“Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general.”
— From Max Hastings in Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day
I wanted to write today about The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the invasion of Normandy and one of my favorite books about World War II. But the library didn’t have a copy I could use to check a few quotes (though it had the movie version, memorable chiefly for a performance by Ernest Borgnine).
Nor did the library have two other books I’d considered: Overlord, by Max Hastings, whose recent Retribution I admired greatly, and Stephen Ambrose’s D Day June 6, 1944, which lacks the narrative power of The Longest Day but which many critics liked more than I did. The library did have Six Armies in Normandy, by the distinguished military historian John Keegan. But that one seemed to be less about the June 6 naval invasion than the subsequent land battles and was also a more technical book than I was looking for.
So I came home with Victory in Europe: D-Day to V-E Day (Little, Brown, 1985) a coffee-table book with a text by Max Hastings, color photographs by the director George Stevens and an introduction by George Stevens, Jr. This passage deals with the role of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the invasion:
“Much criticism was thrust upon Eisenhower during the war and after its conclusion for his failings as a soldier, and indeed even his admirers concede that he was no battlefield commander. Yet throughout the 1944–1945 campaign, Eisenhower revealed a greatness of spirit as the Supreme Commander and military leader of the Alliance which it is difficult to imagine being matched by another general. Nowhere was this seen to greater advantage than during the critical D-Day launching conferences of 3 and 4 June, when the weather seemed to threaten the fulfillment of all the Allies’ hopes. [Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery, in one of the major misjudgments of his career, urged that the landing should go ahead on 5 June. Given the difficulties that occurred in better weather on the 6th, it seems possible that disaster could have befallen the Allies had they gone ahead a day earlier. As it was, Eisenhower alone assumed the vast responsibility first, for postponing the invasion on the 5th and also committing his vast force to another day of confinement on their ships; and second, for setting the invasion in motion, gambling hugely on the accuracy of Group-Captain Stagg’s prediction of a weather ‘window’ on the 6th. ‘I’m quite positive we must give the order,’ he said at the meeting at 9:45 p.m. on 4 June. ‘I don’t like it, but there it is … I don’t see how we can do anything else.’”
[Note: Fans of military history, what is your favorite D-Day book? In this post I’ve mentioned several of the best known (especially those by Ryan, Keegan and Ambrose). Have I missed any that you would recommend?]
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.