Saturday, August 08, 2009


Military history

THE STORM OF WAR. (Blackwell, UK)

‘The second world war lasted for 2,174 days, cost $1.5 trillion and claimed the lives of over 50 million people. That represents 23,000 lives lost every day, or more than six people killed every minute, for six long years.’ This neat summary is characteristic of the way Andrew Roberts uses statistics to bring home to the reader the enormity, the waste and the horror of that terrible conflict. The book is long, but it is tightly written, every page packed with terse comment, well-organised facts and, often, telling details.

It has a thesis: Hitler lost the war essentially because he was a Nazi, and allowed his race theories and ideological cruelty to get in the way of rational decision-taking. It is not true, Roberts says, that German atrocities began only in the closing stages of the war. On 27 May 1940, 97 British prisoners of war of the Royal Norfolks were massacred in cold blood by the SS, and the following day 90 POWs of the Warwickshire were slaughtered by grenades and rifles, the killers being from the Adolf Hitler Regiment. At the same time Hitler was allowing his political views to prevent the annihilation of the British Expeditionary Force. We originally calculated that the Dunkirk operation could save at most 45,000 troops. Thanks largely to Hitler’s interference, between dawn on Sunday 26 May and 03.30 on Tuesday 4 June 1940, 338,226 Allied soldiers were rescued, the largest military evacuation in history.

At the beginning of 1941, Hitler was master of Europe. By the end of the war he was doomed. He and his ideology were entirely responsible for his two greatest mistakes: to invade Russia, and to declare war on America. In both cases he hugely underestimated the power of the states he voluntarily made his mortal enemies. Russia seemed an easy target. The Germans destroyed 1,200 Soviet war-planes on the ground during the first morning of their invasion. They killed 27 million Russians, and took 5.7 prisoners, 3.3 million of whom (58 per cent) died in captivity. But the Russians kept on coming, and soon their production of tanks outstripped Germany’s. In the two-month battle of Kursk in 1943, the biggest and largest tank battle in history, the Germans lost 500,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 1,000 guns, 5,000 motor vehicles and 1,400 aircraft. The Russian losses were 50 per cent heavier, but could be absorbed, and the Germans lost the battle.
-- Andrew Roberts.

No comments: