- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 17, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 039331619X
- ISBN-13: 978-0393316193
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 101 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why the Allies Won Reprint Edition
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Having won an unprecedented series of victories and acquired huge new territories in 1942, Germany and Japan seemed poised to dominate most of the world. A year later both empires were reeling back in the face of Allied assaults. The rapid turnaround, King's College history professor Richard Overy writes, came about largely as a result of technological innovation and structural responsiveness. The Allies were able to convert their economies to a war footing with few institutional fetters, while the Axis powers imposed layers of bureaucracy that often competed internally. In fact, Overy writes, at one point during the war, the Luftwaffe had more than 425 different aircraft models in production, the result of different state agencies' and manufacturers' vying to push their models into the order of battle. The defeated Axis powers' conversion to their foes' economic model enabled them, according to Overy, to become technological leaders in the postwar years. His study is full of detail, and it makes for very good reading.
“A clear-sighted, interesting explanation of the reasons for the victory.”
- New York Times
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Broken codes were pivotal in every theatre of action. A chapter on the breaking of the Japanese naval codes, who did it and how, would have greatly enhanced the run up to the Battle of Midway, where "within ten minutes the heart of the Japanese navy's strike force was destroyed by a mere ten bombs ..." The Pacific strategic balance was forever shifted thanks to those broken codes.
Similarly, the brilliant path to the stealing of Germany's Ultra machines (the Polish) and subsequent hacking (the British) was epic in turning all the European campaigns in favor of the Allies. Eisenhower read Ultra daily to guide his insights. Montgomery used Ultra to win at El Alamein. Patton used Ultra constantly. Stalin, via an embedded spy at Bletchley Park, used Ultra at Stalingrad and Kursk.
Certainly, the technological tweaks in tanks, aircraft, millimeter radar, etc were important. Overy managed to discuss them. But what was both strategically and tactically pivotal in the Allied victory was near real time warnings as to Nazi dispositions, thinking, and battle plans.
Lastly, he fails to note the role of Soviet spies within the Roosevelt administration. The US Venona project broke Soviet codes, revealing their spy network. Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s closest advisor, was lauded as “the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the US” by their top spy. Harry Dexter White spies for the Soviets as did Alger Hiss and the infamous nuclear bomb stealing Rosenberg couple. The Soviet spying was vast, vigorous, and provided strategic alerts about US military initiatives. And in one case the deadly proximity fuse we invented was stolen and sent to the Soviets. Bad omission on the author’s part.
In a world that seems starving for silver bullet, quick answers to problems Richard Overy's in depth analysis instead paradoxically delivers believability in equal proportion with a lack of any clarifying simplicity. He divides his book into two general sections, the first half on the most decisive battles of the war, and the second half exploring the underlying factors that translated into fighting ability for all the major combatants.
The battles include the fight for control of the seas, which includes both Midway in the Pacific and the U-boat war in the Atlantic, the related battles of Kursk and Stalingrad, the bomber war in the skies over Germany, and the D-Day invasion of France. All of these battles were neccessary taken together in turning the tide from initial Axis victories to eventual Allied success. The amazing thing that Overy points out is how bitterly fought, closely contested, and just how razor thin the margins of victory were for the allied forces in each of these clashes. The Atlantic war was won only when a handful of long range patrol bombers that could close the Atlantic Gap became operational, and only then could supplies reach Britain to start the offensive in the West. Midway was won with just ten bombs out of hundreds dropped actually hitting their targets. The mere addition of drop tanks to allied fighters finally allowed them to fight and eliminate the Luftwaffe, and allowed the huge Allied bombing effort to finally work as envisaged. The drawdown of Luftwaffe power from the East to fight the bombers, and the miraculous regeneration of the Red Army contributed decisively to Stalingrad and Kursk. What he makes clear in this section is that World War II was not just a competition of steel production or factory line efficiency between the powers writ large on a Titanic scale, but a brutal, bloody slugging match, with small operational details well within the abilities of any of the combatants forging the difference between victory and defeat in the field.
