by Williamson Murray, Allan Reed Millett

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In the course of the twentieth century, no war looms as profoundly transformative or as destructive as World War II. Its global scope and human toll reveal the true face of modern, industrialized warfare. Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive, single-volume account of how and why this global conflict evolved as it did. A War To Be Won is a unique andSee more details below


In the course of the twentieth century, no war looms as profoundly transformative or as destructive as World War II. Its global scope and human toll reveal the true face of modern, industrialized warfare. Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive, single-volume account of how and why this global conflict evolved as it did. A War To Be Won is a unique and powerful operational history of the Second World War that tells the full story of battle on land, on sea, and in the air.

Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett analyze the operations and tactics that defined the conduct of the war in both the European and Pacific Theaters. Moving between the war room and the battlefield, we see how strategies were crafted and revised, and how the multitudes of combat troops struggled to discharge their orders. The authors present incisive portraits of the military leaders, on both sides of the struggle, demonstrating the ambiguities they faced, the opportunities they took, and those they missed. Throughout, we see the relationship between the actual operations of the war and their political and moral implications.

A War To Be Won is the culmination of decades of research by two of America's premier military historians. It avoids a celebratory view of the war but preserves a profound respect for the problems the Allies faced and overcame as well as a realistic assessment of the Axis accomplishments and failures. It is the essential military history of World War II—from the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 to the surrender of Japan in 1945—for students, scholars, and general readers alike.

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Editorial Reviews

John Erickson
[C]onfined within a single volume, [it] is a remarkable achievement deserving of the many plaudits it has received.
Times Higher Education Supplement [UK]
Herbert Kupferberg
This is as masterful and readable a one-volume history of the Second World War as anyone is likely to write.
Parade Magazine
Fred Slater
[A] comprehensive history of the military aspect of World War II...[they] provide a broad view of the two-hemisphere tragedy.
St. Joseph News-Press
Calvin L. Christman
An outstanding single-volume history of [a] central moment...
Dallas Morning News
Robert Killebrew
This is edgy, though expert, history.
Washington Post
Gabriel Schoenfeld
In A War to Be Won authors Williams Murray and Allan R. Millet tell their subtle history ranges over the question of strategic bombing and all other pivotal aspects of the war, examining how the conflict was fought at the operational level and offering a fascinating view of the complex and sometimes hidden tradefoffs in Allied and Axis battfield stragegy.
Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Scholarship and insight place this book in the front rank of military history written in the 20th century's final decade. The authors--Murray is senior fellow at Washington's Institute for Defense Analyses and Millett is a chaired professor of military history at Ohio State--make no secret of their convictions on personal, institutional and operational issues, but are nevertheless remarkably successful at avoiding the armchair debunking that mars so many histories of the period. Backed by meticulous operational analysis, Murray and Millett compellingly view the war as a death grapple between civilization (however imperfect) and genocidal, racist imperialism. Both sides absorbed unprecedented levels of punishment and still functioned effectively, yet the authors show that the Allies mobilized resources to an extraordinary degree and developed unprecedented levels of cooperation against Germany and Japan, with U.S. armed forces in particular demonstrating high learning curves. After recovering from Stalin's purges, by 1943 the Red Army was successfully combining numbers and technology to take full advantage of every opportunity offered by a declining Wehrmacht. On the other side of the front, instead of making the hard choices required by Germany's limited resources, Hitler and his military leaders attempted everything simultaneously. They increasingly substituted ideology for men and equipment. Japan, too, fought a vitalist war, with will power unsuccessfully substituting for both fire power and rational calculation. The result, Murray and Millett brilliantly show, was to exclude negotiation and persuasion, leaving victory in battle the only choice in modern history's only total war. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Every generation needs a new reprise of WW II, tailored to its own historical frame of reference and its own cultural values. The rise of different scholarly interpretations and the discovery of new material also play a part. The war was an immense cataclysm fought on a global scale by huge armies of citizen-soldiers, armed with technology that alone could change the world, and led by personalities that were larger than life. Thus, it is not surprising that decades would have to pass before the initial assumptions about the war and the popular "lessons" of combat could be studied in more objective detail. Authors Murray (a senior fellow at a prestigious Washington think tank) and Millett (a distinguished professor of military history) have done a terrific job with this formidable task. Just describing the war in a coherent fashion is no mean accomplishment, and here the authors have described the war's events in many small sections that fit together neatly. They manage to discuss the war without jingoism and with a minimum of national bias. The passing of the major leaders and commanders from the scene enabled the authors to study their strengths, weaknesses and mistakes in objective detail. This is not a debunking book, yet for almost the first time we are learning, for example, about bungling in the Navy's high command, and the horrific costs of MacArthur's vainglorious "return" to the Philippines. Better yet, all of this is presented in vigorous and readable prose. It is written for the interested adult who wants a full understanding of how the war really went, who really did what, and for what reasons. There is combat action enough to intrigue the fiercest YA reader, but the battlesand campaigns are handled in a mature fashion, with plenty of detail and new material for sincere military buffs. There are also numerous new photos of wartime subjects. Category: History & Geography. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Harvard Univ. Press, Belknap, 656p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., $18.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Raymond L. Puffer; Ph.D., Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
A magisterial, hypnotically detailed tactical narrative of WWII, with the competing military, political, and social histories of the maelstrom writ large—yet comprehensibly presented. Coauthors Murray (Senior Fellow/Institute for Defense Analysis) and Millett (Military History/Ohio State Univ.) spent decades on their research, and the result is an essential plurality of understanding that allows them to consider the military strategies (and underlying realities) of the various Allied and Axis nations. Intentionally or otherwise, this book occupies ground distinct from Stephen Ambrose's popular books, in that they focus much less on the personalized experiences of the soldier and more on the significant strategies, decisions, and movements of governments and generals (and the corresponding actions of the many individual naval, combat, and bomber units, and sundry partisan and espionage triumphs) which, taken together, form the artificial patchwork of industrialized devastation we think of as "the war." Surprisingly, this "globalized" perspective does not produce abstract or diffuse results, but allows the authors to present a nuanced panorama of scarce information and unique interpretations. Offering equal weight to both the European and Pacific theaters, and connecting the complex, sometimes counter-productive Allied campaigns and the Axis military actions and ideology with the weight of human tragedy and societal disruption fomented in the occupied nations (and especially the Eastern Front), Murray and Millet allow one to simultaneously understand a distant historical event as technological warfare and as the 20th century's cruel pivot. Broadcanvasnotwithstanding, the authors wisely rely upon important (and often obscure) primary sources, including combatant and survivor recollections, to add thought-provoking dialogues to the survey. And their inclusion of political and social interpretation clarifies the mystery of whole peoples' motivation towards a "total war" that demolished peoples and national entities. Strongly written with the stern clarity of senior historians, this is a spellbinding history: the reader will hear the whine of the bombers and see the guttering lights of Europe, and find this rich assemblage of horror and destiny hard to set down.

