In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

A Formidable PropositionR.W. Johnson
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
D-Day: The Battle for Normandy 
by Antony Beevor.
Viking, 591 pp., £25, May 2009, 978 0 670 88703 3
Show More
Show More

In his account of D-Day Antony Beevor comes to many surprising conclusions: that the Germans were by far the better soldiers, more experienced, disciplined and confident; that their weapons were generally better, not just the Tiger and Panther tanks and the 88mm anti-tank gun but even their MG42 light machinegun, which was far superior to its British and American equivalents; that the Allies shot many prisoners and committed all manner of atrocities; that French civilians caught in the middle often suffered more from the Allied onslaught. On the other hand, very little of this would come as a surprise to anyone teaching at Sandhurst or West Point.

Even the relentless sand-bagging Montgomery receives for his arrogance, dishonesty and peacockry is no more than the conventional wisdom today. As Beevor says, he was always more popular among civilians than soldiers, and it was only the great gale of civilian adoration that shielded his reputation in the postwar years. By far the greatest military figure wartime Britain produced was Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, the victor of Taranto and Cape Matapan, whose remit it was, as commander in chief of the Mediterranean theatre, to protect the British army in North Africa. Yet there is no mention of Montgomery in Cunningham’s autobiography, A Sailor’s Odyssey: his views, I assume, were unprintable. Eisenhower saw Montgomery as a psychopath while Beevor believes that his huge conceit derived from an inferiority complex: both are quite mild in their criticism by comparison with almost anyone who had to work with him.

Mercifully, Beevor is keen to allow more modest spirits their moment of glory. Front of stage is initially given to such little-known figures as Dr James Stagg, the chief weatherman on whose forecasts everything rested. Faced with a mass of conflicting data (and many doubting colleagues), Stagg finally called it right, scrubbing 5 June for 6 June, thereby avoiding the worst ever Channel storm. Rommel, in charge of the Atlantic sea wall, thought it safe to leave his post on 6 June. Stagg, crucially, had access to data from weather ships further out in the western Atlantic.* Another unknown, or hardly known, is Captain Scott-Bowden, who reconnoitred Omaha Beach by midget submarine under the nose of German sentries, and on his return to London warned his superiors that there were bound to be tremendous casualties: the beach, he said, was ‘a very formidable proposition’. That wasn’t an exaggeration, but Omaha was the only plausible invasion beach once Utah and Gold had been selected.

Given the superiority of their weapons and the quality of their soldiers (almost none exhibited the symptoms of battle shock common among the Allies), why did the Germans lose? First because the Allies caught them off guard and weeks after D-Day they were still holding troops back in expectation of a landing in the Pas-de-Calais. And second, because Hitler’s ‘sea wall’ strategy was fundamentally flawed: 200,000 troops were wasted garrisoning huge coastal fortresses like those in Lorient and St Nazaire, which the Allies simply bypassed, receiving their surrender only at the war’s end. Rommel warned that the decisive battles would take place on the beaches themselves, but Hitler again refused to listen. Instead key German units waited for a major counterattack and then, exactly as Rommel had predicted, found that Allied air superiority had not only cut bridges in their rear, making it hard to bring up reserves and supplies, but also taken a tremendous toll of the panzer units as they attempted to advance towards the coast – the tormentor in chief was the rocket-firing Typhoon fighter-bomber. Thanks to the almost complete absence of the Luftwaffe throughout the battle for Normandy, Allied commanders could call in Typhoons and Thunderbolts in close tactical support without any risk of a German counter. The widespread deployment of Allied artillery reconnaissance (Piper Cubs were able to land on ordinary roads or fields) allowed offshore naval batteries to be targeted by the vast armada still sitting in the Channel, whose huge guns could reach far inland, with no German riposte possible. Finally, once the beach-heads were established, the Allies poured in enormous numbers of men and huge quantities of matériel. Sherman and Churchill tanks may have been no match for the Tiger but there were far, far more of them and that was the telling factor.

