Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings

June 6 may no longer resonate with Americans in the way that July 4 always has, or September 11 will for some time, but among events taking place outside our borders, the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy is arguably the most significant event in our nation’s history. D-Day has justifiably become a well-documented event, and the challenge of a book like Craig L. Symonds’ Neptune is to shed light on an overlooked aspect of the operation, or recount the well-known tale in a captivating manner.

Symonds is an unassuming writer, never indulging in overwrought prose while also never taking any chances. His writing gets the job done, but is hardly memorable; the reader will never have to consult a thesaurus. Yet he makes up for his plainclothes rhetoric in his choice of subject matter. The book focuses on the years-long naval operations (code named Neptune) required to prepare the Allies for D-Day, and the author does an admirable job of demonstrating the daunting tasks faced in 1942, the impressive buildup of resources in 1943, and the triumph of logistical planning required to make the invasion successful.

A secondary focus of the book is just as fascinating: the tension between Britons and Americans, both militarily and politically, throughout the operation. Eisenhower and Roosevelt wanted to charge into Europe as early as 1942 while Montgomery and Churchill urged the patient buildup of resources, and if that sounds like a clash between impetuous Americans and British reserve, the cultural stereotypes seem to have rung true on this occasion.

While most of the book is more impressive when viewed as a whole, it does have some individual moments. One particular tale relates of a proposal to construct large landing strips made of pykrete, a frozen composite of water and wood pulp. To demonstrate the substance’s durability, a slab of pykrete was brought into a war planning meeting, and one British admiral decided to see how it would hold up under a gunshot. Quite well, in fact; the bullet bounced off the pykrete slab and ricocheted across the room, sending military leaders of two nations scrambling for cover.

The audiobook is also distinctive for being performed by the author, who actually does quite well — precise diction, clear voice, tone varying when appropriate. Overall, this book provided an interesting study of an event that should never lose its place in the history books.