D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II [NOOK Book]


Stephen E. Ambrose’s D-Day is the definitive history of World War II’s most pivotal battle, a day that changed the course of history.

D-Day is the epic story of men at the most demanding moment of their lives, when the horrors, complexities, and triumphs of life are laid bare. Distinguished historian Stephen E. Ambrose portrays the faces of courage and heroism, fear and determination—what Eisenhower called “the fury of an aroused ...
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D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

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Stephen E. Ambrose’s D-Day is the definitive history of World War II’s most pivotal battle, a day that changed the course of history.

D-Day is the epic story of men at the most demanding moment of their lives, when the horrors, complexities, and triumphs of life are laid bare. Distinguished historian Stephen E. Ambrose portrays the faces of courage and heroism, fear and determination—what Eisenhower called “the fury of an aroused democracy”—that shaped the victory of the citizen soldiers whom Hitler had disparaged.Drawing on more than 1,400 interviews with American, British, Canadian, French, and German veterans, Ambrose reveals how the original plans for the invasion had to be abandoned, and how enlisted men and junior officers acted on their own initiative when they realized that nothing was as they were told it would be.

The action begins at midnight, June 5/6, when the first British and American airborne troops jumped into France. It ends at midnight June 6/7. Focusing on those pivotal twenty-four hours, it moves from the level of Supreme Commander to that of a French child, from General Omar Bradley to an American paratrooper, from Field Marshal Montgomery to a German sergeant.

Ambrose’s D-Day is the finest account of one of our history’s most important days.

This monumental narrative provides a compelling portrait of the strategic dimesnions of the invasion that changed the course of the World War II, skillfully melding eyewitness accounts of American, British, Canadian, French, and German veterans, materials from government and private archives, and never-before-utilized sources from the homefront.

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Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Reading this history, you can understand why for so many of its participants, despite all the death surrounding them, life revealed itself in that moment at that place. -- New York Times.
Wall Street Journal
Definitive...His evidence is overwhelming.
—John Lehman
New York Times Book Review
D-Day is mostly about people, but goes even further in evoking the horror, the endurance, the daring and, indeed, the human failings at Omaha Beach...Outstanding.
—Raleigh Trevelyan
New York Times
Reading this history, you can understand why for so many of its participants, despite all the death surrounding them, life revealed itself in that moment at that place.
—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Chicago Tribune
Historians and public alike should be profoundly grateful to Ambrose...for assembling this comprehensive and permanent record that will be forever a resource for remembering Normandy.
—Thomas B. Buell
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Using eyewitness accounts from both sides of the battlefield, Ambrose reconstructs the invasion that turned the tables of WWII in favor of the allies.
Library Journal
World War II buffs have always liked books about the Normandy invasions, but most popular accounts are now several years old. Ambrose has updated the familiar story of the massive amphibious landings with new information, deft historical perspective, and a gripping narrative. Several opening chapters about the strategic situation and the laborious preparations for the invasion keep this book from becoming just another battlefield drama. His portraits of the various military commanders are superb. Numerous interviews with Allied veterans provide fresh material for the vital human element of the story, and accounts from German survivors show the enemy's viewpoint. The result is the best popular history since Max Hastings's vigorous "Overload: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy" (LJ 6/1/84), detailed enough for the historian yet with plenty of action for the lay reader. Recommended for public and military collections. - Raymond L. Puffer, U.S. Air Force History Prog., Edwards AFB
Gilbert Taylor
An expert on D-Day, Ambrose heads a premier oral history archive based in New Orleans. He has written invasion-related narratives on both the macro (a two-volume biography of General Eisenhower, 1983 and 1991) and the micro ("Band of Brothers: E Company, 501st Regiment", 1992) scales. This fiftieth anniversary salvo brackets the big and small as it finds the range on its target: the critical first hours of American landings on Utah and Omaha Beaches, and concurrent paratroop drops behind the lines. Ambrose calls his text a "love song to democracy." Since it draws from some 1200 eyewitness testimonials collected in his archive, however, his book might more accurately be thought of as an organization of the chaotic, terrifying, and courageous experiences of the first soldiers to face the Nazi hellfire. An excellent editor of the raw material, who knows Pointe du Hoc as if he had scaled it himself, Ambrose situates his pungent, laconic, and gruesome quotations at virtually the exact spots where they were uttered, and he is completely unbashful in his patriotic reverence for the sacrifices these men made. A consuming and highly readable memorial to the day's infantry-unit victors--one that World War II veterans will demand in strength. Ambrose's is the leading and required element in the coming wave of commemorative books.
Raleigh Trevelyan
Mr. Ambrose wonderfully illuminates the mind of the very young soldier of any nation anywhere who has never been in fighting before. The fear of being afraid. All too soon, "It can't happen to me" will turn into "It can happen to me." -- New York Times
From the Publisher
John Lehman The Wall Street Journal Definitive...His evidence is overwhelming.

Raleigh Trevelyan The New York Times Book Review D-Day is mostly about people, but goes even further in evoking the horror, the endurance, the daring and, indeed, the human failings at Omaha Beach...Outstanding.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt The New York Times Reading this history, you can understand why for so many of its participants, despite all the death surrounding them, life revealed itself in that moment at that place.

Thomas B. Buell Chicago Tribune Historians and public alike should be profoundly grateful to Ambrose...for assembling this comprehensive and permanent record that will be forever a resource for remembering Normandy.

From Barnes & Noble
Historian Stephen Ambrose reveals the startling fact that the intricate plan for the invasion of France in June 1844 had to be abandoned before the first shot was fired. This history of D-Day reveals the story of brave citizen soldiers—junior officers and enlisted men—who took the initiative to act on their own to penetrate Hitler's Atlantic Wall when they realized than nothing was as they were told it would be. A brilliant retelling of the battles of Omaha and Utah beaches, based on information only now available from interviews with surviving veterans, government archives, and other sources. "A magnificent history..."—John Keegan. B&W photos. 655pp. HC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439126301
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/23/2013
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 39,321
  • File size: 46 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Stephen E. Ambrose
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.
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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 1


At the beginning of 1944, Nazi Germany's fundamental problem was that she had conquered more territory than she could defend, but Hitler had a conqueror's mentality and he insisted on defending every inch of occupied soil. To carry out such orders, the Wehrmacht relied on improvisations, of which the most important were conscripted foreign troops, school-age German youths and old men, and fixed defensive positions. It also changed its tactical doctrine and weapons design, transforming itself from the highly mobile blitzkrieg army of 1940-41 that had featured light, fast tanks and hard-marching infantry into the ponderous, all-but-immobile army of 1944 that featured heavy, slow tanks and dug-in infantry.

Like everything else that happened in Nazi Germany, this was Hitler's doing. He had learned the lesson of World War I -- that Germany could not win a war of attrition -- and his policy in the first two years of World War II had been blitzkrieg. But in the late fall of 1941 his lightning war came a cropper in Russia. He then made the most incomprehensible of his many mistakes when he declared war on the United States -- in the same week that the Red Army launched its counteroffensive outside Moscow!

In the summer of 1942, the Wehrmacht tried blitzkrieg against the Red Army again, but on a much reduced scale (one army group on one front rather than three army groups on three fronts), only to come a cropper once more when the snow began to fall. At the end of January 1943, nearly a quarter of a million German troops at Stalingrad surrendered. In July 1943, the Wehrmacht launched its last offensive on the Eastern Front, at Kursk. The Red Army stopped it cold, inflicting horrendous casualties.

From Kursk on, Hitler had no hope of winning a military victory against the Soviet Union. That did not mean his cause was hopeless. He had a lot of space to trade for time on the Eastern Front, and in time it was inevitable that the strange alliance -- Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States -- that only he could have brought together would split asunder.

His death and the total defeat of Nazi Germany would for certain lead to the breakup of the alliance, but Hitler wanted the breakup to take place while it would still benefit him, and he had good reason to believe that might happen -- if he could convince Stalin that he couldn't depend on the United States and Britain. In that event, Stalin could well conclude that the cost of victory to the Red Army fighting alone was too high. Once the Red Army had returned to the start line of June 1941 -- that is, in occupation of eastern Poland -- Stalin might be willing to negotiate a peace based on a division of Eastern Europe between the Nazis and Soviets.

Between August 1939 and June 1941 the Nazi and Soviet empires had been partners, joined together in an alliance based on a division of Eastern Europe between them. To return to that situation, Hitler had to persuade Stalin that the Wehrmacht was still capable of inflicting unacceptable casualties on the Red Army. To do that, Hitler needed more fighting men and machines. To get them, he had to strip his Western Front. To do that, he had to hurl the forthcoming invasion back into the sea.

