79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2004
I haven't read every single book on D-Day and Omaha Beach so I suppose calling this one THE ONE is a bit of an overextension, but I feel comfortable doing it and here's why. Joseph Balkoski has got to be the single best historian on D-Day alive today. His research is absolutely amazing. He has found after-action reports that no other historian has used, some of these reports taken just days after the invasion. He's walked the beach, lived in Normandy and focuses almost exclusively on original, primary sources as close to the action as possible. Now that is research.
First, the maps. I don't know how many times I have read a book and tried to piece together where and what was happening. I think there are 30 crystal clear maps in this book spread out where they are needed providing an almost minute by minute account of the action. They really helped me visualize what was going on.
Second, the research. For the first time I finally understand what happened with the DD Tanks, why some were launched far out from the beaches while others virtually rolled off the LCTs and right onto the beach. And guess what, it wasn't the Navy's fault. Add to that the first real look at the role played by the Royal Navy at Omaha Beach and the incredible detail Balkoski provides of the assault teams as they clawed their forward and that is just a slice of his mastery of this subject. (And his piece at the end about the differences in medals awarded to the 1st division and 29th is almost worth a book in itself.)
Third, his writing style. Actually, part of his style is to let the soldiers speak for themselves by quoting the after-action reports and mixing them in with the text. I've seen this done before, but never this well or with this much detail. Honestly, this book is like reading the first 20 minutes of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The first few chapters are just a tad slow as he explains the whole overview, but after that it starts to fly as fast as the action in Private Ryan.
Other than his previous book, Beyond the Beachhead, I don't really know if he has published anything else, but I hope he does more. This is military history at its finest, better than Ambrose, D'este or even Keegan (who I think is actually past his prime, but Face of Battle is an all time favorite of mine.) I can't recommend this book enough, but I'll try. Read it, check it out at your library or grab a coffee at B&N and relax with it, you'll see what I mean.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Joseph Balkoski's book on Omaha Beach may not be able to lay claim to quite the same literary grace of Cornelius Ryan's classic "The Longest Day" nor perhaps even Stephen Ambrose's later book on D-Day, but it does provide a sharper focus than either of those books on what was probably the most crucial one-day battle in the European theater that the US engaged in World War Two. Balkoski's preference is for primary sources as nearly contemporaneous with the events themselves, using later veterans' reminiscences only when corroborated by other evidence. He has constructed a narrative that is broken at regular intervals for excerpts, sometimes quite lengthy, sometimes not, from primary sources. Although this does not make for the smoothest narrative style, it does allow the men who were there speak for themselves. Almost of these accounts are from Americans -- it was, after all, American ground forces who landed on Omaha Beach -- but are supplemented by some from Royal Navy personnel who operated some of the landing craft used to ferry the Americans ashore. Balkoski explains, however, that very few German accounts are available because, first, relatively few Germans fought there and survived and, second, those who did survive had little reason to recount their experiences in later years.
I do not believe that there is a clearer, more detailed study of the Omaha Beach events available anywhere. Balkoski's text is supplemented by numerous maps, albeit maps somewhat sterile in style. I regretted the lack of a handy key relating the maps of quite small actions to the larger geography of Omaha Beach, and I found it useful to turn to another source (Steven Zaloga's Osprey book on Omaha Beach) for maps that helped place the small events in a larger context, but that is only a small quibble.
There were many heroes on Omaha Beach that day, but it is clear that Balkoski particularly admires Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, assistant commander of the 29th Division, whose actions under fire were an important factor in moving the invasion force off the beach and across the bluffs into the interior. In an appendix, Balkoski advocates a reconsideration of the Distinguished Service Cross awarded to Cota and upgrading it to a Medal of Honor in recognition of Cota's conduct on Omaha Beach (he also suggests the same for Colonel George Taylor, commanding officer of the 16th Infantry Regiment, whose actions paralled those of Cota).
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2004
I'm a music major but have always loved history and read it for pleasure. Both my grandfathers served in WWII, one was wounded, the other killed. As a result I am keenly interested in D-Day and Omaha Beach in particular as both grandfathers served in the European Theater. I saw this book in my Barnes and Noble and started reading it there. I couldn't put it down! I think my favorite part are all the interviews spaced throughout the book. It really brings it home listening to the soldiers talk about what it was like in their very own words. The author, Jospeh Balkoski, ties it altogether nicely so that everything flows and you keep getting pulled deeper and deeper into the terror and exhiliration of going ashore that morning.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2004
Joseph Balkoski has crafted an amazing piece of literary history with "Omaha Beach". "Omaha Beach" delivers on two major counts: First, this is one of the only books to tackle in such a scholarly fashion the critical events of June 6, 1944 that took place on that surprisingly well defended strip of Norman coast. Second, Balkoski does his scholarly work with literary flair oft missing in such serious works. This book is plain fun to read. Balkoski doesn't write like C. Ryan, J. Toland, or S. Ambrose, but his writes in a readable style that quickly endears him to the reader. I found his use of replicated first-hand accounts (after action reports, personal letters, and diary entries) - and to a lesser extent, second-hand after-action Army Historical Division interviews - to supplement his own story-telling quite effective. It is clear upon reading this book that Balkoski has put his heart and soul into this work, and has done so not with speculation, but by sifting through literally thousands of pieces official historical documents and personal recollections of survivors who were there.
If the aforementioned properties of "Omaha Beach" were not enough, Balkoski's book is also steeped with amazingly detailed and useful maps of action - these have been generated from the research undertaken and present the reader with a very nice picture of where units were over the 24 hour period that was the 6th of June. I found these maps (there are 27 in total) indispensible! The Appendices of the book are also to be cherished by the reader. Not simply long lists of references, but also: descriptions of the actions of Medal of Honor awardees on Omaha Beach and names of all the Distinguished Service Cross awardees; lists of total casualties suffered (by unit); a listing of first wave units and commanders to hit Omaha Beach; composition (personnel), uniform and equipments of average units serving on Omaha; detailed notes about the Balkoski's approach to writing "Omaha Beach"; and finally the appropriate citations of the many works used to produce this wonderful text. Of particular note in the Appendices is Balkoski's plea to have the US Military to re-review the actions of Gen. N. Cota and Col. G. Taylor on Omaha that were deemed valorous enough for the DSC but not for the Medal of Honor. Balkoski makes a VERY compelling case that both Cota and Taylor performed in a fashion consistent with that expected of Medal of Honor awardee's. This reader sincerely hopes that members of the US Army in a position to rattle appropriate chains read "Omaha Beach" and in fact re-consider these DSC's for MH's.
In the end I can't recommend "Omaha Beach" highly enough. This book is an important addition to the D-Day historical literature - one not previously out there, that should be read by armchair and professional hostorians alike.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2006
This book was released in time for the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. In the work Balkoski sets out to write a comprehensive history of the battle on Omaha Beach. A battle that Balkoski contends was instrumental in the Allied victory over Germany.
Using extensive first person accounts and extensive analysis, Balkoski rigorously reconstructs the battlefield, for modern readers. The narrative will be very familiar to many readers, from the extensive pre-invasion planning to the accounts of amphibious DD tanks plunging into the ocean to never be seen again. The story of the first units ashore from the 1st and 29th Infantry division and their ensuing slaughter are also featured prominently. Many of the first person accounts Balkoski uses have a long history of literary inclusion, with many already appearing in Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day (1959), Stephen Ambrose's D-Day: June 6, 1944 (1994) and also in Balkoski's own Beyond the Beachhead (1989).
This, however, is not to suggest that Balkoski's book is merely a rehashing of known events. Balkoski takes the battle out of the traditional larger context of other D-Day histories. John Keegan's Six Armies in Normandy (1982) and Ambrose's D-Day: June 6, 1944 may be magisterial examples of battlefield scholarship but they do not succeed in painting as vivid a picture about Omaha Beach as Balkoski does. By extensively examining the operations on Omaha, Balkoski is able to show that victory at Omaha was not a forgone conclusion. Without the exemplarily battlefield leadership exhibited by numerous soldiers from all levels of rank, Balkoski concludes, the ultimate success of the invasion was in peril.
