"The Second World War is the largest single event in human history, fought across six of the world's seven continents and all it oceans. It killed 50 million human beings, left hundreds of millions of others wounded in mind or body and materially devastated much of the heartland of civilization."


00 - Prologue: Every Man a Soldier
01 - The War in the West 1940-1943
02 - The War in the East 1941-1943
03 - The War in the Pacific 1941-1943
04 - The War in the West 1943-1945
05 - The War in the East 1943-1945
06 - The War in the Pacific 1943-1945
07 - The Legacy of the Second World War
EX - Beyond The Book


"The First (World) War explains the second and, in fact, caused it, in so far as one event causes another. The link between the two wars went deeper. Germany fought specifically in the Second War to reverse the verdict of the first and to destroy the settlement that followed it."
        - AJP Taylor, "Origins of the Second World War"

The truth of 20th century European civilization was that the world it dominated was pregnant with war. The enormous wealth, energy and population increase released by Europe's industrial revolution in the 19th century had transformed the world. It had created productive and explotative industries... linked the productive regions of the world with a network of communications... generated the riches to increase tenfold the population of historic cities. It had built the infrastructure - schools, universities, libraries, laboratories, churches, missions - of a vibrant, creative and optimistic world civilization. Above all, and in dramatic and menacing counterpoint to the century's works of hope and promise, it had created armies, the largest and potentially most destructive instruments of war the world had ever seen.

No society on earth had ever proportionately put forth soldiers in such numbers as Europe did in August 1914... some 20 million Europeans, nearly 10% of the populations of the combatant states, donned military drab and shouldered rifles to take the train to war... it would be four years and five autumns before the survivors returned, leaving on the battlefields some 10 million dead. The vast crop of fit and strong young men which formed the fruit of 19th century Europe's economic miracle had been consumed by the forces which gave them life and health.

"Each citizen should be a soldier, and each soldier a citizen, or we shall never have a constitution."
        - French revolutionary leader speaking in 1789

The ultimate importance of universal conscription in changing attitudes to military service was that it ultimately connected with liberty, in its political sense. The old armies had been instruments of oppression of the people by kings; the new armies were to be instruments of the people's liberation from kings... the tension between the principles of winning freedoms by revolutionary assault and extracting them in legal form by performance of military duty was to transfix European political life for much of the 19th century.

Conscription was an instrument not only of equality but of fraternity. Because it applied to all at the same moment in their lives and in principle treated all in the same way, it forged bonds of brotherhood young Europeans had never before felt.

'No conscription without representation' had, in short, become an unspoken slogan of European politics in the half-century before the First World War; since conscription is indeed a tax, on the individual's time if not money.

#1 THE WAR IN THE WEST 1940-1943

The Battle of France, though sensational by reason of its brevity and decisiveness, had been an otherwise conventional military operation. In their support of the German armoured spearheads, aircraft had played a major part in bringing victory; but neither they nor indeed the tanks they had overflown had wrought the Allied defeat. That defeat was the outcome of defects in strategy, military structure and readiness for war, psychological as well as material, which were buried deep in the Western democracies' reaction to the agony they had undergone in the First World War.
The Battle of Britain, by contrast, was to be a truly revolutionary conflict. For the first time since man had taken to the skies, aircraft were to be used as the instrument of a campaign designed to break the enemy's will and capacity to resist without the intervention or support of armies and navies.

On 30 August and 4 September serious damage was inflicted on aircraft factories, while Biggin Hill, a main fighter station covering London, was attacked six times in three days, the operations room destroyed and 70 ground staff killed or wounded. Between 24 August and 6 September Fighter Command lost 290 aircraft in constant defensive engagements; the Luftwaffe lost 380 aircraft, but only half of those were fighters.

The Luftwaffe were beginning to win the battle - but not fast enough for Hitler's and Goering's patience. The autumnal gales threatened. If the invasion barges were to be got across the Channel Narrows in 1940 Britain's resistance would have to be broken in the next few weeks: Fighter Command would have to be beaten in the air so that the Royal Navy could be bombed out of the Channel. On 31 August OKL decided that on September 7 the 'Schwerpunkt' (focus of attack) would be shifted from the airfields to London.

The victory of 'the Few' was narrow. During the critical months of August and September, when the Battle of Britain was at its height, Fighter Command lost 832 fighters, the Luftwaffe only 668. Had Hitler and Goering been privy to the extent of their success during the height of the battle, when a  quarter of Fighter Command's pilots became casualties and fighter losses for a period (11 August to 7 September) exceeded production, they would undoubtedly have surpassed their effort. Had they done so, the Luftwaffe might have then made itself the first air force to achieve a decisive victory in combat as an independent strategic arm, thus fulfilling the vision that Douhet and Mitchell had glimpsed in the dawn of military aviation. As it was, the pragmatism of Dowding and his Fighter Command staff, the self-sacrifice of their pilots and the invention of radar inflicted on Nazi Germany its first defeat. The legacy of that defeat would be long delayed in its effects; but the survival of an independent Britain which it assured was the event that most certainly determined the downfall of Hitler's Germany.


"The war's origins lay in the deliberate choice of warfare as an instrument of policy by two of the world's most economically developed states. Far from having economic reseverations about warfare as a policy, both the German and Japanese governments were influenced in their decisions for war by the conviction that war might be an instrument of economic gain."
        - Alan Milward

Supply of food, of raw materials, of finished products, of weapons themselves, lies at the root of war. From the earliest times man has gone to war to take possession of the resources he lacks, and when at war, has fought to secure his means of livelihood and self-protection from his enemy. The Second World War was no exception to this rule.

