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Review of D-Day by Stephen Ambrose


D-Day is an exciting day to read about. One of the largest naval armadas ever assembled, crossing the English Channel and landing troops to attack the evil Nazis while elite paratroopers rained down on Nazi defenses. Men fought on the beaches and in the hedgerows of Normandy as bombers rained down ordnance on German positions, naval vessels shelled the beaches, and pre-sighted German artillery raked the beaches, all of which is described in horrifying yet inspiring detail in D-Day by Stephen Ambrose.

While that’s romanticized, it’s the image of D-Day that many of us have in our heads. After reading D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, I can say that that thought is pretty close to being correct. And, because D-Day by Stephen Ambrose focuses only on the planning for the invasion and the day of the invasion of Normandy, you are able to learn about what actually happened on D-Day (or, at least, what he says happened). What you might have thought was a myth could turn out to be a fact. What you thought to be a fact could turn out to be a romanticized myth. You’ll have to read it to find out what is true and what is not!

Summary of D-Day by Stephen Ambrose

D-Day by Stephen Ambrose is only about the training and planning leading up to D-Day and the day of invasion itself, which was called Operation Neptune (not Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the entire Normandy Campaign). Rather than focusing on the Normandy Campaign as a whole or even the few days of breaking out, Ambrose chose to exclusively focus on June 6th and the many days of intensive training and planning that led up to it.

Fortunately for us, that day provides far more than enough material to fill a book. Every service other than the Marines, who were hard at work in the Pacific, was present at D-Day. Naval vessels bombarded the beaches, giving close in fire-support as Navy frogmen demolished beach obstacles. Army Air Force bombers and fighters terrorized the Germans behind the front lines, preventing German reinforcements from reaching the beaches. Army paratroopers jumped out of Army Air Force planes and sowed confusion in the German rear as Army infantrymen and tankers were landed by Coast Gaurd captains.

And that’s just the American side of the operation at the Utah and Omaha beaches. The Canadians landed on Juno Beach, the British at Sword and Gold. Also, British and Canadian paratroopers landed behind enemy lines to secure crucial towns and bridges. Everywhere Allied troops landed was the scene of many acts of bravery; man after man had to jump out of an exposed landing craft and storm heavily defended beaches, or jump out of a plane in the pitch black and parachute down onto a countryside swarming with Wehrmacht defenders. Many of those stories, and many more, are recounted in D-Day by Stephen Ambrose.

In part because of the integration of all those different services and moving parts, D-Day was a success. Every red-blooded American knows that. Or should, at least. We should all know our history.

D-Day by Stephen Ambrose is a great book because, in it, Ambrose gives a harrowing account of each step of the process it took to overcome the German defenders.

And, he does something few World War II authors do: he gives the German perspective. Sure, that perspective isn’t as holistic as it is in The German Army on the Eastern Front or Lost Victories.

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But still, Ambrose is able to show that many of the German defenders were Eastern European conscripts impressed into fighting for Germany. There was even a Korean, who had been captured and transported many times throughout the war, who was fighting at Normandy! And because of Allied firepower, even true Germans were shell-shocked and unwilling to fight. The Germans just wanted to surrender when the saw the sea black with ships.

Finally, D-Day by Stephen Ambrose covers most every aspect of D-Day. Because he has such a narrow focus in the book, he has the space to do so. The hugely complex logistics of the operation, the months and months of planning that went into it, the intensive training units underwent, and the harrowing operation itself are all described in detail. Reading about all of those subjects leaves the reader much better-informed about D-Day itself than he or she otherwise would be.

Analysis of D-Day by Stephen Ambrose

I thought that D-Day by Stephen Ambrose was absolutely fantastic. Every aspect of the book held me in rapt attention because I wanted to learn more about one of the Allies’ greatest triumphs. It’s a truly exciting and uplifting book.

What makes it all the more exciting is that much of the information in it is based on veteran interviews. I love listening to those, especially on a site called Witness to War, so I thought they were a great way for Ambrose to find source material for D-Day. They make his accounts more vivid and let the voices of those veterans be heard.

However, using those interviews as primary sources is a double-edged sword. While the general conception those brave men have of D-Day is undoubtedly accurate, it is unlikely that all the details they think they remember are. I remember a tour guide at Normandy saying that many of the accounts veterans give from World War II, especially D-Day, include them being under fire from the infamous German “88s.”

In some cases, they probably were fired on from those cannons. However, in many other cases, they certainly weren’t. Ambrose seemed to make little effort to dig into what memories were accurate and which ones weren’t.

Yes, it’s a small thing. Whether a serviceman was under fire from an 88mm or 75mm cannon makes little difference. His valor for withstanding such fire is obvious. But, when creating histories of the day itself, I think writers have an obligation to be as accurate as possible. By doing so, they teach us more about what the brave men they are writing about underwent.

So, that’s my long-winded way of saying that I think D-Day by Stephen Ambrose could have used a bit more fact-checking about specific weapon systems. It’s possible to be engaging but still correct, like in Phase Line Green and An Army at Dawn.

Finally, I think it was great to read D-Day by Stephen Ambrose so soon after reading An Army at Dawn. That’s because the impetus for the North African Campaign described in An Army at Dawn was to prepare for the D-Day operation. The Americans wanted to go ahead with it in 1943 at the latest, but the British convinced them to wait so that they could gain some experience and prepare first. And what a disaster it would have been had the Allies not used the North Africa, Sicily, and Italy operations to learn and prepare.

Many of the units, such as the 1st Infantry Division (or Big Red One, as it’s commonly referred to), were the same. So, they were blooded and experienced. And, Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of both campaigns, was able to gain experience with high-level planning and logistics. Both of those skills were crucial to success at Normandy. If you’re going to read one of those books, read both in quick succession. You’ll get a better picture of World War II for doing so.


I think that every American, Englishman, and Canadian has an obligation to read about D-Day. That doesn’t necessarily mean reading D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, of course. But, it does mean reading something about it. D-Day was perhaps the greatest triumph of those nations. Everything else in World War II would have been for naught had D-Day not succeeded.

So we should learn about that triumph and the sacrifices of our forefathers. Thousands of men died on the beaches on June 6th, 1944 so that we might live free. We should remember that sacrifice. A great way to do so is by reading D-Day by Stephen Ambrose and understanding the battle from the perspective of the men who fought it.

By: Gen Z Conservative