Arrows and armour

B. H. Liddell Hart: History of the Second World War.

One of my enduring frustrations with books about WWII is poor mapping and relatively little focus on operational strategy. One reason for this, I have now found, is that Liddell Hart wrote the definitive book on the war in 1971, and every book since then either will have to concentrate on more details (such as Anthony Beevor’s books on Berlin and Stalingrad) or take a more “themed” approach (such as John Keegan’s WWII).

The book is cold-blooded and argumentative – with a focus on maneuver (nicely mapped) and evolving tactics. Liddell Hart spends more time on tank battles (in particular Rommel‘s campaigns in North Africa) than strictly necessary, and frequently introduces footnotes about his own role, pointing out how he had written critically about various weaknesses in British and US defenses long before anyone else. Then again, he has the right to do so – many of the newer tactics such as the Blitzkrieg and the “indirect approach” were developed or inspired by Liddell Hart’s pre-war writings. This is war from the viewpoint of a professional soldier, with the benefit of hindsight and not a little admiration for the other side’s competence and fortitude.

Liddell Hart is opinionated – he contends that the war could have been prevented if Britain and France had displayed more fortitude towards Hitler in the beginning, and that it could have been shortened if, among other things, Eisenhower had allowed Patton to surge towards Berlin. He also contends that the Allied policy of demanding an unconditional surrender prolonged the war both towards Germany and Japan, and that the dropping of the atom bomb was unnecessary, since Japan, having had all supply lines cut, was facing starvation and was actively looking for peace at the time they were dropped. I certainly am no historian, but his viewpoints seem very sensible, even with 35 years’ worth of hindsight.

Liddell Hart’s book is the one book every other historian refers to, and it is easy to see why. Indispensable reading. Go get it (I got mine on sale at Borders, so there.)