by Peter Caddick-Adams
Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xlii, 1030.
Illus., maps, gloss., order of battle, notes, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0190601892
D-Day, From Getting to the Beach to Getting Off It
A former British officer with combat service in Afghanistan and Iraq, Caddick-Adams is author of well-received histories of Monte Cassino and the Bulge, as well as a dual biography of Erwin Rommel and Bernard Law Montgomery. With Sand & Steel, he has produced an account of the D-Day operation that is impressive, insightful, and very readable
Caddick-Adams has researched these events deeply. In addition to a massive amount of documentary evidence, he seems to have had conversations with or read the letters and diaries of thousands of people who took part in the events. His approach is to use the experiences of many men and women, some of whom he comes back to several times, as a lever to help explain everything from life aboard a transport to the operation of a landing craft to combat training to disputes among the senior officers, logistics, soldier’s kit, medical training, and more.
Caddick-Adams actually takes a while to get to the actual landings, roughly half of the book, in fact. As he puts it, in order to understand the events of D-Day, one must understand the “vitally important hinterland” of the operation (p. xxxviii). So he gives us deep looks into long term planning, political and strategic issues, the research needed to develop those plans, the concentration of forces, the many technical and logistical issues that had to be resolved, the preliminary operations related to the invasion, and much more, even security and deception measures – a subject so complex he treats it in a postscript. And he manages to set this within the framework of a global war of unprecedented dimensions.
The second half of the book covers about three days around June 6th. Caddick-Adams follows the events in roughly chronological order, though naturally he has to juggle between the several beaches, as well as the events at sea and in the air. He does this rather well, and at times literally cuts back and forth between a GI under fire on Omaha, the German landser who’s firing at him, and the destroyer off shore firing at the landser.
In the process of telling the tale, Caddick-Adams touches upon some myths perpetrated by earlier writers, most notably S.L.A. Marshal and Cornelius Ryan, who, although also drawing on interviews, seem to have failed to verify some tales, or embroidered on them. For example, Caddick-Adams was unable to confirm any instance of the oft repeated claim that the coxswain of a landing craft had to be forced “at gun point” to close on the beach.
There are a number of surprises in Sand & Steel. Perhaps the most shocking is that more troops may have died in accidents while training in England, than were killed on D-Day. And even during the final concentration of troops, as they moved to transports and aircraft, men died by accident or misadventure.
Sand and Steel will likely be the standard work on D-Day for some time to come.
Note: Sand and Steel is also available in several e-editions.
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