Hitler could not argue economic insufficiency to justify his strategic adventurism. In 1939, Germany was almost completely self-sufficient in food, she produced all the coal she needed and a high proportion of her iron ore. For rubber and oil she was wholly dependent on imports. However, through peaceful trade, her high level of exports easily earned the surplus to fund and make good those deficiencies. Had it not been fot Hitler's social-Darwinian obsession with autarky - total national economic autonomy - Germany would have had no reason to prefer military to commercial intercourse with her neighbours.

In high gear, Britain's industry could produce all the weapons, ships, aircraft, guns and tanks that its mobilised military population could man on the battlefield. Moreover, it could continue to find a surplus of armaments to export (to Russia) or to reequip exile forces (Poles, Czech, Free French) even at the nadir of its military fortunes. However, it could only do so by importing all its oil, and most critically of all for an overpopulated island, half its food. At a pinch the Japanese, by living on unhusked rice, could survive at near-starvation level. The British, if deprived of North American wheat, would in the few months it would take to exhaust the national strategic reserve of flour and powdered milk have undergone a truly Malthusian decline and halved in numbers.

In 1939 Britian needed to import 55 million tons of goods by sea to support its way of life. To do so it maintained the largest merchant fleet in the world, comprising 3000 ocean-going vessels and 1000 large coastal ships of 21 million gross-register (total capacity) tons. Some 2500 ships were at sea at any one time: the manpower of the merchant service, a resource almost as important as the ships themselves, totalled 160,000. To protect this fleet the Royal Navy deployed 220 vessels equipped with ASDIC consisting of 165 destroyers, 35 sloops and corvettes and 20 trawlers.

The 30,000 men of the British Merchant Navy who fell victim to the U-boats between 1939 and 1945, the majority drowned or killed by exposure on the cruel North Atlantic sea, were quite as certainly front-line warriors as the guardsmen and fighter pilots to whom they ferried the necessities of combat. Neither they nor their American, Dutch, Norwegian or Greek fellow mariners wore uniform and few have any memorial. The stood nevertheless between the Wehrmacht and the domination of the world.

#2 THE WAR IN THE EAST 1941-1943

"Probably two reasons why Britain won't make peace. Firstly, she hopes for US aid; but the US can't start major arms deliveries until 1941. Secondly she hopes to play off Russia against Germany... Germany is not striving to smash Britain because the beneficiaries will not be Germany but Japan in the east, Russia in India, Italy in the Mediterranean and America in world trade. That is why peace is possible with Britain."
        - remarks of Adolf Hitler, recorded by Field Marshal von Leeb, August 1940

Hitler had been alarmed by Russia's occupation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in mid-June, and by its annexation of Bessarbia and North Bukovnia from Romania on 28 June. These acquisitions of territory could be seen as threatening. They consolidated a move westward of Russia's strategic boundary... it was the evidence these 'forward' moves gave of Russia's determination to pursue its own advantage in the teeth of Germany's proven military power that persuaded Hitler he could not defer a test of strength with her for ever, and if so, it must be sooner rather than later.

As a parting shot, when Ribbentrop tried to remind Molotov of how greatly Russia would profit by assisting in the dismemberment of the British Empire, whose defeat was at hand, Molotov asked, 'If that is so, then why are we in this shelter and whose are those bombs which are falling?'

Between foreknowledge and forestalment, however, there always yawns the gap of capability. That predicament was Freyburg's on Crete.

Parachuting to war is essentially a dicing with death, in which the odds are loaded against the soldier who entrusts his life to silk and static line. There is a possibility that a combination of luck and judgement will deposit him and his comrades beyond the jaws of danger, enable them to assemble and allow formed airborne units to go forward to battle; but the probability is otherwise. Of the four great parachute endeavours of the Second World War, two - Sicily and Normandy - managed to evade the probabilities, two - Crete and Arnhem - did not. The demise of independent parachute forces since 1945 is the inevitable outcome of that unfavourable reckoning.

In crudely material terms Stalin as warlord stood on equal, perhaps superior, footing to Hitler. As strategist, however, he was as yet in no way his match. Hitler's decision to provoke war in 1939 was to prove a catastrophic miscalculation; in its prosecution, however, he displayed exactly the same cynical estimation of motive and ruthless exploitation of weakness as had won him such spectacular diplomatic victories in 1936-39. Stalin also operated with a ruthless cynicism; but his estimation of motive and assessment of reality were clouded by a coarse and overcunning solipsism. He ascribed to adversaries a pattern of calculation as brutal and grasping as his own.

Word of how the enemy treats prisoners circulates with lightning rapidity inside any army. It is news equalled in importance only by that of the survival rate for wounded in the army's own hospitals - but with this difference: poor prognosis for the wounded discourages soldiers from fighting hard, while bad treatment of captives has the opposite effect.

The most important source of reinforcement to Zhukov (defending Moscow) was already in existence: the Siberian force, from which Stalin - who had made only small withdrawals from it previously - had brought ten divisions, 1000 tanks and 1000 aircraft in October and November. That he felt free to do so was chiefly the result of reassurances transmitted by one of the most remarkable espionage agents in history, Richard Sorge, a German but also a Comintern operative who, as confidant of the German ambassador in Tokyo, was privy to top-secret German-Japanese confidences and so able to assure Moscow that Japan was committed to war against the U.S. and therefore would not use its Manchurian army to attack the Soviet Union in Siberia. Had Japan decided otherwise - and its historic quarrel rather than its focus of strategic ambition lay against Russia, not America - the Battle of Moscow of December 1941 must have been fought as a Russian defensive, instead of an offensive, and would almost certainly have resulted in German victory.

Hitler's allusion to the Battle of the Marne was not without point. Then the Germany army had overextended itself and the high command taken too little note of the danger levelled by a strongly garrisoned city on its flanks. Now on the Volga a similar danger loomed... the parallel between 1914 and 1942 was not exact. At the Marne the German army has been beaten because it had failed to find the force to capture Paris on its flank. The risk posed in 1942 was that Hitler would overreact and, by concentrating too much force at Stalingrad, deny his armies in the mountains and the open steppe the means to defend themselves against an enemy counter-stroke. Such was precisely the operational outcome towards which Stalin and the Stavka were now groping their way.


