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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Greatest Normandy Books?

The book that has renewed my interest in the 1944 battle for Normandy.

If you are looking for the greatest books about Normandy 1944 I have some suggestions for you in this and several coming blog posts. Let us start in an unorthodox way with the German view.

There is an abundance of books that focus on the Allied side of this story. In The Germans in Normandy by Richard Hargreaves it is the other way around, and this in itself raises ones interest. Then I was also encouraged to read the book by some words from a fellow author and the Guild of Battlefield Guides (more about Normandy guides in future posts). But, before I venture into actually reviewing The Germans in Normandy I should mention that this 2019 paperback edition is not an entirely new book, as the first edition was published in 2006. Well, that having been said, this book should still rank as one of the best Normandy books.

Richard Hargreaves paints convincing portraits not only of the highest German officers involved. The quotes from them that he presents are both fascinating and in some cases even amusing. One gets the feeling that Hargreaves has correctly identified both the strengths and weaknesses of the German occupiers in northern France. He makes it very clear how much the Germans relied on foreign volunteer troops (many of whom were no true volunteers): “By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttruppen and [other] foreign volunteers […]”. In fact, as Hargreaves also points out, in some parts of France the ratio was even higher, so that in certain areas one in five “German” soldiers was not German at all.

The pre-battle conflict between Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg is amazing to follow and perhaps that row even caused the world famous “longest day” words from Rommel. What about the frontline soldiers then? Well, they are in the book too. Air power enthusiasts also do not have to worry – this book does not just cover the Heer and Waffen-SS but also Luftwaffe aspects.

How were the catastrophic German defeats in Normandy communicated to the German population? Richard Hargreaves shows how the main newspaper of the national socialist party at first rather convincingly “balanced” the defeats with colourful descriptions of the first V1 (flying bomb) strikes against London.

Hargreaves does not end his book with just the final shots in Normandy, but also gives an idea of what the cleaning up there entailed.

You might be tired of Normandy books – but even if you are I reckon you will appreciate The Germans in Normandy. It certainly renewed my interest in that beautiful and once very bloody part of France.

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