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Book Review: The Allies Strike Back

By (June 28, 2017) No Comment

The Allies Strike Back: The War in the West, 1941-1943

by James Holland

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017

Historian James Holland follows up his romping good 2015 book The Rise of Germany: The War in the West, 1939-1941 with 600 more pages of enormously readable paradigm-shifting in his new book, The Allies Strike Back: The War in the West, 1941-1943, in which he acquaints his readers right away with the three levels of warfare: the strategic, the tactical, and a third which is often overlooked: the operational – “the means by which the other levels connect, or in other words the supply of the war, the logistics – a nation’s ability to produce tanks or aircraft and deliver them to the front line.”

As the early pages of The Allies Strike Back make clear, the belligerents themselves in the Second World War knew perfectly well the key role played by the operational level of battle and reminded their respective populaces of that importance every chance they got:

Look at contemporary German or British newsreels, for example, and there is every bit as much about factories and production as there is about the fighting on the front line. Britain, especially, made it clear that she was fighting an industrial war, bolstered by advances in science and technology and by galvanizing the country to produce more food, more planes, more tanks – more everything. Germany, too, made sure on radio or on the screen, her mechanized might was at the forefront.

One of the strongest theme running through Holland’s book is the almost predetermined strength of that operational level of warfare. Seen through the perspective of factories and production, the seemingly unstoppable German war machine of the war’s early years suddenly looks like a doomed thing, energetic but an unsustainable sham. Not that this stops Holland from embarking on a spirited and fast-paced narration of the many battles between Allies and Germans in Northern Africa, and as in the earlier volume, the larger sweeps of the drama are anchored in the personal stories of a smaller cast of individuals on the front lines. And all along the way, Holland indulges in the sharply opinionated takes that made The Rise of Germany so enjoyably thought-provoking:

A lot of nonsense has been written about American Anglophobia in the war. Too many historians have reveled in the various personality challenges, cherry-picking pithy quotations rather than attempting to contextualize those comments properly. In almost every case, those most prone to anti-British or anti-American ranting prove to be difficult characters who tended to end up having spats with large numbers of people, regardless of nationality.

Holland will continue the war’s story presumably to its conclusion in the next volume, but in the meantime, The Allies Strike Back is the most teeming and involving WWII history of the season.