It was not just leadership that carried the day, according to Balkoski, it was also the flexibility of the U.S. army. The pre-invasion bombing by the air force was a failure, the initial naval bombardment was hardly any more successful and the amphibious tanks either sank or were easy prey for German gunners. These facts, coupled together, highlight one major point: U.S. soldiers were not going to just leisurely walk ashore. They would need to quickly revise their plan and work their way up the steep bluffs behind the beaches, under heavy fire, if they were going to survive. The importance of improvisation and problem solving is not unique to Balkoski's work or confined to the events on Omaha Beach. Instead, Balkoski's thinking is line with the scholarly consensus regarding the importance of these skills to the U.S. Armed Forces, as best seen in Michael Doubler's Closing With the Enemy.
Balkoski's work does not include standard footnotes. The book was clearly written with a popular audience in mind. This book, however, does represent a serious amount of new scholarship and original research. Balkoski has done more than any other author to establish the crucial timeline of events, and has coupled this timeline with an intricate and invaluable series of detailed maps of Omaha Beach and the German defenses on the morning of June 6.
Overall, the book is a tremendous tribute to the men who fought, and ultimately prevailed with great sacrifice, on Omaha Beach.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an excellent book on a battle that was indeed one of the bloodiest in our nation's history. Mr. Balkoski gives a first rate narrative of accounts along with detailed analysis. But what makes this book stand out and deliver the magnitude and horror of the battle is the way in which he sprinkles in actual witness accounts to correspond with actual events. The voices jump right at you and you can't help but wonder how it ever worked. We all know the outcome of the invasion, but reading witness accounts provides an almost fly on the wall aspect to the battle for omaha beach. Along with all this there are detailed maps and pictures that go along with the story and are not just thrown in for effect. A must read for anyone interested in WW2, but if not then still a moving story.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2004
Easy to read, amply illustrated with a good combination of first-personal accounts and contextual narrative by the author.
This book will both broaden your knowledge of the first day's fighting on Omaha Beach as well as give you great insight into how the men involved, from all perspectives, viewed history being made before their eyes.
The opening scenes from from the film "Saving Private Ryan" only give a small glimpse of the enormity of the task and the obstacles to success on that first day. This book fills in the missing pieces of the picture from Omaha Beach, and does so in a coherent, interesting fashion.
If you are remotely interested in the D-Day landings, you will enjoy this book and not regret the purchase.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2007
This is a great "you are there" description of D-Day on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Joseph Balkoski has done an excellent job of presenting the official and personnel accounts of people who were there that longest day of the war. The descriptions by the veterans take you into the landing craft, onto the beach, and up and over the bluffs that overlooked the beach. His telling of the story dispels the usual belief that the soldiers were stuck on the beach all day and only got off the beach near the end of the day as depicted in the movie "The Longest Day".
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a real detailed story focused on this one beach of the D-Day invasion. I would really recommend it to someone who is a wargamer such as myself since reading the stories makes me want to recreate these small firefights as well as the overall battle. I am sure there are many people who feel that way.
Balkoski's style of telling history is very well done and he has done an excellent job of bringing the materials together so that others can follow in the footsteps of the brave men of that day.
I can't want to read Utah Beach!
Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing And Airborne Operations On D-Day, June 6, 1944
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2006
I decided at first to write a long review of this book, but upon reading the other reviews here I trimmed my review to simply this...
I own and run a battlefield touring company in Normandy and have read many many books on the fighting on Omaha Beach on D-Day. There is no better book than this one, that's it it's absolutely the definitive book on the subject. The author has lived overlooking the beach, he's from Maryland - home of the 29th division and he has studied the units involved for thirty years. This book will never be bettered. I cannot sing its praises loudly enough.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
What an amazing account of the cost of Omaha beach. Mr. Balkoski has done a wonderful work in using the accounts of the people who were there, to hear them talk of the slaughter so many didn't survive is chilling. I didn't realize so much of the assault went wrong from the beginning, it is a miracle it succeeded at all. The only reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is due to the kindle version doesn't reproduce the maps clear enough to read easily. Wonderful book! You won't regret this purchase.