The German armoured pincers which encircled and crushed the Soviet armies in western Russia in June, July and August 1941 were instruments of military victory such as the world had never seen; but they were not instruments of total victory. Although they destroyed one of the Soviet Union's principal means of making war, its mobilised front-line defences, they did not succeed in destroying its industrial resources in the European provinces. Even while the Panzers were on the march, an evacuation soviet was rapidly uprooting factories from their path, loading machinery, stocks and workforces on to the overstretched railways, and shipping them eastward to new locations beyond the Panzers' reach.

The worm in the apple of Hitler's spectacular campaigns of 1939-41 was that they had been fought from an economic base too fragile to sustain a long war, but with effects on the will of his enemies which ensured that the war would inevitably lengthen into a do-or-die struggle unless he could quickly crown it with a swift and decisive victory. Hitler's Germany, behind the panoply of the Nuremburg rallies and the massed ranks of the Wehrmacht, was a hollow vessel.

German economic strategy, quite as much as its military one, was therefore geared to the concept of Blitzkrieg... its war-economic philosophy rested on the concept that the country's weapons output should and could outdo the enemy's primarily in quality.

The war effort Britain imposed upon itself, particularly in 1940-1 when it bore the burden of confronting the Axis alone, could not be sustained out of domestic revenue. In order to pay for the fighters which won the Battle of Britain, the escorts which fought the Battle of the Atlantic and the merchant ships sunk in it, and the tanks which contested the issue with Rommel in the western desert, Britain was obliged to liquidate almost the whole of its overseas holdings of capital, an economic sacrifice which would require 50 years to restore.

Had Britain attempted to sustain its military outlay from domestic resources, its economy would have been broken. The same was true for the Soviet Union. Neither the British nor Soviet economy could have borne the strains of war without external assistance. That outside help came from the United States.

Wartime Russia survived and fought on American aid. So too did wartime Britain. The percentage of military equipment supplied to the British armed forces from American sources in 1941 was 11.5, in 1942 16.9, in 1943 26.9 and in 1944 28.7; and the percentage of American-supplied food consumed in Britain in 1941 was 29.1, a proportion which continued at that level throughout the war.

In the final enumeration of Hitler's mistakes in waging the Second World War, his decision to contest the issue with the power of the American economy may well come to stand first.


The roots of Japan's self-destructive conflict with the West go far back into the country's past, and centre above all on its ruling caste's fear that 'Westernisation' would disrupt the careful social structure on which the country's internal order rested. At the beginning of the 17th century, therefore, they closed their coasts to the outside world and succeeded in keeping them shut until the appearance of Western seaman who commanded a new technology, the steamship, in the middle of the 19th century forced them to reconsider their remarkable - and remarkable successful - decision. In one of the most radical changes of national policy recorded in history, the Japanese then accepted that, if Japan were to remain Japanese, it must join the modern world, but on terms which guaranteed that the process of modernisation were retained in Japanese hands. The technology of the Western world would be bought; but the Japanese would not sell themselves or their society to the West in the course of acquiring it. By the end of the First World War a reformed Japan had made extraordinary progress toward achieving that ideal.

American historians have disputed for years the issue of whether Roosevelt 'knew': those who believed he did imply that he had sought and found in foreknowledge of Japanese 'infamy' the pretext he needed to draw the United States into the war on the side of Britain. It is an extension of the charge that there was a secret understanding between Roosevelt and Churchill to use Japanese perfidy as a means of overcoming American domestic resistance to involvement. Both of these charges defy logic. In the second case, Churchill certainly did not want war against Japan, which Britain was pitifully equipped to fight, but only American assistance in the fight against Hitler, which a causus belli in the Pacific would not necessarily assure.

So stringent was Japanese radio security in the weeks before Pearl Harbor that all orders were distributed between Tokyo, fleet and army by courier, and the striking forces proceeded to their attack positions under strict radio silence. As an added precaution, Nagumo's fleet approached Pearl Harbor inside the forward edge of one of the enormous weather fronts which regularly cross the Pacific at warship speed. This technique, long practised by the Japanese, ensured that the fleet's movements would be protected by cloud and rainstorm from the eyes of any but a very lucky air or sea recon unit - from any systematic means of surveillanc, except radar. Yet Pearl Harbor was protected by radar; in the disregard for the warning it offered lies the principal condemnation of American preparedness for war in the Pacific in December 1941.

No Western commander who stood in the path of Japan's surprise attack in December 1941 could preserve his professional honour, in a theatre hopelessly unprepared for the conduct of modern war, except by death in the face of the enemy.

Japan's great amphibious - better, triphibious - fleet remained intact. Not one of their 11 battleships, 10 carriers or 18 heavy and 20 light cruisers had been even seriously damaged in the war thus far, while the United States Pacific Fleet had lost - or lost the use of - all its battleships and large numbers of its cruisers and destroyers, the British and Dutch Far Eastern fleets had been destroyed and the Royal Australian Navy had been driven back to port.

All that remained to the Allies to set in the strategic balance against Japan's astonishing triumph and overpowering strategic position was the surviving naval base of Hawaii, with its remote dependancy of Midway Island, and the US Pacific Fleet's handful of carriers, three, perhaps four at most. Little wonder that hubris gripped even such doubters as Yamamoto; at the beginning of May 1942, the consummation of victory, a prospect he had long warned hovered at the very margin of possibility, seemed to lie only one battle away. One more battle meant a battle between aircraft carriers. There had never been such a battle before; but the Japanese navy's victory at Pearl Harbor ensured that such a battle was inevitable, if the United States were not altogether to abdicate control of the Pacific to Japan.


