Hastings' 'Armageddon' is one of the best WWII books I've read. Clearly he has undertaken painstaking desk and field research and the results show it. But it is not just the sheer details that make the book shine, it is Hastings' opinions and judgements - however camouflaged - that give the book its deserved plaudits. He does not shirk from telling the unpalatable truths that need airing if the history of the war is to be a full one.
Allied atrocities such as the shooting of German prisoners of war and the strafing of civilians are detailed, as are those by the Germans and Russians. He spends much time on the many episodes of rape by Russian soldiers - it is thought some 2m German women were raped - and clearly has strong views on it without expressing them. He finds time for pity for the German civilian, despite acknowledging the overwhelming case for collective guilt, and sometimes one suspects even for the dogged German soldier, who Hastings rightly describes as the best fighting professional of the war. Similarly he carefully awards professional respect for the Waffen-SS, whilst in no way condoning their sometimes atrocious battlefield behaviour. He reserves much criticism - supported by much evidence - of Montgomery and the American generals, Patton included. But despite Eisenhower's faults as a strategist, Hastings is fullsome in his regard for him as a leader and politician who held together what was becoming a fractious partnership between Great Britain and the USA.
I was surprised at the observation by Hastings that the Allied soldier was a factor in why the war did not end in 1944. All Allied generals wished for a more aggressive fighting man but Hastings explains the psychology of the civilian Allied soldier well and why he sometimes ran away or shirked his duty, and contrasts him with the professional German warrior who generally fought on because in the absence of a German surrender, he had nothing left to lose. But Hastings is critical of the cautious approach of the Allied generals and contrasts it with the penetrating advances by the Soviet armies. He explains this by the fact that the Soviet generals were able to fight much more boldly and aggressively because they cared little for the suffering of their own soldiers, as well as being under much greater pressure from Stalin for rapid victories.
One thing Hastings and various historians do not mention when discussing how long the war could have dragged on if we had not had Enigma intercepts, or greater manpower, or superior economies, or better leadership than the Nazis (which Hastings contemptuously exposes), is the fact that the US had developed the atom bomb. There is no doubt the Americans would have used it on the Germans if it had been ready for it would have saved thousands of lives, just as it did when used on Japan.
This is a fantastic tome and is highly recommended whether for officers and soldiers, historians or the man on the street. Anyone with a profound interest in WWII will find this a highly satisfying read.