Revisiting the Normandy Campaign

By Kingseed, Cole C. | Army, November 2011 | Go to article overview
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Revisiting the Normandy Campaign

Kingseed, Cole C., Army

Revisiting the Normandy Campaign Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle That Shaped World War II in Europe. John Prados. NAL Caliber. 336 pages; photographs; maps; appendix; index; $25.95.

Few campaigns during World War ? have captured public imagination as much as the campaign in Normandy that raged from D-Day to the liberation of Paris on August 25, ?944. In the last 20 years alone, a number of distinguished historians, including Stephen E. Ambrose, John Keegan and Antony Beevor, have examined virtually every aspect of the three months following the invasion of Western Europe on June ß, 1944. Recently joining the fray is John Prados, who opines in Normandy Crucible that Normandy was "the most essential campaign of World War U."

Prados' focus is different from previous authors in that he uses individual stories to illuminate larger aspects of inquiry. Prados places increasing emphasis on intelligence operations to inform coalition strategy. According to Prados, our knowledge of World War Í intelligence matters has attained a level sufficient to retell the battle story. Indeed, Prados' primary aim is "to attempt a synthesis of intelligence history with combat narrative."

Not surprisingly, Prados views Normandy Crucible as a companion work to his Combined Fleet Decoded, a book that reexamined the Pacific theater through the lens of U.S. intelligence and "reanimated the story of how Japan had gone down to defeat."

What Prados contributes to the ongoing debate over the Allied victory is a more detailed assessment of how the German army recovered so rapidly from its defeat in Normandy. In examining the postwar official reports of American and British senior headquarters, coupled with the war diaries of the German High Command, Prados concludes that the "Western Allies were neither so invincible nor as unchallenged as they imagined" they were following the destruction of the German Seventh Army in the Falaise pocket in mid-August 1944.

In what should have resulted in irreversible disaster for the Nazi regime, the campaign in Normandy clearly demonstrated the Allies' inability to convert the operational advantages gained in Normandy into unassailable strategic superiority. Prados posits that four factors contributed to this failure to end the war in 1944: difficulties in inter-allied cooperation, differences over a proper strategic approach once the lodgment was secured, the continuing weaknesses in Allied logistics and the under-estimation of the actual power of the German adversary to recover from battlefield losses. Each of these factors manifested itself during the latter stages of the Normandy campaign.

How then did the Wehrmacht reconstitute a defense of the German frontier so swiftly after the Normandy debacle? Prados' interpretation will surely challenge the traditional conventions of history. The most reasonable explanation is that a substantial amount of support and service elements of the German divisions, in particular the mobile formations, escaped the Falaise pocket before the gap was closed.

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