By Laura Barkema, MLIS, Collection Development Librarian
June 6, 1944. It was the beginning of the end of World War II. A war that had killed more than 50 million people, destroyed families, and ravaged Europe, Asia, and North Africa by its end. Most know this date in world history as “D-Day”, but it was really the first day in the two-month long Battle of Normandy that was key in liberating western Europe from the Nazis. This June, in 2019, marks the 75th Anniversary of this game-changing, yet somber day in history. Before diving into what new books are being published connected to this anniversary (and believe me, there are quite a few), let’s summarize what happened this fateful day on the beaches of Normandy.
Originally called Operation Neptune, D-Day was first concocted by the Allies in 1943 and was set to commence in early June 1944. The Nazis occupied much of western Europe including northern France, and though the Allies had made inroads in southern Europe and in the east, they had yet to invade from the west. Most believed that if the Allies could pull off this invasion of northern France, that they could continue to push the Nazis back to Germany and defeat them once and for all.
The invasion of Normandy was executed by the combined efforts of the British, Canadian, and American armed forces just after midnight on June 6, when the first phase of the plan began with heavy bombing of Normandy. The second phase involved an airborne invasion of paratroopers who were set to seize key targets and to neutralize the Germans to allow for the amphibious landings to go smoothly. The final phase included the beach landings on Sword, Gold, Juno, Utah, and Omaha beaches, the largest seaborne invasion in history–which commenced around 6:30 am. It was a brilliant plan that ultimately succeeded in that the Allies had officially invaded Nazi-occupied Europe and did not intend to stop until this disastrous war was through. But it came at quite a cost. Not everything went smoothly on D-Day, especially at Omaha beach where the US troops landed. With estimates of roughly 2,500 American lives lost, D-Day is the single bloodiest day during World War II and the second bloodiest day in all of American history.
Now that we are familiar with the very basics of the masterful plan that was D-Day, let’s look at several new titles being published about D-Day in 2019. Two works published by Dutton Caliber, an imprint of Penguin, are essential to highlight: The First Wave: The D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in World War II by Alex Kershaw and The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus. Kershaw’s book tells an adrenaline-filled narrative with a cast that includes an American paratrooper, a British glider pilot, Canadian brothers, and a Frenchman fighting to destroy the German’s hold on both Sword and Juno Beaches. While Kershaw’s book is a broader look at the whole of D-Day and its operations, McManus’ book details the harrowing landings at Omaha Beach.
As the number of World War II veterans dwindles, it is incredible that a memoir of D-Day can be written in 2019. Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day, the First Wave at Omaha Beach, and a World at War by Ray Lambert, who is now 98 years old, tells the story of him and his brother Bill and the fight for their lives during the war. Though everyone loves a great memoir, many readers of history also love to find out about a “hidden” part of history. D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose showcases the extraordinary women who through their spy work in the British service helped to pave the way for the invasion of Normandy.
Of course, it’s not all adult nonfiction titles that are being published about D-Day. Deborah Hopkinson pieces together the events using personal narratives, official documents, and archival photos in the middle grade juvenile title, D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History. Though published in 2018, it is worth mentioning. In the popular “I Survived” series by Scholastic, I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis was published in January of this year in commemoration of the anniversary. Lastly, Robert Venditti and Kevin Maurer’s graphic novel titled Six Days: The Incredible True Story of D-Day’s Lost Chapter captures the little-known story of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and what happened after they parachuted down into France as part of the invasion but missed their target.
Remembering D-Day during this 75th Anniversary is both a celebration of its achievement of turning the tide of a bloody war, yet also a true day of remembrance for those men who were lost.