D-Day books
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Date: 4 June, 2004

To buy any of the titles, click on the title or cover

 

'Without an ounce of bravado, Hollis recounts how he disarmed a German Pill Box, which was responsible for endangering and ending so many lives. It is for this that he won the UK's highest military honour.'

Charlotte Haines Lyons offers some suggested reading about D-Day. To buy a title, click on its title or cover

D Day Hero - CSM Stanley Hollis VC
Mike Morgan
Sutton, £16.99

We all love a hero, but if they were a bit of rebel it's always a bonus. Stanley Hollis was D Day's only Victoria Cross winner, and he was in fact nominated for it twice (you can only be awarded it once). He was also nominated for the Military Medal only to have it withdrawn due to a senior officer catching him celebrating the fact with other medalled comrades and beer.

The biography is full of great 'Boys Own' anecdotes: Once when Hollis accompanied his battalion's trucks on his motorbike, they came to a crossroads, which was supervised by German military police. Too late to turn tail, Hollis rode up, parked his bike alongside the enemy and directed the traffic, letting his vehicles through. The Germans had been using captured lorries, so just assumed they were fellow soldiers.

As well as interviews and letters from friends and family regaling heroic feats alongside a cheeky rebellious streak, there is also the hero's own account of D-Day. Without an ounce of bravado, Hollis recounts how he disarmed a German Pill Box, which was responsible for endangering and ending so many lives. It is for this that he won the UK's highest military honour.

It is difficult to relate to D-day especially when you were born 30 odd years after it. Morgan has provided an engaging encounter with one of the heroes, making it all the more believable.

The D-Day Companion
Edited by Jane Penrose
Osprey, £20


"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." This Churchillian quote opens a fascinating chapter about the Allied attempts to mislead the Germans about the invasions.

The great deception included calculating double agents and the allowance of Luftwaffe to take photos of apparent preparations to invade Norway. There were also false radio signals implying different dates and locations for the invasion.

If you are looking for an impressive heavy weight book explaining all the whys and wherefores of D-day, then this can't be beaten. Whilst it dense, it is still easy to read and engrossing due to the contributions of distinguished historians from both sides of the Atlantic.

The text is also accompanied by evocative black and white photos. The one of German soldiers laying obstacles on a beach struck me hard. Not only did our forces have to face hails of bullets as they clambered ashore, but they had to make their way through minefields, barbed wire and other obstructions.

The photo also gives some appreciation of the German effort and is enhanced by a later chapter devoted to the German experience of D-day This is all the more poignant, as at the celebration on June 7, Sunday Gerhard Shroeder will be the first German leader to attend a D Day ceremony.

The D Day Atlas, the Anatomy of the Normandy Campaign
Charles Messenger
Thames and Hudson, £24.95

It is one thing to know about D-day, but it is another thing to gain an understanding of the sheer scale of Operation Overlord. The superb maps of this atlas include planned invasions by Germany, and also details of exactly where the 82nd Airborne Division and others were dropped behind enemy lines in France.

The maps are used to depict the situation during the actual landings, at midday and throughout the battle. It is amazing to see how quickly the allies were able to move from the beaches through to "capturing" the surrounding areas.

Excellent commentary brings the maps to life, alongside diagrams of battleships and armoury. There are even "family trees" of the Allied and German High Commands. The book as a whole enables the reader to gain a vivid view of both the preparations and the actual operation itself.

As well as the 71 maps there are numerous illustrations including a rather surreal photo of commandos disembarking their landing craft with bicycles. It is at the point you realise just how many different facets there were to what was to be the ultimate battle for Europe.

D-Day, By Those Who Were There
Peter Liddle
Pen and Sword, £19.99

"After an equipment check, I took a shower, and I still remember looking at my body, each leg, each arm and I remember asking myself what I would be willing to sacrifice, if necessary to get through the invasion alive."

Personal stories are often the most affecting and this book is no exception. Liddle has gathered together a vast array of memories, some collected through taped interviews, others through letters and diaries. One such is the above harrowing account by Private First Class Ray A Mann.

The great deception discussed at length in the aforementioned D-day Companion is further illustrated by tales from those involved, including a scientist R S Pease. Appointed to RAF Bomber Command, he worked on aircraft dropping aluminium foil so the German radar would be fooled in to picking up false landing signals.

The murderous frenzy of Omaha beach is all too harrowing as we are regaled with accounts of dreadfully seasick men endeavouring to get ashore through the barrage of bullets and the floating dead and wounded. The reports of drowning tanks and equipment further highlight the chaos.

However it is not just the Allies' voices that are heard. German soldiers also speak. Gefreiter Franz Gockel, who manned a machine gun post at Omaha, expresses amazement that despite the wholesale slaughter, the Americans kept coming.

The myriad of perspectives whether from the invaders, defenders or French Resistance serve as a potent reminder that D-day is not just one story. Rather it is a sombre tapestry of personal stories belonging to hundreds of thousands of human beings.

D-Day
Dan Parry
BBC Books, £12.99

This mini encyclopaedia accompanies the D-day film showing on 6th June, as well as the Imperial War Museum exhibition. Perfect, if like me, your history lessons never covered anything later than Queen Victoria.

It introduces you to the major military campaign of World War Two. The first half explains the in depth preparations for Operation Overlord, whilst the second half takes you hour by hour through the invasion itself.

It is lavishly illustrated and littered with information in the style of memos and letters. Eisenhower's order of the day, issued to all Allied Troops announcing the arrival of D-day is shown. So also are postcards of the Normandy coastline that the public sent in to help reconnaissance and planning.

The chapter on the French Resistance is a fantastic reminder of the incredible work carried out by these brave people. The risk of betrayal or simply being found by the Gestapo is overwhelming for a free modern day reader.

With piquant pictures and snapshots of the combat situation, this book contains all the educative drama that one has come to expect from the BBC.

Please note: the prices listed do not include the significant discounts that Amazon are offering during the D Day Anniversary Commemorations.