21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, judgemental, incisive..
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...
Published on 22 Jan 2010 by Wellread
63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and sometimes preachy overview
An impressive panoramic narrative of the battle for Germany, "Armageddon" combines a wide range of sources (including many veterans) with Hastings's sharp, often iconoclastic judgement. His criticism of the military folly of Operation Market Garden, the Ardennes offensive, and Zhukov's Oder crossing is hard-hitting, but frequently deserved. Hastings is no apologist for...
Published on 1 July 2008 by Geschichtsliebhaber
Most Helpful First | Newest First
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, judgemental, incisive..,
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.
78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story very well told,
I had previously read 'Overlord' by Max Hastings and found that he told that story (the battle of Normandy) very well. I read this book in hardback and found that it is similarly well told. As well as the pure facts of the allied & Russian advances and German counter-attacks, Max Hastings adds colour and interest from the personal accounts of many people he has interviewed (I contrast this with Berlin The Downfall - Beevor - which I found too dry in this respect). It also deals well with the problems faced by the allied leaders between themselves.
The book covers the western and eastern fronts and the concentration camps. It does not cover the war through Italy.
One thing I think could be much improved is the maps - there are a few, but not enough (e.g. one per chapter), they are very basic and don't tie in well with the text. There could be many more, illustrating the text, and use colour.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Armageddon...,
...is a very appropriate title for a book about the battle for Germany if ever there was one. Especially at the Eastern Front. Hastings achieves a good balance between the wider picture - embracing the politics and military strategy of the campaign as a whole - with the experience of individuals who were in the thick of the action, whether they are soldiers, civilians, POWs or Hitler's concentration camp victims. This really is a very good book and I recommend it highly. I think this book is complemented particularly well by Norman Davies's "Rising '44: the Battle for Warsaw" and Anthony Beevor's "Berlin: The Downfall", both of which, incidentally, Hastings praises in his acknowledgements at the end of the book.
63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and sometimes preachy overview,
An impressive panoramic narrative of the battle for Germany, "Armageddon" combines a wide range of sources (including many veterans) with Hastings's sharp, often iconoclastic judgement. His criticism of the military folly of Operation Market Garden, the Ardennes offensive, and Zhukov's Oder crossing is hard-hitting, but frequently deserved. Hastings is no apologist for military failings, although he frequently gets moralistic: discussions of the justice of the allied cause or the tyranny of Stalin, which is perceived in downright Manichean terms, should not be part of a work of history. This is not to deny the reality of good and evil, or to say that tales of atrocity should not be included: of course they should, especially in a book that intends to provide a comprehensive narrative. It's just that anti-communist and anti-Nazi polemic should not be part of a work of history; it should be left to philosophers and politicians.
Apart from that criticism, Hastings provides a compellingly readable and frequently heart-wrenching account of the final months of the war, paying almost equal attention to the topics usually ignored in the west, such as the sheer magnitude and ferocity of the war on the eastern front. In "Armageddon", the catastrophic climax of the Second World War comes to life, and although we probably can't imagine accurately that awful time, Hastings comes pretty close.
Two minor criticisms. The first is that Hastings argues that the allied carpet bombing of German civilian homes is justified on the grounds that the workers who got bombed were supporting the German war effort through their labour. This is of course correct, but it's a very slippery slope. Taken to an extreme, this argument completely removes the distinction between civilian and military targets: after all, enemy women are also working and supporting their working husbands, thus contributing to the war effort, and children will grow to become enemy soldiers.
Secondly, the maps Hastings includes (e.g. pp.4-5) are extremely strange, inasmuch as they show Europe in the borders of 1937 (except for Luxemburg, which Hastings for some reason considers a part of Germany). As a consequence, Hastings's maps feature a number of countries which did not in fact exist in 1944-5, such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Estonia, and simply do not show several countries which did exist, such as Slovakia and Croatia. Of course, the borders of 1937 are broadly those accepted by the Western allies, but they have nothing to do with the political realities of 1944-5; Austria, for instance, was not an independent country, as "Armageddon" suggests, but an integral part of Germany. The problem is sometimes compounded in the text. What is the reader to imagine when told that a certain regiment was moved "to the Czech border"? What Czech border? The pre-1938 Czech border did not exist in 1944-5 either politically or ethnographically. Thus Hastings causes considerable confusion, as there is no clear sense where exactly the "frontiers of Germany" are, or anything else for that matter.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb,
Now on my second read and appreciating it just as much. Hastings effortlessly combines the all too often incompetent strategic level view with first hand cameos of what the fighting men experienced personally. Extremely illuminating and Highly recommended.
42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why there was no Victory in 1944,
The detail in this book is phenomenal, one minute you follow small groups of soldiers into battle and feel you are there,
the next you are reading a surgically accurate assessment of the big canvas: the failure to finish Hitler's western armies
Most allied generals come out badly, Montgomery especially.
Max Hastings is scathing about Operation Market Garden, partly on the grounds that it should never have taken place, but
more so on the grounds that Montgomery, in failing to capture the coastline north of Antwerp
when it was undefended, failed to open its vital port facilities, resulting in ever lengthening supply lines.
Worse, when its capture was perceived to be vital, it cost 18,000 casualties, and was not open until early November, by
which time victory in 1944 was no longer a possibility.
He is equally scathing about the necessity of the dreadful battle in the Hurtgen Forest, (so vividly portrayed in the film
"When Trumpets Fade") which has received so little attention in previous histories.