Immediately after his appointment to the chancellorship of Germany in January 1933, Hitler had broadened the existing legal provision of Schutzhaft - protective custody of the person concerned, to protect him or her, for example, from mob violence - to embrace 'police detention' for political activity. To hold 'police detainees' detention centres were established at Dachau near Munich and Oranienburg in March 1933 and soon other such 'concentration camps', a term borrowed from the Spanish pacification of Cuba in the 1890s and later adopted by the British during the Boer War, had been established in other parts of Germany. Their first inmates were communists; later other political and conscientious opponents of the regime, active or merely suspect, were detained, and by 1937 'anti-socials' including homosexuals, baggars and gypsies, were sent there. At the beginning of the war the number of concentration camp detainess was about 25,000. No concentration camp was yet an extermination camp; all were merely places of arbitrary imprisonment.

Massacre was the ultimate horror which underlay the concentration camp system and those camps which lay east of the Oder had been built and run exclusively for that purpose. Massacre is endemic to campaigns of conquest; it had been the hallmark of the Mongols and had been practised in their times by the Romans in Gaul and the Spaniards in South America. It was an index, however, of the degree to which Western civilization had advanced that massacre had effectively been outlawed from warfare in Europe since the 17th century; it was a consonant index of Nazi Germany's return to barbarism that it made massacre a principle of its imperialism in its conquered lands. The chief victims of its revival of massacre as an instrument of oppression, however, were not those who opposed German power by offering resistance - resistance was what had chiefly invoked the cruel excesses of conquerors in the past - but a people, the Jews, whose very existence Nazi ideology deemed to be a challenge, threat and obstacle to its triumph.

The removal and transportation of Europe's Jews was a fact known to every inhabitant of the continent between 1942 and 1945. Their disappearance defined the barbaric ruthlessness of Nazi rule, offered an unspoken menac to every individual who defied or transgressed Nazi authority and warned that what had been done to one people might be done to another. In a profound sense, the machinery of the Final Solution and of the Nazi empire were one and the same: because systematic massacre underlay the exercise of Nazi authority at every turn, Hitler needed to rule his conquered subjects scarcely at all. The knowledge of the concentration camp system was in itself enough to hold all but a handful of heroic resisters abject during five years of terror.

#4 THE WAR IN THE WEST 1943-1945

The coming of the Pacific war had changed the dimensions of Winston Churchill's strategy. Intimations of defeat had been replaced by the certainty of victory. 'So we had won after all!' he recalled reflecting at the news of Pearl Harbor.

The conduct of no war is ever simple, however, and the conduct of any coalition war is always unusually difficult. The anti-Axis coalition of the Second World War, as Hitler constantly consoled himself and his entourage by emphasising, was almost unimagineably disparate. Two capitalists democracies, united by language but divided by profoundly different philosophies of international relations, had been drived by the force of events into an unexpected and unsought co-belligerency with a Marxist state which not only preached the inevitable, necessary and desirable downfall of the capitalist system but until June 1941 had been freely bound by a pact of non-aggression and economic co-operation to the common enemy.

General Marshall seemed as impassive as a marble statue and intimidated even Roosevelt (as he intended - Marshall had made a resolution never to laugh at any of the President's jokes).

Rommel's argument was that it was better to have some armour on the right beach, even if the rest was wrongly disposed, then to keep armour in central reserve and then fail to move it when Allied airpower descended. At the end of January 1944 he was translated from the post of inspector of the Atlantic Wall to commander of Army Group B as Runstedt's direct subordinate for defence of the invasion zone. Almost at once he fell into dispute with his chief. Runstedt had never experienced a battle in which the Luftwaffe was not dominant. He therefore believed that there would be time, even after the enemy landing craft had arrived, to make a deliberate assessment of the military situation and then commit reserves to a counter-attack. From personal experience in Egypt and Tunisia Rommel knew how great was the power of the Allied air forces and was convinced that only by holding armour 'forward' and committing it immediately could the invasion be met and defeated. The Rommel-Runstedt dispute, in which personal experience favoured one general, conventional military wisdom the other, eventually reached the ears of Hitler. He resolved it own his own terms, to neither subordinate's liking.


The Battle of the Falaise Gap took the form of a gigantic manoeuvre of 20 armoured divisions (10 German, 10 Allied), tank against tank, over 800 square miles of countryside and extending through two weeks of frenzied movement and violent combat.

By 1944 the tank had ceased to be an autonomous instrument of strategy but had taken its place in an elaborate machinery of tactical attrition, which achieved its effect by a cumulative wearing-down of resistance rather than by a rapier-like penetration of the enemy's front.

Basil Liddell Hart argued that the tank would not win battles single-handed and that all arms, including infantry and artillery, would in future be machanised, to produce armies which would resemble fleets of larger and smaller armoured and mobile 'land ships'. Liddell Hart looked too far into the future; not until 40 years after the end of the Second World War would even the most advanced states command the wealth and industrial resources to mechanise their field armies completely.

Already by 1944 'land fleets' existed in embryo. It was with a land fleet of Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions that OB West had striven to defeat the Allied invasion; and it was with a land fleet of armoured and mechanised divisions that Montgomery and Bradley would achieve the encirclement and destruction of Army Group B.

Though the British had invented the tank, first deployed it in action in September 1916, and largely conceived the theoretical basis of armoured warfare, they did not succeed in building an effective tank in the Second World War. That crucial balance between firepower, protection and mobility which underlies successful tank design eluded them. Their Infantry Mark I, which at Arras Rommel found he could penetrate only with his 88s, was strong but almost immobile. The Churchill was equally tough but scarcely faster. Only the Cromwell, which appared in 1944 to equip the reconaissance battalians of British armoured divisions, had speed and protection; its gun remained inadequate. As a result the British divisions of 1944 were dependant on the American Sherman for their main tank strength, but the Sherman too had defects: thought fast, reliable and easy to maintain, it burnt readily and lacked gunpower. Britain's most successful contribution to Anglo-American armoured capability was to fit its fearsome 17-pounder anti-tank gun to specially adapted Shermans, called Fireflies, which provided British armoured divisions with their principal it not only antidote to heavy German armour in 1944-5.

