As Olivier Wieviorka so rightly states in his introduction to Normandy: ‘’War is the continuation of politics by other means.’’ As the Allied Landings on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944 made clear, politics and (the other means of) death were the order of the day.  Whether politics were as complicit in the thousands of unnecessary deaths at Operations Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, as the initial bad weather, or indeed, the sheer audacity at what was taking place, is debatable.  

I’m not sure I could have taken part or been of any use – not that I’d have had any say in the matter.  Whenever I arrive in Dieppe - infamous for the disastrous Canadian raid of August 19, 1942 - and look up at the towering cliff-face; I’m overwhelmed by how such a titanic task could have even be considered.  Let alone executed.

But executed it was, with precision and drama, all of which is captured in this thoroughly well researched and balanced dissertation.  From the planning stages to the Allied entry into Paris, Wieviorka covers a veritable maize of interwoven analysis and information:  Allied relationships, diplomacy (or lack of it), German defensive preparations, economics, logistics, as well as the political and military leaders of the time.  All these controversial and competing aspects are woven together by the author, which, from the ever so comfortable position of hindsight, makes for perfect sense - on paper.  

In ‘To Win A Battle,’ Wieviorka writes:  ‘’For the first phase of the campaign, the Allied high command had set its troops three major objectives: to gain a foothold on the beaches; to consolidate a bridgehead by placing the five landing areas under unified control; and to capture Caen, Bayeux and Cherbourg (Bayeux being the first town in France to be liberated).  From the viewpoint of high command, perhaps this was a reasonable assumption to make, but from the viewpoint of the average foot soldier, it was a death defying, different scenario altogether.  

As was made clear in the recent television series Band Of Brothers, high command made countless errors on the way, which for good, bad or indifferent, greatly effected those fighting on the ground.  And if Normandy is lacking in anything, it’s a touch of humanity.  All the strategies and logistics and numbers are painstakingly evident, but sadly, humility is not - as the following makes clear: ‘’In theory, an infantryman carried about forty-five pounds of equipment, in addition to his personal effects; in practice, he often hauled as much as sixty-eight pounds, various other essential articles (grenades, life vest, raincoat, and so on) having gradually been added to the basic kit.  Weighed down by so much gear, many soldiers sank straight to the bottom on jumping out of their landing craft, and all the more quickly since the gear weighed still more when wet.’’  

This aside, Wieviorka is perhaps to be commended for having written what Stanley Hoffman of Harvard University deems: ‘’as close to a definitive treatment as one can expect.’’

David Marx
Normandy – The Landings to the Liberation of Paris
By Olivier Wieviorka
Translated by M. B. DeBevoise
Belknapp Press/Harvard University Press - £19.95