Monday, October 27, 2014

Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy

Reviewed by William Wade

This is not your usual narrative history of World War II, which begins with the September 1939 attack of Germany on Poland and concludes a few hundred pages later with the final surrender of German and Japanese forces in 1945.  Kennedy’s book is highly analytical and selects a few crucial themes for a full evaluation.

He begins his study in early 1943: the United States has become fully engaged with Britain, the Soviet Union, and other nations known as the Allied powers in a truly world-wide conflict.  The Allies have the opportunity to win this war, but there are serious problems that stand in the way of an assurance of victory.

·         The U.S. has enormous military and industrial potential, but German submarines pose a great threat in the Atlantic.  Unless the submarine menace can be overcome, the ability to get American troops and military equipment to the various fronts will fatally diminish its contribution. 

·         U.S. and British bombers have struck at German cities and industries but it has become evident that bombers without fighter escorts are being destroyed at an unacceptable number.  Unless an answer can be found, the air attack upon Germany will be a failure.

·         German troops have been formidable in the use of the blitzkrieg; in the early stages of the war they seemed invincible.  Unless tactics and strategy can be found to thwart the blitzkrieg, Allied troops will be in trouble.

·         It is clear to Allied planners that their move toward victory will require many attacks upon enemy-held shores, both in Europe and in the Far East.  There has been very little study at the higher military ranks as to the necessities for assuring victory in such attacks.

These issues become the focus of Kennedy’s book, and chapter by chapter he shows how solutions are gradually found and put to use, often with intense trial and error efforts, but sometimes through serendipity.  He writes with great technical skill, and the reader is pulled into the narrative, eagerly awaiting a happy solution to a difficult problem.  I would rank this as one of the best books on World War II, though it presumes some prior knowledge of the general story of the conflict.

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