The bloody truth of the longest day
Antony Beevor’s impeccable attention to detail ensures that the horrors of the Normandy invasion are brought vividly to life, says Dominic Sandbrook.
Early on the evening of 5 June 1944, the BBC broadcast a coded message to Resistance units in Nazi-occupied France. “Les dés sont sur le tapis” (“The dice are down”) the announcer said and then, a few moments later: “Il fait chaud à Suez.” It was the signal that the Resistance had been waiting for – for them to attack the Germans’ lines of communication because the greatest naval invasion in history was at hand. Across the Channel, the final preparations were underway. Shortly before midnight, in towns and villages across southern England, the air filled with the roar of hundreds of aircraft engines. Thousands of people in their dressing gowns and pyjamas went out into their back gardens, staring up into the sky at the vast armada silhouetted against the clouds. Some dropped to their knees and prayed for success; others simply said: “This is it” and went back to bed.