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Breakout at Normandy: The 2nd Armored Division in the Land of the Dead, by Mark Bando, Motor Books International, Osceola, Wis., 2000, $19.95.

Of all the great campaigns of World War II, the campaign for Normandy continues to fascinate students of the war. Every year, thousands of pages are published on the battles that raged throughout the Norman countryside as the Allies struggled to liberate France. Alas, much of what appears is simply a rehash of previous work and adds little to our understanding of the events of that momentous summer.

Fortunately, however, there are always a few books published that bring to light a little-known engagement or help to improve our knowledge of the Normandy battles. Mark Bando’s Breakout at Normandy is such a book. Bando, the author of two well-received books on the contributions of the 101st Airborne Division, examines the activities of the 2nd Armored Division in some detail.

In particular, Bando looks at the 2nd Armored Division during the week of July 24-30, 1944, when its Combat Command B (CCB) made an end run around St. Lô shortly after its capture by the 29th Infantry Division and placed itself in the path of German units struggling to retreat and establish a new defensive line at Percy, France. This movement unhinged German defensive arrangements in the Cotentin Peninsula and gave Lt. Gen. George S. Patton an opportunity to hurl his Third Army toward the Seine River.

Bando’s description of American efforts during the last week of July culminates with the night action of July 29-30. It was during this furious armored battle that isolated and badly outnumbered elements of CCB found themselves squarely in the path of the 2nd and 7th SS Panzer divisions and elements of the 6th Parachute Regiment.

Throughout the night, the GIs from CCB fought a series of tough, independent actions against the SS tankers that were determined to break through their positions. As the sun rose over the battlefield, the survivors of CCB were shocked at the destruction they had caused in what the locals had called, since the Hundred Years’ War, the “Land of the Dead.” Lieutenant John Wong, like other members of the division, would later describe the fighting as “like having a bag full of wildcats trapped and trying to prevent them from escaping the bag.”

Despite the importance of their fight that night, the heroic actions of CCB have largely been eclipsed by Patton’s dramatic breakout from the Cotentin Peninsula two days later. Through its heavy reliance on interviews with more than 300 members of the 2nd Armored Division as well as some of their German foes, Breakout does an admirable job of redressing that imbalance.

In addition to the countless personal interviews that provide the book with a much greater intimacy than is found in many similar treatments of World War II battles, Breakout greatly benefits from the large number of illustrations that have been included, most of which are available to the public for the first time. If there is any weakness to this book, it is its lack of maps to accompany the text, and readers would do well to have an atlas on hand as they read. This small criticism aside, Breakout succeeds in its goal of recognizing the heroic stand of CCB in the Land of the Dead.

Chris Anderson