Finally, he is able to show the waning of British influence upon their American allies. This was partly due to the fact that
the UK was running short of manpower, and partly due to Montgomery's constant arrogance, particularly after the Battle of the Bulge.
Nowhere was this loss of influence underlined more clearly than in Eisenhower's personal message to Stalin in March 1945,
stating that Berlin was not a target for his armies.
Churchill's reaction, and Eisenhower's lack of "deference" to it, signalled that in future the US and the USSR would be
the big players.
(Churchill's policies in 1941 had been predicated on the assumption that the US would come to the rescue of a beleaguered
UK, but he failed to realise that they signalled the end of Britain's great power status. Was there an alternative? Probably not.)
Hastings book is also marked by a better balancing of accounts between the Eastern and Western Fronts than has perhaps
previously been the case.
The contrast between the cruelty of the fighting - and the treatment of civilians - is starkly emphasised. The conclusion
is inescapable: no Eastern Front, no victory!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well balanced portrait of the last months of WWII,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Some of the more critical reviews of this book point out that the book is too anecdotal to be taken seriously as a (military) history. In the introduction Hasting clearly states that he intends the book to be a portrait, not a history. Also, Hastings is said to recount just those anecdotes that support his idea that had the western allies been more aggressive, the war would have ended sooner. I'm not sure there would be many anecdotes to tell that prove him wrong on this count.
I found the book a well written, properly balanced book, in which the heroism and plight of all concerned is given its due. He does make it abundantly clear whose side he is on, however. So while he cannot but admit to a certain admiration for the Russians' and Germans' fighting skills, which compared rather favourably (not a felicitous word in this context perhaps) with those of the western allies, he also makes no bones about it that the origin lay in the evil determination of their respective leaders, who revelled in the glory of dying for the fatherland (as long as it were others dying for them), a factor distinctly absent in Churchill and Roosevelt.
The anecdotes serve the purpose of giving the people who fought and suffered a voice, an identity, they put flesh on the bones of historical facts, which are often bad enough, but which seldom engage the reader by way of empathy. The fact that quite a few Allied commanders' reputations are put in a different, less positive light than most readers are perhaps used to, is, as far as I am concerned, proof of the fact that Hastings has tried to be as objective as possible. As a disinterested Dutchman, I couldn't detect a bias in favour of either the British or the Americans (Monty's and Patton's inherent weaknesses of character are evenly balanced; Ike comes out of the book as perhaps not the greatest soldier the world has ever seen, but he arguably was the ideal leader for the uneasy partnership between the Brits and the Americans). As such I think Hastings did an admirable job.
There are quite a few annoying typos ("corrected" 2005 paperback edition...), which Hastings obviously cannot be blamed for, but there was one factual glitch concerning Winifred Wagner, the great composer's granddaughter who, to the obvious surprise of an Allied soldier, spoke perfect English. Hastings should have done a little more homework here, for Winifred was an Englishwoman who was married to Wagner's son Siegfried.
Apart from these little niggles, I can heartily recommend the book to those who are not really interested in army movements, military objectives and tactics, and the politics behind decisions, but in the human side of this greatest conflagration the world has ever seen. Well done!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A war book with a difference,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a war book with a difference, covering the last eight months of the Second World War in Europe. Unlike most of its peers it a story not just of generals and battles, but of the suffering that goes with modern warfare, and an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the various armies.
If you want a blow-by-blow account of the various battles of this period, Arnhem, the Oder crossing, the Battle of the Bulge, and lesser known, but no less lethal affairs such as Hurtgen Forest, then this is not the book for you. If you want to get some idea of what it was like to live an fight in northern Europe in the last months of the war, then I can't recommend a better book.
The book makes extensive use of eyewitness accounts from the civilians, soldiers, airmen, and prisoners to build a portrait of suffering that I have rarely previously encountered. As a game designer who has previously had a war game published, I've always worried about the inability of computer games to give an indication of what modern warfare means in human terms. This book brings it home in no uncertain fashion.
The book also makes an interesting assessment of how the different armies fought, and why they fought in the fashion they did. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions, but I think they represent an important contribution to a debate that deserves more airing. Having said that, there is a definate tendency to preach. Hastings has a very clear set of political views, and in this aspect of the book he is clearly wants his view to prevail. Even so, as long as the reader is aware of this, Hastings' contribution to the debate is very valuable.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for WWII buffs,
This is quite simply one of the best history books available dealing with this subject matter. In terms of the quality of the writing it simply stands head and shoulders above the rest. I often find that books of this type can get bogged down in excessive detail particularly when relating to the movement of armies across Europe. Hastings' writing style ensures that this is a book for anyone: it is well written, nicely balanced and full of interest. It is perfectly interspersed with anecdotes from servicemen of the period, allowing the reader to understand the reality of the conflict. The other agreeable aspect of this book is that the author is not afraid to give his own thoughtful and reasoned opinions - setting it aside from many other books on the Second World War that seek to relate just facts, without meaningful interpretation.
43 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A 5-star book marred by bad editing,
By A Customer
This gives a riveting account of the last year of World War II in Europe. Combining 'macro' accounts of the main battles with comments and experiences of the participants both high-ranking and humble, Hastings has brilliantly melded his dual talents as journalist and historian. Sadly his book is tarnished by inexcusably poor editing, the pages being littered with typographical errors. One has the impression that it may not have been proofread at all. The all-important maps appear to have been dredged up from somewhere because they were available rather than being closely linked to the text - frequently, important place names discussed in the text are not to be found at all, on the maps.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45 by Max Hastings