Book Review: Memoirs of the Second World War (Part 7)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The landing on the beaches of Normandy met with less opposition than was expected and the casualties were much lower than had been feared.  By June 10th, General Montgomery reported that he was sufficiently established ashore to receive a visit.  Churchill, along with General Marshall and others, crossed the channel to lunch with him in France.  Within the first 6 days, 326,000 men; 54,000 vehicles; and 104,000 tons of stores had been landed.

The Germans had been thoroughly confused by British deceptions.  They even suspected that there might be another major landing and that Normandy might only be a preliminary and subsidiary one, so they avoided sending all their forces to meet the invasion.  The Allies advanced, and the French Resistance was a great help.  There was, however, fierce fighting.  

On the night of June 12-13, the first flying bombs fell on London.

On August 7th, the Germans launched a counterattack.  They failed with extraordinary losses.  Soon, the Germans evacuated all they could across the Seine.  On August 20th, Patton crossed the Seine near Mantes; the French Underground revolted and the police went on strike.  There was street fighting in Paris.  On August 23rd, the French 2nd Armoured Division under General Leclerc was ordered to take Paris.  The Germans capitulated and the city was swept into rapturous demonstrations.

Alexander's armies in Italy were pressing toward the river Po.  The British wanted to put all their effort into the struggle in Italy, deliver a most formidable blow there, and perhaps even reach Vienna before the Russians.  The Americans, however, wished for a landing in the French Riviera.  The American plan prevailed.

In the east, the Russians were flooding into Poland and the Balkans.  On July 22nd, they had crossed the river Vistula and broken into German defences east of Warsaw.  At 5 pm on August 1st, the Warsaw Uprising began.  In spite of British and Polish pleas, the Soviets did not give any significant help to the rebels.  The British flew air drops of supplies over many miles (however insufficient), but the Soviets would not even give the British planes engaged in this task landing fields.  The city was ruined and the heroic Poles finally surrendered to the Germans on October 2nd.  Of the Polish Underground Army's 40,000 men and women, 15,000 were dead.  As Churchill aptly put it, "When the Russians entered the city 3 months later, they found little but shattered streets and the unburied dead.  Such was their liberation of Poland."

Churchill recounts the struggle in Burma and the Battle of the Leyte Gulf.

The liberation of Europe continued, with General Eisenhower assuming direct command of the land forces in Northern France on September 1st.  The Germans were retreating in bad order, and the biggest problem proved to be keeping the Allied Army supplied.  The Allies entered Brussels on September 3rd.  Everywhere in Belgium they received a splendid welcome and help from well-organized resistance.  On September 4th, they entered Antwerp.

  By the 9th, Pas de Calais, with its flying-bomb launching sites had been cleared.  The 12th American Army Group took Charleroi, Mons, and Liege.  In a fortnight they had freed all Luxembourg and Southern Belgium.  By the 12th of September, they had closed up to the German frontier on a sixty-mile front and pierced the Siegfried Line in one place.  Next, they won a couple bridgeheads over the Moselle.

  But then enemy resistance stiffened.  Supplies were stretched to a limit, and a pause was necessary.

See Part 8 tomorrow.