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(1939-1945) WWII Battles
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4304
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 5:41:10 AM

Last summer was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and the ensuing publications gave us food for thought.

Prominent among these was the book by James Holland, a writer and historian I admire, and I cite the title above.

Tempted to buy it, I read the cover flyer, and was dismayed and astonished when I read :

This was a brutal campaign. In terms of daily casualties, the numbers were worse than for any one battle during the First World War .

What, on earth, could account for a scholar of Holland’s calibre making a preposterous statement like that ?

Is he deluded, or in denial, or just damnably bad at arithmetic ? Or has there been a lamentable failure to research the provenance of such a claim, and a tendency to accept slogans ? Or, maybe, a typo or failure to qualify something ?

For the record, the Allied land forces suffered 210,000 casualties in the 77 days, by the official tabulations that I see cited in most accounts. If I’m right, that equates to 2,727 per day . I’m sure that German casualties were huge, and, awful to countenance, there was terrible loss of civilian lives, too.

So, yes...a brutal, intense and vicious campaign, all too often sanitised and extolled as a masterpiece of manoeuvre and technology. It was a horrible slog, a murderous and terrifying ordeal , especially for the men in the rifle companies .

No room for complacency on that score , then.....BUT....to aver that its daily casualty toll exceeded that of any single battle in the warfare of 1914-18 is so ludicrous as to deter me from buying the book.

A daily average of 35,000 French casualties in a four day period of the Battle of The Frontiers in August 1914 ; the 57,470 British casualties on the First Day of the Somme in July 1916, and a total daily Allied average of of 4,418 for the entire 141 days of that battle.....Good Lord, I don’t need to go on !

Forgive my fixation with these statistics , but when I see a howler like that adorning the work of an author that I hold in high regard, I hope that you will understand my reaction.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10490
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 7:34:38 AM

Quote:
This was a brutal campaign. In terms of daily casualties, the numbers were worse than for any one battle during the First World War .


Hi Phil,

I read his statement a number of times and we may have to buy the book to understand his rationale.

The statement, if I am understanding it correctly, seems to be comparing any single battle of WW1 with the casualties taken throughout the whole Normandy campaign and perhaps to the day that the German forces were pushed out of France.

Without knowing his time frame or indeed, how he defines a battle in WW1 terms, it is difficult to know what he means. I mean, the Somme was not a one day battle even though that first day was horrific.

On the face of it, it does seem a rather preposterous statement. Maybe he is just playing with different time frames to get the favourable comparison that he wanted.

Has his claim put you off on buying the book, Phil?

Cheers,
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4304
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 8:50:48 AM

George,

The claim has deterred me from buying the book.

He’s not the only person to make it.

It started out with a military historian by the name of Gordon Corrigan, in a book titled “ Mud, Blood and Poppycock”. His intention was to debunk myths of WW1, by exposing the hyperbole about the casualties.
He also wanted us to reconsider the view that the generals of 1914-18 were blundering butchers, while those of 1939-45 were humane, slick and enlightened leaders who won battles without imposing carnage. And so he put a kind of “ spin” on the Normandy casualties of 1944, explaining that, although the absolute numbers of British casualties were far lower than they had been on the Somme in 1916, the rate of loss was slightly higher in the infantry in 1944, considering how the far smaller numbers of riflemen deployed skewed the proportion. He used figures compiled by different criteria : to elaborate on what I mean here, for the Somme he used the recorded figure for killed and missing, without any of the died from wounds....a very significant number thereby excluded ; for Normandy, he used the CWGC record of deaths from all causes.
Had he used the same CWGC data for the Somme, his argument would sink without trace. Truly, apples and oranges.

This was adopted and expounded by another historian , Peter Caddick-Adams, who aggregated loss of life in the Allied and German armies, combined with the civilian casualties, and remarked that the total, assessed on a daily average , exceeded that of the 1916 Somme fighting . I examined his figures and saw that he had understated the Somme casualties by thirty per cent, more or less !

Now, both these historians have impressed me mightily with their style and approach : the thing was ruined by statistical sleight of hand. All they needed to do was to dispel the view that Normandy was a soft option compared with the Somme. It was sometimes as deadly to carry a rifle into battle and close with the enemy in 1944 as it had been in 1916....that’s abundantly clear.

Now we have another inspirational and highly rated historian, James Holland, doing it again.

It does upset me : I get agitated.

Perhaps I’d better just get over it and take these things in my stride !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 737
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 9:11:19 AM

Phil
"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" Mark Twain

Despite the 100th anniversary of WWI the war has never captured the public as WWII has. Many seem to think it was a complete failure all the way around and killed millions for no good reason. After all we had to fight it again 30 years later. This time "The Greatest Generation" did it right.

Here in America WWI is just a bump in History. Our President didn't seem to gasp the importance of it when in Paris (but that's another issue) and despite the uproar over his behavior it was just a tempest in teapot. After all it was just WWI.

George made a similiar observation about the War of 1812 200th anniversary. Important to Canada...here in US not so much

Authors do want they can to sell books. Not many people know or care to find out if what they are saying esp. numbers are actually correct
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4304
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 10:55:43 AM

John,

Wasn’t it Benjamin Disraeli who pitched that saying about lies ?

There’s another one that I’ve heard Americans use..... “ Figures can’t lie, but lies can figure”.

What I’ve read about the Normandy Campaign leaves me wondering whether it speaks more of triumph than of opportunity squandered.

On balance, I reckon the triumph deserves to be extolled above all the defects.

I must reconsider my stance on James Holland’s book.....the reviews are favourable.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria
BC Canada
Posts: 2854
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/9/2020 6:26:19 PM

Phil, keep in mind that – except in very specific instances – in most cases authors do not write anything but the text. They often have little control over photos, maps, diagrams; they are normally obliged to obey house rules in matters of grammar, footnote practices and the like. Remember John Barratt? I wrote reviews for three of his books, and included complaints about certain graphics in his Cromwell's Wars At Sea. John told me to save my breath: he got the illustrator his publisher assigned him.

James Holland may be just as horrified as you are by the blurbs, cover design and general presentation. But the division of labour typically suggests that the contents are his but the publication belongs to the house. It's not quite that simple of course, but you get my idea.

Here's something I have used (very sparsely) when dealing with issues I can't resolve any other way. I contact the author through his/her agent or through the publisher.

Typically, you have to go through an agent of some sort. And I've found authors can be remarkably responsive to a query. I once had a lovely, hand-signed letter from Sir John Keegan in response to a query about a photo in one of his volumes. He couldn't help me much beyond directing me to a photo agency, but he did imply that he had nothing to do with the images chosen to illustrate that particular volume.

Cheers
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4304
Normandy ‘44 : D-Day and the Battle for France.
Posted on: 2/10/2020 9:07:25 AM

Thanks, Brian, you make a good point there , that I hadn’t considered.

Yes, I do remember John Barratt.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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