Stephen E. Ambrose was an American historian and biographer that wrote bestselling novels on American military history and on the lives of Nixon and Eisenhower. He originally studied pre-med at the University of Wisconsin then transferred over to study American history at Louisiana State University and earned his M.A. Later, he returned back to Wisconsin to get his Ph.D. Ambrose served several years as a professor at the University of New Orleans spending his time writing over 20 bestselling books. He retired as the founder and director of the Eisenhower Center and the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
Ambrose communicates his ideas in his book, D-Day June 6th, 1944: The Climactic Battle of WWll, through drawing on over 1,400 interviews from American, British, French, and German veterans’ personal experiences on D-Day. The book begins at midnight on June 6, 1944 when the first American and British airborne troops invade France. Ambrose focuses on the focal 24 hours that made D-Day and moves through the perspectives of a French child, Supreme Commander, American paratrooper, German sergeant, Field Marshal, and General. Through these perspectives, he portrays the …faces of those that day that demonstrated courage and heroism, fear and determination – that shaped the victory of the citizen soldiers whom Hitler disparaged.
The story opens on June 6th and ends at midnight on the 7th where the reader is left feeling relieved that the future of Europe will see liberation from the Germans. Preceding D-Day, the Germans are both the most and least prepared for the battle. Their biggest crutch being their assumption that the battle will not take place in Normandy. On the other hand, Americans are training vigorously with their newly abundantly supplied weaponry from the rebuilt American industry. They train intensively and proceed to Normandy under Eisenhower’s command, despite extreme weather conditions. Paratroopers drop in France overnight and Allied bombers attempt to soften the invasion beaches to no avail. Many miss their targets and arriving troops that day are met with unexpected force. The beaches are lined with mines and barbed wire. Different American sites face different victories and defeats. Gold beach, a British landing sight serves as the most successful invasion. On the German’s end the Atlantic Wall is pierced and they lose at having any kind of effective counterattack. Greater mobility, initiative, and limitless weaponry lead the Allies to overall victory on the close of D-Day.
The methodology approach Ambrose took towards this book was to study and give insight to military history. Ambrose’s intent according to the American Historical Review was to …provide a popular, up-to-date version of the invasion and to have it serve as an inspiring reminder of what democracies, when roused, can accomplish. Not only does Ambrose approach the combat side of war. but also the topics and mechanics of war that are rarely discussed. Such as (but not limited to) the role of American women in the factory, the broadcasts of Axis Sally, recognizing African- American role in the invasion, and discussing individual insights at specific locations throughout the battle. His book completely delves into D-Day discussing the ins and outs of the invasion, recognizing the heroes that led the invasion to victory, and bringing to the surface the mechanics that lead the battle to be successful.
Stephen Ambrose’s passion for military history and accessibility to the Eisenhower Center allowed him the access to primary documents from personal interviews of those involved in the invasion. He collected primary documents from Forrest Pogue, a well renowned American historian that was offshore on June 6th interviewing wounded men. Ambrose also collected first hand accounts of the Normandy assault from The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. From these and other sources, Stephen gathered over 1,380 oral stories to depict the war as accurately as he could. All the sources he gathered, being majority primary, and previous knowledge he had obtained from writing his various other books allowed him to create a strong and provoking thesis and account of D-Day.
According to academic and scholarly review, Ambrose excels at providing new perspective behind the execution of D-Day. American Historical Review states that …even the most knowledgeable historian will gain new insights. from Ambrose’s book. Ambrose took a topic already well study, and adds to the facts a sense of emotion through the use of personal interviews and accounts. It allows the reader to not only study the actions that took place, but also to be behind the minds of leaders like Field Marshal Rommel or German tactical commander. The book looks at the assault from a completely different point of view than most historians would choose to take on. Furthermore, Ambrose doesn’t sugar coat the logistics of the battle in the book. He provides his own bias on what made the battle successful. This in turn provoking thoughts of other historians, that despite Ambrose’s traditional take on the topic, still can’t deny his significant theme.
The American Historical Review and Foreign Affairs both agree that Ambrose’s novel provides a compelling and unique outlook of what happened on June 6th, 1944. The American Historical Review specifically reports that although Ambrose mastered a compelling theme in his story, the book also contained few disputable points. The specific example being Ambrose’s argumentative opinion on whether or not the Atlantic Wall was one of the greatest blunders in military history. The statement ignoring the fact that Germany caused a logistic crisis that sent Europe into a prolonged war in the next year. His accusation that Axis soldiers spent majority of their time building defense barriers also swings wide from the complete truth. Despite subtle points like these, that most historians would disagree with, most all historians will agree that Ambrose took a an idiosyncratic approach to bringing to life the stories of the men and women that fought vigorously for their country in the invasion of D-Day.
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