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Nations at war
Boog, Horst, Gerhard Krebs, and Detlef Vogel. Germany and the Second World War, vol 7: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006
Pages: xxxvi + 892
Abbreviations; Glossary; General Symbols; Introduction; charts; tables; diagrams; maps; Bibliography; Index
Weighing in at over 900 pages, the seventh volume of the massive Germany and the Second World War series is by itself as thick as several books of ordinary size. As it turns out, that makes perfect sense, because The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943-1944/5 is in fact essentially three entirely different books under one cover.
The first six volumes (with volume five divided into two separate books) have explored broad expanses of World War II in considerable detail, and each has for the most part focused on a specific campaign or aspect of the war, or at least a set of related threads. The new tome picks up three of those threads where they previously left off: the strategic air war in western Europe, Allied preparations and landings in France and the subsequent campaign in the west to January 1945, and the war in Asia and the Pacific from 1943 to its conclusion. Other fronts and campaigns, such as the Russo-German War and the campaign in Italy, are excluded from this volume entirely, butas the Introduction promises, and is already known from the original German-language editions from which this series is translatedwill be handled in upcoming releases.
The first and longest part of the book (at about 450 pages) deals with the air war. This is decidedly not a litany of sorties, kills, and aces, nor will readers find here stirring accounts of aerial dogfights. Instead, Horst Boog surveys the economy, technology, and strategy of the air war. Although primarily written from the German perspective, these chapters also include much information about the Allies. The pages feature many charts, tables, diagrams, and maps. In addition to the full range of German defensesincluding day and night fighters, flak, radar, and ground control installationsthis part also discusses German offensive plans and operations, including the V-weapons. The advanced stage of unreality regarding the war-winning potential of many of these projectsno matter how technologically innovative or fiendishly cleverbecomes evident here, and Boog's reaction might be loosely paraphrased as "What the hell were these people thinking?" In an especially interesting discussion, Boog relates Luftwaffe efforts to wage a strategic bombing offensive against Soviet industry, transportation, power stations, and high-voltage transmission lines during 1943-1944 as the front line receded from the potential targets and the anticipated heavy bombers failed to materialize. Here's part of that material.
The process of target selection dragged on throughout the late summer
until the winter of 1943/4. As early as summer 1943 Prof. Steinmann of the
Luftwaffe construction office had pointed out that within the Moscow-Upper
Volga region the great power stations in the Tula-Rybinsk-Gorkiy triangle
were the most important targets, as they supplied power to the armaments
plants. These included the high-voltage transmission lines (to be severed
with the Seilbombe, an 'air-towed charge' invented by Steinmann), as well as
transformer stations. Luftwaffe operations staff 1c had cut down Steinmann's
extensive target lists to eleven major power stations, but was not sure whether
there was not, in addition, a need to attack the armaments works themselves;
after all, their machinery might be relocated elsewhere, and carry on production. He therefore proposed other targets as well, such as the previously
envisaged aero-engine and airframe works, as well as transport targets. Considering the small number of bomber units available (seven Gruppen) this
would have resulted in a dissipation of forces and in ineffective attacks. The
Carl Committee described the 11 large power stations as the only group of
targets whose elimination would produce the desired results. In his argument
Dr Carl proceeded from the German energy network, two-thirds of which
could be paralysed by knocking out 56 generator stations. The Russian energy
system, he contended, was far more vulnerable, as it lacked depth and
reserves; Russian sources confirmed that electricity really was a choke point.
Steinmann also proposed the use of drifting mines against the hydroelectric
power stations at Rybinsk and Uglich; these were intended to destroy the
dams and turbines. In September 1943 the Luftwaffe operations staff 1c
extended the list of targets of the aerial munitions and rubber industry by ballbearings and aviation fuel plants, as well as rail targets. In the hope of an early
commissioning of the He 177 the Luftwaffe, in spite of having meanwhile lost
some airfields in the Orel area, was still dreaming of attacks on aircraft engine
factories in Gorkiy, Ufa, Kazan, Kuybyshev, and Moscow. The army also
interfered in the target selection process, proposing attacks on artillery, motor
vehicle, iron and steel, nitrogen, and saltpetre works, but this went unheeded
by the Luftwaffe.
On 9 November 1943 Gen. Roller, in a short study, 'Operations against the
Russian armaments industry', summed up the outcome of all deliberations
up to that date. In it he deplored the failure to bomb railways and armaments
plants after the autumn of 1941, when Russian strength had still been inferior.
