Overlord

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Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.

Summary

Written in 1984 by veteran war correspondent Max Hastings, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy is a detailed account of the Allied invasion of France from D-Day, through the battle for Normandy, to the disastrous German defeat at the Falaise Gap. In the book Hastings takes a micro and macro approach to History, on one hand he looks at the big picture, giving accounts of generals and campaigns, and the strategies of both sides, including the problems they faced. At the same time, however, Hastings also gives the reader a narrative of various enlisted soldiers and junior officers from both sides and incorporating these narratives into the larger picture.

In the beginning of the book Hastings describes the two different forces, American and British, and German, which were about to face each other. Generally, he describes the American forces as green and not prepared for combat. At the same time, he believes that the Americans are weighed down by a large military bureaucracy and more non-military supplies, such as food, than were needed. As for the British, Hastings argues that they forces were nervous about the upcoming invasion, a result of their prior defeats at the hands of Nazi Germany. He also describes the massive amounts of Allied men and machines that had taken over Southeastern England.

At the same time, the Germans on the other side of the English Channel were in a much different situation. While a majority of the German Army was on the Eastern Front fighting a costly, and losing, fight against the numerically superior Soviet Army. Hastings describe the Germans forces in France as composed of soldiers who were often too old, injured, or in some way unfit for combat. At the same time, they were hampered by an inability to create enough defenses along the beaches of Normandy, and an ineffective command structure.

As for the actually assault on D-Day, Hastings considers it to be a success for the Allies, however it is clear he does not really think that the Germans had the ability to stop the British, Americans, and Canadians on the beaches. One of the main reasons for this is the power of the Allied air forces over the broken Luftwaffe, which was unable to defend against Allied bombing raids. After the initial success of D-Day, however, the Allied forces found themselves up against a strengthened German defense in the hedgerow country of Normandy.

It was during this time when the Allies were bogged down, the Americans were able to take forces and capture the French port at Cherbourg. Following this, the Americans were able to breakout against the German forces in the west, sweeping through and liberating Brittany and other parts of western France. Meanwhile, the British were making little progress to the east around the French city of Caen. Hastings argues that the British, led by their controversial commander Bernard Montgomery, were up against tougher resistance, and that the areas liberated by the Americans, including Patton’s Third Army, were of little strategic importance.

As the Americans swung through across France, a large number of German forces found themselves between the advancing British and American forces, with the only way out being a gap on their right flank, as if they were inside a wine bottle. The task of closing the gap fell to the British, who were able to do so after several days, in which about 20,000 German soldiers were able to escape. Although Montgomery was criticized for this, the Allies still gave the Germans a crushing blow in terms of the amount of men, tanks, large guns, and other materials that were lost. After this defeat the Germans were forced to retreat with what they had left and prepare for their defense of Germany.


Commentary

Jim Sweeney Fall, 2006

The greatest strength of Hastings’ book was that it gives the reader a balanced view of D-Day and the fight for Normandy. As an American, a historian often get a rather one-sided view of the war, and in his book, Hastings gives an in-depth account of all sides. He also puts the invasion of Normandy in a larger context, describing, for example, how fighting the Soviets on the Eastern Front greatly weakened Germany’s ability to fight against the Americans and British in France. In addition, I think the book is strong because it simply does not stop at D-Day, but continues through, giving a detailed look at the entire campaign through the Falaise Gap defeat of the German Army.

Throughout his book Hastings draws several interesting conclusions. Some of these are generally accepted and easy to agree with. For example, his assertion that American and British armor were at a disadvantage against German tanks is clearly correct when one analyzes accounts of engagements between German Tiger tanks against the clearly weaker American Sherman tanks. However, there are some arguments that he makes, that I do not totally agree with, such as his downplaying of the American breakout in western France. In addition, his believe that Rommel was a Nazi due to his supposed admiration of Hitler is questionable at best, especially when you look at the actions he took against Hitler only a few months later. Even though I do not agree with all of the arguments that Hastings makes, I believe that “Overlord” gives both the amateur and the historian a strong and in-depth account of the invasion of Europe.

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