It was Russia, alone among Germany's enemies, which matched its output of tanks in quality and quantity.


In the 1920s, the Royal Air Force was creating the first 'air navy' of strategic bombers the world had ever seen. The roots of its operational function lay in a study prepared by the 'father' of the RAF, Sir Hugh Trenchard, for the Allied Supreme War Council in the last months of the First World War.

By advocating this simple and brutal strategy - to bomb factories and terrorise those who worked there and lived nearby - Trenchard proposed to extend to general warfare a principle so far admitted by civilised nations only in the siege of cities. In siege warfare armies had always operated by the code that citizens who chose to remain within a city's walls after siege was laid thereby exposed themselves to its hardships: starvation, bombardment and, once the walls had been breached and the offer of capitulation refused, rapine and pillage. The almost uncontested generalisation of siege-warfare morality demonstrates both how closely the First World War had come to resemble siege on a continental scale and how grossly its prosecution had blunted the sensitivities of war leaders, civilian and military alike. Indeed, Trenchard's proposals went almost uncontested: they met no principled objection among the Western Allies at the time.

So acute and general were the fears that the prospect of strategic bombing aroused at the outset of the Second World War - fears very greatly enhanced by the international left's brilliantly orchestrated condemnation of the bombing of Republican town by Franco's air force and the expeditionary squadrons of his German and Italian allies during the Spanish Civil War, of which Picasso's 'Guernica' is the key document - that paradoxically even Hitler joined in an unspoken agreement between the major combatants not to be the first to breach the moral (and self-interested) embargo against it. Hitler did not extend the embargo to exclude attacks on countries unable to retaliate - hence the bombings of Warsaw and Rotterdam - or on military targets in those that could.

Until midsummer 1940 all held each other's cities inviolate. Even at the outset of the Battle of Britain, Hitler insisted that attacks be confined to airfields and to targets that might be deemed military... as the argument for 'making the RAF fight' intensified, entailing direct attack on populated targets, Hitler looked for means to justify breaching the embargo. In his victory speech to the Reichstag on July 19 he had publicised the notion that Freiburg-in-Breisgau had already been bombed by the French or British air forces (Goebbels had inculpated both); in fact it had been mistakenly attacked on 10 May by an errant flight of the Luftwaffe. When on 24 August another vagrant Luftwaffe crew bombed East London in error, provoking a retaliatory raid next night by the RAF on Berlin, he seized the opportunity to announce that the gloves were off.

The Allied bombing campaign, though it gave a dour satisfaction to the majority of the British people in the depths of the war against Hitler, never commanded the support of the whole nation... with their backs to the wall the British people had chosen not to acknowledge that they had descended to the enemy's level. In victory they remembered that they believed in fair play. Strategic bombing, which may not even have been sound strategy, was certainly not fair play. Over its course and outcome its most consistent practitioners drew a veil.

#5 THE WAR IN THE EAST 1943-1945

About 125,000 Berliners had died in the siege of Berlin, a significant number by suicide. Yet probably tens of thousands of others died in the great migration of Germans from east to west in April 1945, when 8 million left their homes in Prussia, Pomeria and Silesia to seek refuge from the Red Army in the Anglo-American occupation zones. By one of the most bizarre lapses of security in the entire war, the demarcation line agreed between Moscow, London and Washington had become known to the Germans during 1944, and the last fight of the Wehrmacht in the west was motivated by the urge to hold open the line of retreat across the Elbe to the last possible moment. Civilians too seem to have learned where safety lay and to have pressed on ahead of the Red Army to reach it - but at terrible cost.

The uprooting of the Germans from the east comprised two phases, both tragic in their effect: the first was a panic flight from the Red Army; the second a deliberate expulsion of populations from regions of settlement where Germans had lived for generations, in some places for a thousand years. The flight of January 1945 was an episode of human suffering almost without parallel in the Second World War - outside the concentration camps. Terrified at the thought of what the Red Army would do to the first Germnans it encountered on home territory, the population of East Prussia, left home en masse and in bitter winter weather, trekked to the Baltic coastfor evacuation. The Wehrmacht put up a fight of almost demented bravery to cover the rescue of refugees.

It seems possible that a million Germans died in the flight from the east in the early months of 1945, either from exposure or mistreatment. In the winter of 1945 most of the remaining Germans of eastern Europe - who lived in Silesia, the Czech Sudetenland, Pomerania and elsewhere, numbering some 14 million altogether - were systematically collection and transported westward, largely into the British zone of occupation in Germany. Of those who failed to complete this terrible journey, it is calculated that 250,000 died in the course of the expulsion from Czechoslovakia, 1.25 million from Poland and 600,000 from elsewhere in eastern Europe. By 1946 the historic German population of Europe east of the Elbe had been reduced from 17 million to 2,600,000.


In Greece, where the Special Operations Executive set up an extensive network of agents as early as autumn 1942, the Germans responded to partisan activity with such pitiless cruelty that the British officers soon found themselves obliged actually to dissuade activists from initiating attacks against the occupiers.

There is a universal limitation on the usefulness of intelligence: the need to protect a source. It has been widely alleged, for example, that Churchill 'allowed' Coventry to be bombed in November 1940 because to have taken extraordinary defensive measures against the attack would have revealed to the Germans the 'Ultra secret'. It is now known that this interpretation is false; although Churchill did indeed have advance warning via Ultra of the Coventry raid, it was too short to enable defensive measures to be taken - which he would certainly have done, at whatever risk of compromising Ultra, had time been available. A more telling accusation is that in the weeks before Barbarossa the British did not validate their warnings to the Russians of the imminence of the German attack by revealing the authenticity of the source... in this case, as in every other where such a calculation had to be made, Churchill was unquestionably right to out the long-term security of the source above current advantage.