That is why D-Day was critical. In a November 3, 1943, Führer Directive (No. 51), Hitler explained it all with crystal clarity: "For the last two and one-half years the bitter and costly struggle against Bolshevism has made the utmost demands upon the bulk of our military resources and energies....The situation has since changed. The threat from the East remains, but an even greater danger looms in the West: the Anglo-American landing! In the East, the vastness of the space will, as a last resort, permit a loss of territory even on a major scale, without suffering a mortal blow to Germany's chance for survival.

"Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds in penetrating our defense on a wide front, consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time." (What he meant was that a successful Anglo-American offensive in 1944 would pose a direct threat to Germany's industrial heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr region. Southeastern England is closer to Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Essen than they are to Berlin; put another way, in the fall of 1943 the front line in the East was more than 2,000 kilometers from Berlin, while in the West the front line was 500 kilometers from the Rhine-Ruhr, 1,000 kilometers from Berlin. A successful 1944 Red Army offensive would overrun parts of Ukraine and White Russia, areas important but not critical to Germany's war-making capability. A successful 1944 Anglo-American offensive would overrun the Rhine-Ruhr, areas that were indispensable to Germany's warmaking capability.)

Thus, Hitler declared, it was on the French coast that the decisive battle would be fought. "For that reason, I can no longer justify the further weakening of the West in favor of other theaters of war. I have therefore decided to strengthen the defenses in the West...."

This reversed a policy established in the fall of 1940, with the abandonment of preparations for Operation Seelöwe (Sea Lion), the invasion of England. Since that time, the Wehrmacht had stripped down its forces in France, transferring men and equipment to the Eastern Front on an ever-increasing scale.

Hitler's reasons for shifting priority to the West in 1944 were more political than military. On March 20, he told his principal commanders in the West, "The destruction of the enemy's landing attempt means more than a purely local decision on the Western Front. It is the sole decisive factor in the whole conduct of the war and hence in its final result." He went on to explain, "Once defeated, the enemy will never again try to invade. Quite apart from their heavy losses, they would need months to organize a fresh attempt. And an invasion failure would also deliver a crushing blow to British and American morale. For one thing, it would prevent Roosevelt from being reelected -- with any luck he'd finish up in jail somewhere! For another, war weariness would grip Britain even faster and Churchill, already a sick old man with his influence waning, wouldn't be able to carry through a new invasion operation." At that point, the Wehrmacht could transfer forty-five divisions from the West to the East to "revolutionize the situation there....So the whole outcome of the war depends on each man fighting in the West, and that means the fate of the Reich as well!"

This was Germany's only hope. More correctly, it was Hitler's and the Nazis' only hope; for the German people and nation, the decision to continue the struggle spelled catastrophe. In any case, had Hitler's scenario worked out, in the summer of 1945 the U.S. Army Air Force, secure in its bases in England, would have started dropping atomic bombs on Berlin and other German cities. But of course in early 1944 no one knew when, or even if, the American Manhattan Project would be able to produce such a bomb.

Hitler's problem was not his priorities, it was how to hurl the coming invasion back into the sea. That problem was compounded by many factors, summed up in one word -- shortages. Shortages of ships, planes, men, guns, tanks. Germany was overextended far worse than she had been in World War I. Hitler had criticized the Kaiser for getting into a two-front war, but at the end of 1943 Hitler was fighting a three-front war. On the Eastern Front, his troops were stretched over more than 2,000 kilometers; on the Mediterranean Front, which ran from southern Greece through Yugoslavia, then across Italy and southern France, his troops were defending a line of some 3,000 kilometers; on the Western Front, his troops were called on to defend 6,000 kilometers of coastline, running from Holland to the southern end of the Bay of Biscay.

Actually, there was a fourth front -- at home. The Allied air offensive against German cities had driven the Luftwaffe out of France, forcing it to fight over German skies to defend German cities. The bombing had not had a decisive effect on German war production -- not even close, as Germany was increasing its output of tanks and guns through 1943, although not fast enough to make up the losses -- but it had put the Luftwaffe on the defensive.

Hitler hated that. Everything in his own psychology, everything in German military tradition, cried out for taking the offensive. But Hitler could not attack his enemies, at least not until his secret weapons came on line. It was gall and wormwood to him, but he had to stay on the defensive.

That necessity so stuck in his craw that it led him to make strategic and technological blunders of the greatest magnitude. When German physicists told him in 1940 that it might be possible to build an atomic bomb by 1945, he ordered them to abandon the project on the grounds that by then the war would have been won or lost. That was almost certainly a wise decision, not because his prediction was accurate but because Germany did not have the industrial or natural resources to produce an atomic bomb. German scientists went to work instead on other weapons; at Hitler's insistence, these were offensive weapons such as diesel submarines, pilotless aircraft, and rockets. The Vergeltungswaffen (vengeance weapons) were designed and used, eventually, but in no way were they decisive. The V-2, the world's first medium-range ballistic missile, was not a military weapon at all but a terrorist device. (The Scud missiles used by Iraq in 1991 in the Gulf War were only slightly improved versions of the V-2; like the V-2, they were inaccurate and carried only a small explosive load.)

Hitler's passion for bombing London and his indifference to defending German cities led to a monstrous, history-changing misjudgment. In May 1943, Professor Willy Messerschmitt had an ME-262 twin-jet fighter ready for serial production. Its cruise speed was 520 miles per hour, more than 120 miles an hour faster than any plane the Allies could send against it, and it mounted four 30mm cannon. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering wanted the plane, but he had to clear it with Hitler. Hitler had been burned by Goering's promises too many times, and not until December 1943 did Hitler witness a demonstration of the 262's capabilities. Hitler was impressed, but he wanted a bomber to hit London, not a fighter to defend Germany. Goering assured him that the 262 could be modified to carry bombs, whereupon Hitler went into great raptures about what the jet bomber would do to London and to the anticipated Allied landings in France.

Goering, typically, had not known what he was talking about. Messerschmitt could not make a fighter into a bomber, and a larger jet airplane was pushing the technology too hard. So he ignored Hitler's order and the Messerschmitt works started turning out 262s, a total of about 120 by April 1944. When Hitler got this news, he braced Goering and gave him strict orders that not only was the 262 not to be built as a fighter but that nobody should even refer to it as a fighter -- it was to be known as the Blitz-bomber.

For the next six months, Messerschmitt tried manfully to make a bomber out of a fighter. He got nowhere. Finally, in November 1944 Hitler authorized the formation of the first jet-fighter wing. But by then the transportation system was a shambles, the fighter-pilot force was decimated, and the fuel sources all but dried up. The Luftwaffe never got more than a token force into the air before things fell apart.

The Germans built more than 1,000 ME-262s, but only in the last six weeks of the war did they get as many as 100 in the air at one time. But as a secret report in 1960 to President Dwight Eisenhower pointed out, "During that time the Germans literally flew rings around our fighters and bored holes in our bomber formations with complete impunity....For example, 14 fighter groups escorted the 1,250 B-17 raid on Berlin March 18 [1945] -- almost a one-for-one escort ratio. They were set upon by a single squadron of ME 262's which knocked down 25 bombers and five fighters, although outnumbered roughly 100 to 1. The Germans lost not a single plane."

The report (which Eisenhower had asked to have prepared for his personal use only) was written by White House staff officer Ralph Williams. He said he had talked to Gen. Carl Spaatz, commander of the Eighth Air Force in World War II. Spaatz "freely conceded that none of our fighters was any match for the German jets, and...added that if the Germans had been able to get them deployed in force to the French coast they could have denied us air superiority and frustrated the Normandy landings and might even have compelled us to work our way up into Europe via the Italian route."

But what might have been wasn't; there were no German jets over France or the English Channel in June 1944, and precious few prop airplanes.

There were also precious few ships of war, and those that were there were E-boats, an oversize German version of the American patrol boat (PT boat), almost as big as a destroyer escort (the E stood for "enemy"). They were capable of laying mines and firing torpedoes and running away at high speed. Other than the E-boats, the only contribution the German navy could make to the defense of Fortress Europe was minelaying.

With no air force and no navy, the German defenders of Fortress Europe were blind and forced to stretch out to cover every conceivable landing site. Control of the air and sea gave the Allies unprecedented mobility and almost certain surprise -- in briefest form, they would know where and when the battle would be fought, and the Germans would not.

In World War I, preparations for a massive offensive could not be hidden. The buildup of troops took weeks; the artillery preparation took days; by the time the offensive began, the defenders knew where and when it would hit and could strengthen their positions at the point of attack. But in the spring of 1944, the Germans could only guess.

Hitler's spiritual mentor, Frederick the Great, had warned, "He who defends everything, defends nothing."

