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August 24, 2006

German Scholars on World War II: Germany and the Second World War, vol. VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943-1945 - Horst Boog, Gerhard Krebs and Detlef Vogel

Posted by Jeremy Black

Germany and the Second World War, vol. VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943-1945
by Horst Boog, Gerhard Krebs and Detlef Vogel
Pp. xxvi+892 Oxford University Press, 2006
Hardback, 135

The seventh in the impressive ten-volume series published by the German Research Institute for Military History, this volume has three sections: the longest, just over half the book, on "The strategic Air War in Europe and Air Defence of the Reich, 1943-1944", by Boog; the second, on preparations for Overlord, the invasion and the conflict in the West until the end of the Battle of the Bulge, by Vogel; and the third, and shortest, on the war in the Pacific 1943-5, by Krebs.

As a history of World War Two, this is totally unsatisfactory with, for example, far too little on the Burma campaign and a scandalous failure to give due attention to the war in China. As a treatment of Germany and the Second World War, the relative distribution is more explicable, although one wonders, from that perspective, why it is necessary to devote space to the operational history of the War in the Pacific.

Boog shows how Luftwaffe planning became increasingly grandiose and divorced from reality as the war progressed, with wishful thinking replacing sober calculation. The urge to retaliate against Britain took precedence over attacks on Soviet armament manufacture. The "Baby Blitz", however, did not impair Allied preparations for the invasion and, instead, ensured that the Luftwaffe was not capable of significant counterblows when the invasion was launched.

Vogel argues that, despite a decline in the strike power of their navy and air force, the German position in Western Europe prior to Overlord was strong, and that there was no serious threat from the hostile population. He attributes Allied success in Overlord in part to preparation, particularly in combined warfare and intelligence. In the operational phase, however, he argues, a lack of command coordination hit the Allies, as did supply problems, and there is criticism of Montgomery. Although they knew they had lost, the German commanders fought on, at great cost, because they wished to avoid a shameful defeat.

There is a tendency, seen for example in Max Hastings' latest book, to praise German military effectiveness, but Vogel argues that senior officers tended increasingly to disregard military reality when they took decisions, and that this was very apparent during the Ardennes offensive. In Vogel's phrase:

Not content with underestimating the fighting qualities of the Allied troops, the Germans also underestimated how quickly the Allied staffs could react.
The confused command structures of the Germans are criticised. Nevertheless, German propaganda still managed to suggest to the people that the fate of the war was as yet undecided.

Krebs relates warmaking, strategy and politics, and his succinct account of Japanese strategy is particularly useful. Repeated Japanese interest in a separate peace between Germany and the Soviet Union is discussed, but by late 1944 the Japanese suspected that Germany was seeking a separate peace with the Western powers, a far less desirable option for Japan. Despite issues of balance, this is an impressive volume which provides much German material for non-German readers, although it is expensive and bulky and offers more to specialists than to the general reader.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).


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