The D-Day landings at Normandy on the 6th June 1944 were the largest seabourne assault ever attempted. As a result, there are dozens of books that focus on the military planning, the assault itself, and the vital first days that proceeded. David Stafford takes a different approach in two ways. First, he focuses on the ten days leading up to assault and the complex web of plans, deceptions, logistics and manoeuvres to get a quarter of a million men across the English Channel and yet still surprise the enemy in terms of time and location. And second, he tells the story from the multiple perspectives of different actors including a resistance fighter and two SOE agents operating in France, a resistance organiser in a Norwegian jail, a Jew being hidden in a Parisian apartment, a double agent feeding misinformation to the Germans and his handler, a Wren working as a decoder, an allied weatherman, a Canadian soldier, an American paratrooper, a German soldier, and of course Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle, Hitler and Rommel. The result is an interesting biographical story of the lead in to D-Day and how the preparations and assault affected the lives of ordinary citizens and soldiers, as well as the principal leaders.
The real strength of the book is its biographical weaving of the narratives of individuals and setting those within the wider context of the war and its political framing. Where the book is perhaps weakest is the choice of some of the individuals. The account of the Norwegian resistance organiser’s time in jail is interesting, but has no baring whatsoever on the D-Day landings, and indeed he knew nothing about them and played no role in the lead up to them. The German soldier similarly played no direct role in D-Day being posted a long way behind the front. It would have been good to have included some other characters that were more centrally involved. The other issue is that the book does feel as if it ends too soon. We get the lead in to the main event, but get very little of the event itself and what follows. The reader is warned by the title that this would be the case, but it does feel that the story is too truncated. Overall, a fascinating read that needed a little fine tuning.