The few sporadic attacks made then had been highly successful. Meanwhile
the Soviets had become numerically superior, while German air forces had not
increased in either strength or modernity. The pull-back of the front line
meant that the most favourable time for bombing raids had been missed.
If the Russian armaments industry continued producing undisturbed, it
would, he said, eventually 'spew out' on to the front line so many aircraft,
tanks, and artillery pieces 'that one would seriously have to ask oneself whether
our front will be able successfully to resist these quantities of material in the
hands of the Russian masses. Would the German Luftwaffe not make a greater
contribution to victory in the east by letting its bombers... operate against
the root of the Russian offensive strength, by hitting the Russian armaments
industry, instead of acting as artillery and dropping bombs in front of the
infantry?' In the meantime the technical facilities for pinpoint target bombing
had so greatly improved owing to new weapons, such as the 'Fritz X' glider
bomb, that a major effect could be achieved even with quite modest forces.
It was merely necessary to withdraw the bomber units and new weapons
from army support, at least temporarily. The main thing was to make the new
aircraft types, the He 177 and Ju 290, ready for use soon and in sufficient
numbers, to 'achieve even quite major successes'. On the strength of the
target data from Luftwaffe operations staff 1c, reworked by Prof. Steinmann
and Dr Carl, Roller pointed out that, primarily in the industrial region of
Moscow and the Upper Volga, systematic operations against Soviet armaments were feasible even with the bombers already available. In spite of his
calculation that 47,000 Soviet aircraft had so far been destroyed, he estimated
that by 1 April 1944 Soviet strength in the air would rise from the present
23,000 to 29,000 aircraft, and their armoured vehicles from 9,500 to 11,000.
Aircraft and crews, he observed, were of higher quality than in the past. To
what extent these figures were accurate it is still difficult to establish.
Compared to the strength of the German Luftwaffe in the east2,312
frontline machines in October 1943 and 2,726 in January 1944these figures
were certainly alarming and justified the conclusion that 'the struggle against
the numerical superiority of Russian aerial armaments cannot be successfully
accomplished by shooting down aircraft at the front'. If the Soviet air forces
were to be 'fought only over the front line', then we must expect by next spring
a total of [Soviet] frontline aircraft higher than at the outbreak of the war'.
Ultimately the 'expected loss of production would justify even weakening for a
short time the forces on the eastern or any other air fronts'.
The chapters on the air war provide much more detail than the second portion of the book. In the second part, Detlef Vogel explores the situation on the western front, beginning with the situation in mid-1943 (following the Axis defeat in Africa) and concluding in January 1945. This volume, however, entirely excludes the Italian campaign. Out of Vogel's roughly 240 pages, the chapters on planning and preparations occupy approximately 160 pages, largely but not entirely from the German point of view. The remaining 80 pages mostly focus on four key battles: Normandy, the invasion of southern France, Operation Market-Garden, and the Bulge. The chapters covering those battles are the least detailed, viewing the action from an overall strategic vantage rather than delving into operational and tactical nuances. For example, this is not the place to learn about John Frost at Arnhem. Nevertheless, the pages are far from devoid of interest. Vogel displays a good grasp of all the factors affecting the campaign and writes a cogent overview, not a full operational description and analysis, but far more than a simple primer. Ample charts, diagrams, tables, and maps also accompany this section.
It would appear on the surface that the Germans managed to tighten up and
clarify their command structure significantly a few weeks before the invasion
In reality months of an exhausting tug-of-war resulted in more or less the same
stare of affairs as at the end of 1943. For although the Panzer Group Command
was now under OB West, Rundstedt had only indirect control of the
mechanized divisions. Four tank units (the 'OKW reserve') were directly
answerable to the OKW, and the remaining six were split between Army
Groups B and G. As before, Air Fleet 3 and Naval Group West were only under
instructions to cooperate with OB West; in general, they took their orders from
their commanders-in-chief. Rundstedt's control of Waffen-SS troops and
reserve divisions was also subject to certain limitations. His influence on
decisions of their military commanders was confined to military matters
otherwise the chain of command led to the quartermaster-general and the army
high commando 'OB West' thus remained a somewhat misleading title.