On 30 July the Allies took Avranches but the battle went on into August as frantic German counterattacks were first held and then crushed. Avranches was the key, however, for with this crossroads town in their hands the Allies could unleash Wood’s Fourth Armoured Division and Patton’s Third Army to break out towards Brittany and the whole of central France including Paris. In fact, the situation had been plain long before then. Just ten days after D-Day, Hitler summoned Rommel and his superior, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, to Margival, near Soissons, the specially constructed base from which the Führer had planned to direct the invasion of Britain. It was to be the last time he left Germany. Rommel told him the situation was already hopeless, given Allied air and naval superiority and the number of new Allied divisions landing every week. The only solution was to pull back to the Loire and the Seine and defend new lines there. Rundstedt concurred. Hitler was furious. They were not to surrender an inch, he commanded, confident that the V-weapons were about to turn the war in Germany’s favour. Not long afterwards, Rundstedt, perhaps the finest military commander of the war, was sacked. Hitler would have liked to sack Rommel too but was constrained by Rommel’s huge domestic popularity in exactly the same way that Churchill, facing multiple pressures both from his other service chiefs and the Americans to sack Montgomery, worried about the domestic reaction were the victor of El Alamein to be dismissed.

In the days before D-Day, Allied commanders seemed to compete among themselves in terrifying their troops with horrific casualty estimates. Nothing was too scary: average life expectancy was just three weeks; of every three soldiers, two were likely to be killed, etc. British troops were even told not to worry if they fell on the beaches because others would immediately be sent in on top of them. Quite what such talk was thought likely to gain is obscure, though there is no doubt that the high command was expecting the worst. Haunted by the disastrous Dieppe raid two years earlier, and aware that failure might well mean that the invasion of Europe would be postponed indefinitely, the Allied high command was determined that the operation succeed even if all the beaches were as ‘formidable’ as Omaha, and planned accordingly. In the event, and despite heavy casualties in the first 48 hours, the actual figures fell far short of what had been predicted.

Thereafter, however, the fighting was appallingly bloody: indeed, losses on both sides exceeded those for any comparable period on the Eastern Front. Hitler’s policy of fighting for every inch of ground was only part of the reason: the Allies faced a number of crack divisions of the Waffen SS who were far superior as a fighting force to any they had previously encountered, and many former Desert Rats got a dreadful shock when they realised they were up against battle-hardened, ideological Nazis, often with long and horrifying records of atrocities against Jews, partisans and enemy POWs. These included Sepp Dietrich’s Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler panzer regiment, the Hitler Jugend panzer division, the Deutschland, Führer and Götz von Berlichingen panzergrenadier divisions and the Das Reich panzer division. Das Reich was particularly monstrous; its commander, Heinz Lammerding, had played a leading part in the massacres of Jews round Minsk. Transferred to France, they saw no reason to change their ways and carried out a series of major atrocities against French civilians as they advanced north towards the beach-heads, the worst being at Oradour-sur-Glane, where they shot and burned alive 642 men, women and children, including refugee children they simply grabbed off a train and consigned to the flames.

A great deal of the drama of the Normandy campaign, well brought out by Beevor, derived from the clash between these hardened fanatics and the Allies’ collection of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers, men longing to be back in civvy street, often desperately hoping for a convenient flesh wound that would get them invalided out. Such men had little real appetite for battle, and the British, in particular, amazed their allies by stopping to brew up a mug of tea on every possible occasion and by refusing point-blank to do tasks that might possibly be designated as someone else’s duty: the postwar world of I’m All Right Jack was already clear in embryo.

The collision between these very different subcultures was brutal. The Canadians quickly discovered that 187 of their colleagues, taken prisoner, had been executed by the Hitler Jugend division – 30 mutilated Canadian bodies were found by a French civilian. Reports such as these – there were more – travelled like wildfire through the armies and many Allied soldiers, not only Canadians, had as little compunction about killing SS men as they would have had putting down rabid dogs. Beevor tells stories of wounded German prisoners refusing transfusions of Jewish blood, of others tearing off their bandages and demanding only to be allowed to die for the Führer, and others taunting GIs with stories that New York had already been destroyed by V-weapons.

