Spearheading D-day

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In “Letter From the Editor” for the February/March issue, which told about the American Heritage -sponsored tour of the Normandy-invasion beaches, I quoted from a book that Ray Pfeiffer, the tour leader, was reading. Capt. Rory J. Aylward wrote, “Why not do the author a courtesy he has surely earned and mention the book you were reading, Jonathan Gawne’s Spearheading D-Day .” Captain Aylward is quite right. The fact is that I had misplaced the name of the book. I’m delighted to set the record straight, for Spearheading D-Day: American Special Units in Normandy —of which I have now acquired a copy of my own—is an extraordinary work. The historian Jonathan Gawne has assembled a thorough and absorbing account of the units—the Navy beach battalions, the combat demolition men, joint assault signal companies, dozens more—that were the first ashore on June 6, the very edge of the chisel that cracked Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Illustrated with hundreds of photographs, maps, and diagrams—all explained with generous captions—and full of accounts of specialized equipment that ranges from the bangalore torpedoes poked at beach obstacles to those strange bent chimneys fixed to tanks so they could breathe with their hulls underwater (these turn out to be called “fording stacks"), Spearheading D-Day ’s detailed, close-in view offers a fresh reminder of what a miracle of complex planning and dedicated execution that world-changing operation represents. Distributed by Combined Publishing, the book costs $37.95 and would be a bargain at twice that price.

Many readers have asked if American Heritage is repeating its D-day tour this year. The answer is yes, and we also are inaugurating a new Cold War commemorative tour. Please look for the advertisements in this issue on pages 119 and 124, or call 800-222-1170 .