Certainly the division of responsibilities by region and task was not
necessarily bound to have a negative effect. Had the full range of activities
been taken into account, such a system would, in theory, have made a lot of
sense. In practice, however, the arguments about the division of powers were
fuelled less by objective requirements than by considerations of prestige and
the desire to safeguard and extend existing areas of authoritynot to mention
he constant efforts of Hitler and his inner circle to prevent anyone else from
becoming too powerful. The end-result was an unclear command structure
overlapping responsibilities, and duplication of effort, leading to lack of
motivation and resignation. In mid-January 1944 Blumentritt, OB West's
chief of general staff, wrote to Jodl: 'In the east there is one enemy, here
everything is so complicatedentangled in a web of a hundred possible
departmentsthat it takes a long time for a newcomer to understand what is
going on behind the scenes.' Among other things, Blumentritt complained,
this generated an enormous amount of paperwork. From 1 to 15 February
1944, a total of 4,047 secret command documents were received by OB West's
staff. In one period of 24 hours, 8,788 telephone calls were received. His own
command also produced a huge mass of paper. Between 1 and 31 July 1942,
AOK 7 received from OB West no fewer than n single and seven basic orders,
plus a special ordinance, each up to eight pages long.
The effect of this complicated command structure can be illustrated by the
case of the 2nd Panzer Division. Its troops were under the operational
command of Panzer Group West, but their tactical deployment was the
responsibility of I SS-Panzer Corps. Territorially, they were under the military
commander for Belgium and Northern France. Finally, for supply purposes
they were under the command of AOK 15. This was by no means an isolated
At the higher level of the three arms of the service, too, there were frequent
disputes about who should do what. For example, Donitz objected to the
deployment of marines in France to protect the railways. Goring opposed
the use of paratroops for coastal defence, and OB West did his utmost to
ensure that only army officers were in charge of operations in the whole
coastal region. OB West's attitude led to protests from the navy, with the
result that certain tasks were once again placed under its responsibility.
On the other hand, the Wehrmacht commander in the Netherlands succeeded
in putting a Luftwaffe officer in full command of the army divisions in his area,
although Keitel himself had to resolve the conflict this gave rise to. It is
therefore hardly surprising that, when the new command structure came into
force, OB West himself needed eight pages just to set out the complicated
division of responsibilities among the various military units and departments
under his command.
The last section of the book comes in at a relatively abbreviated 140 pages or so. In that stretch Gerhard Krebs covers a big chunk of the war in the Pacific and Asia, starting at the beginning of 1943: New Guinea, India and Burma, the Central Pacific, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the war in China. Naturally, the allotted space doesn't permit the author to do more than scratch the surface of those campaigns, all the more so since Krebs devotes a large proportion of his pages to Japanese political and diplomatic developments. In comparison to the entirely competent air-land-sea material, the political and diplomatic discussion really shines. In many American accounts, by mid-1943 the Pacific War had become little more than a game of solitaire as their increasingly powerful forces launched one crushing offensive after another. In that view, the highest leadership in Japan did little more than gird the nation for a suicidal battle to the bitter end. In fact, Krebs paints a much more nuanced picture of what was happening in Tokyo. Many readers will find this perspective fresh and fascinating.
The armed forces, particularly the army, were trying at this time to restore
their damaged reputation. Tojo was concerned to tighten up the conduct of
the war, but he was at a disadvantage in that he could not bring any direct
pressure to bear on the high command, which was independent of the
government. In February 1944 he decided to force the army chief of staff,
Sugiyama, to resign, and take over the job himself in addition to his other
functions. He recommended the navy to do likewise, and appoint the minister,
Shimada, to the additional post of chief of the naval general staff. The
army chief of staff, Sugiyama, at first refused to stand down, pleading the
traditional dividing-line between policy and strategy, and the 'independence of
the high command'. However, he came under growing pressure from the
army, which was anxious to avoid the looming dismissal of Tojo. So Sugiyama
gave in, and tendered his resignation. The emperor accepted it for the same
reason, despite serious reservations. The process was repeated in the navy,
where the chief of the naval general staff, Nagano, at first flatly refused to
comply with Tojo's 'recommendations', but eventually yielded to pressure
from within his own ranks, having been very hard hit by the disastrous turn of
events on the Marshall Islands and Truk. The navy minister, Shimada, took
over the post in addition to his other responsibilities. Nevertheless, there was a
groundswell of dissatisfaction with Tojo and criticism of his conduct in both
services, that was not to be ignored. In the end, the cumulation of postsdenounced by his opponents as a move towards 'military dictatorship'and
the threats of resignation worked against the prime minister.
Hirohito's brothers, Chichibu and Takamatsu, were among the sharpest
critics of the changes. Takamatsu in particular was increasingly inclined to
favour a change of government, and was already beginning to think about the
monarchy in the post-war period. In his view, a not unacceptable scenario
would be for his brother to abdicate, and for the next in line to succeed to the
throne in the usual way. He accordingly ordered his secretary, Hosokawa, to
find out from the foreign ministry what plans the enemy had for the emperor in
the event of Japan being defeated.
