G.M. Burrow's Reviews > The Longest Day

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history, military

I was looking for THE perfect book on D-Day--all the facts, all the armies, all the POVs. And I found it right here. Did you know that the British paraded their beaches to the blaring of bagpipes? Or that Hitler was napping in balmy Berchtesgaden till it was all over? Or that the German field marshal left France right before the invasion to request use of Hitler's Panzers which he'd need in order to resist said invasion--which, meanwhile, succeeded behind his back?

This book is about June 6 and only June 6; it doesn't say much about the long years before the invasion and it stops on the stroke of midnight, but it's as good as I could have hoped for. Detail-rich and as fluid as any novel, The Longest Day demands its own miniseries, so HBO should drop everything right now to tell the story of all the other bands of brothers (American, British, Canadian, French, German, even a smattering of Russian and Polish) that fought and died in Normandy.

Just to give you an idea, here's one of my favorite scenes, which took place in the pre-dawn quiet of June 6:

Major Werner Pluskat in his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach had heard nothing from his superiors sine 1:00 A.M. He was, cold, tired, and exasperated. He felt isolated. He couldn't understand why there had been no reports from either regimental or division headquarters.... It must mean that nothing serious was happening. But...Pluskat could not rid himself of his gnawing uneasiness. Once more he swung the artillery glasses over to the left, picked up the dark mass of the Cherbourg peninsula and began another slow sweep of the horizon. The same low banks of mist came into view, the same patches of shimmering moonlight, the same restless, white-flecked sea. Nothing was changed. Everything seemed peaceful.

Behind him in the bunker his dog, Harras, was stretched out asleep. Nearby, Captain Ludz Wilkening and Lieutenant Fritz Theen were talking quietly. Pluskat joined them. "Still nothing out there," he told them. "I'm about to give it up." But he walked back to the aperture and stood looking out as the first streaks of light began to lighten the sky. He decided to make another routine sweep.

Wearily, he swung the glasses over to the left again. Slowly, he tracked across the horizon. He reached the dead center of the bay. The glasses stopped moving. Pluskat tensed, stared hard.

Through the scattering, thinning mist the horizon was magically filling with ships--ships of every size and description, ships that casually maneuvered back and forth as though they had been there for hours. There appeared to be thousands of them. It was a ghostly armada that somehow had appeared from nowhere. Pluskat stared in frozen disbelief, speechless, moved as he had never been before in his life. At that moment the world of the good soldier Pluskat began falling apart. He says in those first few moments he knew, calmly and surely, that "this was the end for Germany."

He returned to Wilkening and Theen and, with a strange detachment, said simply, "It's the invasion. See for yourselves." Then he picked up the phone and called Major Block at the 352nd Division's headquarters.

"Block," said Pluskat, "it's the invasion. There must be ten thousand ships out here." Even as he said it, he knew his words must sound incredible.

"Get hold of yourself, Pluskat!" snapped Block. "The Americans and the British together don't have that many ships. Nobody has that many ships!"

Block's disbelief brought Pluskat out of his daze. "If you don't believe me," he suddenly yelled, "come up here and see for yourself. It's fantastic! It's unbelievable!"

There was a slight pause and then Block said, "What way are these ships heading?"

Pluskat, phone in hand, looked out the aperture of the bunker and replied, "Right for me."


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Reading Progress

November 23, 2014 – Started Reading
November 23, 2014 – Shelved
December 6, 2014 – Shelved as: history
December 6, 2014 – Shelved as: military
December 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

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