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Koba (Reston, VA)

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Eisenhower & Montgomery at the  Falaise Gap
Eisenhower & Montgomery at the Falaise Gap
by William Weidner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious exercise in bashing Montgomery and the British Army,, 10 April 2013
The author's basic thesis is that the Americans had no political goals in Europe in WW2 other than the defeat of Nazi Germany, while the British were obsessed with recreating the prewar status quo and preserving the political influence of the British Empire. As a result, the devious British were constantly trying to manipulate the naive Americans, especially Eisenhower, who was simply trying to win the war. The author also views Montgomery as mentally disordered, suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, "schizoid tendencies" and other mental problems. In the specific case of the Falaise-Argentan battle, the author argues that Montgomery ordered Bradley to halt short of Argentan, thus allowing the Germans to escape, in order to preserve the prestige (and thus the political influence) of Montgomery and the British Army.

The above interpretation is really nothing new. The idea that the British were interested in "postwar politics" and the Americans were only interested in winning the war was the standard interpretation of events for many years after the war (the author is an older man and was probably raised on this interpretation). The problem is that this is completely false and one-sided; in fact, the Americans (and Roosevelt) most certainly had a postwar political strategy, and this definitely influenced military operations. This strategy was to promote post-war US-Soviet cooperation - what would later be called "detente" - and is amply explained in the books of Warren Kimball, among others. Of course, the existence of such a strategy had to be vehemently denied after WW2, when US-Soviet cooperation was at a low point to say the least, and that is why "the US had no strategy and only wanted to win the war" became the standard interpretation in the 1940s-1950s.

If one agrees that the British strategy was to recreate the prewar status quo, then Montgomery stopping the Americans at Argentan and letting the Germans escape makes NO sense at all! The longer the war lasts, the more British soldiers will die, the lower British political influence will be, the further west the Soviets will advance, and the harder it will be to recreate the prewar status quo in Europe. British political strategy *demanded* the most rapid end to the war possible, and letting the Germans escape at Falaise-Argentan was completely at odds with this.

This book is poorly organized. The author begins with a discussion of Bradley in August 1944; then injects a discussion of what the Germans were up to; then jumps backwards to a biography of Montgomery from 1887 through World War I and then to his command of the Eighth Army; then returns to the Falaise Gap; then leaps forward disconcertingly to March 1945, as if nothing happened between August 1944 and March 1945. The author should have organized it more coherently.

The best part of the book is the first 88 pages in which the author shows that Bradley is a serial liar; Bradley's 1951 memoir is inconsistent with his 1983 memoir, and both books are inconsistent with the actual facts. This fact ought to have made the author a little more suspicious of the American version of events, but alas, the author quickly proceeds to the above-mentioned Montgomery-bashing and British Army-bashing.

British readers will certainly want to avoid this one.

From Axis Victories to the Turn of the Tide
From Axis Victories to the Turn of the Tide
by Alan Levine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Competently written but nothing new or interesting, 26 Oct. 2012
This is a history of World War II from September 1939 to early 1943. Much of the book is a straightforward narrative organized chronologically by theater:

1. War in the West through the Battle of Britain
2. Battle of the Atlantic 1939-41
3. Russian Campaign June to December 1941
4. Mediterranean to December 1941
5. America joins the war
6. Battle of the Atlantic, December 1941 to May 1943
7. Russian Campaign, 1942 to early 1943
9. Mediterranean to the Tunisia surrender
10. The Pacific, Pearl Harbor to Midway

You will note the excessive attention paid to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; the Axis suffered 90% of its casualties on the Eastern Front during this period, but the author only devotes about 20% of the pages to this theater.

The principal absence in this book is any real discussion of national strategy. One gains the impression that the combatants are only fighting to win the war, and have no postwar political objectives in mind.

Finally, the author takes a very deterministic view of the war's outcome - namely, the Axis had no chance to win because the Allies had overwhelming economic superiority. R. J. Overy properly criticizes this type of economic determinism in Why the Allies Won. Certainly, none of the Allies at the time (from 1939 to 1943) thought that their victory was "inevitable" just because they had superior economies; nor, needless to say, did the Germans or Japanese think their defeat was inevitable.

The book is written for the general reader, but anyone with any knowledge of WW2 at all will not find anything new here. There are a good number of well-written, single-volume accounts of the entire war on the market now (e.g., Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor, Gordon Corrigan, and Andrew Roberts) and if you have read any of those, Levine's book will have little more to offer you. This is not a bad book, but I really advise giving it a pass in favor of some of the other readily available general histories of the war.

British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944 (Military History and Policy)
British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944 (Military History and Policy)
by John Buckley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £29.10

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely outstanding assessment of British armor in 1944, 16 April 2012
The revisionist view of Allied armored operations in Normandy in 1944 is one of weakness -- the Allies had inferior armor, inferior doctrine, and less-highly motivated soldiers than the Germans -- counterbalanced by tremendous material superiority and overwhelming artillery and airpower. In particular the British are taken to task for failing to seize Caen right after the initial landings, and for failing to achieve a strategic breakout despite repeated, costly attacks. This criticism is found in B.H. Liddell Hart, Carlo D'Este, Max Hastings, and others. In this book, John Buckley provides a deeper analysis, and shows that revisionist views are incomplete, distorted, and based on the view that the British Army should have fought like the Germans despite the obvious fact that the British were not Germans.

