The Longest Day: A Book Review The Longest Day is one of the most accurate, detailed, and objective depiction of the war in Europe. Its author Cornelius Ryan, an Irish-American journalist, was itself a war correspondent for the The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper company in London which specialized on covering war news in Europe. His first real experience of the war came during the Battle of Britain, the first German attempt to force Britain to surrender by aerial bombing. Cornelius Ryan saw the Royal Air Force systematically destroyed the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in the skies of Britain.
With the German invasion of the Low Countries and France, he began to become pessimistic of Allied victory. In his diary, he argued that the only chance for victory lies “in the participation of the United States in this turbulent conflict” (Ryan, 21). The German invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece confirmed his fear. Now, Great Britain stood alone in the struggle against Hitler. The German attack of the Soviet Union brought new hope to him.
The respite though proved temporary as news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached his ears. Finally, the United States declared war on the Axis powers. American economy was transformed into a huge war factory geared towards the defeat of the Axis powers. Cornelius Ryan began to gather information regarding the United States war preparations. On November 1942, American and British forces landed in North Africa. After months of fighting, the Axis forces in the region surrendered.
While in North Africa, Ryan created a narrative describing the defeat of the Axis formations in the region. Then came 1944: the most famous year in the war. The first chapters of the book dealt with the preparations of the Allied forces for an invasion of the Normandy Coasts. He saw the huge men and materials that would be thrown against the Germans in Normandy. He also collected military information from some high-ranking Allied officers, most of whom were suspicious of the man’s intentions. As the invasion date progressed, he pondered on the possible defeat of the Allied forces in Normandy. Allied intelligence reported a massive build-up of German forces in Northern France.
The Atlantic Wall was also being constructed under the guidance of one of the war’s most famous generals, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. He was, however, confident that the war would be finished within a year in Europe. The middle chapters of the book dealt about his coverage of the air war in Europe. There were several occasions where he flew along on fourteen bombing missions (8th and 9th US Air Forces) against the Third Reich.
He saw the devastation the bombers caused on German industry. He also observed that the German were losing its supremacy in the skies of Europe. This observation helped him to conclude that the war in Europe could be achieved in less than a year. June 6, 1944 – the Allied invasion of Normandy began. He joined Gen.
George S. Patton’s 3rd Army in its march from the Normandy beachheads to Cherbourg, a French port at the Northwest tip of Northern France. He noted that during the first phases of the invasion, the Allies easily gained air supremacy, beating off the Luftwaffe from Normandy. Cornelius Ryan also saw the large armada of Allied armor pouring down from the coasts. He argued, “The Atlantic Wall may not be so invulnerable; just pound hard and the edifice will fall” (Ryan, 124).
Breaking the Atlantic Wall was not really the only problem facing the Allies. The Germans were responding at an alarming rate. Armored formations of the 7th Panzer division ran to the coasts and bombarded the Allied beachhead. The Allies repelled the German attacks and began to push inwards. Caen, a city of strategic importance, was heavily bombed by Allied air flotillas. It was as if the day was as long as a year, as fighting continued day by day.
The Germans did not abandon any ground without causing tremendous Allied casualties. The German lines near Caen (which the Allies expected to be taken in a day) held for more than 2 weeks. The US 3rd Army under Patton captured Cherbourg after sustaining heavy casualties. Ryan saw one of his co-journalists shot by a sniper’s bullet while advancing into the city.
News of the failure to capture Caen infuriated Patton, calling Montgomery an old outmoded general. In any case, Patton captured Cherbourg and began pounding on the German lines south of the city. The fighting ranged from day to day resulting to enormous casualties to both sides. After weeks of fighting, he broke through the German lines. He ordered the Third Army to march eastwards in a bid to outflank the German lines.
Caen was captured by British and Canadian divisions. Ryan noted that the advance of the US 3rd Army was eastwards was faster than Montgomery’s march. Patton destroyed several German divisions in his eastward march, gaining a reputation which almost equaled that of Montgomery. Paris was liberated and the Free French government was reinstated. Then the invasion of the Third Reich came. Patton had again beaten Montgomery.
He crossed the river Meuse three days before Montgomery did. The longest day of the war was extended with the Battle of the Ardennes Forest. The Germans made their last attempt to drive the Allied forces to the sea. It eventually bogged down. German defeat was now eminent.
Ryan now closed the longest day in the annals of history.Work CitedRyan, Cornelius. The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 D-Day. Connecticut: Fawcett Publications, 1959.