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Book Review – The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion

By Martin K. A. Morgan; Zenth Press; 240 pages

One criticism sometimes leveled at photographic histories is that they don’t go any deeper than the photographs inside. Many have bare bones caption information alongside photos that the reader has seen over and over again. Not so with The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion. Released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the book brings a fresh perspective to the American experience of D-Day.

Many of the more than 450 photographs used are in the public domain through collections held by the National Archives and Records Administration, but Morgan dug deep in the archives to find photography that brings deeper understanding of just how colossal the campaign was. While familiar clashes at Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Sainte-Mère-Église are covered thoroughly, lesser known ones are given their due. Fierce and deadly clashes at the lesser known villages of La Fière and Graignes are reexamined.

While author Martin K. A. Morgan limits himself to America’s role on D-Day, he doesn’t limit The Americans on D-Day from telling the larger picture of the battle. The photography in the book covers the buildup, training, air campaign, naval effort, airborne operations, the landings, and the breakout from the beachhead. Many of the 450 photographs used are in the public domain through collections held by the National Archives and Records Administration, but Morgan dug deep in the archives to find photography that brings deeper understanding of just how colossal the campaign was. While familiar clashes at Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Sainte-Mère-Église are covered thoroughly, lesser known ones are given their due. Fierce and deadly clashes at the lesser known villages of La Fière and Graignes are reexamined.

The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion

The Americans on D-Day: A Photographic History of the Normandy Invasion, by Martin K. A. Morgan; Zenith Press; 240 pages

Besides the incredibly detailed captions, Morgan, who served as a historian-in-residence at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La., tapped into some Louisiana World War II history with a chapter on the Battle of Graignes. In the aftermath of the June 11, 1944, battle, captured paratroopers from the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were brutally executed by German soldiers from the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division. Several French civilians, including two Catholic priests, were also executed in retaliation for their assistance of the Americans. Among the dead were two soldiers from Louisiana, whose stories Morgan uses to tell the larger tale of the battle. Morgan brings the same high standard of detail he shows in his captions to tell the story of the Battle of Graignes.

What really makes The Americans on D-Day stand out amidst other comparative D-Day histories is the captioning. The level of detail in every caption is unsurpassed.

What really makes The Americans on D-Day stand out amidst other comparative D-Day histories is the captioning. The level of detail in every caption is unsurpassed. Weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and equipment are examined in minute detail. That focus doesn’t obscure the human element of the invasion, as Morgan devotes just as much effort in identifying as many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilians as possible in the photos. This kind of detailed caption ensures that new information can be uncovered from even the most iconic D-Day photos. A recent Defense Media Network slideshow featuring photos from the book with their captions gives a representation of just how detailed they are.

101st Airborne Division

Author Martin K. A. Morgan covers every aspect of the D-Day invasion in The Americans on D-Day, including the airborne operations. This photo is captioned: First Lieutenant Alex Bobuck of Headquarters 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is about to begin checking his men’s equipment during a staged press event on June 4, 1944, on the airfield at Exeter in Devonshire. Behind them “Lady Lilian,” a C-47 from the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group, serves as only a symbolic backdrop for the photograph because another aircraft would deliver these men to France on D-Day.

The Americans on D-Day often takes advantage of the well-preserved fighting areas of Normandy to show before and after photographs. A reader can see for themselves just how much the landscape has or hasn’t changed in a particular area.

Even the most knowledgeable reader of The Americans on D-Day would be hard-pressed to walk away from the book without gleaning something new from its pages.

Even the most knowledgeable reader of The Americans on D-Day would be hard-pressed to walk away from the book without gleaning something new from its pages. As the 70th anniversary comes and goes, prompting new scholarship on D-Day, The Americans on D-Day is a worthy investment.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...