I am an American, and have never been in the military, though I have read a considerable amount of military history. This review is as unbiased as I can make it, though I must admit to some bias in favor of the military forces in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, generally a poorly-paid, thankless and risky job. At the same time, I realize there were some major mistakes in World War II, as in all human endeavors. My original review was over twice this long, but the limit here is 1,000 words.
When well into Chapter 4 and the beginning of Chapter 5, I was having serious trouble with what I was reading. My problems were often not with what the text stated, but with what was NOT stated. Near the top of page 133 is a "debunk" of the idea of the Blitzkrieg. It fails to describe the effectiveness of the strategy, e.g., the German attack into Poland and Belgium and France.
Page 139 has, "Superficially, the Soviet Union seemed to be exactly the sort of weak state that Germany had defeated so easily in the previous eighteen months." "Superficially"?? "Exactly"?? My marginal note says, "The Sov. Un. was MUCH larger. Much different than a small eastern European country that could be occupied and this way defeated." Doesn't make sense to me. This would be like comparing a bowling ball to a ping-pong ball.
By the end of Chapter 5, I had become considerably more uncertain of the credibility of the book, particularly with its lack of references. The first page of Chapter 6 has, "The Second World War did not witness a period of unprecedented technological advance and there is little evidence that the overall pace of change increased." The next paragraph states, "To some extent the most revolutionary changes in warfare took place during the 1930s. Most of the Second World War was fought by equipment either in service or designed in the 1930s."
These statements make no sense to me. The author seems to presume that new technology would be available almost immediately after its need was perceived, and this is simply not realistic. As a professor of politics, the author cannot be expected to be a technical expert, but such a statement should have been reviewed and corrected prior to publication. (For example, the Garand rifle took ten years to design, and it's trivial compared to a new fighter, a bomber or tank.) Further, the author is British, and for Britain, the war indeed started in the 1930s - September, 1939. How could they have used equipment that was designed later? Also, it fails to address equipment like the proximity fuse, and the huge advantages of short wavelength radar that allowed it to be used in aircraft, which had a major effect on the Battle of the Atlantic. Or the "Schnorkel" developed by the Germans. These are just three examples of many, and their design, development and placement into service occurred very rapidly compared to peacetime.
Chapter 7, "Combat", beginning on p.187, finished it for me. Frequently in the book, the author makes an assertion, then supports it with what appears to be carefully selected but non-representative examples. Here are some:
p.187: "First, the overwhelming majority of men conscripted never saw combat." This is both normal, and well known. Numbers vary, but 10 to 20 support troops are required for each soldier actually in combat. This is not "news", and I don't see the point of the statement.
p.188: "Although in retrospect the tank is seen as the dominant element in land warfare, in practice its contribution was very limited." I wonder if any of the Brits, Australians or New Zealanders who fought Rommel would agree. Or the Poles, Belgians and French who tried to stop the German attacks? Or those Germans who fought Patton?
p.191, with respect to combat casualties: "This was particularly so for the infantry, which suffered the highest proportion of casualties." My marginal notes: "Imagine that! And here I thought it would be artillerymen, or maybe mess cooks way behind the lines. . ."
1. I do not know the intended audience for this book, but I am not among them. Although I am not - and make no claim to be - a historian, military or otherwise, I have read over 100 books on WW2, and hence have found it quite easy to "punch holes" in many of the book's assertions.
2. I bought this book at a yard sale for 50 cents. By the time I had reached page 260, I was happy that I had paid no more than that. It would be a huge mistake to use this book to form general conclusions about World War II. It does contain some valuable information, but there are no references by which it can be verified, and there are far too many assertions that are either unsupported or rely on non-typical examples. There is no way to separate the valuable from the non-valuable without extensive additional reading.
3. I would very much like to see an extensive re-write where the "chaff" is removed from the "wheat" for the reader. I believe the factual, significant information found here is quite valuable, and would have great potential in acquiring an objective perspective of World War II when combined with further reading. But my guess is that a re-write would just about cut it in half.
In summary, I believe this book fails to achieve the claim of its title, and also fails to provide either a reasonable perspective or a reasonable understanding of World War II.
New Mexico, USA
wamco1nm "at" abq.com