Sunday, 27 December 2009


This book is by Max Hastings, and deals with the Normandy Campaign. It's well written and interesting, though he completely disparages the contribution of the Air Forces in helping to win the battle--he basically claims that the RAF/USAAF cooperation with the ground forces was negligible, played no really significant part, and even suggests that in parts it did more harm than good. Hmm... I know I'm slightly biased on the whole RAF thing because I absolutely love aircraft and aviation history, which would tend perhaps to go the other way and exaggerate the achievements of that branch, but I suspect he was going a little too far. The same was true of my opinions regarding his book on Bomber Command, which basically said exactly the same thing (the RAF/Bomber Command was pretty useless), which I can't agree with. Okay, the bombing did not achieve the results expected, but it sure as heck achieved something. Maybe it should have been more concentrated, maybe there should have been a focus on the synthetic oil plants, maybe a million things, but it's impossible to deny that it did something. You cannot drop that quantity of explosives on something (even if some did miss), without attaining some results. But his complete criticism of the ground/air cooperation seemed a little OTT in this book too. He cited an example where an aerial controller was killed and there was no one to take his place. Well, let's just make a couple of points. Controlling aircraft from the ground is not going to be an easy task. You have to know enough about flying to know what landmarks should be pointed out and which should be ignored on the basis that they won't be visible. You need to have equipment that works, that you can carry around (wireless was hardly what you'd call easily portable), you need training. So it's unsurprising that there was no one to replace them really. Another thing that annoyed me in this respect was the way in which Hastings suggested that things did improve in the campaign, but failed to actually go into this properly, leaving the overall impression that the air domination was utterly useless.

It was, however, quite well structured, and provided a good overview of the operation. It lacked some depth in parts, for example with relation to the use of airborne troops, but on the whole it was a good book. The pictures in the middle bits again were poorly labelled and didn't do much for the story, but this criticism can be levelled at almost any history book. Even D-Day by Anthony Beevor, which I think so far to be the better of the two, has not integrated the pictures very well at all. However, these considerations may come from the publishers on the basis that its uneconomical to put a lot of words onto the picture pages, as obviously the glossy paper is more expensive to use. There were little sections thrown in that gave a sketch picture of a piece of equipment and information about it. These would perhaps have been better in their own section for reference too, with a little note as to which were included in the section when they first showed up, and the quality of the sketches was also pretty poor--it was hard to distinguish much in the way of features, and they almost may as well have been a mere silhouette. Again though, this is a criticism that would perhaps more fairly be directed towards the publisher.

On the whole then, it was a good book, but not spectacular. A good coverage of the subject, but it was by no means comprehensive, and certain aspects were skimmed over with the explanation: these have been well documented in other books. Fine, but this book itself is now pretty old as far as getting hold of copies is concerned, and probably out of print (one sec while I check that...), hmm, seems to be the case. There was an edition came out near enough four years ago, and there's another coming out in a couple of months, but the trouble with that is that the library I live near has a nasty tendency to stick older books away somewhere in the bowels of the library system and you have to go fishing on the computer to dig them out. So while there might have been a spate of books on that particular subject at the time of writing, it's no guarantee that they're still hanging about now. I have to say, I'm finding the Antony Beevor one a better book, but I'll let you know for certain when I've finished (unfortunately, this one isn't out in paperback yet, and therefore on the basis of comparing how much the two books cost, I'd have to go with Overlord as being better value for money as they make very many similar statements and are both well written and equally readable, though D-Day seems to take into account a more balanced picture). One thing it was good on was the German perspective, detailing hte experiences of various groups of Germans in opposition to the Allies--this is something that lacks from D-Day. Both are good books, but if you're getting them from the library I'd have to go on the side of D-Day on the basis that it seems slightly more comprehensive.

One thing I will add: don't read this book if you're looking for a detailed account of D-Day itself. Were Cobra and Goodwood really a part of Overlord? I was always under the impression that was just the initial period, the actual landings. Maybe I'm mistaken here, but it seems as though the book goes a little outside the scope you'd assume from the main title, though beneath it adds that it is about the 'Battle for Normandy'.

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