Philip Warner’s collection of first-person accounts of the D-Day landings is a fascinating work of oral history. Originally published in 1980, Pen & Sword Publishing re-introduced the book in 2019 in time for the 75th Anniversary celebrations of Operation Overlord.
The Telegraph – The D Day Landings describes the Normandy invasion from the point of British forces, using the recollections of actual veterans. The book is divided into 12 sections, each dealing with a separate element of the assault force. Warner gives attention to air, naval and land forces, however, the various arms and services that attacked Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches make up the lion’s share of the chapters. Infantry, armor, artillery, commandos, intelligence, medical, and service corps soldiers all share their memories of 6 June 1944, as well as pilots, paras and glider-men, and sailors.
Two especially interesting chapters are devoted to the Canadian forces and to the chaplains who accompanied the attacking troops. Warner presents the stories in a logical manner, beginning with the airborne soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division dropping on the east of Caen to seize bridges and glider zones, and then proceeding to discuss the amphibious operations on the beaches.
Of particular interest are the small details these veterans remembered of that momentous day. From an airborne signaler who dropped with a carrier pigeon strapped to his chest, to a platoon commander who recalled that the jump into Normandy was the only time he saw a specific member of his platoon not suffer from a bout of airsickness, these recollections work to humanize men that history often freezes in time as snapshots in old black and white photos or fleeting images in newsreel footage.
Warner even includes a small section describing the point of view of French civilians who witnessed the invasion and liberation of their homes. The bulk of the book, however, is devoted to the stories of the combatants themselves.
Warner’s project began with him asking for participants of the invasion to share their experiences with him via a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. He describes the overwhelming response in a small introduction to the text and relates that hundreds of D-Day survivors responded writing to him and sharing maps, photographs, and old correspondence. Additionally, Warner was able to arrange interviews with French inhabitants of Normandy through the cooperation of a Mademoiselle de Berenger, who directed a museum at Arromanches, France in the 1970s and 80s.
He shares this information in order to thank everyone who assisted him with the project and expresses regret that he cannot acknowledge them by name or use all the material provided. Today’s reader will find this tribute interesting because it reveals just how much material Warner left out of the final book. The Imperial War Museum houses full texts of all the stories and interviews available to the author and one can only hope that someday an enterprising historian or writer will avail themselves of the opportunity to examine this trove with an eye to writing another volume of D-Day history.
As the book is told specifically from a British & Commonwealth point of view, perspectives from Allied forces (other than Canadian) are absent, as are stories recounting German reactions to the invasion. The purpose of the book is to commemorate British participation, specifically at the time of the original publication for the 35th anniversary of the campaign.
Readers looking for an introduction to the history of D-Day, or for a comprehensive discussion of the operation are advised to look elsewhere and use Warner’s book to supplement more general histories. Warner himself recognizes this and provides readers with suggestions for further reading in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the Normandy battles.
The book also contains a selection of 32 black and white photographs that supplement the text. A lack of maps detracts from the overall reading enjoyment unless the reader already understands the geography of the region. The book contains two small black and white maps that show the invasion beaches and order of battle, but they lack a good deal of detail. Readers are advised to consult a good World War II atlas or obtain a copy of the Michelin Tires Battle of Normandy map in order to be able to identify the locations where the stories take place.
Philip Warner was a prolific writer as well as a World War II veteran. He wrote a total of 54 books of military history and served as a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He passed away in 2000. This reprinting of The D Day Landings is a fitting remembrance for such a man.
Book review by Ben Powers
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