To most Allied soldiers the Germans’ behaviour was mad, even subhuman, and reports of Nazi atrocities merely confirmed them in their view. Some Jewish soldiers in particular had a reputation such that one couldn’t safely leave an SS man alone in their custody, but they were far from being the only ones. A British army report acknowledged that its troops were in the habit of shooting SS men out of hand, adding baldly: ‘Many of them probably deserve to be shot in any case and know it.’ These practices often extended to the ordinary Wehrmacht soldiery as well, especially since many Allied commanders had told their troops at D-Day that German prisoners would be an embarrassment they could do without, for they would only slow up the essential breakout from the beach-head. Orders might still be given not to kill prisoners, but once it happened there was no fuss and no further questions were asked. Given the general ferocity, Allied ‘terror bombers’ and Typhoon pilots especially, knowing how hated they were, often wore brown army uniforms, reckoning that, if shot down, their chances of survival were higher than they would have been had they been wearing RAF gear. It was often with a sense of genuine wonderment that Allied soldiers finally came to see that the Germans were ‘people just like us’.

In popular myth much credit in this final phase goes to the French Resistance. Certainly, many Maquisards rose with almost suicidal bravery at London’s call and paid a terrible price for having done so. Many locals, on the other hand, were distinctly cool and there were reports (not always true) of French women snipers fighting in aid of their German boyfriends. The real problem was that the Normans couldn’t be sure that the landings would succeed: if they failed, German reprisals against anyone who had sided with the invader would be appalling. As the Allies finally burst out of Normandy and it became increasingly clear that they were going to win, their reception got warmer and warmer. At the same time, direct Resistance assistance to the Allies was limited: ‘better than expected and less than advertised’, as Patton cuttingly put it. In fact the help that counted was indirect: the widespread sabotage on the railways, much of it carried out by railwaymen themselves, significantly hindered German attempts to move men and matériel up to the front, for example. But once it was decided that the Panzer divisions would fight until they were ground to pieces – the eventual result – there wasn’t a large role for partisans to play. The ensuing battles saw the second largest deployment of tanks after the battle of Kursk and although many individual tank-hunters wrought great damage with bazookas and panzerfausts, the struggle was essentially between armour, artillery and fighter-bombers.

The great prize, as everyone was aware, none more keenly than Patton and De Gaulle, was to break out westwards to the Seine and Paris. The goal was as much political and symbolic as anything else. The Communist-led Resistance was anxious to see the Red Flag fly over the capital while De Gaulle, fearing a repeat of the Paris Commune, was equally desperate to establish a countervailing Free French presence in the capital as soon as possible. Neither side could do anything unless Eisenhower could be persuaded to take the city. The triumphant scenes at the liberation of Paris form the conclusion to Beevor’s book, though really they belong to a different story. His narrative is essentially about the battles that raged for three months in Normandy and thus settled the outcome of the war. At the end of those three months the German armies were broken remnants, with 240,000 casualties and 200,000 prisoners in Allied hands. The British, Canadians and Poles had suffered 83,045 casualties, the Americans 125,847 and the Allied air forces another 16,714. In purely military terms it was a remarkable result. Everyone expected that the attackers, having to invade across fields and beaches that were virtual shooting-ranges organised by well-entrenched defenders, would suffer by far the greater casualties. In fact the Allied high command were greatly relieved that their casualties were so much lighter than they’d feared.

In a sense we have all been affected by that feeling of relief, and by the ease of the Western Allies’ advance that followed, allowing us to see the war in the West as a low-casualty war. In overall comparison with the Eastern Front that remains true, of course. It has been standard military doctrine since 1945 that the Wehrmacht was the strongest force in the war and that no amount of naval or air warfare could bring Hitler down. For that to happen someone, somewhere had to destroy the Wehrmacht and this task was essentially performed by the Red Army on the great plains of Russia. But that shouldn’t overshadow what was achieved in Normandy. The toughest task of all was to take on and defeat the crack Waffen SS regiments, many of which had ended up in Normandy having carved careers of such horror in the East as to justify in full their death’s head insignia.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 31 No. 19 · 8 October 2009

R.W. Johnson writes: ‘The great prize … was to break out westwards to the Seine and Paris’ (LRB, 10 September). Anyone who thinks Paris is west of Normandy is holding the map upside down.

Derek Robinson
Bristol

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.