Beyond the Beach
The Allied War against France
Stephen Alan Bourque
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2018, 376 pages
Book Review published on: June 1, 2018
In Beyond the Beach, historian Stephen Bourque explores a subject that he believes has never received the study it is due. When the Allies set out to liberate occupied France in 1944, the plan to shape the battlefield and ensure the success of the Allied landings included the destruction of French towns, rail centers, and ports. In effect, the Allies waged an air war against France, a friendly but occupied nation. Bourque comments that most histories mention very little of these operations, if they are mentioned at all, yet the operations resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of French civilians and the obliteration of towns and cultural centers. Bourque sets out to put the bombing of France within the overall narrative of Operation Overload and to also discover how and why the bombardment of the French towns and villages occurred.
Beyond the Beach explores the air operations in the months prior to D-Day from multiple perspectives, each chapter detailing a specific aspect of the Allied plan to prevent German forces from influencing the Normandy battlefield. The author uses extensive research to provide the reader sound analysis. His well thought out and clearly organized arguments allow him to attain his goals. Bourque’s writing style is clear and straightforward; for example, when describing the results of the heavy bomber attacks, he writes they “reduced once great rail centers into moonscapes of carnage that in many cases have never been rebuilt to their previous condition.” He navigates the reader through the complex issues surrounding command and control, campaigns, and bombing strategy, writing in a way that readers with or without military experience will be able to follow and understand. Readers will find the book poses many questions that not only need further study but also question the popular narrative of D-Day. The author draws many interesting conclusions that will cause readers to reflect on what they know and believe about the invasion. He deftly explains all sides of the numerous controversies surrounding these events.
In his analysis, Bourque is not afraid to criticize others. For example, in one account of the bombing, he opines that a popular historian “writes in grand generalities with no specifics on what the air force bombed.” Even with the great research and excellent writing, Bourque admits Beyond the Beach is only a beginning, and much research still needs to be conducted including considering the campaign from the perspective of the French.
Beyond the Beach is an excellent book and will expand the reader’s knowledge of World War II. Bourque proves his case with research and analysis that challenges previous views and offers many avenues for additional research. For these reasons, I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially those interested in World War II, D-Day, and air warfare.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas