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on March 28, 2013
While Professor Kennedy professes to focus on the men–in-the-middle and engineering, too much actually focuses on the strategy, his true love. I also think his British heritage shows through many times even though he completely ignores Englishman Frank Whittle, inventor of the Allie's jet engine. While Hobart's flail tank was important, the USA sergeant who created the rhino tank won the day in terms of cutting through the bogage and getting the invading armies off the beach. Once off the beach, the Red Ball Express and their Duce-and-a-Half trucks did noble service thanks, in part, to the black drivers who receive no mention. The USA's ability to repair these trucks and have tank retrievers and repair depots is one thing that separated our mechanized forces from the Germans who could not repair their disabled tanks and used horses to an unappreciated extent. The flame-thrower tank really was the most effective weapon for winkling out the Japanese in the Pacific, and he completely neglects Harvard's role in inventing napalm both for the flamethrower devices and the instruments of Japan's "rain of ruin" from the B-29s. Generally, Harvard has chosen NOT to highlight its contributions in this matter. Kennedy might have mentioned how Churchill had a blind spot in the matter of "The Prof" {Lindeman} who took the English down a number of technical blind alleys. For instance, Englishman Bernard Lovell developed the H2S radar for target location and, at last, precision night bombing—after having to beat back Lindeman's quack science and going directly to Churchill to get a commitment to its rapid development in quantity. This radar was the first which gave accurate radar scope images of the ground and thus allowed for accurate bombing late in the war for all-weather and night situations. R.V. Jones is another example and he had the fortitude to attend cabinet meetings and confront Lindeman during the "battle of the beams" phase of The Blitz. Churchill was foolishly loyal to Lindeman but enjoyed seeing his discomfort and sided with the young upstarts from academe. The British gave such characters the nickname: boffins.

This book is really for the initiated. He covers significant items in a throwaway sentence or two which may be enough for the cognoscenti but will hardly due for substance. He actually gives a fair amount of space to the torpedo problem but fails to mention the advent of Western Electric's electric torpedo and the willingness of submarine commanders to ignore torpedo orders which came from the Freemantle command {headed by the stubborn Admiral Christie who earlier commanded the Newport Station which developed the duds.} He never mentions Vice Admiral Lockwood's stunning feat of sending the USN submarines on 10,000-mile patrols. Who developed their diesel engines and who designed those boats with a Japanese war in mind {and therefore with air conditioning and powerful engines and room for an appropriate-size crew}? The submarine service's reputation for its good chow was done on the back of their refrigeration units.

There is only a one-phrase mention of George Marshall's weeding out the Army's incompetent leaders, but Lockwood did it on a mass scale with the early submarine commanders he inherited. In only one sentence does he mention that the submarine forces destroyed the Japanese economy by depriving it of needed materiel. I think he does acknowledge that the Allies did to Japan what the Nazi's failed to do to the Allies in regard to submarine warfare. If ever there was a man-from-the-middle-ranks it was Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort who convinced Nimitz that Midway was the target he should set up for his ambush. Even though he was berthed in Pearl Harbor, Rochefort only met face-to-face twice with Nimitz to preserve his objectivity. He worked almost entirely through his agents on Nimitz's staff. The second meeting Nimitz had with Rochefort was to interrogate him on why he thought {despite Washington's constant carping} that Midway was the goal.

MIT's radiation lab is, again, a toss away item. How did the Tizard mission come into being and which brought the cavity magnetron to the U.S.? Why was ULTRA held back until much later? Alfred Loomis's role in organizing the radar effort is a great example of Kennedy's point about the spirit of innovation. Loomis may have been a rich snob {Tuxedo Park was his development}, but he was tremendously effective in organizing the development of US radar and then selling it to Henry Stimson. He even managed to develop Loran which became a key Allied navigational aide which has been superseded only recently. One of its towers still stands on Nantucket. Surely the men-in-the-middle engineers did wonders in jump starting the U.S. aircraft industry and tank arsenals on an enormous scale in an amazingly-short time. This was both a design coup and a production feat. If ever there was an engineering project it was the Manhattan Project, but like the other items just mentioned: No or little mention. How the USA managed to organize war production and herd U.S. businessmen into cooperation would seem to be major grist for his mill, especially given the author’s introduction.

One meaty and additional chapter could have done justice to almost all these quibbles. I think a somewhat labored read could have been turned into a thrilling reading experience if Kennedy had taken the time to do an additional chapter and mine the gold that the reader deserves. I believe Kennedy appears to lack the background and appreciation for such a chapter and, perhaps, a co-author would have furthered his cause immensely.
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on August 16, 2014
The focus of this book is supposed to be how mid-level staff and engineers developed solutions to the sticky, real-world problems that made it possible for the grand strategies of World War II to be accomplished. As an engineer myself I thought this would be a fascinating read.

