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Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War



Is it really that surprising that the Allies won World War Two? Not according to historian John Ellis (known for producing the massive and utterly fantastic resources of the World War I databook and the World War II databook), who concludes that the Allied Forces won World War II not by the skill of their leaders, war planners and commanders in the field, but by brute force (which he describes as advantages in firepower and logistics). This is not, of course a fact unknown to Alternate History writers; the Germans and the Japanese were grossly outproduced by the allies – and they lacked the long-term ability to force the Allies to accept defeat. It was (probably) impossible for Hitler to invade Britain – and certainly impossible for the Axis to invade America – and therefore Axis victory was impossible.

Despite that, Ellis believes that the Allied High Command made consistently poor decisions – with the strong impression that the Axis, at least the Germans, could not afford to make similar decisions – when it came to deploying its massive supply of weapons and manpower. Among his criticisms are the use of armour in North Africa, the Soviet Union's use of manpower, wasteful bombing strategies, and the failure to target Japanese shipping lanes. He also points out the similarities between WWII generals like Bernard Law Montgomery and World War I generals like Douglas Haig – both men opted to fight set-piece battles, although neither man had much choice in the matter. As a bonus, he analyses the faults in Hitler’s war machine and notes that the Axis had only a slight chance of winning its war.

Ellis has a particularly dry method of writing that might put some people off. He backs this up with clear and ample statistics. While praising the heroics and sacrifices of allied soldiers, he doesn't spare their leadership for succumbing to the temptation of brute force. Numerous quotations and stories make the book a reasonably educational read. One story is of a German lieutenant who told his captors how the American tanks kept coming and he kept shooting them. "Unfortunately, we ran out of bullets before you ran out of tanks." If you are not aware of the economic aspects of the war, this book can certainly change your perspective.

The book does have its flaws, however. In the case of Nazi Germany, the Allies had very little choice, but to adopt the approach they did – over the Channel into Germany. Certainly mistakes were made – the entire Allied high command seems to have forgotten that the Germans marched through the Ardennes the way they did in 1940…and would repeat in 1944 for the Battle of the Bulge – but there was no way to actually defeat Germany quickly. (Ellis dismisses, rightly, Italy as a waste of time; his first book was actually on one of the battles in Italy.) Japan was a minor problem, compared to Germany; without allied boots on the ground, Europe might have gone communist, or Stalin would have agreed to a choice.

But never mind such details. There is plenty of ground for economic ‘what-ifs’ here.




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