cover image When the Sea Came Alive: An Oral History of D-Day

When the Sea Came Alive: An Oral History of D-Day

Garrett M. Graff. Avid Reader, $32.50 (608p) ISBN 978-1-6680-2781-3

Pulitzer finalist Graff (Watergate) draws from more than 700 eyewitness accounts for this gripping and propulsive history of the D-Day invasion. The contributors range from teenage privates to heads of state and military commanders, from frogmen and signalmen to parachuting generals, all of whom were engaged in a “feat of unprecedented human audacity, a mission more... complex than anything ever seen.” The interlaced first-person accounts—sometimes just a sentence or two—are connected by helpful narrative tissue and often reach back into the months and years before the invasion to provide context for the day’s events, like the development of the Mulberry Plan—the building of secret portable harbors the Allies would float to Normandy—and Exercise Tiger, a landing rehearsal on a British beach that was attacked by a German flotilla, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Harrowing recollections from survivors of the first wave of landings (“If you moved, you were dead”; “Wherever possible I crawled around bodies”) paired with descriptions of elite operations with narrow yet crucial goals—like the team of Rangers who practiced six months to scale a single cliff—add up to a panoramic view of an astonishingly intricate plan coming to fruition, undertaken by men and women with a clear sense of its momentousness. Readers will be spellbound. (June)