Also in February, the jushin had one of its occasional meetings with Tojo.
The embattled prime minister was exposed to the full force of the storm. They
were all fiercely critical, especially the former party leader, Wakatsuki, who
said the military situation was hopeless despite government propaganda to the
contrary. He demanded that steps be taken to seek a peace settlement, and
that a negotiator be dispatched to a neutral country for the purpose. News of
this attack on Tojo spread quickly among members of the parliament, then in
session, and many of them applauded it. Reports of the jushin conference also
reached the various opposition groups through Konoe.
Another former prime minister, Admiral Okada, was also trying, through
the navy, to bring down Shimada as well as Tojo. He considered that Yonai,
once readmitted to the active list, would be a suitable successor to the navy
minister, and with this in mind he sought out Prince Fushimi in March. The
prince, a former chief of the naval general staff, still enjoyed great prestige, and
no changes were ever made in the navy without his consent. Okada put it to
him that it would be to Shimada's advantage to have Yonai back on the active
list; the navy minister was, he said, too ready to kowtow to Tojo. He said
nothing about his plan to bring down the cabinet. Fushimi still had confidence
in the navy minister, who had long been his protege. He had himself helped
him to obtain the post in 1941, and had recently smoothed the way for him to
take over as chief of the naval general staff. However, he had no objection to
Yonai being readmitted to the active list, to strengthen the navy minister's
position, and was, he said, even prepared to speak to Shimada himself and
recommend it. The upshot was that the navy minister invited Yonai to lunch
about once a month, to discuss the situation. Yonai never returned to the
active list, and that was the end of Okada's initiative.
It's true that the three sections of the bookeach with a different author, different length and level of detail, and different direction of emphasismake for a somewhat schizoid volume, and it's also a bit disconcerting that the chapters on Japan extend all the way to the end of the war in September 1945, but the remainder of the book barely crosses beyond 1944. Despite a certain unevenness, all this works well enough within the context of the broader series.
While this growing set of books has been defined in large measure by its scrupulous scholarship and attention to detail (and this one, like all of them, includes an astronomical number of footnotes plus more than forty pages of bibliography), it has never been knownwhether because of the lumpiness of the original German composition or because of awkward translationfor its fluid prose, ease of comprehension, or edge-of-the-seat dramatics. In fact, this is the first volume which actually flows along smoothly and carries the reader's attention without the necessity of painstaking navigation through rocky, numbing text. That ease of reading and comprehension is true of all three parts of the volumeair war, western front, and war against Japanand somebody, somewhere along the lineperhaps Derry Cook-Radmore and his gang of translatorsdeserves thanks for doing a major service in that regard. While the reader will no longer be required to imbibe large quantities of caffeine and repeatedly splash icy water around the eyeballs, for all that there is no lessening in the quantity or quality of thoughtful exposition and analysis contained in the book.
The long section on the air war in particular could stand entirely on its own as a thorough history of that stage of the campaign in the skies over Europe. Plenty of other books successfully tackle the same topic, but few of them integrate all aspects of the strategic bombing campaign and German defenses as well as Horst Boog. The piece on Normandy and the western front doesn't dig into the same level of detail, and it completely ignores some interesting elements of the campaign, but it treats the subject with the usual rigorous scholarship. Despite the relative brevity of the section on the war against Japan, the author utilizes a strong array of Japanese sources and in particular emphasizes internal politics and factionalism in Tokyo, material not often dealt with in English-language studies.
Unlikely to sell as many copies as volume four (Barbarossa), volume seven is nevertheless a strong addition to the series and especially refreshing after the necessary but altogether less than thrilling books of volume five on wartime administration, economy, and manpower resources (also known as the "bureaucracy volumes"). The second and third sections can't fully measure up to the air war, which certainly rates as the strongest part of the book, but overall this might very well rank as one of the most important WWII publications of the year. The only factor restraining us from rendering a verdict of "highly recommended" is the exceedingly high price tag. We don't normally mention the price of books in our reviews, but in this instance we should warn readers they will probably face a severe case of sticker shock if they try to purchase this baby. The price simply might put the book out of reach of most students of the Second World War. It would be nice to be able to declare it's worth every penny, butvaluable though the contents areit's difficult to contend The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943-1944/5 is worth such an extravagant financial investment. Nevertheless, if the book threatens to bust your budget, at least see if your local library will loan you a copy. This one is definitely worth a look, more so than any three or four average books with average price tags.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Oxford University Press.
Thanks to OUP for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 8 October 2006
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone