Like my historical friends, I had this view of World War Two, the string of battles that constituted the path towards Allied victory (unlike those non-historical boobs in the mainstream, who don’t know when it was fought and between who). But after reading Richard Overy’s Why the Allies Won, the entire thing takes on a whole new meaning. Inevitable turns into improbably in a number of aspects.
When you look at the map and forces in 1941, it looked like it was time to mix cyanide into your scotch. The Germans had swept aside everyone, and controlled the continent from France to western Russia. The Russians were staggering. The British were boxed on their tiny island. The Italians were loose about the Med. And far in the east, the Japanese were oozing down towards Australia (and we’d end the year with our fleet on the bottom of Pearl Harbor). Yes, bad year indeed. Now Germany stood at the verge of world domination, combining Russian coal and crops with her own industry, to become the world’s first true superpower.
Winning for us was unlikely. Survival was dicey. But somehow we did win. In the east, the Soviets held (at a cost hard to imagine). In the west, what was left of Britain had to combine with America (which hardly had anything at all). And from that, they challenged a military might beyond measure.
Overy does a good job breaking down the long road to victory, the Battle for the Atlantic (and the critical issue of closing the gap where the Uboats operated). And the airwar over Germany (one we almost lost save for the introduction of drop tanks, which closed another gap). And in the east, the Russians got their army together, modernizing it while falling back, all the time moving their entire industrial base east. And then there are the leaders themselves, and primarily Hitler’s micro management, his distrust of science (no, they weren’t that close to having the bomb – once Hitler referred to atomics as “Jewish Science”, such weapon research became a minor interest for his military). But there are all sorts of interesting points to be made here, the difference in technologies, in production (in unification and utilization), even in the will of the various nations and their own blind spots.
Interesting reading – worth a look if you can find a copy (I got mine while nosing about Slightly Foxed in London).
Dark days indeed.