An Indispensable History of World War II,
This review is from: The Second World War, Volume 4: The Hinge of Fate (Paperback)
"The Hinge of Fate" is the fourth of 6 volumes of Winston S. Churchill's monumental history of World War II. The title is drawn from the fact that it was during the period of this book, late 1941 to the middle of 1942, that the hinge of war turned and the German and Japanese, who were advancing so quickly as the book opened, had started their long march to defeat and destruction. In the early chapters the Japanese are running rampant throughout the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean, threatening even Australia and India, while America was trying to recover from Pearl Harbor. The German Army was running out of steam in Russia, but months of bitter siege lay ahead. In North Africa, the Axis were still struggling with the British for control. In the Atlantic, U-boats exacted their deadly tolls, even within sight of American shores.
In the Far East, the Japanese marched through Malaya to the shores of the British bastion, Singapore, whose guns were, unfortunately, pointing to the sea rather that toward the land approaches. There inferior Japanese forces received the greatest surrender in the history of the British Army. The Dutch East Indies and its oil fell to the Japanese while their Navy menaced Ceylon, their Army conquered New Guinea and their pilots bombed Australia.
In North Africa the combined Italian-German forces threatened the Suez Canal and made the Mediterranean a hostile Sea for Allied shipping. The surrender at Tobruk, again to inferior enemy forces, was another blow to British confidence and prestige.
Churchill is mostly telling the story from his viewpoint, which was not, during this period, limited to Downing Street. The book starts with him visiting at the White House. The reader then follows him to Casablanca, across North Africa, to Moscow and back to Washington.
Churchill was a political animal and he tells the political tales. One of the major problems during this period of the war was the rivalries among French leaders: DeGaulle and Giraud, the sensitive prima donnas, and Darlan, the essential officer with a collaborationist past. Winston frequently mentions the American antipathy toward DeGaulle and the uproar created by the arrangements with Darlan, commander of the French Navy, who had so willingly cooperated with the Nazis when they were in the ascendency.
No political problem surpassed that of taming the Russian bear. It was up to Churchill to face Stalin's demands for a second front and then convince him of the impossibility of a landing in Europe in 1942 and the value of the "Second Front" in Africa and the bombings of Germany. The necessity of telling Stalin that the Arctic convoys would be suspended due to unacceptable losses did not make the meetings any more pleasant.
We now think of Churchill as the unchallengeable leader of Britain, but this book reminds us of an abortive revolt in the House of Commons in which a motion of censure was introduced in the wake of surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk.
Not all was disaster and the Hinge did turn. Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat. Operation Torch landed American troops in Africa and started them on the road to victory. In the Pacific, the Coral Sea and Midway, which was intended to finish the destruction of the American fleet begun at Pearl Harbor, sent Yamamoto's air arm to the bottom. By book's end, Africa was redeemed, the Japanese tide was receding, the Red Army was attacking and the next operation, Sicily or Italy, was being debated.
I have been a fan of Churchill's work since my father suggested that I read it. Now, as I reread it thirty some years later, the attraction has not diminished. It still brings the reader into meetings, conferences, battlefields and the minds of the wars leaders. It is limited by its personal outlook, but nonetheless it remains the indispensable World War II memoir.