In the days before D-Day, everyone knew that a seaborne invasion of Europe by the Allies was coming. The big questions were when and where. We now know that the landings on the beaches of Normandy were crucial to eventual victory in World War II. But what was life like in the days just before D-Day? Drawing on a wide range of sources, including letters, diaries, contemporary documents and interviews, historian and former diplomat David Stafford takes us into the lives of ordinary people and military personnel in his Ten Days to D-Day: Citizens and Soldiers on the Eve of the Invasion. The result is a narrative that flows easily, much like an engrossing documentary film, from one person and country to another.
The many profiles include men like Andre Heintz, a French schoolteacher in Caen, who was part of the Resistance. He forged identity cards for those in trouble, but also had the potentially more dangerous role of collecting intelligence about changes in the city's German military installations. In an Oslo prison, there is Peter Moen, who had been one of the main editors of the most important of the clandestine newspapers in Norway before becoming a prisoner of the Gestapo. Women contributed as well. In the days before D-Day, there were more than 70,000 women working as spies, codebreakers, radio mechanics and in other nontraditional roles. Twenty-year-old Sonia d'Artois, from England and an expert on explosives, parachuted into France before D-Day. The remarkable Vera Atkins was in charge of the French intelligence section; female agents had been sent to France as early as 1942. Along with the personal stories of everyday citizens like those mentioned above, Stafford explores the concerns and frustrations of the leaders, in particular General Eisenhower, Prime Minister Churchill and General de Gaulle. The author also illuminates the central role of the Spaniard Juan Pujol, the double agent who supplied false information to the Germans under the alias of "Arabel," while secretly submitting reports to the Allies. Pujol's misinformation was necessary to keep the actual date and time of the invasion secret from the Germans.
Written with admirable clarity, Ten Days to D-Day helps us to appreciate the difficulties, ingenuity, personal courage and sacrifice of the many individual citizens in addition to the Allied leaders in the period just before the D-Day landing. Roger Bishop is a bookseller in Nashville and a frequent contributor to BookPage.