Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why The Allies Won by Richard Overy

Overy asks the question of "Why the allies won?" His first task is to explain away the idea that the allies, namely the US, England and Soviet Union were successful due to their numbers when compared to that of the axis. Drawing on the First World War, Overy shows that numbers, in terms of troops, does not necessarily define who the victor will be. When WWI began the entente had a great advantage in terms of divisions compared to that of Germany and Austria, for some reason Overy excludes the Ottoman empire in his calculations and also ignores the fact that one country's division will not necessarily equal that of another.

The next area of interest is the production figures of both sides. While Germany had a tremendous lead, as did Japan, in their conquests up until 1942 they could not take adequate advantage of them for a variety of reasons. Overy seems to think that if they were perfect dictatorships they could have presented more of a problem for the allies. The motorization of the German army is mentioned, or rather a lack thereof which did play a large role in the war on the Eastern Front.

Overy's concentration in the first part of the book is on the war at sea, the land struggle on the eastern front, the offensive from the air, and the reconquest of Europe. Each of these events, in Overy's opinion, played a significant role in how the war progressed and was eventually won. The war at sea was the only link the Americans had to the British and the only way that Lend Lease could be given to the USSR. It is what kept Britain going and what substituted for a second front to the Soviets, more importantly for the Americans it decided the war in the pacific theater of operations. The struggle on the Eastern Front signified the largest and most gruesome offensive the world had ever seen. Tens of millions would perish on the steppes, in the forests, and in the mountainous terrain covered during the German invasion and subsequent offensives throughout 1942. The offensive from the air took away vital resources from the Eastern Front and stranded them in the West to face the daily and nightly allied bombardment campaign. Lastly, the reconquest of Europe made democracy safe for the Western half of the continent and brought the war to a quicker conclusion. The second part of the book deals with technology, the economy, the alliance system, morality, etc.

When Overy talks about the warnings Stalin was receiving he leaves out the fact that most of them were general, ambiguous and contradictory. Overy contradicts himself when, first, he claims on page 137 that the allies would be facing a "...large army in waiting, seasoned with men battle-hardened from the fearful contest in Russia." Then on page 153 he mentions that the German forces in France were a shell of their former selves, many Eastern Europeans and Central Asian being included into the forces now guarding the coastal lines and waiting out for the imminent invasion. Overy does a good job putting the allied deception campaign into context and how much help it gave the allies when the invasion finally did take place.

A good description is offered of what Soviet workers had to endure throughout the war. As well as pointing out that few other populations, if any, were capable of such deeds. On page 200, Overy talks about the Germans when they attacked the Soviet Union commenting that if they had a larger number of tanks then things might have turned out differently for them. He creates this hypothesis in a vacuum since he is obviously leaving out the Soviet reaction to an increasing number of German tanks, and all that comes with them, on their border before the invasion. Overy gives a good overall account of the various industries but I'd say he ignores the strategic significance of Blitzkrieg. Nowhere does he mention that since the German military had adopted the strategy of Blitzkrieg they would need to plan accordingly for that concept to work, this specifically means allocations for small, limited wars. What Overy is discussing, rather, is a total war footing which is what the USSR and US went to when it came to their wars. Thus it was only after the initial Blitzkrieg had failed that Hitler began to do something about the lack of German production in the armaments industry. Throughout the whole chapter Overy dwells on the same issues but not once will bring up how Blitzkrieg strategy affected the wartime economy, which makes this entire chapter lacking.

On pg. 211 Overy trivialized the odds the German tank arm faced against their Soviet counterpart. Also quotes the general number of 15,000 tanks for the Soviets without putting them into context. The fact of the matter is that thousands of those tanks were rusted through and in need of major repairs and overhaul thus eliminating their use from the battlefield. On page 210 Overy comments on the fact that Panzer divisions started the war with 328 tanks and by the summer of 1943 averaged only 73. What he leaves out and only comments on later is that the number of panzer divisions more than doubled and the number of tanks in them cut by 2. Overy makes many blanket statements such as on pg. 216 where he comments that "The incompetence of Soviet forces in 1941 allowed the Panzer armies to penetrate far and fast but by the autumn the toll as very great." No real qualifier is given for what he means when he says `incompetence' and no other reasons are forthcoming, although a plethora of them existed which explain why the Germans had such success in 1941. The entire chapter can be summed up by the idea that the Soviets and US learned from their defeats while both Germany and Japan relied on their proven victorious ways which only lasted so long. And when Germany did try to adopt new technology like the "Tiger" and "Panther" tanks it proved too complicated for the field of battle. The only interesting analysis that I found was when Overy mentions that the Germans began to concentrate on defensive weapons which goes a long way to explain why in the latter part of the war they held out for so long against such overwhelming odds. Even worse the lack of oil for the Germans proved to be the Achilles heel in most of their endeavors, and when it came to the future `wonder weapons' their ideas were ahead of their time, but due to limited funding, resources, and constant political interference nothing could be accomplished which would change the fate of the war, rather, a loss in money and time was the result.

In the chapter on morality was interesting but I don't think it played too much of a role in why either side won or lost. Both the Germans and Soviets, for instance, believed in what they were fighting for the norm was a high morale for the troops, more so in 1941 and 1942 for the Germans than the Soviets, which switched in the last 2-3 years of the war. While high morale and the essence of right and wrong might play a large role in war, it is most certainly not vital. This can be seen with the Japanese in the pacific theater. These soldiers held out in their beliefs in their emperor and their convictions until the end of the war fighting against the allies. A rather large part of the German Wehrmacht also stood their ground until the end, even after Hitler had committed suicide. Thus while morale and a justifiable cause is a large part of what makes a military win wars, it is not a decisive or even vital factor. Overall I can't say I recommend this book, too many mistakes, misconceptions, contradictions, ambiguous statements, and out of context analysis.


Anonymous said...

It seems your review is rife with misconceptions and inaccurate sourcing. For example, you quoted Overy on page 216 as making a blanket statement regarding the German invasion of the Soviet Union. That whole section has nothing to do with the Soviet Union, and the quote is certainly not on that page. I am wondering whether you have even read the book, or if you simply looked at the back and decided to write your best fictional book review. Also, as you claim to be an MA student, such outrageous claims as "When Overy talks about the warnings Stalin was receiving he leaves out the fact that most of them were general, ambiguous and contradictory." What the hell are you talking about?? It has been well documented by just about every major historian that Stalin received warning about the invasion from multiple sources, including those he considered 100% correct. The lack of knowledge you displayed in this review is astounding, and it disgusts me that fakes like you can be allowed online.

T. Kunikov said...

I have yet to see you show any evidence for your assertions.

First off I quoted Overy, over and over again, which proves I read the book or at least proves that I quoted his mistakes, general/blanket statements, etc. If somehow I found them all by luck, so be it, the are still there.

Thus, on pg. 216 Overy states "The incompetence of Soviet forces in 1941 allowed the Panzer armies to penetrate far and fast but by the autumn the toll as very great." How exactly does this not have anything to do with the Soviet Union if Overy is talking about Soviet forces in 1941?

Next, which sources did Stalin 100% correct, and what is your source for such an assertion? Stalin did receive warnings from a multitude of sources, dozens, at the least, that doesn't mean they were not for the most part ambiguous or contradictory. If you'd like some examples grab Murphy's book "What Stalin Knew" track down his Russian sources, especially "Year 1941", and read them all for yourself. Unless your next comment contains something of substance it will not be posted.