Ambrose never tried too hard to prevent his military histories from lapsing into pro-American propaganda, which is what makes them so enjoyable.
Throughout the book, he emphasizes the heroism of individual U.S. soldiers, and makes the case that the U.S. enjoyed not just an advantage in material, but also decisive advantages in leadership down to the non-commissioned officer level and also in terms of the overall chain of command.
“Every soldier, every airman, every sailor, every unit in the United Kingdom in the spring of 1944 took orders from Eisenhower,” he writes. “Thus did the democracies put the lie to the Nazi claim that democracies are inherently inefficient, dictatorships inherently efficient.“
He faults Hitler for failing to give Rommel full control of the Panzer units in France. He also claims that the Atlantic wall was one of the greatest military blunders in history, and argues that the Nazis would have been better off concentrating resources inland to prepare for a counterattack.
One theme throughout the many stories of the battles that day is that Ost units comprising captured Russians, Poles, Koreans, etc., put up very little resistance in most cases, and were generally ready to surrender. (In the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the Americans shoot Nazis who are trying to surrender and then joke they couldn’t understand what they were saying — they were speaking Czech.)
In contrast, he depicts the allied forces as quick-thinking and ready to improvise to match the circumstances. And he highlights the bravery of, for instance, Theodore Roosevelt III, who insisted on being in the first wave on Utah Beach, at the age of 56. He notes that Eisenhower had to ask George VI to intervene to prevent Churchill from signing up to be on a British ship in the invasion.
A few notes from the book:
— It’s not the focus of the book, but it’s still amazing to consider the war industry ramp-up. Such a mobilization is unthinkable today: “in 1939, the United States produced 800 military airplanes. When President Franklin Roosevelt called for the production of 4000 airplanes per month, people thought he was crazy. But in 1942, the United States was producing 4000 a month, and by the end of 1943 8000 per month.” The nuclear bomb was developed in 3 years.
— monetary note: On D-Day, Allied troops were carrying francs that had been printed over the protests of Charles de Gaulle
— journalism note: In its D-Day coverage, the WSJ covered the market implications of the invasion. It speculated about “reconversion” of war production to industry as soon as it was clear the invasion was successful — bullish. Ambrose points out that troops would pay for that optimism: orders for artillery shells were cut back, and then the army was short in December 1944 in Belgium during the Nazi counterattack.
— Ambrose notes stories of Allied troops meeting French girls in Normandy and going on to get married to them. It’s interesting to think that the British and Americans and French had enough in common for this to happen on a non-trivial scale.
— The average American conscript gained 7 pounds in basic training. The U.S. of the late 1930s/early 1940s was a much different place.