CLASHES OF PERSONALITY between key military commanders limited the gains from the Normandy Invasion and needlessly lengthened the war, argue American historian Edward Gordon and British author David Ramsay in Divided on D-Day. This is not a new story, told best in Martin Blumenson’s classic Battle of the Generals, but the authors have turned to previously untapped diaries to slightly expand the narrative.
They extensively describe the background and character of leaders on both the Allied and German sides on D-Day. Gordon and Ramsay are rightly very critical of the performances of generals Bernard Montgomery and Dwight D. Eisenhower, from the initial Normandy Invasion through Operation Market Garden; verge on being hagiographic in their coverage of George S. Patton and Erwin Rommel; and are much too easy on Omar Bradley, buying into the modest soldier-general mythology that writers such as Blumenson and Rick Atkinson have already debunked.
While the authors effectively highlight the role these big personalities played in hindering optimum execution of Operation Overlord, they ignore other relevant factors, including logistical and geographic imperatives. As Blumenson revealed, these imperatives put the more mobile American forces in restrictive hedgerow country while, perversely, the more infantry-oriented British ended up with the best terrain for tanks.
Gordon and Ramsay meticulously cover the major ground and naval decisions that shaped the war across northwest Europe, but are less successful in discussing air operations and greatly oversimplify the Allies’ decision to pursue attacks on oil or transportation to support the invasion. They also overlook the controversial fratricide resulting from Operation Cobra, the breakout from the beachhead. Despite contrary accounts in his memoirs, Bradley, as Cobra’s commander, deserves blame along with senior Allied airmen for sending massed aircraft on an approach to the bomblines that enhanced their survival but ensured hundreds of American casualties from bombs that fell short of their target.
While this book offers little new for those well-read on World War II, it should be informative for newcomers to the field, especially those only exposed to the triumphalism inevitably associated with the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019. Given that Gordon and Ramsay largely focus on the campaign’s failures and lost opportunities, though, those readers should also seek accounts emphasizing the campaign’s more positive accomplishments. As British prime minister Winston Churchill said, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” The Allied coalition was far from perfect, but it still won the war, and is considered one of the most effective coalitions in history. And Eisenhower deserves a lot of credit for harnessing his own “Team of Rivals” to achieve that victory. Gordon and Ramsay reveal much about just how difficult that job was. —Conrad Crane is chief of historical services at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and a former professor of history at West Point.