Antony Beevor's publishers describe him, somewhat hubristically, as "the undisputed master of military history". Certainly his magnificent books on the Battle for Stalingrad and the Fall of Berlin make him a plausible contender for such a title. But in choosing to complete his trilogy with a study of the Normandy campaign of 1944, he faces a formidable challenge. In the first place, the battle of Normandy, action-packed though it was, cannot rank as a climactic drama so tragic and terrible as the battles for Stalingrad and Berlin. In the second, there must already be dozens if not hundreds of studies of that campaign, among them works by other such "masters of military history" as John Keegan, Max Hastings and Carlo d'Este. Admittedly, their books are now more than 20 years old and the archives have since yielded a wealth of new material. But has Beevor really anything new to tell us about what at first sight might appear rather an over-studied subject?
Certainly he does nothing to alter what is now a generally accepted narrative. There was the brilliant success of the landings - with the tragic exception of Omaha Beach - due to careful preparation and planning; then there was the failure to exploit that success, due largely to the unexpected toughness of the German opposition and the consequent gruelling battle of attrition; finally, the ultimate American break-out and the wholesale slaughter of the German armies in the Falaise Gap. Beevor again discusses the ambiguity of Montgomery's strategy - the attack on Caen that was generally expected to lead to a breakthrough yet which, when it failed to do so, still attracted enough German strength to ease the American task in breaking through further west. And we are told about the problematic contribution of air power: its vital role in isolating the battlefield; its value in close support of the infantry; but the disastrous use of heavy bombers, whether in the unnecessary and counter-productive destruction of Caen or in the targeting of our troops on a scale that makes the occasional "blue-on-blue" casualties caused by "friendly fire" in subsequent campaigns look like flea-bites.