Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beevor's 'D-Day'

I'm currently reading Antony Beevor's 'D-Day', a lovely Christmas gift from my boss. I haven't read any of Beevor's previous books, but I'll certainly be reading some  more in the future. I haven't finished the book yet, but one passage really caught my attention as he describes the air-ground co-operation that existed between American armoured units advancing during Cobra, and the tactical air forces.





The support from the P-47s was so close that one pilot radioed to Doane that he was going to bomb a German tank only fifty yards to his left and that he had better take cover.... Another Thunderbolt pilot flying shotgun over Task Force Z 'facetiously suggested' to its commander 'that he had better draw in his antenna', because he was attacking right over their heads.
 I recall being on exercise in the '80s with the NZ Army when a flight of Strikemasters simulated an attack over our heads (I was commanding an M113 APCs, on a plateau in the mountains around Molesworth Station behind Kaikoura in the South Island of New Zealand). The aircraft came in so low that the infantry in the backs of our vehicles ducked down inside the vehicles.

Fascinating what you remember.

While I still have a way to go in the book, I was also fascinated by Beevor's treatment of the classic 'Montgomery' debate. Using 21st Army Group planning documents, he argues that Montgomery's plans were not originally to pull German forces away from the west so that the Americans could break out. This has of course been a point of contention since the Normandy battles, and had been my own paradigm too. However he makes the point that even though the claim may well have been self justification by Montgomery 'after the event', the effect was exactly that, with the greatest concentration of German armoured forces in the east opposing the British.

And regardless of this argument, defence in Normandy was always going to be tough to break, and German forces simply had to have their combat effectiveness eroded to the point where a breakthrough was possible. Beevor includes some very revealing descriptions of German troops captured after being heavily bombed by the allied air forces. I am left at the moment with the view that this air bombardment together with massive artillery support, was instrumental in eroding that combat effectiveness of the German army in Normandy. Reminiscent of the hurricane bombardments of World War One.

I hadn't really had much of an interest in this specific theatre before. It has certainly been sparked now. Maybe 'Stalingrad' might be my next purchase?

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