I am 3/4 of the way through the book, and I have to say I am disappointed. Although Kennedy states that the whole business of grand strategy has been exhaustively covered in other works, and will only be glossed over here, I nonetheless find that the bulk of his narrative concentrates on the grand and serves only dribbles of the small but consequential innovations that made victory possible.

If you already know how the P-51 Mustang turned the daylight bombing of Germany from a suicide mission to an invaluable tool against Nazi military power, you aren't going to learn much more here. If you know about 'Enigma' and the 'air gap' in anti-submarine warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic, you already have the central points in hand.

In all, the book is still a fascinating read, but I don't feel it delivers what was promised. Perhaps if it had been written BY an engineer it could have gotten much deeper into its subject.


I have finished the book. The end of the book deals with what actually won the war, and whether the Allied victory was inevitable. There are two factors, in my view, that Kennedy gives scant attention to.

The first, that the Allied forces had an insuperable advantage in having the vast resources and industrial power of the United States and Canada located beyond the reach of the Axis powers. All Axis attempts to attack North American industry were farcical. The only effective counter was the use of German submarines to attack Allied shipping in the Atlantic. That worked well early on, but eventually American productive power provided the tools (primarily aircraft and escort carriers) to overwhelm the submarine threat. (Kennedy points out that the Japanese never made a coherent effort to attack American shipping with submarines. Apparently this is widely recognized as a incomprehensible blunder by the Japanese military.) Regardless, while North America remained safe from Axis attack the enemy was at an immense and increasing disadvantage.

The second, that the Axis powers had institutionalized arrogance. It was an article of faith both in Germany and Japan that they were fighting stupid, cowardly and degenerate peoples who were destined to be ruled and eventually replaced by their 'Master Race'. Rather than devise limited and cautious campaigns of expansion and aggression they took on all of the most powerful countries in the world, almost simultaneously. What might have been possible in 10 or 20 years of deliberate military actions became impossible in the face of near universal, maximal opposition. Time and again the Axis leaders, especially Hitler, took mad risks in the belief that they were unstoppable. Audacity can often carry the day, but in the long run it proved a suicidal strategy.

A final factor that Kennedy ignores is that all such advantages and disadvantages become minor in the face of nuclear weapons. Had the Nazi nuclear program succeeded in producing a weapon before the United States nothing the Allies could have done would have achieved victory. But here again the arrogance of fascists worked against them. Einstein and many other physicists felt threatened enough to abandon Germany for sanctuary in the United States. That transfer of talent and genius tilted the advantage in the nuclear race from Germany to the United States. Winning that race would have given the Allies victory no matter how brilliantly the Axis conducted their conventional campaigns.
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on November 14, 2015
This author has a clear disdain for "Yanks." For all intents and purposes of this book, the US Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, Marines & Coast Guard were all minor bit player all under superior British command. Mr. Kennedy does not even mention a gentleman named Eisenhower, who, if memory serves, had some small part in the ETO until after page 250. Now this is a book about engineers and the Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower, was not an engineer. But the author does not hold back on how handily the British generals that he fawns over uses their engineers. It is as if the US had not one thing to contribute to the war effort. This is a very jaded view of how the raw power of GM, Dodge and Mr. Higgins-he of the Higgins Boats that landed the invasion forces on D-day had no real effect on the outcome. No mention of all the air craft from Mitchell, for one, that came off the lines by the thousands in this book. How do these not figure in any "Engineers of Victory" I will never know. This gent really doesn't like Americans.
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on May 10, 2013
This is a very good book, but not the book the title suggests. The title suggests that the book focusses on the engineering achievements that contributed to winning WWII, whereas in fact, the book is actually a history of the strategies that won the war. Whoever created the title deserves a dope-slap. "Engineering" has two meanings, (a) the most common meaning: the development of a device, like engineering a new machine gun; and (b) the less common meaning: a means to achieve an objective, like engineering a way to get Johnnie accepted into the college of his choice. Both meanings of the word contributed mightily to success in WWII, but the book only deals with the "scheme" meaning of the word (it mentions the tremendous contributions of new equipment developed during the war, but does not go into the engineering details thereof; rather, equipment developments are discussed as how they contributed to strategies). Therefore, use of the "engineering" in the title is extremely misleading.
That said, the book is highly informative, presenting the comprehensive history of the war at the most macroscopic level. (I accept other reviewer's criticisms that some of the facts are wrong, but in my opinion this detracts very little from the value of the book. It would take a huge amount of fact checking to determine how pervasive the errors are, but from my knowledge of the history of the war, the book is probably mostly correct.) The book is written clearly, and discusses not only American strategies, but also British, German, Japanese, Russian, Italian and other countries' strategies as well. The book truly presents the Big Picture, in contrast with most other books that have narrower purviews.
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Having read a great many books of the role of technology in the Second World War I looked forward to reading this book, thinking it would add detail to that covered by excellent books like R. V. Jones' "The Wizard War," in which he described projects he worked on during the war under the auspices of the Tizard Committee, or Robert Burden's history of radar, "The Invention That Changed the World." But despite the subtitle of this book, "The problem solver who turned the tide in the Second World War," there is little or nothing on the men and women who were responsible for the great technological inventions like radar, radio navigation, landing craft and so on. In fact, much of the narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with engineering and technology, and is instead about how various political, tactical, and strategic decisions affected the outcome of the war.

