The best books on storming enemy beaches during amphibious assaults

Who am I?

Listening to my father’s stories about flying for the U.S. 15th Air Force in the Second World War kindled my love for military history at a young age. He brought to life the individual experiences and strategic context of bombing targets like Ploesti and Brenner Pass. Later, I pursued my doctorate in history and focused on U.S. Marine Corps history. More recently, my interests shifted to writing about broader topics like American military history, grand strategy, and race and gender in warfare. Even so, my father left me with an enduring desire to understand human interests and emotions, whether among common soldiers or senior generals. This desire affected my work as a teacher and author.

I wrote...

Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943

By David J. Ulbrich,

Book cover of Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943

What is my book about?

My award-winning Preparing for Victory tells the story of General Thomas Holcomb as he directed the growth of the U.S. Marine Corps from 18,000 men in 1936 to nearly 400,000 in 1943. As commandant during these years, Holcomb guided the Marines as they prepared for amphibious operations during the Pacific War. As a quiet, diminutive man, he did not cut the dashing figure of a ideal “leatherneck,” nor did he earn nicknames like “Howlin’ Mad,” “Red Mike,” or “Chesty.” Nevertheless, Thomas Holcomb possessed the strategic mind and calm composure that matched the leadership traits of Dwight Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz, and George Marshall. More than any other Marine, Holcomb helped turn the Marine Corps into an amphibious assault force that made critical contributions to American victory in the Second World War. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day

Why did I love this book?

First published in 1959, some 15 years after the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, Cornelius Ryan’s book stands as a classic narrative of that amphibious assault. Writing in the vivid prose of an experienced journalist, Ryan also conducted research like a seasoned historian. He interviewed combatants of every nation and rank and sent questionnaires to many others. I feel like I am in the thick of the fight alongside Allied soldiers in the landing craft approaching the beach and with Germans hunkered down in the fortifications trying to stop their amphibious assault. Throughout his narrative, Ryan blends analyses of the good and bad decisions made by both sides.   

By Cornelius Ryan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Longest Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cornelius Ryan tells the story of the hours that preceded and followed H-Hour of D-Day ? June 6, 1944, when as dawn approached, as paratroopers fought in the hedgerows of Normandy, the greatest armada the world had ever known assembled off the beach -- almost 5000 ships carrying more than 200,000 soldiers. a military This is the story of people: the men of the Allied forces, the enemy and the civilians caught up in the confusion of battle. 700 D-Day survivors were interviewed for the book.

Book cover of Gallipoli: The End of the Myth

Why did I love this book?

Gallipoli occupies an infamous place in the history of amphibious operations. The British and Allies hoped in 1915 to wrest control of the Gallipoli peninsula from Turkish forces, then aligned with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. This attack in turn would open the way for the defeat of Turkey, link up with friendly Russian forces, and ultimately defeat the Central Powers. However, as Robin Pryor explains, the British amphibious assault suffered from poor planning, incompetent leadership, ineffective logistics, and inadequate weapons and vehicles. The Turks enjoyed the advantages of high ground and good leadership. Following the assault in April 1915, ground operations cost 130,000 British and Allied casualties and ended in their evacuation and failure in January 1916. Pryor’s book paints Gallipoli as a cautionary tale of how not to conduct amphibious operations.  

By Robin Prior,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Gallipoli as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A decisive account of the dramatic Gallipoli campaign of World War I, with a devastating assessment of its pointless losses

The Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16 was an ill-fated Allied attempt to shorten the war by eliminating Turkey, creating a Balkan alliance against the Central Powers, and securing a sea route to Russia. A failure in all respects, the operation ended in disaster, and the Allied forces suffered some 390,000 casualties. This conclusive book assesses the many myths that have emerged about Gallipoli and provides definitive answers to questions that have lingered about the operation.

Robin Prior, a renowned military historian,…

At the Water's Edge

By Theodore L. Gatchel,

Book cover of At the Water's Edge

Why did I love this book?

