D-Day at Normandy: Background information when reading The Kites

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The Kites by Romain Gary, Miranda Richmond Mouillot X
The Kites by Romain Gary, Miranda Richmond Mouillot
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    Oct 2017, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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Beyond the Book:
D-Day at Normandy

Print Review

In the dramatic final pages of The Kites, the Allies arrive in Normandy to liberate its inhabitants from Nazi occupation, an event that occurred on June 6, 1944 and drastically altered the landscape of World War II. It was the most expansive amphibious invasion in history, with British, American, and Canadian flotillas storming five separate beaches simultaneously, with assistance from additional troops in the air. The entire assault was codenamed "Operation Overlord"; the naval assault was called "Operation Neptune." In total, the Allied forces numbered around 156,000, the vast majority arriving by sea.

Glimpse of the Normandy Invasion The Allied assault was led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who went on to be elected president of the United States in 1952). Eisenhower worked closely with British general Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of the ground forces, British admiral Bertram Ramsay, and Royal Air Force commander Trafford Leigh-Mallory. The Normandy invasion was a cunning piece of warcraft, as the Allies employed methods of subterfuge to confuse and deceive the Germans. Double agents and phony radio transmissions passed along false information, and inflatable tanks and landing craft were established along the coast near Dover to give the impression that the invasion force would cross from there to Calais (the narrowest point between England and France). Empty parachutes were dropped over alternate locations. All of these tactics served to draw attention away from the actual landing sites in Normandy - considerably further to the west, and much farther from England. The French Resistance, of which the protagonist of The Kites is a member, also played an important role in the victory at Normandy, destroying roads and railway lines and further delaying German response to the invasion. The Resistance also established a base of operations in Brittany for amassing supplies and reinforcements, though this outpost was discovered by the Germans on July 12, 1944. Many of its inhabitants were killed or wounded and the base was rendered inoperable.

The battle was also significant for its unique weaponry, including amphibious "swimming" tanks, tanks equipped with flame throwers, and tanks with high caliber weaponry designed to easily smash through or detonate bridges, mines (of which there were roughly four million on the beaches planted by the Germans), and concrete barriers.

In addition to being flummoxed by subterfuge, the Germans were stymied by the absence of General Erwin Rommel (who by an unanticipated stroke of fate had gone home to celebrate his wife's birthday, believing the weather to be unfavorable for an invasion). Hitler failed to supply adequate reinforcements, as he firmly believed that other assaults were imminent elsewhere. By the time the scale of the assault was apparent, it was too late to stop the rolling tide of Allied troops, who represented a united front on the beaches, protected from above by the air force. In addition, some of the troops fighting against the Allies in Normandy were conscripted Poles and Soviet prisoners of war who had agreed to fight as an alternative to enduring the brutal conditions in the German POW camps. They preferred to surrender or desert when faced with the superior strength of the advancing Allies.

While precise figures for casualties are unknown, they are estimated at 200,000 killed, missing, and wounded for the Germans and over 209,000 for the Allies. In addition up to 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly due to Allied bombing. The Germans never recovered from the initial shock of the invasion, and their defeat was a major turning point. With their newfound momentum, the Allies marched across France, liberating Paris by August of 1944. In the months that followed, they were able to join forces with the Soviets and invade Germany. The vastly weakened Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, putting an end to the war.

For more about the Normandy invasion from PBS, click on the video below:

Picture shows an LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarking troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach (Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France) on the morning of June 6, 1944. From National Archives and Records Administration

Article by Lisa Butts

This article is from the January 3, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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