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D-Day: Piercing the Atlantic Wall
Robert Kershaw
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This book was first published in 1993, and Ian Allan Publishing recently saw it fit to offer it again as a paperback edition, printed in 2008. So, is there any use for another account of the invasion of Normandy, a subject that has surely been done to death by now? As it turns out, it does. I’ve read Kershaw’s book on Operation Barbarossa (“War Without Garlands”) and found it refreshing. I’ve also read several books on D-Day and the subsequent campaign in Normandy, as well as memoirs by some of the participants. Kershaw’s aim is to explain why the Allies succeeded, and to present the invasion from the point of view of the individual soldier.

The author starts with an account of the fateful “Exercise Tiger”, moving on to the pre-invasion problems experienced by both sides. This part makes up the first quarter of the book, and explains the difficulties in a clear manner. Kershaw doesn’t exaggerate the strength of the Germans; the shortfalls of the defenses and plans are explained in some detail. There’s nothing really new to students of the battle, but a reader with just casual knowledge of D-Day will learn a lot. Kershaw concentrates on D-Day, but covers the following week as well, and in some cases a few days more. Anyone looking for a history on the whole Normandy Campaign should look Max Hastings’ classic “Overlord”. I haven’t read Antony Beevor’s new book on D-Day, so I cannot compare the two.

Kershaw’s narrative flows along, and reads like a novel in places. The text is interspersed with excerpts from interviews with veterans or their memoirs, which gives it color and drama. The horrors of war are brought home to the reader, and there’s even some mention of the plight of the civilian population, something I would’ve liked to read some more about. While the effectiveness of the Allied fighter-bombers is a matter of dispute, the recollections by German veterans who were caught in the sights of a Typhoon or Thunderbolt give a chilling testament to the helplessness and horror experienced by the ground troops. Kershaw states that both sides favored armored warfare in terrain unsuited for it, and that a shortage of infantry handicapped both Allies and Germans. He isn’t as harsh as Hastings in his criticism of the lack of aggressiveness among the British.

There are 35 b/w photos, most of them not among the standard photos (over)used in other publications. They are relevant, but sometimes bland. The maps and diagrams are OK. There are a few typesetting errors, but apart from one obviously stemming from a unchecked spell-check program (turning word combinations like “last long” into “laSt Lông”), there’s nothing that will detract the reader. All in all, I found “D-Day – Piercing the Atlantic Wall” to be very competent without being spectacular, and pretty engaging at times. It is hard to top Hastings’ “Overlord”, but for a book that essentially concentrates on D-Day and the following days, it is well worth reading.

(Reviewed by B. Hellqvist)
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy

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