Cover Image: The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy

The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy

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Member Reviews

Thank you Netgalley and Cambridge University Press for access to this arc. 

What perfect timing for the release of this book. I was interested in reading it because of the description of how the French villagers were such a huge part in the story. Without them and their volunteered assistance, the paratroopers who drifted down into and near their village would not have been able to hold off the advance of  German forces on their way to beat back Allied control of Carentan. And if that city hadn’t been held, much could have been in doubt during the bitter fighting in Normandy in early June of 1944.

Up until then, the Germans had not occupied this tiny village although they had extracted the usual cost of their occupation – food and whatnot – from Graignes. When the off course members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne regiments floated down on their silk parachutes, the men of the village unanimously voted that the villagers would give aid, help with gathering information, and retrieve supplies while the women stepped up to take charge of getting scarce food provisions – including going down mined roads and entering into other villages then under German occupation – and guaranteeing the Americans two hot meals a day.

The hope was that the town and paras could wait until the Allied troops landing on the beaches reached them. The hope was in vain. When the SS Panzergrenadier Division arrived, they thought there was no one to oppose them. They discovered otherwise. When the US troops finally ran out of ammunition and had to retreat, everyone thought that a white flag would protect the townspeople, the injured paratroopers and the medical staff who remained. That hope was also in vain. Graignes and her citizens paid a heavy and horrible price for what they selflessly did. 

The writing could have been a bit smoother and some information about the fighting that surviving Americans of the decimated Airborne regiments took part in until the end of war could have been condensed but I was in awe of what the villagers bravely took on, knowing what the Germans might do in revenge. The book is a heartfelt tribute to the aid given by the French and will also be a source of information for the children and grandchildren of the paratroopers who, for various reasons, couldn’t or wouldn’t share their wartime experiences.
“Airborne!” “Vive la France!” B-
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In 'The Lost Paratroopers of Normandy: A Story of Resistence, Courage, and Solidarity in a French Village,' Stephen G. Rabe offers a moving story of the resilience and courage of the dwellers of the small French village of Graignes on 6-16 June 1944. 

The author aimed to light up yet another piece of the puzzle called D-Day while paying profound respects to local French civilians who helped the US paratroopers. In fact, if not for the villagers of Graignes, especially the Rigault family, this book couldn't have been written: the family saved the author's grandfather, Rene E. Rabe. 

For the Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 507th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, severe fighting started on 11 June 1944. On D-Day, they were dropped in the wrong place, around 31 km from the designated village of Amfreville. After the debate, the paratroopers decided to fortify Graignes and wait for the advancing Allied forces. French men, women, and teenagers helped paratroopers, knowing full well that Germans would retaliate for assisting the Allies. Women organized feeding, and men and teenagers retrieved ammunition from the surrounding swamps; everybody spread disinformation and conducted reconnaissance in the adjusting areas. On the 11h of June 1944, on their way to Carentan, the 1st battalion of the 37th regiment of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division attacked the village. 

The story of Graignes becomes heart-touching, considering the fact that the paratroopers' children and grandchildren know who saved their fathers and grandfathers. The traumas of WW2 prevented the surviving paratroopers from paying tribute to the villagers until forty years after the war. With time, the paras (as Americans were called) and their family members established deep personal contacts with the villagers that last to this day. 

In his book - and with the help of photographs - the author managed to reenact the events as if everything happened just recently. The focus always stays on the people, paratroopers and villagers; there are few strategic decisions of the high command. The author's decision to give the overview in the beginning and then go back to the training and then D-Day adds a chill to the bones because we already know the outcome: who will be killed, what atrocities the SS will commit in the village, etc. 

The story of resistance in Graignes may not be as grandeur as the invasion, but it deserves to be remembered and cherished. It's an essential point in understanding the French resistance movement, which mainly consisted of ordinary men and women. 

I received an advanced review copy from NetGalley, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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It's a great story, but unfortunately told in best professorial style, in which the prof first tells what he's going to tell you, followed by the actual telling, and concluding with a retelling of what he just told you. Worse, this circling around happens again and again. The virtue of this approach, and no doubt its justification, is that when you're done the story has been drilled into you. In short: roughly 160 paratroopers of the 88th and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped too low, too fast, and too far from the D-Day beaches. Some were injured and some were drowned, but the survivors managed to assemble in the village of Graines, whose inhabitants welcomed them, fed them, and helped them defend the town against a murderous Waffen-SS division, the 17th SS Panzergrenadiere (mechanized infantry). To his great credit, Mr Rabe is the rarity among English-language historians who understands that the German Army is known as the Heer, one of the three components of the Wehrmacht,, and that, the Waffen-SS fell under the direction of Heinrich Himmler and not the military authorities. They learned their craft on the Eastern Front, where they specialized in murdering Jews and partisans. It was the paratroopers' and the villagers' bad luck to face these butchers. "SS terror tactics were well understood by German soldiers who were members of the regular army, the Heer>," Mr Rabe explains. "German soldiers have testified that when they passed by the bodies of US paratroopers, who appeared to have been executed with shots to the back of the head, they immediately assumed that this was the work of 'the SS boys' who had a 'taste for such things'." 

The paratroopers of Graignes, along with the villagers who fed them, set up an aid station in the church, and sometimes fought beside them, managed to hold off about 900 men of the 1st Battalion, 37th Regiment until June 12. By that time the Americans were nearly out of ammunition, and had begun to withdraw as their positions were overrun. At least 26 men had been killed, and the medics stayed behind with the wounded in the church, where 19 Americans were murdered by the "SS boys." At least 4 villagers were also murdered, and Graignes was burned to the ground.
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Extremely good and well written. Very compelling document about the lives of the paratroopers.. a multi layered piece that displays the bravery from all involved.
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