Cornelius Ryan (5 June 1920 – 23 November 1974) was an Irish journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, especially his World War II books: The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).
Ryan was born in Dublin and educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Ireland. He was an altar boy at St Kevin's Church, Harrington Street and studied the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He was a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travelled on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner Lancastria in 1934. Ryan moved to London in 1940, and became a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.
He initially covered the air war in Europe, flew along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), and then joined General George S. Patton's Third Army and covered its actions until the end of the European war. He transferred to the Pacific theater in 1945, and then to Jerusalem in 1946.
Ryan emigrated to the United States in 1947 to work for TIME, where he reported on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reported for TIME on the Israeli war in 1948. This was followed by work for other magazines, including Collier's Weekly and Reader's Digest.
On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan became interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than had been produced to date. He began compiling information and conducting over 1000 interviews as he gathered stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.
In 1956 he began to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It was an instant success, and Ryan helped in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck paid the author US$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.
Ryan's 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier's in their 21 December 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.
His next work was The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contended for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.
This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. This work was made into a major 1977 film of the same name.
Ryan was awarded the French Legion of Honour, and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed (Alden Library). He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970, and struggled to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He died in Manhattan, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication.
Four years after his death, Ryan's struggle with prostate cancer was detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA.