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Beyond the Beachhead by Joseph Balkoski (1992-05-02) Mass Market Paperback
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The landing in D-day are now legendary. While there were five beaches altogether and all had their challenges, Omaha Beach was the one where the most things went wrong for the assaulting force. Balkoski relates all this quite well. Obviously some features are well known, certainly to anyone who has seen ‘Saving Private Ryan’, yet there is some new material amongst the detail. There were a host of tragedies and near disaster but in the end, the determination of the survivors and fortuitous flaws in German dispositions saw the Americans win the day.
That of course wasn’t the end of it. The Battle for Normandy was far more than getting off the beaches of course. Ultimately, though much later than they should have, significant German forces entered the fray against the invasion force. On the 29ths front, these included the 3rd German Parachute Division. One of the strengths of this book is the look at the formations that opposed the 29th. The difference in doctrine, weapons, organisation and commanders are all given a good examination and these compounded the inherent difficulties of conducting attacks in the Bocage. These actions constitute the majority of the book. In the end, despite staggering casualties the 29th won through to St. Lo. Its later battles are covered in subsequent books by the author. Incidentally, he also is about the only writer to be supportive, if in a qualified way, of the US replacement system.
This is a solid, informative account of battle in Normandy. Balkoski utilises many first-hand sources to tell the 29ths story. There is obviously a focus on the division’s commanders but there are accounts by other ranks too, though less than I expected. Another curious note was an absence of any mention of the 29th Provisional Ranger Battalion that was raised and trained while the division seemingly languished in England. After its disbandment, several hundred trained Rangers returned to their parent units and gave them a very useful combat edge. Little things like this helped the 29th to prevail. The American army of WW2 is often thought of in terms of the paratroops, the Marines or fleets of Sherman tanks. The backbone of its fighting force though was formations like the 29th. This book is a valuable text towards understanding their contribution to victory in WW2.
Top reviews from other countries
Balkoski interviewed many veterans while there were still dozens alive and drew on their written accounts and other official documents. His prose is vivid and effective and I would recommend this book highly.