Dallas Morning News
An outstanding single-volume history of [a] central moment...[The authors] write in a brisk, confident and knowledgeable style, often sprinkling their analyses with pithy irony, sardonic wit and sharp insights...Murray and Millett have produced a magnificent volume, one that will fascinate and enlighten both expert and layman alike. A War to Be Won now takes its place as the core volume in any library on the history of the Second World War, and it will likely remain so for years to come.
— Calvin L. Christman
Washington Post
The West's eventual triumph is the subject of A War to Be Won, a comprehensive and highly readable history by two eminent and prolific military historians. Williamson Murray and Allan Millet focus on operations but range far and wide into politics, strategy, military doctrines (why armies fight the way they do), weapons, science and tactics, from the bumbling politics of the 30's to the Cold War...This is edgy, though expert, history. The ordeal of the Soviet war against Germany is dramatically and vividly told, as is the pillage and rape that Red Army soldiers inflicted on prisoners and civilians within reach.
— Robert Killebrew
Denver Post
Military historians Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett dissect tactics and operations of the war's major players in A War To Be Won...Unlike other volumes on WWII, many of which examine the soldiers' day-to-day life in the trenches, A War To Be Won focuses on the overall picture, the strategic successes and failures of the warring nations.
— Dick Kreck
Albuquerque Journal
The best synthesis of all of [the] new scholarship on WWII is, in my opinion, Williamson Murray and Allan Millett's superb comprehensive history of the war...There are a number of rather surprising assessments of individual commanders in the war...Anyone interested in this deadliest of all wars should consult this marvelous book.
— Louis Ray Sadler
Times Literary Supplement
In A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, Williamson Murray and Allan Millett have...eschewed grand strategy for what they describe as operational history. They have plugged a large gap...They combine firm and fresh judgments with common humanity; and they achieve balance not only between the theaters of war but also between themselves. Murray knows about Germany, Britain and air power, Millett about the United States and its armed forces. If they divided their subject matter accordingly, the seams are never evident. This is an outstanding history of the war.
— Hew Strachan
Parade Magazine
[Murray and Millett] are military historians but take an extraordinarily broad view of the conflict [of World War II]--its political and economic origins, its diplomatic maneuvering, its strategic designs and its human toll, but above all its combat. In 600-plus pages, they zero in on the troops who did the fighting and the commanders who led--and sometimes misled--them...The writing is brisk and lively, the revelations sometimes startling, and the selection of photographs generous and revealing. This is as masterful and readable a one-volume history of the Second World War as anyone is likely to write.
— Herbert Kupferberg
Political Science Quarterly
It is the most complete, balanced, and well-informed history of military operations now available.
— James J. Sheehan
Times Higher Education Supplement
While...several volumes present admirably comprehensive panoramas of the second world war, the very nature of this approach precludes close operational analysis as opposed to general operational narrative. This is the gap that A War To Be Won fills--an operational history of the 1939-1945 war focusing on military operations, with dispassionate discussion of military effectiveness whether involving the Allies or the Axis...A War To Be Won, confined within a single volume, is a remarkable achievement deserving of the many plaudits it has received. It has a narrative deftness that will attract the general reader, operational analysis incisive and original enough to engage the specialist, technical evaluation and tactical appraisal of military effectiveness in abundance, though not without controversial, even acerbic comment where appropriate.
— John Erickson
Naval History
Two highly accomplished historians...collaborated to produce this magnificent one-volume history of World War II. While they do not neglect political or economic factors, what truly sets this work apart is their focus on 'the conduct of operations by the military organizations that waged the war.'...this is a riveting book that stimulates as much as it informs--and is a must read for any student of World War II or military professional.
— Richard B. Frank
St. Joseph News-Press
World War II is fast slipping from memory. So it takes a book, such as A War To Be Won...to make one realize the horror of that conflict...In this comprehensive history of the military aspect of World War II...[the authors] provide a broad view of the two-hemisphere tragedy.
— Fred Slater
Evening Standard
Most recent single-volume histories of the Second World War have been disappointing. It is a Herculean task to cover such a vast canvas of time and space. Authors wilt visibly under the strain. Here, however, is a work of exceptional quality from two distinguished American military historians...This book makes an important contribution to understanding both the military context and the nature of this vast global conflict.
— Max Hastings

