The Americans on D-Day – Book Review
In this oversized, hardcover book – perfect for a history buff’s bookshelf or coffee table – Martin K.A. Morgan focuses on the American experience during the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Through photographs, captions, and short descriptive text, Morgan brings the reader face-to-face with the men who fought and, in many cases, died liberating Northern France. Morgan packs this book with photographs familiar and new, photographs previously published as anonymous contributions, photographs that, as Morgan himself notes, lacked proper context. Morgan rectifies that by publishing the photos with names (of both the soldiers pictured and, in some cases, the photographer), locations, and dates.
One of the most jarring aspects when looking at some of the photographs is something we take for granted on a daily basis: color. We so often think of the World War II era as a black-and-white time period that seeing actual olive-drab uniforms, dusty brown roads, and blue water is as startling as it is fantastic. Morgan also includes modern-day photographs set beside their World War II counterparts to show the growth and change that has taken place in the seventy years since the battle. The photographs of Pointe du Hoc are particularly interesting, showing a landscape forever changed thanks to the bombs dropped by American planes before D-Day.
A native of Louisiana, Morgan devotes a chapter to two Louisiana-born soldiers, Benton J. Broussard and George S. Baragona. Both men joined the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia, after their jump school training. The 507th took part in the aerial assault on June 6, but thanks to a slight miscalculation, over 100 troopers, including Broussard and Baragona, landed fifteen miles south of their planned drop zone and ended up in the small town of Graignes. There, they held off a massive German assault for several days, but not before both Broussard and Baragona and many others, lost their lives. Beyond the action at Graignes, Morgan also describes the action at Manoir de la Fiere, an objective of the 82nd Airborne Division on the road to Carentan, and the massive aerial bombardment of Pointe du Hoc and the subsequent assault by Army Rangers against the powerful anti-ship guns stationed there (that the Germans actually had moved before the Rangers attacked).
But Morgan does not simply recount smaller battles within the action surrounding D-Day. The photographs displayed tell the story of the leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery, along with the men who stormed the beaches, the men who drove the landing craft, and the men who remained responsible for unloading millions of tons of weapons, ammunition, and other materiel once the beaches were secure. Not to mention, of course, the nurses who followed the men onto the beach in order to take care of the sick and wounded. Tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, barrage balloons, gliders, bombers, troop carriers, and ships all get their pictorial due. Even the things historians tend to gloss over or ignore – rope, mesh track, Marsden matting, rubber rafts, tractors, and bulldozers – become a part of Morgan’s narrative.
Morgan offers a comprehensive photographic history of the American experience before, during, and after the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. He blends personal narrative, small-unit combat, and the massive effort of storming the beaches into a cohesive whole that stands as a story unto itself, or a jumping-on point for those looking to learn more about the Americans on D-Day. It’s one thing for a historian or reader interested in history to sit down with a book and pore through the text, and it’s quite another to sit down and see the faces of the men who fought to break Hitler’s hold on Europe. The Americans on D-Day is a great addition to the historical record, and one that everyone should read at least once.
Adam Koeth is a writer and historian who lives with his family just south of Columbus, Ohio. He enjoys all things history, and, despite his best efforts, still roots for the Cleveland Indians every summer.
The images and captions below, taken from The Americans on D-Day, were provided by Zenith Press.