MAJOR & MRS HOLT'S DEFINITIVE BATTLEFIELD GUIDE TO THE D-DAY NORMANDY LANDING BEACHES
Author(s): Major Tonie and Mrs Valmai Holt
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military, Softback, 350 pages, 500 illustrations
Edition: 75th Anniversary Edition with GPS References
Published: July 2019
Major and Mrs Holt should be no strangers to any battlefield tourist, and their guide books to Normandy, Operation Market-Garden, Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres and elsewhere on the Western Front are very popular, best sellers all round. So the question is, do we need another update to this book? The answer is Yes. With so many changes to the Normandy battlefield since the last edition, be that roads or new memorials and museums, this Eighth or more aptly titled ‘75th Anniversary Edition’ has been released with up to date information. It is also handy timing of course considering the media and press interest with the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Whilst the Great War battlefields remain popular locations, there is a distinct resurgence in interest into the Second World War which is sure to drive more visitors for the 75th and beyond.
But is this the ‘Definitive’ guide to the D-Day Normandy landing beaches, or as stated ‘The Bible’ of guidebooks for this battlefield? Both bold statements, retracted slightly by the Holt’s who rightfully say that there could never be a ‘Complete’ guidebook to this area because as soon as it is written, another memorial will probably be erected. For now though, it is the only guidebook of the area that can claim that title.
Whilst there are other guidebooks out there, such as the excellent ‘Walking D-Day’ by Paul Reed, what defines the Holt’s book is its level of detail and comprehensiveness. Every memorial, cemetery and key location is included, most of which not only have a photograph to help identify them, but also a GPS reference. Each location is expanded by the cold facts, interspersed with veteran stories and anecdotes of courage, sometimes humour, humanity and sadness.
The guidebook also contains a historical summary to the operation, as well as handy tourist information that includes info on both Allied and German war graves and commemorative associations.
Conveniently sized, and in paperback, the book feels robust enough to support numerous reads and tours of the battlefield. It is also very well presented in a proven format, with a companion map, that works for both traveller and armchair reader. The guidebook will enable the reader to not only find their way to the battlefield, for which two different approach routes are given, but also in a series of six itineraries guide themselves around. Each route is clearly described, not only with the distances between sites and the recommended time to stop at each spot, as well as GPS references making those often difficult to find locations is now made a lot simpler. Note GPS is displayed in the traditional longitude and latitude numbers, so these may need to be converted into digital for some GPS systems.
Don’t forget it is a ‘guide’ book and the beauty of this is you don’t have to follow it by the letter. Whilst some can let the book do it all for you, others can dip in and out of the book to suit the time they have on the ground as well as the places of interest that they may wish to visit. To complete all itineraries you would need a minimum of six days on the battlefield; spending up to 9 hours on the longest day (excuse the pun) and driving up to 47 miles is going to be a tiring day. If you only have a limited time you may want to concentrate on one particular part of the battlefield, and this book would still be perfect for that, My view is less is more, and no tour should feel rushed or with too many visits.
So what is covered in the guidebook? Well everything you would expect. The six timed and measured itineraries include the US Airborne, US Rangers and British Airborne operations, as well as all the landing Beaches: UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO, SWORD. Supporting these itineraries are ten battle maps, supplemented by five informative diagrams. Over 500 coloured photographs illustrate 350 pages of Memorials, Museums, Beaches, Batteries, Bunkers and Landing Fields that makes this a must-have guidebook for anyone contemplating a visit to Normandy. It is always in my pack when visiting; I wouldn’t leave home without it. Highly Recommended.