The second half of the book is dedicated to the behind the front line factors that contribute to wars, including economic strength, technological prowess, national leadership ability and coalition unity, and morality and the will to fight. This was some of the best investigating in the book, with vivid and revealing comparisons between the Axis and Allies. Although the operational battles were where the actual victory of the war was secured, these behind the scene factors were what stacked the deck in favor of the Allies. Overy shows convincingly that based on the ability to field and fight large militaries WWII was mostly between Germany on one side, and The Soviet Union and the United States on the other. The extreme inferiority of Japanese and Italian industry made them actors playing in the wake of German fortunes only, and while Britain's contributions were more significant than the Japanese or Italians they too paled relative to the three prime players.
There are many striking themes in this second section. The failure of Nazi Germany in turning its vast technological and economic potential, -and the resources of its conquered territories- into an efficient military-industrial complex. The centralized use of terror, hatred, and superhuman effort that saved Soviet Industry from the Nazi onslaught, and then rebuilt it greater than before, contrasted to the capitalist, incentive based American industrial economy that sought companies to volunteer to mass manufacture what they thought they best could. The operational flexibility of the Allied forces wrought from disastrous early forays in battle, versus the ossified operational rigidity of the Axis stemming from too much early success. The central role that will and morality played in the ultimate defeat of the Axis. The ability of Allied nations as ideologically and culturally opposite to each other as the Soviet Union and US/UK to combine in the face of a common enemy, where Italy was mostly a diversionary drain on German power and cooperation with Japan was effectively non-existent.
Richard Overy makes some amazing conclusions. WWII's largest theater by far was between the Soviets and the Germans, with the blood of 20 million Soviets ultimately paying the price for destruction of the Nazis, and the contributions of the US and other allies, while key, were small in comparison. WWII merely saved democracy, but it made the world safe for communism instead as where the bulk of the fighting took place (i.e. Eastern Europe and China) became communist at the end of the war. The degree to which post war liberal western power and comfort were the result of Soviet brutality, depredation and death on an untold scale is unsettling to say the least.
So why did the Allies win? You'll have to -and definitely should- read the book to get the full answer, but the short answer is that miraculously every element of the allied war effort worked better than the axis effort. Without this the unconditional surrender of the fascist states could never have been brought about. His last chapter, with great insights on the centrality of will and morality on the outcome of the war, is one of the best pieces of war writing I have ever read and has the most import for our current war. It makes for a fitting capstone to a great book.
Perhaps the most striking fact of the whole book is how much Allied victory was not pre-ordained by national factors such as manpower and industrial might. No less a figure than Wintson Churchill himself attributed Allied victory to providence alone.
- Hitler's one man show at the helm of the German Armed Forces proved to be disastrous. His approach was amateurish and he was just not competent enough for the momentous task at hand.
- The German Armed Forces fastidious insistence on weapons that were finished with a high grade of precision impeded the mass production of standardized weapons that could match the weapon's output of the Allies.
- Japan's industrial production and supply system could not match America's.
- The Axis powers lacked sufficient oil and its derivates.
- Allied Armed Forces were able to learn from their mistakes and made the necessary adjustments to match the Axis powers' proficiency at the art of war, conversely, Germany's and Japan's Armed Forces did not improve their performance apreciably after their initial successes.
- The Allies had the "moral high ground" which spurred them on to victory.
- The Allies were successful at curbing the effectiveness of the German U-boats.
- The Allies were able to wear down the Luftwaffe and thus achieve air superiority.
- The Allies were able to keep the Germans guessing where the invasion force would land on continental Europe.
- The Germans never mechanized their supply lines and their troop transport the way the Allies did.
Mr. Overy is a word-Meister; he writes with clarity and elegance. It was a pleasure to read this book.