D-Day: The Battle for Normandy & 12 Other Great War Books

From Helmand Province to Normandy, the Battles of Britain and Stalingrad we present a guide to great War Books. Don't hit the beach without one.
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From Helmand Province to Normandy, the Battles of Britain and Stalingrad we present a guide to great War Books. Don't hit the beach without one.

Quick lads to Waterstones.

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With the release of Stalingrad in 1999 author and former army officer Anthony Beevor established himself as one the best military historians around, blending eye witness accounts with elegant and thoughtful recreations of the events on some of the 20th century’s most kinetic battlegrounds. You want to know what happened at the Seelow Heights or how German women felt about their Russian ‘liberators’ then look to his Berlin: The Downfall. On the other hand if you go west and desire an idea of what men thought during the assault on ‘Bloody’ Omaha beach then D-Day: The Battle For Normandy can put you right in the middle of the blood-soaked sand and shingle. He’s also written books on the battle for Crete, Paris after the Allies liberated it and an essential history of the Spanish Civil War. Edwin Starr might have noted war is hell, but Beevor and the other authors here takes the reader as close to the action as you can get without the chance of getting cut in half by a round from a German 88mm flak gun.

The Beevor trilogy: D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, Berlin: The Downfall and Stalingrad. Essential books about three of the most deadly campaigns of the Second World War. Eyewitness accounts and Beevor’s expressive and sympathetic writing makes for military history of the highest order.

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Fighter Boys by Patrick Bishop. The story of the Battle of Britain told in the voices of the guys who fought it. Former Telegraph journalist Bishop creates substance out of the myth — moving and elemental.

3 Para by Patrick Bishop. Welcome to Helmand Province. It’s 2007 and 3 Para battle group have just turned up to engage with the Taliban. Bishop talks to the guys at the sharp end of the war and weaves a fantastic tale of courage and comradeship.

Infantry Officer by Anthony Stuart Irwin and  Fighter Pilot by Paul Richey. Both of these books were written in the thick of the Second World War and offer unflinching (for the times) accounts of the French debacle in May 1940. There was also an accompanying Navy Officer book, written by the young Ludovic Kennedy.

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The Enemy at the Gate by Andrew Wheatcroft. 1683 and the Ottoman Turks are knocking on Vienna’s front door, eager for an Apfelstrudel or two. Surrender means death and enslavement to the Viennese, but the Hapsburg armies stand firm. Given the west’s current entanglement in the east, this is a potent and very pertinent account of one of Hapsburg Europe’s greatest moments (of which there weren’t that many).

Last Man Standing by Lyn Macdonald. It’s the spring of 1918 and the German army is striving to break through the Allied lines. Haig issues the order to fight to the last man. Macdonald interviewed the last survivors of these tumultuous battles for this excellent book (check out her other books on the First World War).

Men of Honour by Adam Nicolson. A life on the ocean wave is bloody and fearsome in this account of the Battle of Trafalgar and the men who fought it. Fancy a glass of Nelson’s blood? This was the name of the brandy in which they pickled the dead hero to take home — it didn’t deter those sailors who queued up to take a nip from it.

The Taste of Battle by Bryan Perrett.  This has a family hero on the cover in action at Arnhem, while inside there’s a collection of fictional accounts of 20th century battles based on true-life accounts. Gripping stuff.

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English Civil War by Diane Purkiss. Cavaliers and Roundheads square up to each other on the battlefields of old England, while Oliver Cromwell oversees the creation of the New Model Army, one of the greatest fighting forces of Europe. Narrative history of the highest order that plugs the reader right back into the killing fields of Naseby.

Death’s Men by Denis Winter. Originally printed in 1978, this is an exceptionally powerful account of the British Tommy in the First World War, how he lived in the filth and mud of the trenches, how he fought and how he died. One gruesome photo within its pages speaks volumes for the dreadfulness of this conflict — a dead soldier who had been vertically shaved in half by a shell. Such photos were never released at the time in fear of affecting morale.

To purchase the Beevor trilogy click below.