Despite the intrinsic and artificial limitations to the usefulness of Allied access to the enemy's secret traffic, both Ultra and the American 'Magic' organisation were undoubtedly responsible for major, even crucial, strategic success in the Second World War. The first and most important was the victory of Midway, where knowledge of Japanese intentions allowed the Americans to position their inferior fleet of carriers in such a way as to destroy the much larger enemy force.

Ultra's greatest contribution to the war in the West occured during the Battle of Normandy, when Bletchley provided Montgomery with information of day-to-day German strengths at the battlefront, of the effect of Allied air-strikes, and eventually of Hitler's order to counter-attack at Mortain against the flank of Patton's break-out into Brittany - disclosure which led to the destruction of Army Group B's armoured reserve and to the climactic encirclement of the Westheer in the Falaise pocket.


"Roosevelt was following a simple policy: all aid to Britains short of war. This policy was part of a long heritage of Anglo-American friendship; it was a practical way of blocking Hitler's aspirations in the west; But it was not a grand strategy... it did not emerge from clear-cut confrontation of political and military alternatives... above all this strategy was a negative one in that it could only achieve its full effect, that is, joint military and political action with Britain, only if the Axis took action that would force the United States into war. It was a strategy neither of war nor of peace, but a strategy to take effect only in the event of war. Roosevelt was still waiting for a major provocation from Hitler even while recognising that it might not come at all. Above all, he was trusting to luck, to his long-tested flair for timing."
        - James MacGregor Burns, biographer of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt is by far the most enigmatic of the major figures of 1939-45. Stalin, though devious, double-dealing and treacherous in his methods, steadfastly pursued a quite limited set of aims: while determined to sustain his position as head of government, party and army, whoever he had to dismiss or even kill to maintain his power, he wanted first, to save the Soviet Union from defeat, second, to expel the Wehrmacht from Soviet territory, and third, to extract the largest possible benefit - territorial, diplomatic, military and economic - from the Red Army's eventual victory. Hitler, however mysterious the workings of his psyche, also held to a clear-cut if wildly over-ambitious strategy: he wanted revenge for Versailles, then German mastery of the continent, followed by a subjugation of Russia and the eventual exlcusion of the Anglo-Saxon powers from any influence in European affairs. Churchill was transparently a patriot, a romantic and an imperialist: vistory was his first and last desire; only secondarily did he consider how victory might be gained in a way that secured British interests in Europe and the survival of the British Empire overseas. Captious and contrary though he often was, he had no capacity for sustained dissimulation, grasped eagerly at the semblance of generosity in the statements of others and was as powerfully swayed as his listeners by the force and nobility of his oratory.

Roosevelt had erected an American armed neutrality against the Axis almost from the moment of Hitler's opening of the war, selling arms to Britain and France which would certainly have been refused to Germany, then authorising unrestricted 'cash and carry' arms shipments and progressively extending American protection to Britain-bound convoys in the Atlantic. He first defined a neutrality zone which effectively denied the U-boats access to American waters, then in April 1941 extended the zone to mid-ocean line and allowed American warships to act as convoy escorts. On 11 March 1941 Congress, at his persuasion, passed the Lend-Lease Act, which effectively allowed Britain to borrow war supplies from the United States against the promise of later repayment.

When on 31 October 1941 the Germans committed the ultimate provocation by sinking the destroyer USS Reuben James in the Atlantic with the loss of 115 American lives, Roosevelt choose not to regard it as a casus belli - though it was a far more flagrant act of aggression then, for example, the 'Gulf of Tonkin' incident used by President Johnson to authorise American military intervention in Vietnam in 1964.

The most important decision taken at Yalta, agreed directly between Roosevelt and Stalin, concerned the future conduct of the war in the Pacific. Roosevelt's willingness to barter away the future of Poland and to finalise a division of Germany which accorded the Soviet Union an over-generous allocation of occupation territory was ultimately determined by his anxiety to engage the Red Army in the battle to defeat Japan. At the time of Yalta, the United States had neither yet assured itself that its nuclear research program would result in the successful test explosion of an atomic bomb nor advanced its forces to the point from which the land invasion of Japan might be undertaken.


In the two months that the US fleet stood off Okinawa the Japanese flew 1900 kamikaze missions, sinking 38 warships, mostly smaller types, and damaging dozens more. They also sacrificed the battleship Yamato, which was despatched on a suicide mission, with fuel for a one-way journey, only to be sent to the bottom off Okinawa by 300 aircraft on 7 April 1945.

Over 5000 American sailors died as a result of the Okinawa kamikaze campaign - the heaviest toll the US Navy had suffered in any episode of the war, including Pearl Harbor. Between 6 April and 10 June, besides many smaller missions the kamikaze coprs mounted ten mass attcks by 50-300 aircraft, which damaged battleships and aircraft carriers aswell as destroyers; the venerable Enterprise and the newer carriers Hancock and Bunker Hill were all kamikaze victims. American carriers, which were horizontally armoured above the engine room but below the flight deck, burnt all too easily when a kamikaze landed aboard. A principal advantage of the four British carriers of Task Force 57, which joined the American force off Okinawa in March, was that they were armoured on their flight decks as a precaution against the shellfire likely to be encountered in narrower European waters, and therefore survived kamikaze strikes without serious damage. Ultimately the kamikaze attacks could not go on, for the Japanese began to run out of both pilots and aircraft.


In February 1945 General Curtis LeMay arrived in the Marianas, which had become the main base for the Superfortresses of XXI Bomber Command, to implement new bombing techniques. Targets were to be subjected not precision high-level daylight strikes by high explosive but to low-level drenching by incendiary bombs at night.

LeMay's command soon rose in strength to 600 aircraft and brought one city after another under attack: by mid-June Japan's five other largest industrial centres had been devastated - Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama and Kawasaki - 260,000 people had been killed, 2 million buildings destroyed and between 9 and 13 million people made homeless.

The destruction continued relentlessly, at virtually no loss to the American bomber crews but at appalling cost to Japan; by July 60% of the ground area of the country's sixty largest cities and towns had been burnt out. As MacArthur and other military hardheads had argued, however, the devastation did not seem to deflect the Japanese government to continuing the war. In early April, after failing to draw China into a separate peace, Koiso had been replaced as Prime Minister by a moderate figurehead, the seventy-eight-year-old Admiral Kantaro Suzuki; Tojo, though a deposed Prime Minister, nevertheless retained a veto over cabinet decisions through his standing in the army, and he and other militarists were determined to fight it out to the end. This determination exacted sacrifices which even Hitler had not demanded of the Germans in the closing months of the war. The food ration was reduced below the 1500 calories necessary to support life, and more than a million people were set to grubbing up pine roots from which a form of aviation fuel could be distilled. On the economic front, reported a cabinet committee instructed by Suzuki to examine the situation, the steel and chemical industries were on the point of collapse, only a million tons of shipping remained afloat, insufficient to sustain movement between the home islands, and the railroad system would shortly cease to function. Still no one dared speak of peace. Tentative openings made in May through the Japanese legation in Switzerland by the American representative, Allen Dulles, were met with silence: over 400 people were arrested in Japan during 1945 on the mere suspicion of favoring negotiations.

In midsummer the American government began both to lose patience at Japan's intransigence and to yield to the temptation to end the war in a unique, spectacular, and incontestably decisive way. They were aware through Magic intercepts that the Suzuki government, like Koiso's before it, was pursuing backdoor negotiations with the Russians, whom it hoped would act as mediators; they were also aware that a principal sticking-point in Japan's attitude to ending the war was the "unconditional surrender" pronouncement of 1943, which all loyal Japanese recognized as a threat to the imperial system. However, since the Russians mediated in no way at all, and since the Potsdam conference following the surrender of Germany indicated that uncinditional surrender need not extend to the emperor's deposition, America's willingness to wait attenuated during the summer. On 26 July the Potsdam Proclamation was broadcast to Japan, threatening "the utter destruction of the Japanese homeland" unless the imperial government offered its unconditional surrender. Since 16 July President Truman had known that "utter destruction" lay within the United States's power, for on that day the first atomic weapon had been successfully detonated at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert. On 21 July, while the Potsdam meeting was in progress, he and Churchill agreed in principle that it should be used. On 25 July he informed Stalin that America had "a new weapon of unusually destructive force". Next day the order was issued to General Karl Spaatz, the commander of the Strategic Air Forces, to "deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki". The attempt to bring the Second World War to an end by the use of a revolutionary super-weapon had been decided.

Germany too had its atomic weapons programme. It was the crowning mercy of the Seconf World War that it came to nothing. For a complex of reasons, which included Nazi Germany's self-deprivation of significant scientific talent by its persecution of the Jews, but also the inefficient multiplication of research programs by as many as a dozen agencies which all hoped to win the Fuhrer's favour by brining him news of the successful development of the super-weapon. The Germans were years from manufacturing an atomic bomb at the time when the Allied weapons program was already close to fulfilment.


The war was over, but the return of peace to the peoples who had fought it would prove patchy and erratic. In some places the war had touched - Greece, Palestine, Indoneisa, Indo-China, China itself - peace was scarcely to return at all.

The legacy of the First World War was to persuade the victors, though not the vanquished, that the costs of war exceeded its rewards. The legacy of the Second World War, it may be argued, was to convince victors and vanquished alike of the same thing.

No statesman of the Second World War was foolish enough to claim, as those of the First had done, that it was being fought as 'a war to end all wars'. That, nevertheless, may have been its abiding effect.


>> Extract from John Keegan's entry in "The Battle for History: Refighting World War Two" :-

The role of leadership in the Second World War invests biography with particular importance. There is a wealth of biographical, and autobiographical, material. Churchill and de Gaulle, indeed, both completed accounts of their war experience which succeed as both history and memoir. The most valuable of books in this category, however, in my view, is one that has been called "the autobiography Hitler did not write" - David Irving's Hitler's War. Irving is a controversial figure, an Englishman who has identified with the German war experience to a remarkable degree, who has offered a cash award to anyone producing written evidence of Hitler's authorisation of the "Final Solution," and who currently champions extreme right-wing politics in Europe. Nevertheless, he is a historian of formidable powers, having worked in all the major German archives, discovered important deposits of papers himself, and interviewed many of the survivors of their families and intimates.

Hitler's War is unique in that it recounts the war exclusively from the German side, and through the day-by-day thinking and doings of Adolf Hitler. For Irving, Hitler is not a monster but the rational war leader of a great power, seeking to guide it to victory over other great powers whose policies are as self-interested as Germany's. He is nonetheless, a lonelier figure than Churchill or Roosevelt, and bears psychological burdens they did not. At least twice, during the Dunkirk campaign of 1940 and after the failure of the Stalingrad offensive in 1942 43, he experienced something akin to a nervous breakdown, short-lived in 1940 but prolonged in 1943. His loss of self-confidence after Stalingrad devolved power onto his subordinates, notably Zeitzler, his army chief of staff, and thereby drew Germany into the unwise Kursk offensive, which lost the Wehrmacht its tank reserve and so consigned it thereafter to fighting on the defensive. The picture Irving presents of Hitler is of a struggler amid great events, brilliantly successful at first, progressively borne down by circumstance as the odds lengthen against him, but resilient to the very end. If she accuses him of a single mistake, it is that of declaring war against the United States in the week of Pearl Harbor, a step nothing in the Tripartite Pact obliged him to do and against which Ribbentrop his foreign minister, argued in vain. Yet, Irving's Hitler is throughout a man knows better what is good for Germany than do any of his helpmates or subordinates, who has recurrent flashes of military genius, who sacrifices his physical health to his cause, who eschews any personal friendship except that with an idealised German people itself. Among his co-operators, only Goebbels, his minister of propaganda, approaches him in vision and competence. The rest, even Himmler, self-proclaimed truest of the true, ultimately think of themselves. It is they who are responsible for the crassest error - the policy of genocide foremost - and who betray both the leader and their country.