Where Kennedy does get into the details of the machinery of war or its creators he gets much of it wrong, like referring to legendary Supermarine Spitfire designer R. J. Mitchell as "J. R. Mitchell." It's hard to imagine how a mistake like this made it into print. In the section on the battle for the Atlantic, he states that antisubmarine rockets SQUID and LIMBO could actively search for their targets, which is not true (they were time fused) and that SQUID is still used "in vastly improved form in today's navies" which is certainly not true as SQUID was replaced by the active seeking Mk44 torpedo twenty years ago.

Kennedy also suggests that the Rolls Royce Merlin engine was a copy of the Curtis D-12 (which he calls the Curtis V-12) and that Rolls Royce imported the engines to copy them. Actually the engines were imported by Fairey, later well known as the builders of the Swordfish Biplane. Regardless, the Merlin is not a copy of the D-12 but rather a much more advanced engine that was in part influenced by the D-12, as were many other European aircraft engines. He then tells a story of how an RAF test pilot suggested that the P-51 would be improved by the substitution of a Merlin engine, after which clever RAF mechanics slipped one in, the engine compartment of the P-51 coincidentally being just the right size for the Merlin. But as Peter Pugh's history of the company, "Rolls Royce: The Magic of a Name" points out, there's a good reason the Merln fit in the P-51. The Ircraft had already been tested with both the Packard and Merlin engines at Wright Field, long before any aircraft reached England. The US Army initially chose the Packard in order to simplify the supply chain but quickly came around to the choice of the supercharged Merlin once the RAF showed its superiority.

In his chapter on amphibious assault, Kennedy states that the "Cockleshell Heroes" arrived at Gironde in midget submarines. What he's referring to is Operation Frankton,in which commandos were delivered offshore via submarine (not a midget submarines) and paddled folding canoes (nicknamed "cockles") into the Gironde estuary. "Cockleshell Heroes" was the name of a movie about this raid. When he finally gets around to discussing technology, Kennedy does manage to devote a few paragraphs to the specialized mine clearing and bridging tanks known as "Hobart's funnies" but never touches on the most important technological innovation of the invasions, the specialized landing craft used to deliver men and machinery to the beaches. Whole volumes have been written about the role played by these craft but they seem to have escaped the author's notice. (The Higgins boat get a one sentence reference in a later chapter.) Neither is their any mention of PLUTO, the cross-channel pipeline developed to supply the invading force with fuel. Kennedy does mention the Mullberries, the artificial harbors towed across the channel, but than says they were erected by Seabees, which is incorrect, as others note.

A great many critically important scientific and engineering advances never get mentioned at all. Kennedy credits allied success in the Battle of the Phillipine Sea (aka the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) to US aircraft superiority, but an even more important factor was the combination of radar guided antiaircraft guns firing shells equipped with radar proximity fuzes that protected the Allied ships and allowed for unprecedented success in shooting down attacking aircraft. Those same proximity fuzes were a massive force multiplier in the European theater, making US artillery far more effective than German artillery, which was impact fused, but no mention is made of this, either.

There is much in the book that is both accurate and interesting, but unfortunately ths is outweighed by the scores of historic and technological errors and omissions that abound. Add to that the fact that it doesn't actually live up to its title and discuss the technology that contributed to victory or those engineers behind the technology, and I cannot by any means recommend this book. Instead, I recommend that readers interested in the technological history of WWII start with the two books I referenced in the first paragraph, Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and go on from there.
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on March 31, 2013
Paul Kennedy is to be commended for taking a fresh and broader look at just how the Allies won the Second World War, conceptualizing the path to victory as how five strategic and logistic needs were satisfied: How to supply Britain across the Atlantic, how to achieve air superiority over western Europe, how to counter combined-arms tactics, how to conduct large-scale amphibious assaults, and how conduct operations at very long distances. (This is my phrasing, not Kennedy's.) His reconsideration of the conventional history of WW2 does not require any original research and there is little evidence of any in the book. Unfortunately, neither does Kennedy present evidence for (or even convincingly argue for) any explanation of how all these things were done. In the end, the book is all assertion, no proof. Anyone with a middling familiarity with the history of WW2 will find little of interest here.

(The text is also studded with little attention-getters - the chief of the American Volunteer Group in China was not `Claude' Chennault, for instance - that bring reading to a halt. I expect better of a Yale historian.)
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on October 9, 2016
Mediocre. Nothing new. Much from Wikipedia. Try that on your term paper. Author was a ghost writer for Liddell Hart and produces a similar mediocre product in the same manner. A survey of literature. Emphasis on UK. Can you believe a 26 page introduction? Explains his definition of engineer. Applies only to the Brits who pushed the P51 Mustang with RR Merlin engine. I agree with that one. No discussion of fight for Normandy and result. Holocaust's effect? Too many errors. I am not a professional so I am not inclined to verify factual errors. Even the name of a referenced author was misspelled. Can't believe Yale would claim this guy.
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on May 16, 2016
I was disappointed with this book. The title implies that the textt would focus on some of the great 'engineers' of the war and I expected an analysis of the contributions of such men as Kelly Johnson, Barnes Wallis, R.J. Mitchell and Henry Kaiser. Instead, the author uses the definition of the verb 'engineer' (to accomplish or to design or build) to launch into a more general discussion of the allied efforts to win the war through saturation bombing, anti-submarine warfare, etc. These subjects have been exhaustively treated in many earlier analyses of the war and 'Engineers of Victory' adds little new scholarship to the discussion. At the very least the book should be retitled 'Engineering Victory'. Caveat Emptor.
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on March 20, 2013
Not being an expert on the Second World War beyond the collection of more or less popular histories, novels, literature on mass murder in Europe and China, some biographies and first-hand reports, I have nonetheless wanted to see more meat on the bones in terms of enabling technologies, logistics, command structures and the like.

What was the importance of railroads, university departments, slave labor, and economic structures? So now I am starting to dig into Tooze, craving more volumes like Gerwarth's superb Heydrich biography which probe horrific organizational issues, and Snyder's Bloodlands. This all said, what I want to know in a time when it take years for Americans to design and produce protective gear for soldiers fighting in Iraq, is how the hell did the Germans, British, Soviets and Americans crank out the ships, tanks,and planes they did in just a little over the time it takes to put a kid though college and maybe a year of grad school. Or in my town, get new traffic lights.

As far as I'm concerned this book takes a good step or two in combining invention, engineering, brute force and command capabilities to take us a layer below the usual attention to purely military issues. In this regard there is a lot to ponder here, we meet some fascinating characters, and one can see the opening up of new lines of inquiry.

This all said, and I will be brief. What I think this book needed was better context setting. Not military context setting and accuracy (per some reviewers here), but more attention to the structures of invention and engineering -- universities, civilian and military research institutes. And not just on the Allied side. I came away with a good sense of why, in strategic terms, Japan made critically deficient decisions (e.g., heavy focus on land armies) that left it vulnerable to American production and command decisions. But what I don't know is much of anything about Japanese inventiveness, production, and how they fit into a losing strategy. I crave to understand the Russian logistical system...moving those plants, developing their own capacities and, more importantly, where all this came from, Stalin's terror notwithstanding. I can't recall a single instance in which he delves into the growing economic weakness of Germany (which began before the war started) and the role of slave labor in freeing up resources to both fight and think. We know about the fading strategic wisdom of Hitler and growing one of Stalin, but I would sure like to know more of what was going on just below that surface.

We get a stimulating new way of looking at critical factors in key battles, and problems identified and solved, but there are times when Kennedy is more concerned with filling out his hypothesis than really setting the stage. This said, its quite an interesting read and can only lead to probably more questions than can be asked in just a few hundred pages.
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on February 4, 2017
This book is interesting, but as some of the other reviewers have mentioned there are some errors. I wouldn't have titled it "Engineers of Victory" though. The author mentions some technology that was developed during WW11, but doesn't go into much detail. He basically says things like, "The British decided to put a Rolls Royce engine in the body of a P51 mustang because they thought it was a good idea." As an engineer I am not getting what I wanted in a book titled "Engineers of Victory." I did learn a little about the war though.
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