It was the human and material wastage of the war on the Eastern Front that forced Hitler to ignore Frederick's warning and adopt a policy on the Western Front of fixed fortifications. Wehrmacht losses had been staggering. In June 1941, the Wehrmacht went into Russia with 3.3 million men. By the end of 1943 it had suffered nearly 3 million casualties, about one-third of which were permanent (killed, missing, captured, or unfit for combat due to wounds). Despite heroic efforts to make up the deficit by drawing down in France and calling up fresh conscripts from within Germany, after the Kursk battle (next to Verdun, the greatest battle ever fought, with more than 2 million men engaged) the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front was down to 2.5 million, attempting to hold a line that stretched from Leningrad in the north to the Black Sea in the south, nearly 2,000 kilometers.

When the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union, it prided itself on its "racial purity." The desperate need for replacements forced it to drastically modify and eventually abandon that policy. Initially, so-called Volksdeutsche ("racial Germans") from Poland and the Balkan countries were required to "volunteer." They were classified as Abteilung 3 dur Deutschen Volkslists (Section 3 of the German Racial List); this meant that they were vested with German citizenship for a probationary period of ten years and were liable to military service but could not rise above the rank of private first class. In 1942-43 recruiting in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union was aggressively pursued for the struggle against communism; initially there was some truth to the designation of these recruits as Freiwilligen (volunteers), as men from the western republics of the Soviet empire signed up for the fight against Stalin. When the German retreat began, there were fewer Freiwilligen, more Hilfswilligen (auxiliaries) conscripted from the occupied territories and from Red Army prisoners of war. By the beginning of 1944, the Wehrmacht had "volunteers" from France, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Asian Russia, North Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Ruthenia, the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union, as well as Volga-Tatars, Volga-Finns, Crimean Tatars, and even Indians.

The so-called Ost (east) battalions became increasingly unreliable after the German defeat at Kursk; they were, therefore, sent to France in exchange for German troops. At the beach called Utah on the day of the invasion, Lt. Robert Brewer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, captured four Asians in Wehrmacht uniforms. No one could speak their language; eventually it was learned that they were Koreans. How on earth did Koreans end up fighting for Hitler to defend France against Americans? It seems they had been conscripted into the Japanese army in 1938 -- Korea was then a Japanese colony -- captured by the Red Army in the border battles with Japan in 1939, forced into the Red Army, captured by the Wehrmacht in December 1941 outside Moscow, forced into the German army, and sent to France. (What happened to them, Lieutenant Brewer never found out, but presumably they were sent back to Korea. If so, they would almost certainly have been conscripted again, either into the South or the North Korean army. It is possible that in 1950 they ended up fighting once again, either against the U.S. Army, or with it, depending on what part of Korea they came from. Such are the vagaries of politics in the twentieth century.) By June 1944, one in six German riflemen in France was from an Ost battalion.

Furthermore, the Wehrmacht sharply relaxed its physical standards to bring more genuine Germans into the line. Men with stomach and lung ailments were sent to the front. Convalescence time was cut, as was training time for recruits. Younger and older men were called up; of an army of 4,270,000 men in December 1943, more than a million and a half were over thirty-four years old; in the 709th Division, on the Cotentin Peninsula, the average age was thirty-six; in the Wehrmacht as a whole the average age was thirty-one and a half (in the U.S. Army the average age was twenty-five and a half). Meanwhile, the classes of 1925 and 1926 were called up.

As a consequence of these desperate measures, the Wehrmacht did not have the resources to conduct a defense in depth, based on counterattacks and counteroffensives. It lacked sufficient high-quality troops, it lacked sufficient mobility, it lacked sufficient armor. The old men, boys, and foreign troops were of value only if they were put into trenches or cement fortifications, with German NCOs standing behind them, pistol in hand, ready to shoot any man who left his post.

In 1939 Hitler had characterized the Wehrmacht as "an army such as the world has never seen." It was far from that at the end of 1943. The U.S. War Department described the German soldier as "one of several different types....The veteran of many fronts and many retreats is a prematurely aged, war weary cynic, either discouraged and disillusioned or too stupefied to have any thought of his own. Yet he is a seasoned campaigner, most likely a noncommissioned officer, and performs his duties with the highest degree of efficiency.

"The new recruit, except in some crack SS [Schutzstaffel, or Protection Detachment] units, is either too young or too old and often in poor health.

"He has been poorly trained for lack of time but, if too young, he makes up for this by a fanaticism bordering on madness. If too old, he is driven by the fear of what his propagandists have told him will happen to the Fatherland in case of an Allied victory, and even more by the fear of what he has been told will happen to him and his family if he does not carry out orders exactly as given. Thus even the old and sick perform, to a certain point, with the courage of despair.

"The German high command has been particularly successful in placing the various types of men where they best fit, and in selecting those to serve as cannon fodder, who are told to hold out to the last man, while every effort is made to preserve the elite units, which now are almost entirely part of the Waffen-SS [combat troops of the SS]. The German soldier in these units is in a preferred category and is the backbone of the German Armed Forces. He is pledged never to surrender and has no moral code except allegiance to his organization. There is no limit to his ruthlessness."

Beyond the Waffen-SS, the best of the young recruits went into the Fallschirmjäger (paratroop) or panzer (armored) units. These elite troops had been carefully brought up in Nazi Germany for just this challenge. Born between 1920 and 1925, they had grown up in Hitler's Germany, subject to constant and massive propaganda, members of the Nazi Youth. Given good equipment -- and they got the best Germany could produce, which in small arms, armored vehicles, and artillery was among the best in the world -- they made first-class fighting outfits.

In naturally strong coastal defenses made stronger by the skill of German engineers, even second- and third-class troops could inflict heavy casualties on an attacking force. Hitler roundly declared that it was a soldier's duty "to stand and die in his defenses." That was a World War I mentality, a far cry from blitzkrieg, inappropriate to the age of tanks and other armored vehicles, but, given the situation, inevitable. What gave the concept some believability was the plan to use the crack Waffen-SS, paratroops, and armored troops in an immediate counterattack. At the end of 1943 those troops and tanks were still on the Eastern Front, or forming up inside Germany, but Hitler's directive of November 3, 1943, meant that many of them, perhaps enough, would be standing just behind the Atlantic Wall when the assault began.

As early as March 1942, Hitler laid down the basic principle in Directive No. 40. He ordered that the Atlantic coast defenses should be so organized and troops so deployed that any invasion attempt be smashed before the landing or immediately thereafter. In August 1942, he decreed that fortress construction in France proceed with Fanatismus (fanatic energy), to create a continuous belt of interlocking fire emanating from bombproof concrete structures. In the words of the official American historian, Gordon Harrison, "Hitler was not then, and never would be, convinced that defense could not be made invulnerable if enough concrete and resolution could be poured into it."

In September 1942, at a three-hour conference with Goering, Reich Minister Albert Speer (chief of Organization Todt, the German construction organization), Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commander in the West, Gen. Guenther Blumenstedt (chief of staff, Oberbefehlshaber West -- OB West, the German ground headquarters of the Western Front), and others, Hitler reiterated his orders to prepare the strongest possible fixed fortifications along the Atlantic Wall. They must be built, he said, on the assumption that the Anglo-Americans would enjoy air and naval supremacy. Only concrete could stand up to the crushing weight of bombs and shells. He therefore wanted 15,000 concrete strong points to be occupied by 300,000 men. As no portion of the coast was safe, the whole would have to be walled up. He wanted the fortifications completed by May 1, 1943.

Most of this was pure fantasy and, aside from the toppriority positions, almost none of it was accomplished at the end of 1943. But the policy had been set, the commitment made.

Rundstedt was unhappy with the idea of fixed fortifications. He argued that the Germans should hold their armored units well back from the coast, out of range of Allied naval gunfire, capable of mounting a genuine counteroffensive. But shortages of armor, men, fuel, and air coverage made that questionable.

What Hitler could do was attempt to anticipate the landing site, keep what armor was available for the West near that place, and use it for local counterattacks while the Atlantic Wall held up the invaders. Tanks could seal off any penetration; tanks could drive the lightly armed and unarmored first wave of invaders back into the sea, if the fortifications were strong enough to keep the Allies from establishing momentum. The trick was to pick the place to make the fortifications that strong.

The Pas-de-Calais was the logical place for the invasion for two overwhelming reasons: between Dover and Calais is where the English Channel is narrowest, and the straight line from London to the Rhine-Ruhr and on to Berlin runs London-Dover-Calais-Belgium.

Hitler had to make a bet, and in 1943 he bet the invasion would come at the Pas-de-Calais. In a way, he tried to force the Allies to invade there. In the summer of 1943, he decided to install the launching sites for the V-1 and V-2 Vergeltungs weapons in that area. He believed that whatever the Allies' previous plans might have been, the V weapons would be so dangerous as to force them to attack directly in the Pas-de-Calais in order to overrun the launching sites.

Thus the area around Calais became by far the strongest fortified portion of the Kanalküste (Channel coast), and in 1944 the location of by far the greatest concentration of German armor in the West. It was there that the Atlantic Wall came closest to what German propaganda claimed it was, an impregnable fortress.

He was a strange man, the German führer. In the view of the deputy chief of operations at Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), Gen. Walter Warlimont, "He knew the location of the defenses in detail better than any single army officer." Hitler's passion for detail was astonishing. On one occasion, he pointed out that there were two fewer antiaircraft guns on the Channel Islands than had been there the previous week. The officer responsible for this supposed reduction was punished. It turned out to have been a miscount.

Hitler spent hours studying the maps showing German installations along the Atlantic Wall. He demanded reports on building progress, the thickness of the concrete, the kind of concrete used, the system used to put in the steel reinforcement -- these reports often ran to more than ten pages. But, after ordering the creation of the greatest fortification in history, he never bothered to inspect any part of it. After leaving Paris in triumph in the summer of 1940, he did not set foot on French soil again until mid-June 1944. Yet he declared this was the decisive theater!

Copyright © 1994 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.
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Table of Contents



1 The Defenders

2 The Attackers

3 The Commanders

4 Where And When?

5 Utilizing Assets

6 Planning and Preparing

7 Training

8 Marshaling and Briefing

9 Loading

10 Decision to Go

11 Cracking the Atlantic Wall

The Airborne into Normandy

12 "Let's Get Those Bastards"

The Airborne Night Attack

13 "The Greatest Show Ever Staged"

The Air Bombardment

14 A Long, Endless Column of Ships

The Naval Crossing and Bombardment

15 "We'll Start the War from Right Here"

The 4th Division at Utah Beach

16 "Nous Restons Ici"

The Airborne in the Cotentin

17 Visitors to Hell

The 116th Regiment at Omaha

18 Utter Chaos Reigned

The 16th Regiment at Omaha

19 Traffic Jam

Tanks, Artillery, and Engineers at Omaha

20 "I Am A Destroyer Man"

The Navy at Omaha Beach

21 "Will You Tell Me How We Did This?"

The 2nd Ranger Battalion on D-Day Morning

22 Up the Bluff at Vierville

The 116th Regiment and 5th Ranger Battalion

23 Catastrophe Contained

Easy Red Sector, Omaha Beach

24 Struggle for the High Ground

Vierville, St.-Laurent, and Colleville

25 "It Was Just Fantastic"

Afternoon on Omaha Beach

26 The World Holds Its Breath

D-Day on the Home Fronts

27 "Fairly Stuffed With Gadgets"

The British Opening Moves

28 "Everything Was Well Ordered"

The 50th Division at Gold Beach

29 Payback

The Canadians at Juno Beach

30 "An Unforgettable Sight"

The British at Sword Beach

31 "My God, We've Done It"

The British Airborne on D-Day

32 "When Can Their Glory Fade?"

The End of the Day




Appendix A: Veterans who contributed oral histories or written memoirs to the Eisenhower Center



The Final Overlord Invasion Plan

German Strength in Western Europe

Landing Diagram, Omaha Beach

Utah Beach Airborne Assault on D-Day

The Allied Assault Routes on D-Day

Utah Beach Infantry Assault on D-Day

Omaha Beach First Wave Landings on D-Day

Omaha Beach Eastern Sector

Omaha Beach Evening of D-Day
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First Chapter

By early aferernoon a majority of the German pillboxes on the beach and bluff had been put out of action by destroyers, tanks, and infantry, suppressing if not entirely eliminating machine-gun fire on the beach. Sniper fire, however, continued. The Germans made use of the maze of communication trenches and tunnels to reoccupy positions earlier abandoned and resumed firing.

Worse, artillery from inland and flank positions kept up harassing fire on the beach flat, some of it haphazard, some of it called in by OPs on the bluff. Even the haphazard fire was effective, because the traffic jam remained -- it was hardly possible for a shell or mortar fired on the beach flat to miss.

Capt. Oscar Rich was a spotter for the 5th Field Artillery Battalion. He was on an LCT with his disassembled L-5 plane. He came to Easy Red at 1300. "I'd like to give you first my impression of the beach, say from a hundred yards out till the time we got on the beach," he said.

"Looking in both directions you could see trucks burning, tanks burning, piles of I don't know what burning. Ammunition had been unloaded on the beach. I saw one pile of five-gallon gasoline cans, maybe 500 cans in all. A round hit them. The whole thing just exploded and burned.

"I've never seen so much just pure chaos in my life. But what I expected, yet didn't see, was anybody in hysterics. People on the beach were very calm. The Seabees were directing traffic and bringing people in and assigning them to areas and showing them which way to go. They were very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. They were directing traffic just like it was the 4th of July parade back home rather than where we were."

While the LCT circled offshore, looking for a place to go in, a mortar round hit it in the bow. The skipper, an ensign, nevertheless saw a likely spot and moved in. The beachmaster waved him off. He had forgotten to drop his sea anchor so "we had one heck of a time trying to get off the sandbar, but finally we made it," Rich said.

"I felt sorry for this ensign, who was really shook up after taking this round in the bow and forgetting to drop his sea anchor. And he asked me, 'Lieutenant, do you know anything about running ships?' and I said, 'Hell, man, I've been running boats all my life.' Actually, the biggest I'd ever run was a skiff fishing in the river, but he said, 'You want to run this?' and I said, 'I sure as hell do.'

"I got one of the sailors and told him, 'Son, you've got one job and one job only.' He said, 'What's that?' I said, 'When we get within 100 yards of the shore, you drop this sea anchor whether I tell you to or not.'"

The LCT went in again. Somehow the sailors managed to drop the bow, even as the craft took another hit in the engine room. Two jeeps ran off. To Rich's dismay, "They forgot to hook my airplane on and I didn't have a jeep." A Seabee came over with a bulldozer, hooked a rope onto the tow bar for the L-5, pulled it onto the beach, unhooked the plane, told Rich he had other work to do, wished him luck, and drove off. "So there I was with an airplane, no mechanic, no help, and no transportation."

Rich saw the beachmaster. "He couldn't have been over twenty-five years old. He had a nice handlebar mustache and he was sitting in a captain's chair there on the beach, and he had a radio and a half dozen telephones and a bunch of men serving him as runners and he was just keeping everything going. People came up to him and wanted to know this, that, or the other. He never lost his temper. He never got excited. He would just tell them and they'd go away. He was only a lieutenant, but these Army colonels and generals would come up and demand this and demand that and he'd say, 'I'm sorry, I haven't got it. You'll just have to take what you've got and go on with it.' They would shake their heads and go off and leave him.

"When he'd spot an open space, why, he'd say, 'Let's get a craft in there. Let's get a boat in there. Let's get that one out of the way. Get a bulldozer over and shove that tank out of the way. Make room for somebody to come in here.' He kept that beach moving. I have no idea who he was, but the Navy certainly should have been proud of him, because he did a tremendous job."

Rich told the beachmaster he needed a jeep to pull his 115 off the beach. "He said, 'There's one over there. There's nobody in it. Go take it.'"

Rich did, and wove his way through the congestion to the E-1 draw, his plane in tow. Then he drove up the draw. Rich was possibly the first to do so -- it had just opened.

On top, Rich found the apple orchard outside St.-Laurent where he was supposed to be and began to assemble his plane. With no mechanic to help, he was not making much progress. From time to time he would get some help from a GI who could not resist the temptation to tinker with a machine. Sooner or later a noncom or officer would yell at the soldier to get the hell back to the battle and, Rich would be on his own again. Not until dark did he get his plane ready to fly.

Rich was lucky. German artillery and mortar fire concentrated on the exits; without spotter planes, the Navy could not locate the sources of the fire. As the afternoon wore on, the shelling got heavier. Adm. Charles Cooke and Maj. Gen. Tom Handy of the War Department, observing the action from the deck of Harding, decided they needed a closer look. They off-loaded onto an LCI, closed the beach, transferred to an LCM, and went in through a gap in the obstacles.

"The beach was strewed with wrecked landing craft, wrecked tanks, and various other vehicles," Cooke recalled. "It was also strewed with dead and wounded."

Handy went to the right, Cooke to the left. Shells burst all around them, throwing sand in their faces, forcing them to hit the, beach in Cooke's case inflicting some slight shrapnel wounds. After a couple of hours, they rejoined and decided to get out, because, as Cooke said, "the shelling was getting very much heavier, increasing the casualty toll and it appeared highly desirable to leave."

Lt. Vince Schlotterbeck of the 5th ESB spent seven hours on an LCT cruising just out of range of the German guns, waiting for an opportunity to go in. Like most others, the skipper had cut loose the barrage balloon -- there were no German planes strafing the fleet, and the balloons gave the Germans a target to spot and zero in on. Schlotterbeck spent the time perched atop the landing ramp, watching whatever caught his eye.

"The underwater obstacles could be seen plainly, since the tide was not all the way in. The wreckage on the beach and in the water was greater than anything I had ever imagined. Tanks were strewn along the beach, some half submerged. We could see that there were only two or three tanks on which we could depend."

At 1830, the LCT tried to run in. "We headed for a likely spot but ran onto a sandbar and had to back off because the water was too deep. Just as we cleared, a shell threw up a spray in the exact spot where we had been grounded." The skipper tried again. He found a gap in the obstacles "but a big ship loaded with ammunition was grounded and burning fiercely. The almost continuous explosions made it too dangerous to land there, so we sought again." Finally the skipper saw a good spot at Fox Red and turned toward it, but an LCI raced him to the gap, cutting in front of the LCT and causing it to land on another sandbar. This time it was stuck, period.

"Our engines throbbed at top speed, and our craft seemed ready to disintegrate from vibration. The stern anchor had been dropped and was being pulled in, but instead of pulling us off the anchor just dragged along in the sand. The engines screamed with power, never ceasing."

Meanwhile, the LCI that had beat the LCT to the gap had lowered its ramps and men were wading into shore. "Suddenly, a shell burst in their midst and we never saw any of them again. Then the Germans sent a shell into the front of the craft, one in the middle, and one in the rear."

Schlotterbeck's LCT finally floated free on the rising tide. The officers on the craft held a conference to decide whether to wait until after midnight, when the tide would be full, or to continue to attempt to get ashore.

"Everyone was in favor of going in as soon as possible because we did not like the idea of hitting the beach after dark, so we kept on trying. And at about 2000 we found the right spot." Schlotterbeck waded ashore.

"My mind had already been made up to the fact that a horrible sight would greet me, and it is a good thing that I had prepared myself because the number of casualties was appalling. The number of dead was very great, but what struck us hardest was the boys who had been wounded and were trying to hitch rides back to the transports. Wounded were walking along the beach trying to pick up a ride. Those who were more severely wounded came in pairs, supporting each other, when they rightfully should have been stretcher cases."

Schlotterbeck had to walk on dead bodies to proceed up the bluff. "At one point I was ready to walk on a body face up when the soldier slowly opened his eyes and I almost twisted myself out of shape to avoid him. Luckily, I missed him."

Pvt. M. C. Marquis of the 115th Regiment had his own unnerving experience. On his LCVP going in that afternoon, he had of all things exchanged shoes with Corporal Terry: "We thought we got a better fit." Going up the bluff, Terry was in front of Marquis. He stepped on a mine. It split open his foot and shoe. "As I walked by," Marquis reported, "I said, 'So long, Terry.' I still wonder if he made it to the hospital."

As Marquis climbed, a dozen German prisoners guarded by a GI descended. "These were the first Germans we saw. They didn't look so tough."

An American went down, hit by a sniper. A medic hurried over to treat the wounded man. The sniper shot the medic in the arm. "Hey," the medic shouted angrily, "you're not supposed to shoot medics!"

Marquis got to the top and moved forward with his squad to join the fight in St.-Laurent. just as he arrived, naval gunfire came in. He got showered with bricks and mortar, but a helmet he had picked up on the beach protected him. The squad retreated and dug in beside a hedgerow.

Down on the beach men went about their work despite shelling. The demolition teams were making progress in their vital task of clearing paths through the obstacles. As the tide dropped in the afternoon, they methodically blew up Rommel's Belgian gates and tetrahedra, ignoring sniper fire. They completed three gaps partially opened in the morning, made four new ones, and widened others. By evening they had thirteen gaps fully opened and marked and had cleared about one-third of the obstacles on the beach.

The engineers, meanwhile, were opening the exits for vehicles. This involved blowing the concrete antitank barriers, filling in the antitank ditch, removing mines, and laying wire mesh on the sand so the jeeps and trucks could get across. By 1300, they had E-1 open to traffic.

Movement began at once, but within a couple of hours new trouble loomed; the vehicles coming up on the plateau were unable to get inland because the crossroad at St.-Laurent was still in enemy hands. For an hour or so vehicles were jammed bumper to bumper all the way from the beach to the plateau. At 1600 the engineers pushed a branch road south that bypassed the defended crossroad and movement resumed. At 1700, the Vierville exit (D-1) was opened, further relieving the congestion on the beach.

Tanks, trucks, and jeeps made it to the top, but almost no artillery did. By dusk, elements of five artillery battalions had landed, but they had lost twenty-six guns to enemy fire and most of their equipment. Except for one mission fired by the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, American cannon, the queen of the battlefield, played no part in the battle on D-Day. The two antiaircraft battalions scheduled to land never even got ashore; they had to wait for D plus one. Over fifty tanks were lost, either at sea or on the beach.

Planners had scheduled 2,400 tons of supplies to reach Omaha Beach during D-Day, but only 100 tons got ashore. A large proportion of what did arrive was destroyed on the beach; precious little of it got up to the plateau. Troops on top had to fight with what they carried up the bluff on their backs. They ran dangerously low on the three items that were critical to them -- ammunition, rations, and cigarettes. Some did not get resupplied until D plus two; the rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc had to wait until June 9 for fresh supplies.

Despite the shelling, the congestion, and the obstacles, all through D-Day afternoon landing craft kept coming in, bringing more tanks and infantry. Lt. Dean Rockwell of the Navy, who had brought his LCT flotilla to Omaha Beach at H-Hour and landed the first tanks, made a return trip at 1400. His experience was typical of the skippers trying to get ashore in the follow-up waves.

"We cruised along the beach parallel for hundreds of yards," he recalled, "looking for an opening through the obstacles. One time we tried to nose our way through but made contact with one of the obstacles, which had a mine that detonated and blew a hole in our landing gear, which meant that we could not let our ramp down."

Rockwell finally made it to shore, but the damage to his LCT prevented him from discharging his tanks and trailers. "We were able, however, to put the poor soldiers ashore." They were from a medical detachment. "Let me say," Rockwell went on, "I have never seen anybody who liked less to follow through on an assignment than they. The beach was literally covered with military personnel backed up, held down by the fire from the enemy. The enemy was bombarding the beach from mortars back over the bluff. The Germans had predetermined targets, and bodies and sand and material would fly when these mortars went off. Anyway, we put the poor soldiers ashore and we felt very, very sorry for them, but we thanked God that we had decided to join the Navy instead of the Army."

Ernest Hemingway, a correspondent for Collier's, came in on the seventh wave, in an LCVP commanded by Lt. (jg) Robert Anderson of Roanoke, Virginia. To Hemingway, the LCVP looked like an iron bathtub. He compared the LCT to a floating freight gondola. The LCIs, according to Hemingway, "were the only amphibious operations craft that look as though they were made to go to sea. They very nearly have the lines of a ship." The Channel was covered with bathtubs, gondolas, and ships of all kinds, "but very few of them were headed toward shore. They would start toward the beach, then sheer off and circle back."

As Anderson's LCVP made its way toward shore, Texas was firing over it at the antitank barrier at one of the exits. "Those of our troops who were not wax-gray with seasickness," Hemingway wrote, "were watching the Texas with looks of surprise and happiness. Under the steel helmets they looked like pikemen of the Middle Ages to whose aid in battle had suddenly come some strange and unbelievable monster." To Hemingway, the big guns "sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky."

Anderson had a hard time finding his designated landing area, Fox Red. Hemingway tried to help him navigate. They argued about landmarks. Once Anderson tried to go in, only to receive intense fire. "Get her the hell around and out of here, coxswain!" Anderson shouted. "Get her out of here!" The LCVP pulled back and circled.

Hemingway could see infantry working up the bluff. "Slowly, laboriously, as though they were Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders, men were [climbing]. They were not firing. They were just moving slowly...like a tired pack train at the end of the day, going the other way from home.

"Meantime, the destroyers had run in almost to the beach and were blowing every pillbox out of the ground with their five-inch guns. I saw a piece of German about three feet long with an arm on it sail high up into the air in the fountaining of one shellburst. It reminded me of a scene in Petroushka."

Anderson finally got to the beach. So did the other twenty-three LCVPs from Dorothy Dix. Six were lost to mined obstacles or enemy fire. Hemingway concluded, "It had been a frontal assault in broad daylight, against a mined beach defended by all the obstacles military ingenuity could devise. The beach had been defended as stubbornly and as intelligently as any troops could defend it. But every boat from the Dix had landed her troops and cargo. No boat was lost through bad seamanship. All that were lost were lost by enemy action. And we had taken the beach."

Capt. James Roberts, aide to General Gerow, went ashore at 1700 on Easy Red. "As we approached, we were hit with artillery fire, fragments were knocking us around," he remembered. "Several people were hit, including the skipper of our LCI. He was killed. Simultaneously we hit a sandbar and we were still a hundred or so yards from shore. There was mass confusion and fear and frankly I was in a panic. It is very difficult to dig a hole in a steel deck, and there isn't much cover on an LCI."

Roberts got off in chest-deep water and made his way to shore. "The beach was just a complete shambles. It was like an inferno. There were bodies everywhere and some wounded being attended to. As I went by a tank I heard people screaming for morphine. The tank was on fire and they were burning to death. There wasn't a thing that I could do about that and it was pretty nerve-shaking."

Shells were bursting all around. Roberts got off the beach as fast as he could. His job was to move up to St.-Laurent to set up a CP. As he climbed the bluff, a sniper opened fire. The bullet went over Roberts's head. Roberts tried to fire back, but his carbine was filled with sand and sea water and would not work, so he dove into a foxhole and cleaned it. When it was working, the sniper had gone.

Roberts got to the top of the bluff but could find no one from his HQ Company, nor any working radio, so "I didn't have much to do." He returned to the crest of the bluff and looked back at the Channel. "It was just fantastic. Vessels of all kinds as far as you could see."

Soon others from his HQ Company joined him, and Roberts set up V Corps CP north of St.-Laurent. Someone brought along tentage. Roberts set up a pup tent for General Gerow's first night ashore. When Gerow arrived, around 2100, his concerns were establishing communications and the possibility of an armored counterattack. V Corps had no contact with the British 50th Division on the left nor with the U.S. VII Corps on the right (nor, come to that, with the rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc). If the Germans did counterattack, V Corps was on its own.

Roberts's concern was his general's safety. The front line was only a half kilometer forward of corps HQ, "which is not the way the military planners like it to be."

As darkness fell, Roberts broke out one of his K rations and ate his first food of the day. Then he found a GI blanket and curled up in a ditch for the night. "Around midnight when things seemed to be fairly quiet I remember thinking, Man, what a day this has been. If every day is going to be as bad as this I'll never survive the war."

There was no German counterattack. Rommel's plans for fighting the D-Day battle were never put into motion. There were many reasons.

First, German surprise was complete. The Fortitude operation had fixed German attention on the Pas-de-Calais. They were certain it would be the site of the battle, and they had placed the bulk of their panzer divisions north and east of the Seine River, where they were unavailable for counterattack in Normandy.

Second, German confusion was extensive. Without air reconnaissance, with Allied airborne troops dropping here, there, everywhere, with their telephone lines cut by the Resistance, with their army, corps, division, and some regimental commanders at the war game in Rennes, the Germans were all but blind and leaderless. The commander who was most missed was Rommel, who spent the day on the road driving to La Roche-Guyonan -- another price the Germans paid for having lost control of the air; Rommel dared not fly.

Third, the German command structure was a disaster. Hitler's mistrust of his generals and the generals' mistrust of Hitler were worth a king's ransom to the Allies. So were Hitler's sleeping habits, as well as his Wolkenkuckucksheim ideas.

The only high-command officer who responded correctly to the crisis at hand was Field Marshal Rundstedt, the old man who was there for window dressing and who was so scorned by Hitler and OKW. Two hours before the seaborne landings began, he ordered the two reserve panzer divisions available for counterattack in Normandy, the 12th SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr, to move immediately toward Caen. He did so on the basis of an intuitive judgment that the airborne landings were on such a large scale that they could not be a mere deception maneuver (as some of his staff argued) and would have to be reinforced from the sea. The only place such landings could come in lower Normandy were on the Calvados and Cotentin coasts. He wanted armor there to meet the attack.

Rundstedt's reasoning was sound, his action decisive, his orders clear. But the panzer divisions were not under his command. They were in OKW reserve. To save precious time, Rundstedt had first ordered them to move out, then requested OKW approval. OKW did not approve. At 0730 Jodi informed Rundstedt that the two divisions could not be committed until Hitler gave the order, and Hitler was still sleeping. Rundstedt had to countermand the move-out order. Hitler slept until noon.

The two panzer divisions spent the morning waiting. There was a heavy overcast; they could have moved out free from serious interference from Allied aircraft. It was 1600 when Hitler at last gave his approval. By then the clouds had broken up and Allied fighters and bombers ranged the skies over Normandy, smashing anything that moved. The panzers had to crawl into roadside woods and wait under cover for darkness before continuing their march to the sound of the guns.

"The news couldn't be better," Hitler said when he was first informed that D-Day was here. "As long as they were in Britain we couldn't get at them. Now we have them where we can destroy them." He had an appointment for a reception near Salzburg for the new Hungarian prime minister; other guests included diplomats from Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. They were there to be browbeaten by Hitler into doing even more for the German war economy. When he entered the reception room, his face was radiant. He exclaimed, "It's begun at last." After the meeting he spread a map of France and told Goering, "They are landing here -- and here: just where we expected them!" Goering did not correct this palpable lie.

Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels had been told of the Allied airborne landings at 0400. "Thank God, at last," he said. "This is the final round."

Goebbels's and Hitler's thinking was explained by one of Goebbels's aides, who had pointed out in an April 10, 1944, diary entry: "The question whether the Allied invasion in the West is coming or not dominates all political and military discussion here.

"Goebbels is afraid that the Allies dare not make the attempt yet. If so, that would mean for us many months of endless, weary waiting which would test our strength beyond endurance. Our war potential cannot now be increased, it can only decline. Every new air raid makes the petrol position worse." It had been galling to the Nazis that the Allies had been able to build their strength in England, untouchable by the Luftwaffe or the Wehrmacht. Now they had come within range of German guns.

But Hitler was more eager to hit London than to fight a defensive war. He had a weapon to do it with, the V-1. It had first been flown successfully on Christmas Eve, 1943; by June 1944, it was almost ready to go to work. The V-1 was a jet-powered plane carrying a one-ton warhead. It was wildly inaccurate (of the 8,000 launched against London, only 20 percent even hit that huge target), but it had a range of 250 kilometers and flew at 700 kilometers per hour, too fast for Allied aircraft or antiaircraft to shoot down.

On the afternoon of June 6, Hitler ordered the V-1 attacks on London to begin. As was so often the case, he was giving an order that could not be carried out. It took six days to bring the heavy steel catapult rigs from their camouflaged dumps to the Channel coast. The attack did not begin until June 12, and when it did it was a fiasco: of ten V-1s launched, four crashed at once, two vanished without a trace, one demolished a railway bridge in London, and three hit open fields.

Still, the potential was there. Fortunately for the Allies, Hitler had picked the wrong target. Haphazard bombing of London could cause sleepless nights and induce terror, but it could not have a direct military effect. Had Hitler sent the V-1s against the beaches and artifical harbors of Normandy, by June 12 jammed with men, machines, and ships, the vengeance weapons (Goebbels picked the name, which was on the mark -- they could sate Hitler's lust for revenge but they could not effect the war so long as they were directed against London) might have made a difference.

On D-Day, Hitler misused his sole potential strategic weapon, just as he misused his tactical counterattack force. His interference with his commanders on the scene stands in sharp contrast to Churchill and Roosevelt, who made no attempt at all to tell their generals and admirals what to do on D-Day, and to Eisenhower, who also left the decision-making up to his subordinates.

Eisenhower was up at 0700 on June 6. His naval aide, Harry Butcher, came by his trailer to report that the airborne landings had gone in and the seaborne landings were beginning. Butcher found Eisenhower sitting up in bed, smoking a cigarette, reading a Western novel. When Butcher arrived, Eisenhower washed, shaved, and strolled over to the tent holding the SHAEF operations section. He listened to an argument about when to release a communiqué saying that the Allies had a beachhead (Montgomery insisted on waiting until he was absolutely sure the Allies were going to stay ashore) but did not interfere.

Eisenhower wrote a brief message to Marshall, informing the chief of staff that everything seemed to be going well and adding that the British and American troops he had seen the previous day were enthusiastic, tough, and fit. "The light of battle was in their eyes."

Eisenhower soon grew impatient with the incessant chatter in the tent and walked over to visit Montgomery. He found the British general wearing a sweater and a grin, Montgomery was too busy to spend much time with the supreme commander, as he was preparing to cross the Channel the next day to set up his advance HQ, but the two leaders did have a brief talk.

Then Eisenhower paid a visit to Southwick House to see Admiral Ramsay. "All was well with the Navy," Butcher recorded in his diary, "and its smiles were as wide as or wider than any."

At noon Eisenhower returned to the tent, where he anxiously watched the maps and listened to the disturbing news coming from Omaha. He called some selected members of the press into his canvas-roofed, pine-walled quarters and answered questions. At one point he got up from his small table and began pacing. He looked out the door, flashed his famous grin, and announced, "The sun is shining."

For the remainder of the day he paced, his mood alternating as he received news of the situation on the British and Canadian beaches and on Omaha and Utah. After eating, he retired early to get a good night's sleep.

The supreme commander did not give a single command on D-Day. Hitler gave two bad ones.

As dusk descended on Omaha Beach, intermittent shellfire continued to come down. Men dug in for the night wherever they could, some in the sand, some at the seawall, some on the bluff slopes, some behind hedgerows on the plateau. There were alarms caused by overeager troops, occasional outbursts of firing. There were no rear areas on D-Day.

