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Images of War: The Americans on D-Day and in Normandy

Images of War: The Americans on D-Day and in Normandy by Brooke S. Blades. Pen and Sword Military, 2019, 176 pp.   

On 6 June 1944, the Allies began one of the largest amphibious assaults undertaken in the history of warfare with the intent to dislodge the German military’s hold on Fortress Europe. Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day, sought to establish an Allied foothold on the beaches in Normandy, France, and ultimately lead to the liberation of Western Europe. The American, British, and Canadian armies, navies, and air forces advanced from southern England in the early hours of the morning with the intent of surprising and overwhelming the unsuspecting German forces and defenses along the Atlantic Wall. The invasion consisted of a multiprong approach that included infantry and armor assault of five separate beaches, airborne assault forces and glider landings behind enemy lines, an air bombardment of key transportation elements, and naval bombing in support of the ground attack.  

As the battle unfolded, events did not completely align with how the Allies had planned. For example, German defenses along the beaches remained intact after naval and air bombardment, which resulted in heavier Allied casualties and stiffer German resistance, particularly along the American sector code-named Omaha Beach. Unexpected cloud cover and heavy German antiaircraft artillery caused the Allied aircraft carrying airborne troops to drop their soldiers far from the intended drop zones, with many landing into flooded fields. These unexpected events directly influenced the overall timeline required to achieve the desired milestones and extended the fighting and the sacrifices of those who participated including the Allied and German soldiers, as well as the French civilians.  

While this book is not groundbreaking as it applies to the historical study of the Second World War or Operation Overlord, it offers the reader a different perspective on the actions of the operation. With this work, Brooke Blades helps to focus the dialogue on the human cost of war through a display of previously seen and unseen photographs, captions, and descriptions of events from the Normandy campaign. Images and storytelling often resonate more as a tool to help readers develop understanding of a subject. In this case, Blades puts a literal face to the issue of war with the purpose of revitalizing the readers’ grasp of the human scale that went into the immense undertaking that was the invasion of France. Along with the faces, the author helps to paint a picture of the challenges associated with this invasion based on the landscape and terrain. Blades contrasts the landscape during the invasion with modern-day images of the same terrain, and interestingly, much of it remains the same as it did 75 years ago. 

Blades focused on many of the traditional activities and events of the D-Day landings such as the preparations in England leading up to the invasion and the airborne landings scattered across the Cotentin Peninsula, as well as the amphibious landings along the two primary American beaches, Utah and Omaha. Blades chose photographs that illustrate the enormity and difficulties the forces faced during the operation. Additionally, he examined subject areas that are less about the military aspects of combat and reflect more of the human component including images of the wounded, prisoners, civilians, and the dead. Blades effectively combined historical descriptions of the associated events with the personal stories of the people and units included in the photographs. The author’s style helped generate the human connections and a memorable narrative. 

In short, the author provides a commendable addition to the pantheon of historical offerings on the Normandy invasion. Blades expertly weaved together an illuminating collection of photographs that illustrates the true cost of war that accompanies the heroism, suffering, and sacrifice. This book is well worth the read by cultured historians and laymen alike. Based on the photographic archives available, the author could easily add myriad supplementary volumes to this collection that document additional aspects of this historic campaign.  

Col Jody Owens, USAF 

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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