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The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience at the Normandy Invasion Paperback – April 21, 2005
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“Vividly portrays the brutality of the conflict.” ―The Washington Post
“McManus has written an epic, an American Illiad.” ―Stephen Coonts
“Required reading on a bitter battle that won't be---and never should be---forgotten.” ―W. E. B. Griffin
“Far more gripping than Saving Private Ryan.” ―Walter J. Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of Operation Iraqi Freedom
About the Author
JOHN MCMANUS is a professor of military history at the University of Missouri who has traveled extensively in researching his books about the American experience in the Second World War.
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Nitty-gritty: One of the most positive aspects of "The Americans at D-Day" is its organization. McManus separates the book into two major parts: Planning and pre-invasion (Part1) and the invasion itself (Part 2). Within each of these major sections he establishes several sub-sections that describe particular aspects. For example, the role of US Army Air Forces in strategic and support bombing and fighter cover are described both from the angle of planning (the Transportation Plan discussion in Part 1 of the book) and outcomes (Air Cover in Part 2). Thus, one gets a feel for how things were envisioned as well as the realities of their implementation. About 1/3 of the book is dedicated to Part 1, while the remainder is given to Part 2. In Part 2 each "branch" (or sub-branch in case of US Army units) of the US military is given it's own due. This is a nice change from the typically simple chronological re-telling oft seen in other D-Day book. In doing this McManus is able to clearly show how each branch/sub-branch contributed significantly to the outcome of D-Day, in some cases less than expected (e.g., Transportation Plan), in others more (e.g., US Navy fire support of beach landings). Within each of these sub-sections the story is however generally chronological and thus the reader does not lose the temporal context. McManus should be applauded for this approach to his storytelling. I found "The Americans at D-Day" extremely easy to read and remember because of this organization.
Is there only praise for "The Americans at D-Day"? No. McManus has crafted a very readable and historically sound story, yet little is particularly new. A read of "The Longest Day" and/or "D-Day: The Climatic Battle of WWII" (S. Ambrose) and any reader of "The Americans at D-Day" will be convinced of this. McManus is gracious in giving credit to HISTORIANS who've written on D-Day with clarity in the past (notably Ambrose and Hastings). Yet, McManus "borrows" quite liberally (don't read plagiarize here, rather re-telling of stories told elsewhere with little new enlightenment) from works of Cornelius Ryan (see "The Longest Day") and Mark Bando (see "Vanguard of the Crusade: The 101st Airborne Division in WWII") without similar gratitude. Despite not being academic historians both Ryan and Bando have crafted serious historical pieces worthy of praise - clearly McManus has read works of these authors as he uses material from them and cites them in his "Selected Bibliography". Thankfully McManus has used these sources despite apparent academic snobbery to not credit them as highly as historians with a degree.
In the final analysis "The Americans at D-Day" is a sound contribution to the sub-genre and represents a fun and informative (if more so for a novice than seasoned D-Day reader) piece of historical literature. Four solid stars!
Although the D-Day landing is mostly known for the actions of the infantry and airborne troops, its success depended on the contributions of countless supporting functions. In the book, the author draws all of these moving parts together to demonstrate how they each worked together to accomplish the mission. These supporting roles included the transport ships, air bombardment, naval bombardment, landing crafts, and engineers. Despite the numerous contributions of each supporting unit, the book clearly gives a majority of the credit to the heroic actions of the infantry at Utah and Omaha Beaches, the Rangers who took Pointe du Hoc, and the airborne troops who made it possible for the infantry to get off the beach. The final chapters of the book conclude with the heroic actions at Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach. The losses in men and material are staggering, but the determination of these men to never give up turned a dire situation into a victory. All of those who fought on D-Day were heroes, but the men at Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc turned a potential catastrophe into victory.
Although the book provides a narrative of the actual facts of D-Day, it is particularly successful because it is full of oral history—stories from the troops themselves. These stories make the book come alive and put a human face on the tragedy and heroism of D-Day. Another advantage to the book is that it is organized with chapters covering the contribution of the various components involved in the invasion. This is different than most books on the topic which use a chronological approach. This format is helpful in providing a better understanding of how each component worked together. Since this book only covers the American contribution to D-Day, it is incomplete, but it does provide an important perspective and enables the author to write about the subject in more detail. This book does not necessarily stand alone as a study of D-Day, but it is an excellent companion to other works on the subject.
John C. McManus's entry on the American experience at D-Day is a superb addition to this field, with a comprehensive and gripping account of that subject. It focuses on such diverse areas as the role of the airmen, the Navy, the paratroopers, the engineers on the beach, as well as the legendary assault forces on Utah and Omaha Beach. Mr. McManus lets the veterans do most of the talking -- from interviews, letters, reports, official documents, and weaves their stories into a powerful narrative.
The overall impact is one that will give any student of military history a fascinating read and Americans a sense of pride in the heroism and sacrifice of young men 70 years ago. While the men who fought at D-Day are vanishing from us, and their voices are "distant on the ear," June 6, 1944 is an event that will probably never be forgotten, and this book does much to keep the memory alive.
Finally, the cover is haunting -- a GI staring down at his shadow, and it is a cemetery cross. It reminds the reader that the sacrifice was not numbers -- it was human beings.