Buckley shows that the Germans fought a different type of war from what the British expected them to fight. The British expected the Germans to fall back on prepared defenses with mobile reserves in support. However, the Germans tried to pin the Allies into the beachhead, and fed troops in piecemeal, forcing the Allies to batter their way through difficult terrain. The Allies adapted to this, in Buckley's view, successfully. Buckley also notes that even the Germans had great difficulty attacking in Normandy.

With regard to technical shortcomings, Buckley notes that most German tanks in Normandy were not much better than the Allied tanks facing them. The main British shortcoming was not lack of armored protection, but lack of firepower. However, even a tank with a highly effective gun would not necessarily have fared well on the offense against concealed, dug-in opponents; again, the Germans suffered heavy armored losses when they attacked in Normandy, even though their tanks had highly effective anti-tank weapons.

Buckley does not consider that British troops lacked morale and fortitude. In particular, the armored units had a lower level of battle exhaustion casualties than the infantry units. Furthermore, he shows that there is no convincing evidence that veteran formations had lower morale than inexperienced units. The 7th armored division performed poorly, but other veteran units performed well.

On the whole, this is an excellent book. He covers all the issues: doctrine, leadership, morale, and technical capability. In addition the book is a pleasure to read and is well-supported with factual evidence.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2014 10:13 AM BST

Launch Pad UK: Britain and the Cuban Missile Crisis
Launch Pad UK: Britain and the Cuban Missile Crisis
by Jim Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Journalist's sensationalistic account of the Thor program, 28 Jan. 2011
This book is entitled "Britain and the Cuban Missile Crisis", but that title is misleading. The book is really about the Thor missile program, and the Cuban missile crisis as such only occupies 50 pages out of the 180 page total. And with respect to the Cuban missile crisis, the book really only looks at the alerting of the Thor force, and does not really discuss the V-bombers or examine the political deliberations in Whitehall during the crisis. So, a better subtitle would have been "Britain and the Thor Missile Force" or something of that nature.

That problem aside, the author is a journalist, and takes a sensationalistic tone that at times borders on the semi-hysterical. For example, he repeatedly argues that the Thor force was an American idea that only brought danger to Britain, as the Soviets targeted the Thors for nuclear attack. But Britain was *already* a target for Soviet missile attack even without the Thors -- both the V-bomber bases and the USAF bases in Britain were Soviet targets, and Britain would not have escaped nuclear attack in the event of war if she had no Thor bases. The author harps on the British government's "failure" to "take steps to protect the civilian population" during the missile crisis (e.g. the Civil Defense service was not activated). It is hard to see what meaningful steps the government could have taken; the likely result would have been to alarm the people (and perhaps also the Soviets) without providing any real extra protection for the population. The author speculates that the UK government was not aware that Bomber Command elevated its alert level during the missile crisis, but provides no real proof of this, though to be sure one cannot prove a negative. Lastly, he laments the fact that the British people were not informed that Bomber Command was on elevated alert during the missile crisis. Again, this would only have panicked the British people and alarmed the Soviets without serving any useful purpose, as the simple fact of the matter is that little could be done to protect them in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack on the UK.

The author provides no footnotes, and refers only to secondary sources. He quotes a large number of first-hand anecdotes from people who participated in the Thor program, which provides a welcome personal touch. While the book is very readable, it is not scholarly in quality.

If you are looking for a history of Britain in the Cuban missile crisis, this book is not it, regardless of the title. If you are looking for a history of the Thor missile program, John Boyes "Project Emily" (which I have also reviewed) is a far superior treatment.

Project Emily: Thor Irbm And The Raf
Project Emily: Thor Irbm And The Raf
by John Boyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding study of this little-known weapons system, 28 Jan. 2011
This is a fine history of the deployment of Thor IRBMs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles) to Britain in the late 1950s and of their operation until 1963. The author recounts the development of ballistic missile technology from 1945 to the mid-1950s, when the apparent advantage in Soviet missile power relative to the United States made it necessary to deploy IRBMs to Europe as a temporary countermeasure. He shows how the US and Britain reached political agreement to base the missiles in Britain, under joint British and American control, and how the bases were selected. He describes the building of the Thor bases in detail, including not merely the launch pads but the supporting infrastructure. It is clear from this work that the construction of these bases was a much more complex undertaking than is generally understood, and the British and American militaries executed the deployment with great skill under considerable time pressure. He describes the training of the British Royal Air Force crews to operate this American-built missile, which included a number of test launches, and some accidents which occurred at the bases after they became operational. Finally, he shows how the Thor force was brought to increased readiness during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The author is not a professional historian, but he uses declassified British sources and interviews with former Thor crewmen, as well as a number of secondary sources, in a manner that would do credit to any professional historian. The book is very clearly written and enjoyable to read. There are few, if any, other books on this subject, and I congratulate the author for producing this definitive study.

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