In the late 1990s, I stumbled on this unique book written by Theodore Gatchel, a retired Marine colonel.  He turns amphibious warfare inside out. He analyzes defenders’ efforts to oppose amphibious assaults beginning with Gallipoli in 1915 and taking the story up to the Falklands War in 1982. Three optional tactics emerge for stopping an enemy assault: a naval defense that destroys enemy ships before an assault starts, a defense at the water’s edge that drives the assault forces back into the sea, or a mobile reserve that launches counterattacks in force once enemy forces landed. Each tactic had advantages and disadvantages as shown in chapter-length case studies with analysis of lessons learned. I believe that this book provides an excellent historical backdrop for the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) concept being discussed by Marines today in the twenty-first century.

By Theodore L. Gatchel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At the Water's Edge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conventional military wisdom holds that the amphibious assault against a defended beach is the most difficult of all military operations - yet modern amphibious landings have been almost universally successful. This apparent contradiction is fully explored in this first look at 20th-century amphibious warfare from the perspective of the defender.

The author, Col. Theodore L. Gatchel, USMC (Ret.), examines amphibious operations from Gallipoli to the Falkland Islands to determine why the defenders were unable to prevent the attackers from landing or to throw them back into the sea after they had fought their way ashore. He places the reader in…

Amphibious Warfare 1000-1700: Commerce, State Formation and European Expansion

By David J.B. Trim (editor), Mark C. Fissel (editor),

Book cover of Amphibious Warfare 1000-1700: Commerce, State Formation and European Expansion

Why did I love this book?

Although most studies of amphibious operations focus on twentieth-century examples, the chapters in this anthology study ship-to-shore assaults throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern era. I think the introductory chapter is a tour de force in explaining how amphibious warfare plays out in tactics, operations, and strategy. The principles remain timeless regardless of terrain or technology. Subsequent chapters represent stand-alone studies of reasons for successes or failures in amphibious battles in the Baltic, Mediterranean, Ireland, and Europe, whether on seashores or along riverbanks. The sum of all the chapters is greater than their individual pieces. I grasped that amphibious warfare sometimes expanded beyond military objectives to include establishing footholds for commercial trade, state development, and imperial expansion. 

By David J.B. Trim (editor), Mark C. Fissel (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Amphibious Warfare 1000-1700 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume reconceptualizes amphibious warfare and also fills an important gap in its historiography, examining how it was conceived, practised and employed, from the Crusades, through the first wave of European exploration and colonization, the Price Revolution and the European wars of religion, up to the early Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of a new wave of imperialism. Essays examine issues related to strategy, operational art, tactics, logistics and military technology, but also consider commerce and culture. They reveal that amphibious warfare was often waged for economic reasons and was the quintessential warfare of European imperialism, for sea power was…

Book cover of Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

Why did I love this book?

Although the Japanese eventually captured Wake Island in western Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Marines’ 15-day defense in December 1941 helped give the American people some hope after the devastated losses at Pearl Harbor. The 449 Marines and 1,104 civilian contractors endured daily air raids and defended against two amphibious assaults—the first unsuccessful and the second successfulby the Japanese. Urwin draws on exhaustive research in archives and interviews with veterans to tell the day-by-day story of Wake. He provides analysis about how the fighting played out. Readers get to know Marines like Major James P.S. Devereux and Marine pilot Captain Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Elrod. Devereux commanded the Marines on the island, and Elrod died fighting the Japanese in the air over Wake. Urwin’s prose reads like a novel, and his attention to detail is exceptional.

By Gregory J.W. Urwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Facing Fearful Odds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although the siege of Wake Island was not one of World War II's biggest campaigns, it had a profound psychological effect on the course of the nation's struggle. This was the battle that first raised American spirits in the dark weeks following Pearl Harbor. For sixteen suspenseful days, 449 U.S. Marines, assisted by a handful of sailors and soldiers and a few hundred civilian construction workers, withstood repeated attacks by numerically superior Japanese forces. Although Wake finally fell on 23 December 1941, its garrison made the Japanese pay an embarrassingly high price for a tiny coral outpost. Based on interviews…

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