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The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944--The American War from the Normandy Beaches to Falaise Paperback – August 25, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Long on engrossing combat vignettes but short on historical perspective, this fine-grained narrative covers some 80 days of the American campaign in France, from the bloody stalemate in the hedgerows to the decisive breakout and defeat of the German army in Normandy. In line with the Stephen Ambrose school of populist historiography that sees the campaign as the Greatest Generations finest hour, military historian McManus (The Americans at D-Day, etc.) challenges historians who have characterized the U.S. Armys performance as sluggish, tactically inept and dependent on a colossal superiority in numbers and firepower over its German opponents. He does so by focusing on the battlefield exploits of small infantry units and individual GIs, whom he feels displayed plenty of drive and tactical ingenuity. These well-paced and often moving stories, based on veterans first-hand reminiscences, are full of blood and guts, squalor and heroism, pathos and despair, and they add up to an indelible portrait of the horror of war. But McManuss conclusion that the Americans were "better soldiers" than the Germans is both unfair and untenable. The details of his account make clear that American infantry tactics did indeed rely on the crushing assistance of tanks, artillery and airpower. Meanwhile, he avoids meticulous comparisons of front-line strengths that would reveal how hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned the Wehrmacht was, while his exclusive interest in the American side neglects the tactical achievements German soldiers pulled off with incomparably skimpier resources. The many war stories McManus offers make for a gripping read, but they add up to a seriously biased picture of the Allied victory.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
McManus, a professor of military history, follows up his widely praised Americans at D Day with a worthy successor. The narrative begins the day after the Normandy landings. There is a common misconception that, with the beachheads secured, success was a foregone conclusion, because of overwhelming Allied materiel and numerical superiority. McManus convincingly refutes that assumption. From the beaches to the hedgerows to the breakout and slaughter at the Falaise gap, the Americans fought bravely, effectively, and often brilliantly against a tenacious and well-led opponent. McManus seamlessly weaves the experiences of individual soldiers into the broader strategic picture. The result is a tough, inspiring, but often heartrending portrait of ordinary men compelled to do extraordinary things in combat. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
McManus' first contribution to his Normandy duet, "The Americans At D-Day", was a solid book but lacked significant punch to set it apart from other works covering D-Day. Being American Army-centric one could also argue that "The Americans At D-Day" lacked depth necessary to convey the weight of the allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. However, with "The Americans At Normandy", McManus redeems himself wholly. Yes, McManus' second contribution is also American-centric but for this book he can be forgiven as the battles within, and breakout from, the bocage country involved the Germans and Americans almost exclusively - remember the Brits and Canadians were bogged down around and in Caen while the American Army slugged its way through the Cotentin, Upper Brittany and Bocage. In "The Americans At Normandy", McManus treats the reader to a detailed story of how the citizen army of the United States fought a tenacious opponent (seemingly always better on defense than offense) and drove a wedge through the tough crust to breakout into the plains of France and onto the Seine and Paris. This is a wonderful story, not told in such completeness of theatre and still from an American-centric position elsewhere.
In his acknowledgements McManus thanks his executive editor at Forge (press) for suggesting that McManus' work be broken into two volumes. As McManus himself states, "...this was fortunate...[and] reflects sage wisdom and knowledge of the publishing world and history in general". Indeed. McManus was fortunate to have an editor that suggested this approach. McManus did the work of researching and writing but the editors and publishers package the product. This was a joint venture for a home run!
This reviewer's critique of McManus' "The Americans At D-Day" (here at Amazon) was quite harsh in terms of credit given (or my perceived lack thereof) to researchers who walked the path before McManus. As a particular example this reviewer brought up the phenomenal work of Mark Bando in "Vanguard of the Crusade" which McManus used quite liberally in "The Americans At D-Day". Once again Bando's work comes into focus with "The Americans At Normandy". In this case McManus draws not only from "Vanguard" but also Bando's unique contribution to the Normandy literature - "Breakout At Normandy". But wait - unlike the apparent neglect to properly credit Bando's work in "The Americans At D-Day", McManus heaps praise on Bando's work in his notes to "The Americans At Normandy" (p. 464). Moreover, while McManus gave near-reverent thanks to "academic" historians in his acknowledgements to "The Americans At D-Day", while forgetting equally important historians not part of the ivory establishment (e.g., Bando), he includes these latter figures in his current acknowledgements - sandwiched amongst his academic peers. It thus appears that John McManus deserves this reviewers apology for previous suggestions that McManus played favorites with "academic historians" - I sincerely apologize!
In the end, John McManus' "The Americans At Normandy" is a tour-de-force book that provides a big picture of the American combat experience in Normandy, from D+1 (7 June 1944) until late August when the armored spearheads where rush across the French plains to Paris, that has not been presented previously. This is a serious piece of historical literature and will stand the test of time. Five solid stars!
McManus' book does a great job of giving the background, setting the scenes and giving the reader the perspective of the men in the field. He liberally uses maps - but these are reproduced in the hardcover edition in a scale that is far too small to be as effective as they could be.
McManus' treatment of American leadership is honest and unvarnished. He - as could be predicted - discusses many of the Patton's foibles - but so have many other historians and biographers. I was struck by his less-than-admiring treatment of General Omar Bradley and Bradley's decisionmaking. McManus really takes Bradley to task for certain of his decisions regarding Operation Cobra and the northward pincer movement south of Falaise.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It makes me appreciate all the more the bravery shown by many American combat vets who were forced to learn - through trial and error at horrible cost - how to use combined arms to dislodge the entrenched Germans from Normandy's hedgerow country. Anyone interested in this theater of WWII should read this book.
The book is interesting in how it shows all levels of the soldiers involved - recollections from all ranks - Privates through Generals themselves. McManus is very able of making you see the battle from those who fought, what they knew then (which was often not much at the lower levels), how and why they made the decisions that they did. By recreating the fog of war, the author does a good job of putting things in perspective. The Allies did not win WW2 in Normandy, but they certainly did win the battle against a very determined and capable foe.
Minor criticisms - the maps are sometimes difficult to read. By using so many first hand accounts, the text can bog down sometimes which what unit did what on such and such a date. The notes and bibliography are well documented with primary and secondary sources. The information and facts have been covered before in other works, what is different are the authors' conclusions. Not earth shattering but I always enjoy a different perspective. These are the reasons I rated it four stars, not five.
McManus succeeds in reminding the reader of the contributions of the US soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought and died in the first eight weeks of the liberation of France. The book is full of examples of those who fought bravely, aggressively and defeated a very tough enemy. Where there were mistakes, he points them out. This is a refreshing read that goes against the conventional grain of the Western Front in WW2. Recommended for those who are interested in the US Army in Europe in WW2