No historian of the Second World War can afford to ignore Irving. His depiction of Hitler, by its relation of the war's development to the decisions and responses of Führer headquarters, is a key corrective to the Anglo-Saxon version, which relates the war's history solely in terms of Churchillian defiance and of the Grand Alliance. Nevertheless, it is a flawed vision, for it is untouched by moral judgement. For Irving, the Second World War was a war like other wars - a naked struggle for national self-interest - and Hitler, one war leader among others. Yet, the Second World War must engage our moral sense. Its destructiveness, its disruption of legal and social order, were on a scale so disordinate that it cannot be viewed as a war among other wars; its opposition of ideologies, democratic versus totalitarian, none the less stark because democracy perforce allied itself with one form of totalitarianism in the struggle against another, invariably invests the war with moral content; above all, Hitler's institution of genocide demands a moral commitment.

>> Extract from VE Day (2005) article "Victory at All Costs" in Britain's Daily Telegraph :-

The terms, long made public, were unconditional surrender. Indeed, the German state thenceforth ceased to exist, political power passing to the American, British, French and Russian forces occupying the four sectors into which Germany was divided. Not only was political power extinguished, so too were many legal rights, among them the Geneva Convention as it applied to the German armed forces.
Fearing their inability to feed their prisoners as the convention stipulated, the British and Americans had already decided to designate them not "prisoners of war" but as "surrendered enemy personnel". The change of rules applied to prisoners of war as faraway as the United States; on May 9, they suddenly found themselves deprived of the rights and privileges they had previously enjoyed. The vast majority of prisoners in the West were in British and American hands, since in the last days of the war, it had become a principal aim of German commanders to surrender their soldiers in what was known would be the British and American zones, not the Russian. That was a wise decision. The Russians, like the Germans, had never observed the Geneva Convention in their theatre and were to keep their German captives in Russia for years after the war. Many did not return home until 10 years after VE Day.

>> Extracted from an article in Britain's Daily Telegraph :-

Remembering Dresden forces one to recognise that there is nothing nice or admirable about any war, and that victory, even a victory as desirable as that over Nazi Germany, is purchased at the cost of terrible human suffering, the suffering of the completely innocent as well as of their elders and their parents in arms. It is right to remember Dresden, but chiefly as a warning against repetition of the mass warfare that tortured Europe in the 20th century.

>> Extracted from a 2002 article in Britain's Daily Telegraph :-

A gruesome catchphrase circulated in Hitler's Germany in his last year: "Enjoy the war, the peace will be terrible." So it proved to be, for Germany. The country was occupied and divided, its sovereignty extinguished, millions of its population displaced. For the victor states, however, the peace brought a blessed stability. We called it the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union ruled over worldwide spheres of influence within which the old inter-state and ethnic enmities were squashed. Conflict was forbidden and such international wars as occurred - in Vietnam, for example - were strictly limited by great power agreement, overt or tacit. Above all, access to nuclear weapons was monopolised by the super powers, who agreed that only they and their most trusted allies should be allowed nuclear power.
The end of the Cold War brought that happy state of affairs to an end. The consequences of the Cold War's end were long foreseen. There was widespread agreement about what consequences would ensue, particularly a return to instability. There was no agreement about what form that instability would take.
The American political scientist Samuel Huntington, in a now famous essay, predicted a "clash of civilisations", particularly between the Islamic and Christian world. There is clear evidence that he was partly right. But there was an alternative prognosis: that the collapse of the two great superpower blocks, to which states had to belong like it or not according to their geographic location, would result in the reawakening of local hostilities which predated not only the Cold War but the era of European imperialism.
So it has come about. Before 1989, it was in the interest of the new post-imperial states to obey one master or the other, American or Soviet, because the two superpowers effectively agreed to accept each other's control over their unofficial empires. There were exceptions to the principle but they were few. The superpowers supported each other.
With only one superpower left, the mechanism of worldwide control has broken down and old regional mini-powers are flexing their muscles once again...
There is this difference, however, between superpowers and regional mini-powers. Both superpowers, in their different ways, attempted to serve the cause of order and stability in their spheres of influence. The regional mini-powers, by contrast, are driven simply by the idea of ethnic superiority and the ambition of their leaders.
Saddam, Gadaffi, North Korea's leader and the Iranian Ayatollahs are worse than ideologues. They are power-crazed aggressors, who seek to dominate simply for the pleasure of exercising force as a means to satisfy their local ambitions and lust for wider power. None offers anything to the wider world. Their motives are hate, greed and the urge to dominate. In the physics of nuclear power, the chemistry of lethal gases and the biology of anthrax and its like, they have perceived the means to reassert the importance of their tiny countries, once great, now globally diminished, against that of the modern world.
Of course the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom have cause to be worried. Of course they are right to be concerned that, unless the rogue states are checked while there is time, civilisation will pay a terrible price. Kind, well-meaning people in the advanced states, who shrink from thinking ill of anyone, are naturally repelled by the idea of taking pre-emptive action. No doubt the inhabitants of the Christian lands said as much to each other before the eruption of Genghis Khan. They paid the price, which took centuries to recoup. Genghis Khan merely killed. Nuclear weapons lay waste, permanent waste. We have been warned.


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