reading the book who remember many details exactly how Ambrose writes them in the book. The only thing that comes to my mind after reading this book is immense respect and gratitude to all those who served. Thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2000

    Best book that tells GIs' side of WW II

    Citizen Soldiers is the best book I have read on WW II. It shows not only the Army's point of view but shows what it was like for the average GI fighting the war. Must read for everyone to understand what the GI went through during that time in history.

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    Posted December 28, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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