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About The Book

The unparalleled, classic work of history that recreates the battle that changed World War II—the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The Longest Day is Cornelius Ryan’s unsurpassed account of D-Day, a book that endures as a masterpiece of military history. In this compelling tale of courage and heroism, glory and tragedy, Ryan painstakingly recreates the fateful hours that preceded and followed the massive invasion of Normandy to retell the story of an epic battle that would turn the tide against world fascism and free Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.

This book, first published in 1959, is a must for anyone who loves history, as well as for anyone who wants to better understand how free nations prevailed at a time when darkness enshrouded the earth.


Chapter 1




The village was silent in the damp June morning. Its name was La Roche-Guyon and it had sat undisturbed for nearly twelve centuries in a great lazy loop of the Seine roughly midway between Paris and Normandy. For years it had been just a place that people passed through on their way to somewhere else. Its only distinction was its castle, the seat of the Dukes de La Rochefoucauld. It was this castle jutting out from the backdrop of hills behind the village that had brought an end to the peace of La Roche-Guyon.

On this gray morning the castle loomed up over everything, its massive stones glistening with dampness. It was almost 6:00 A.M., but nothing stirred in the two great cobbled courtyards. Outside the gates the main road stretched broad and empty, and in the village the windows of the red-roofed houses were still shuttered. La Roche-Guyon was very quiet -- so quiet that it appeared to be deserted. But the silence was deceptive. Behind the shuttered windows people waited for a bell to ring.

At 6:00 A.M. the bell in the fifteenth-century Church of St. Samson next to the castle would sound the Angelus. In more peaceful days it had had a simple meaning -- in La Roche-Guyon the villagers would cross themselves and pause for a moment of prayer. But now the Angelus meant much more than a moment of meditation. This morning when the bell rang it would mark the end of the night's curfew and the beginning of the 1,451st day of German occupation.

Everywhere in La Roche-Guyon there were sentries. Huddled in their camouflage capes, they stood inside both gates of the castle, at road blocks at each end of the village, in pillboxes built flush into the chalk outcroppings of the foothills and in the crumbling ruins of an old tower on the highest hill above the castle. From up there machine gunners could see everything that moved in this, the most occupied village in all of occupied France.

Behind its pastoral front La Roche-Guyon was really a prison; for every one of the 543 villagers, in and around the area there were more than three German soldiers. One of these soldiers was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander in chief of Army Group B, the most powerful force in the German west. His headquarters was in the castle of La Roche-Guyon.

From here in this crucial fifth year of World War II, a tense, determined Rommel prepared to fight the most desperate battle of his career. Under his command more than a half a million men manned defenses along a tremendous length of coastline -- stretching almost eight hundred miles, from the dikes of Holland to the Atlantic-washed shores of the Brittany peninsula. His main strength, the Fifteenth Army, was concentrated about the Pas-de-Calais, at the narrowest point of the Channel between France and England.

Night after night, Allied bombers hit this area. Bombweary veterans of the Fifteenth Army bitterly joked that the place for a rest cure was in the zone of the Seventh Army in Normandy. Hardly a bomb had fallen there.

For months, behind a fantastic jungle of beach obstacles and mine fields, Rommel's troops had waited in their concrete coastal fortifications. But the blue-gray English Channel had remained empty of ships. Nothing had happened. From La Roche-Guyon, on this gloomy and peaceful Sunday morning, there was still no sign of the Allied invasion. It was June 4, 1944.


In the ground-floor room he used as an office, Rommel was alone. He sat behind a massive Renaissance desk, working by the light of a single desk lamp. The room was large and high-ceilinged. Along one wall stretched a faded Gobelin tapestry. On another the haughty face of Duke François de La Rochefoucauld -- a seventeenth-century writer of maxims and an ancestor of the present Duke -- looked down out of a heavy gold frame. There were a few chairs casually placed on the highly polished parquet floor and thick draperies at the windows, but little else.

In particular, there was nothing of Rommel in this room but himself. There were no photographs of his wife, Lucie-Maria, or his fifteen-year-old son, Manfred. There were no mementos of his great victories in the North African deserts in the early days of the war -- not even the garish field marshal's baton which Hitler had so exuberantly bestowed upon him in 1942. (Only once had Rommel carried the eighteen-inch, three-pound gold baton with its red velvet coveting studded with gold eagles and black swastikas: that was the day he got it.) There wasn't even a map showing the dispositions of his troops. The legendary "Desert Fox" remained as elusive and shadowy as ever; he could have walked out of that room without leaving a trace.

Although the fifty-one-year-old Rommel looked older than his years, he remained as tireless as ever. Nobody at Army Group B could remember a single night when he had slept longer than five hours. This morning, as usual, he had been up since before four. Now he too waited impatiently for six o'clock. At that time he would breakfast with his staff -- and then depart for Germany.

This would be Rommel's first leave at home in months. He would go by car; Hitler had made it almost impossible for senior officers to fly by insisting that they use "three-engined aircraft...and always with a fighter escort." Rommel disliked flying anyway; he would make the eight-hour journey home, to Herrlingen, Ulm, in his big black convertible Horch.

He was looking forward to the trip, but the decision to go had not been an easy one to make. On Rommel's shoulders lay the enormous responsibility of repulsing the Allied assault the moment it began. Hitler's Third Reich was reeling from one disaster after another; day and night thousands of Allied bombers pounded Germany, Russia's massive forces had driven into Poland, Allied troops were at the gates of Rome -- everywhere the great armies of the Wehrmacht were being driven back and destroyed. Germany was still far from beaten, but the Allied invasion would be the decisive battle. Nothing less than the future of Germany was at stake, and no one knew it better than Rommel.

Yet this morning Rommel was going home. For months he had hoped to spend a few days in Germany the first part of June. There were many reasons why he now believed he could leave, and although he would never have admitted it, he desperately needed rest. Just a few days earlier he had telephoned his superior, the aged Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief West, requesting permission to make the trip; the request had been immediately granted. Next he had made a courtesy call to Von Rundstedt's headquarters at St.-Germain-en-Laye outside of Paris, to take his leave formally. Both Von Rundstedt and his chief of staff, Major General Günther Blumentritt, had been shocked by Rommel's haggard appearance. Blumentritt would always remember that Rommel looked "fired and tense...a man who needed to be home for a few days with his family."

Rommel was tense and edgy. From the very day he arrived in France toward the end of 1943, the problems of where and how to meet the Allied attack had imposed on him an almost intolerable burden. Like everybody else along' the invasion front, he had been living through a nightmare of suspense. Hanging over him always was the need to outthink the Allies as to their probable intentions -- how they would launch the attack, where they would attempt to land and, above all, when.

Only one person really knew the strain that Rommel was under. To his wife, Lucie-Maria, he confided everything. In less than four months he had written her more than forty letters and in almost every other letter he had made a new prediction about the Allied assualt.

On March 30 he wrote: "Now that March is nearing its end and without the Anglo-Americans having started their attack...I'm beginning to believe they have lost confidence in their cause."

On April 6: "Here the tension is growing from day to day...It will probably be only weeks that separate us from the decisive events..."

On April 26: "In England morale is bad...there is one strike after another and the cries of 'Down with Churchill and the Jews' and for peace are getting louder...these are bad omens for such a risky offensive."

On April 27: "It appears now that the British and Americans are not going to be so accommodating as to come in the immediate future."

On May 6: "Still no signs of the British and Americans...Every day, every week...we get stronger....I am looking forward to the battle with confidence...perhaps it will come on May 15, perhaps at the end of the month."

On May 15: "I can't take many more big [inspection] trips...because one never knows when the invasion will begin. I believe only a few more weeks remain until things begin here in the west."

On May 19: "I hope I can get ahead with my plans faster than before...[but] I am wondering if I can spare a few days in June to get away from here. Right now there isn't a chance."

But there was chance after all. One of the reasons for Rommel's decision to leave at this time was his own estimate of the Allies' intentions. Before him now on the desk was Army Group B's weekly report. This meticulously compiled evaluation was due to be sent by noon of the following day to Field Marshal von Rundstedt's headquarters, or, as it was generally known in military jargon, OB West (Oberbefehlshaber West). From there, after further embroidery, it would become part of the over-all theater report and then it would be forwarded to Hitler's headquarters, OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).

Rommel's estimate read in part that the Allies had reached a "high degree of readiness" and that there was an "increased volume of messages going to the French resistance." But, it went on, "according to past experience this is not indicative that an invasion is imminent..."

This time Rommel had guessed wrong.
Copyright & copy; 1959 by Cornelius Ryan

About The Author

Cornelius Ryan was born in 1920 in Dublin, Ireland, where he was raised. He became one of the preeminent war correspondents of his time, flying fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth US Air Forces and covering the D-Day landings and the advance of General Patton’s Third Army across France and Germany. After the end of hostilities in Europe, he covered the Pacific War. In addition to his classic works The Longest Day, The Last Battle, and A Bridge Too Far, he is the author of numerous other books, which have appeared throughout the world in nineteen languages. Awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1973, Mr. Ryan was hailed at that time by Malcolm Muggeridge as “perhaps the most brilliant reporter now alive.” He died in 1976.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 16, 2010)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439126462

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Raves and Reviews

"A dramatic, moving masterpiece, a living memorial to the men who died and as suspenseful as the most gripping mystery story." -- J. H. Thompson, Chicago Sunday Tribune

"Fifty years from now, the history of D-Day, I am sure, will lean heavily on this book." -- John Toland, The New York Times Book Review

"If you have read all the accounts of D-Day or none of them, if you were in the fighting or on the sidelines, you will be spellbound, as I was, by this magnificent retelling of a glorious and tragic story." -- Lt. Gen. James Gavin

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