Still, things had quieted down considerably. Lt. Henry Seitzler was a forward observer for the U.S. Ninth Air Force. He was taking "a lot of heckling and ribbing from the guys" because of the failure of the air forces to bomb and strafe the beaches as promised. "Of course, I had nothing to do with it; they just wanted to needle somebody.

"My biggest problem was to try to stay alive. My work didn't really start till D plus three, and here I'd gone in at H plus two hours on D-Day and I had been in the thickest and hottest part of it, and I had no real work to do, no assignment, except as far as I could see to stay alive, because I had no replacement."

Late in the afternoon, Seitzler and some members of a beach brigade decided they were hungry. "So we went out and climbed on a burned-out LCI. We broke into the pantry. Boy, that was really something. It hadn't been damaged. We brought a lot of stuff out and ate it on the beach under the seawall. The Navy really lived fine. We had a boned chicken, boned turkey, boned ham. We had everything you could think of, and we made pigs out of ourselves because we were half starved by that time."

When they finished, they decided they needed to top off their picnic on the beach with some coffee. They built a small fire behind the shingle seawall, using wood they had scavenged from one of the blasted-out vacation homes, and made Nescafé.

For Seitzler, that turned out to be a mistake. When it was full dark, the rule was that every man should stay in his foxhole. Anything that moved would be shot. But the Nescafé had a diuretic effect on Seitzler.

"So it was quite a problem, I'll tell you. If I made any noise or anything, I could very well get shot. All I could do was get up, ease up on the edge of my foxhole, roll over a couple of times, use an old tin can to do my business, throw it away, and roll back, very slowly and quietly. I called it 'suffering for sanitation.' I have never been able to drink Nescafé since."

The next morning, Pvt. Robert Healey of the 149th Combat Engineers and a friend decided to go down the bluff to retrieve their packs. Healey had run out of cigarettes, but he had a carton in a waterproof bag in his pack.

"When we walked down to the beach, it was just an unbelievable sight. There was debris everywhere, and all kinds of equipment washing back and forth in the tide. Anything you could think of seemed to be there. We came across a tennis raquet, a guitar, assault jackets, packs, gas masks, everything. We found half a jar of olives which we ate with great relish. We found my pack but unfortunately the cigarettes were no longer there.

"On the way back I came across what was probably the most poignant memory I have of this whole episode. Lying on the beach was a young soldier, his arms outstretched. Near one of his hands, as if he had been reading it, was a pocketbook (what today would be called a paperback).

"It was Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner. This expressed the spirit of our ordeal. Our hearts were young and gay because we thought we were immortal, we believed we were doing a great thing, and we really believed in the crusade which we hoped would liberate the world from the heel of Nazism."

Copyright © 1994 Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 65 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2011

    Long Book/Great History

    D-Day was an important day that turned the tide in WWII. It is impressively captured in this account. This book is quite long, but the preparation and battle information is laid out in such detail that if this interests you, the length won't matter. Stephen E. Ambrose explains how the Allies were preparing for this large-scale attack, including the training methods, and the shipping of troops and supplies to Great Britain. Jokes and humorous moments before the battle make the troops seem a bit more human. All these events keep the reader wanting to move forward. Taking the stories that veterans gave to the WWII memorial museum, Ambrose brings them together to create this giant book. Unfortunately, by the time the actual day of the attack comes about, you might be ready to stop reading. The book picks up though, with all the different battle scenes and locations. With detailed description, Ambrose lays out the entire scene of the invasion of Normandy across the rest of the book. Along with all this information, he lays out some of the effects that the battles had on the war. Not just the beach landing, but also some of the smaller parts of the invasion played the biggest role. If the French had never hid the U.S. paratroopers, Germany would have immediately figured out about the allied attack, and would have sent more troops to fortify the Atlantic Wall. The length of the book lowered the rating, but Ambrose's excellent job with the detail behind each of the critical battles helped keep the book pretty enjoyable. This book is more interesting and has more background than a textbook. If I were to recommend this book to a High Schooler, that person would have to be very diligent and willing to read all 500+ pages of this book. On a whole, the story and records of the attack are excellent, but I think the author dragged the whole story out a bit to longer than necessary. I felt like this book deserved a rating of 85% as a good book on the event the world knows as D-Day.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008


    The book D-Day is historically accurate because of all of the research that author Steven Ambrose did before he wrote the book. He interviewed soldiers and sailors that were actually in the battle that day. The book mentions the same lack of preparation on the German¿s part as The American Pageant. Also The American Pageant uses most of the same general descriptions of the generals such as Eisenhower. Also D-Day mentioned how Britain was crowded with more than 3,000,000 allied troops before the battle took place, also mentioned is the German¿s worry about the Allie¿s ability to have almost complete air superiority. The book allows people to interpret the character of people such as Dwight D Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel. Also the book allows people to get a good idea of how the battle actually progressed and of all the events that happened on and leading up to that day. The book describes how the American and British troops prepared for the battle as well as what the Germans did to get ready for the imminent invasion when they built the Atlantic Wall. The book gives the reader only the straight facts about how Eisenhower and Rommel treated their staff and how Hitler and Churchill mentally prepared for the battle. If somebody was to pick up and read this book with limited to no knowledge of Operation Overlord and were eager to learn more about it then they would be pleased. The book will give you a clear understanding of all that happened both politically and militarily in the year leading to the invasion. By the time they finished reading the book they would have a massive amount of specific knowledge that even some history professors would not have. I would recommend this book to anybody that has an interest in WW II as the book gives the reader an understanding of the tactics and weapons that were used by the Americans, British, Germans, and the French Resistance. Also there are little mini biographies of the generals that served in the battle from Eisenhower and Bradley to Rommel. Overall I would give this book a rating of 4/5. The book is a little long and some people might not like that so much.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2014

    Ambrose¿s account of D-Day is a milestone work of vivid, intrica

    Ambrose’s account of D-Day is a milestone work of vivid, intricate planning details leading up to the historic invasion and the agony and halting successes of the wrenching day itself. Launching the invasion was a far cry from what was anticipated, due in large part to cloudy weather that prevented precisely timed bombings and landings. Many plans had to be scrapped completely, while others proceeded with horrendous losses and dispiriting delays. 

    This book brought me into an up-close view of the action, resulting destruction, improvised plans, and wrenching accounts of those directly involved. The scale of the invasion unfolded for hours, shocking German forces that were ultimately worn down by the unrelenting arrivals of airplanes, ships, soldiers, tanks, and supplies. 

    Numerous photos in the book show bits of the unfolding day. Hundreds of quotations from soldiers were gathered and woven smoothly and often dramatically into the story. These are stories of desperate situations, heroism, sacrifice, unspeakable loss, determination, and compassion. The overall story educates and inspires. It brings unforgettably what has been a vague appreciation of D-Day to vivid life. It left me in awe. 

    Earl B. Russell, Author
    Cold Turkey at Nine: The Memoir of a Problem Child

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014


    Highly recommend, great historical piece

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    I have this.

    I have this in paperback it is a well written book.Ps i am 10 years old

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  • Posted September 29, 2010

    Put this book on your shelves today...Rick Lauzon.~!~!~!

    Being born in 1946 I was born to a mother who had the burden of caring for my sister who died ...10 years prior to me, and my brother who was born two years prior to myself. My mother would walk the house plans as we were in a low-income low-classed area, my dad, Henry, ("Hank" as he was well known by his friends)was nowhere even close to us and it was showing on our faces daily. I read many things as mom would buy books and puzzles about the world and ourt country. I knew Geography before I was in the Preprimary Grade. I knew who I was as mom taught us our names and where we lived all before dad returned from WW 2. I never knew where he was, but he explained with pictures of the places he was defending "FROM THE JAPANESE" in this war. I took it upon myself to go deeper into the war as I was an avid readerf by time I turned 7 years. I saw a movie about the German part of the war and was very sickened by what I heard. Do NOT let another day go by unless you read parts of this book to your children, as it will advert another "POLICE ACTION" as the Vietnam War was called by politicians at home here in our "FREE" country. You will find this book to be on the top of your research for educating your children as they grow into the next "Police Action" that will cost 57,000 more lives. I have copy ISBN #0-68480137-4; ISBN-13 #978-0-68480137-7;EAN# 9-780684801377. You may prefer to have a small nap before reading to your kids, Tatonka-Mak-Tu...(Rides White Buffalo)

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Out standing

    I bought this book on a recommendation from a friend and I'm glad that I did. My Dad served with the 1St. Infantry Division and his unit was one of the first to land at Omaha Beach. He never talked much about the experience but when he did I became very interested in that operation. This book tells it like it is and the first hand accounts from the Vet's that were interviewed have given me an insight to what my Dad must have gone through. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn what those brave men did on that day.

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  • Posted July 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

    Chris said the book is fantastic and makes you feel like you really were there on D-Day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2005

    A great story told sometimes poorly

    Stephen Ambrose painstakingly tells the story of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy. Ambrose glorifies the American soldier in this book, particularly the infantrymen of the 29th and 1st Divions at Omaha beach and the Army Rangers, 82nd airborne and the 101st. I thoroughly enjoyed the content of the book, and I appreciate Ambrose¿s passion for our heroes who fought on those beaches. Unfortunately, Ambrose just isn¿t that good of a writer. His book is some kind of awkward combination of a textbook, a narrative history, and individual oral histories with a hint of campaign study to it as well. Ambrose in my opinion just doesn¿t pull it off well. I struggled thought the first 200 pages of the book before the first shot was even fired. Granted, I learned a lot about the pre-war invasion plans I probably would never have known, but it just felt dry and ¿textbookie¿. The book gets better when the allies go into combat. Some of the oral histories are immensely fascinating and worth reading. Ambrose includes the British and Canadian beachheads, as well although not nearly so thoroughly as bloody Omaha. I thought the book¿s coverage of the home front reactions to D-Day was great, and I think it was really cool that the mayor of Philadelphia struck the liberty bell on D-Day. The coverage of the German side was weak, and Ambrose himself alludes to that fact in his Citizen Soldier¿s book when he states that he wanted to include more of the perspectives of the Germans in that book. Despite the shortcomings mentioned previously, this is probably still one of the better books out there on D-Day. I can overlook a lot of poor writing if the author is correct and honest about what he writes and passionate about the story he wants to tell. No one could accuse Ambrose of having no passion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2004

    May it not need to be repeated?

    Fourteen days after the 60th Anniversary of D-Day I stood on Omaha Beach and visited Cimetiere Americain at Colleville-sur-mer. Experiences that lead me back to my bookshelf to Ambrose's D-Day best seller. I had tried once before to read it and stopped after 100 or so pages. I did that again this year stopping to read 'Public Enemies'. The first 100 pages of this book just are not very well written. But I was determined to read on and it was well worth the effort as the book gets increasingly more interesting as it goes on. Ambrose really has woven together participant oral histories from the Eisenhower Center along with an overview of each aspect of the battle, planning to execution, and a critique of the results. Once your through the book you have a great overall picture of what took place and at least how the survivors tell their stories about it. (It did always enter my mind that no one could tell the story of those who died that day, the one in two in the first wave at Omaha Beach who were experiencing combat for the first time.) This is not a classic and it does dwell a lot on unit names, ranks and stories that seem to have punch line endings, but it is a very memorable telling of this grand and awful day in history. May it not need to be repeated?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2004

    Wonderful account of that day in history!

    Great book and filled with personal accounts of D-Day. It does tend to lean toward the American accounts, but Stephen Ambrose is an American historian after all. It is one of the longer books that I¿ve read. My only complaint is that there are only a handful of maps to show the battles. I often became a bit lost in where a particular town or combat zone was located. Mr. Ambrose gives a historian¿s account of the pre-landing build up and planning on both the Allied and German sides. He also debates the arguments of if the landings were the key defining moment of the war. Also, this book focuses only of the build up and the actual day of June 6th. The majority of the book is about the landings and combat, but it doesn¿t go into any details of actions after the first day. All-in-all, I highly recommend it especially to anyone wanting to read about it for the first time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2004

    America's Greatest Heroes ...Ever!

    This was by far the best book on the subject I have ever read. I could not put it down. However, I paused frequently during my reading to reflect on what I had just read, sometimes tearfully. The author's style provides the ability to put yourself into the text as much as one possibly could. I can not find words sufficient to explain my thanks to these fine men that fought so that I could be free. The best I can do is to teach my children about their ultimate sacrifices and hope and pray that they continue to teach future generations of our family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    History Alive

    Shots are fired and they rip through the flesh of an unaware soldier, and he falls to the ground all in the name of freedom so that Americans may sleep safely in their beds at night. These were the men that gave their lives on June 6th, 1944; D-Day. In this book Stephen E. Ambrose throws you right in with the GIs. He starts out with the first shots fired early in the morning even before daybreak, and goes into great detail describing not only the lowly privates who took the brunt of the attacks to make this operation successful, but also long profiles of the titans of war, the generals, from both sides. By knowing the strategy and planning involved in the greatest military action ever done, you are immersed in the 24 hours of chaos that turned the tides of World War II. As I have said before Ambrose is amazing at immersion. By using direct quotations from actual soldiers and keen description he puts you into the action. Another angle of his writing I deeply enjoyed was the fact that he showed the day from more than the American side. We get to see the defenders as well as the attackers, and therefore we begin to realize more of the day. Reading this boom makes you feel omnipresent of D-Day. This I feel is one of most pleasurable things of this book. Overall there is next to nothing to critique about this work. The information is solid and interesting and presented well. However at times there are periods where the interest fades and are replace with areas of too much statistical information. Areas of action and personal information are interesting, but when the information or ideas get too technical then the writing becomes flaccid and dull. Despite these minor imperfections the book is otherwise flawless and I would recommend it to anyone who loves history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2004

    A great book...

    I don't care what some history buffs may say about this book, one of Ambrose's sources is the PRIMARY source of WWII veterans. As we know, stories can be a bit different when told by two different people, but the people that were actually there are the best we've got, next to photographs. Have you ever wondered, 'What if the authors of my history textbooks got something wrong, what if biased opinions tainted historical truth, what if they got information from secondary, or even tertiary sources?'? My point is that history may differ and is very likely to vary from the truth. This can mean that Ambrose has some incorrect information, but it can also mean that the information you may have to compare with is also flawed. I tend to lean on the side of enjoying, and resting assured that Ambrose, a Professor of History, has correct information, coming from over a thousand first-hand accounts of veterans of the war. Ambrose has done me, you, America, a great service in compiling the vast amounts of information into a coherent resource, text-book in quality. This book was worth the $17 I paid for it, and much more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2003

    Unreliable history, and a rehash, poorly told

    Like all Ambrose books, this one is so filled with errors that, in the words of a military analyst 'It belongs on the fiction shelf.' It would require a book in itself to detail all of the misleading and exaggerated and flat out wrong statements Ambrose stuffs into this text. It's even possible that this history may be even more distorted than his Citizen Soldiers fairy tale, if that's possible. I know of no writer of WWII histories who knew less about WWII than Ambrose, the master word thief and plagiarist and chauvinistic king of bombast. He exaggerates absolutely EVERYTHING. His account of D Day, like Undaunted Courage and others, breaks no ground and is a pedestrian account of what was an interesting battle. The Longest Day, although brief, is a far better read, plus being infinitely more accurate and far less bombastic.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2003

    Best Book I have ever read

    Stephen E. Ambrose is masterful in his account of the heroes of D-Day, who fought so gallantly for the freedom we enjoy today. Those with little knowledge of June 6, 1944 will not find D-Day a book that requires extensive knowledge before you begin to read. Ambrose is masterful in his ability to tell a story, while still maintaining the integrity of the book and D-Day as a whole. As you delve deeper into the book, you seem to become a GI in France, running onto Omaha Beach seeing your life flash before your eyes. Stephem E. Ambrose's D-Day is a must read for all history buffs and 'first timers' alike. The book is truly a gem for any library collection.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2003

    Excellent Account

    What a book!! Ambrose brings the day alive, at times you feel like you are parachuting into France, crash landing your glider, or storming the beaches. The best use of oral histories I have ever read. A must read for anyone interested in World War II. For what happens after D-Day, read Citizen Soldiers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2002

    Fantastic Overview of Overlord

    The late Stephen Ambrose has done a masterful job of combining the big picture with that of individual soldiers thrown into the jaws of hell. After visiting Omaha Beach this year, this book is so incredibly meaningful to me as it discusses the very sand where I stood 58 years after the event.For anyone who has plans to visit France, the invasion beaches are a must. Read this book first and again afterward.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2002

    Great detail a must have for World War II history buffs

    From reading this book I though I was in that great invastion on June 6th 1944.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2002

    The history of our freedom

    This book portrays the bravery of our 'greatest generation.' The men that gave their lives to uphold freedom. The numerous accounts Ambrose writes in detail of the beaches of Normandy and the men who we owe so much to. I don't blame these men for not wanting to tell their stories; you would be living with nightmares and visions of blood and death. If that is the price for freedom from tyranny, I give these men all the respect in the world. Ambrose has given me an understanding of every side of the battlefield. The under supplied German forces weren't ready for the allied forces superior power. I believe this book is a great read for everyone, and should be in every school for our younger generations to read about the reality of war. I am a fan of all of all Ambrose¿s writings, but this account of the preparation, and the execution, and the final outcome of the invasion of June 6, 1944. If you want to learn of the real stories of D-DAY, this is a must read. I think many people would agree with me.

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