Monday, June 6, 2016

Introduction to 'D-Day: June 6, 1944'

Following is the introduction to my 2001 book D-Day: June 6, 1944, which is a snapshot of the first day of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. 

To many Americans of the 21st century, D-Day may seem to be a subject of limited relevance, fought as it was on the shores of a foreign continent nearly six decades ago by the men of a generation that has been depleted by the passage of more than half a century.

Had the mammoth amphibious operation launched on June 6, 1944, failed, however, the world we live in today would be a very different place, and certainly not a better one. The successful execution of Operation Overlord — the code name used by the Allied leadership for the invasion of Normandy — was the first great moral victory on the Western Front against the military forces of the Third Reich. Indeed, the Allied beachhead in northern France helped turn the tide of the war.

D-Day also ushered in a new era of American involvement in both Europe and the world. True, U.S. troops had crossed the Atlantic and battled Germany 27 years before during the Great War, but after their victory they had packed up and gone home. This time they were in Europe to stay, and they remain there to this day, albeit in numbers much reduced since the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Indeed, D-Day was emblematic of American ascendance in the world. Foreign observers of the beaches at Normandy were staggered by the amount of wreckage strewed about the landing zones, the ruined landing craft, vehicles, and weapons intermingled with human remains. In the latter years of World War II, few countries could have absorbed that sort of material loss and considered victory still possible. With the resources of a large continent behind it, however, the United States could make good those losses quickly enough to exploit its advantage — just as the Soviet Union, its counterpart in the new world order, was even then doing on the Eastern Front.

D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy is the second book in the “History at a Glance” series that began with Michael Varhola's Fire & Ice: The Korean War, 1950-1953 (Summer, 2000). Like its predecessor, D-Day was written to provide an overview of its subject for people with little or no knowledge of it. It will also serve as a road map for experienced students of World War II who want to discover other avenues worthy of deeper investigation. Readers will find it full of fascinating and useful information about the men, strategies, tactics, and weaponry of D-Day, all presented in a fresh and interesting “fact book” style format.

Several aspects of this book make it useful in both these roles. One is that its chapters are divided thematically. For example, readers can refer to the chapter on “Air and Airborne Operations” when they need information on this aspect of Operation Overlord, rather than jumping throughout the book in search of information relevant to them. D-Day also has a number of chapters with crucial information that weightier volumes, especially narrative histories, fail to cover at all or relegate to skimpy appendices. These include the chapters on weapons, armored vehicles, and Allied and Nazi leaders, all of which contain background information that can help readers more fully understand and appreciate the invasion of Normandy. ...

There are numerous individuals who assisted us in preparing this book for publication. Author and publisher Lee Meredith offered sound advice and read portions of the manuscript, as did historian Mary Deborah Petite. David Lang, of San Jose, California, who knows as much about both world wars as anyone, shared useful information with us all along the way. Finally, publisher Theodore P. Savas, of Savas Publishing Company, offered suggestions and guidance as this project developed, albeit slower than he would have liked. 

We sincerely hope that you find this book useful, interesting, and enjoyable, and that it facilitates your study of history in general, and D-Day in particular.