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World War II was the deadliest conflict in modern history. It continued World War I's slaughter of soldiers but then added direct attacks against civilians on a scale not seen in Europe since the Thirty Years' War three centuries earlier. On the Eastern Front, its horrors surpassed the worst battles of the first global war. At times the death struggle between the forces massed by the German Wehrmacht and Red Army never seemed to stop. From the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 to the Crimea in early May 1944, military operations involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers continued day in and day out. Then, after a pause lasting barely a month and a half, Soviet forces attacked the German Army at the end of June 1944, and the ferocious fighting in the east continued without letup until the collapse of Hitler's regime. After 6 June 1944, a similar war began on the Western Front. The amphibious assault of the Anglo-American forces on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day initiated military operations in northern Europe that would not end until May 1945.

    The ferocity of the war among the world's great—and small—nations mounted with the addition of racial ideology to the nationalism, lust for glory, greed, fear, and vindictiveness that have characterized war through the ages. Nazi Germany espoused an ideological world view (Weltanschauung) based on belief in a "biological" world revolution—a revolution that Adolf Hitler pursued with grim obsession from the early 1920s until his suicide in the Berlin Führerbunker in early May 1945. The Nazis' aim was to eliminate the Jews andother "subhuman" races, enslave the Poles, Russians, and other Slavs, and restore the Aryan race—meaning the Germans—to its rightful place as rulers of the world. By the end of the war, the Nazis had murdered or worked to death at least 12 million non-German civilians and prisoners.

    In Asia, the Japanese did not adopt so coherent an ideology of racial superiority as the Nazis, but their xenophobic nationalism, combined with dreams of empire and deep bitterness at the dominance of much of Asia by the Western colonial powers, also led to vast atrocities. With the invasion of China in summer 1937, the Japanese embarked on a war that involved murder, rape, and devastation to a degree not seen since the Mongol conquests in the early thirteenth century. The Japanese added a new dimension to the slaughter when they used bacteriological weapons and poison gas against the Chinese people as well as soldiers.

    Faced with this unprecedented aggression by the Axis powers, nations espousing other ideologies, particularly Soviet Communism and liberal capitalist democracy, responded with a fury of their own. By the time the war was over, civilian deaths inflicted by both sides outnumbered combat deaths by a margin of two to one. The West's ideological and moral imperative to punish the Germans for their many crimes culminated in the Combined Bomber Offensive waged by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces. Four years of battering air attacks, followed by invasion on the ground, destroyed virtually every major city in Central Europe except Prague and Vienna. Dresden, Hamburg, Warsaw, Berlin, and Cologne, among others, lay in rubble. Race-tinged revenge may have shaped the United States' decision to firebomb Tokyo and to detonate atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan—killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and leaving those cities in ruins. Yet as distasteful as these bombing campaigns are today to most citizens of the liberal democracies under sixty years of age, the Combined Bomber Offensive in Europe and the bombing of Japan reflected not only a sense of moral conviction on the part of the West but a belief that such air attacks would end a war that daily grew more horrible for soldiers and civilians alike.

    Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy could not, in the final analysis, be defeated except by fighting. The United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and their allies had to fight their opponents in air, ground, and naval contests across the globe. Moral righteousness alone does not win battles. Evil causes do not necessarily carry the seeds of their own destruction. Once engaged, even just wars have to be won—or lost—on the battlefield. Because of the Axis' operational and tactical skill, stiffened in battle by fierce nationalism and ideological commitment, as well as the controls of police states, winning the "Good War" proved a daunting task.

    Waging World War II required more than the mobilization and equipment of huge military forces. It required the deployment of those forces over enormous distances—in the case of the United States, across two vast oceans. And it required the creation of military power in three dimensions: in the air over both land and sea; across great land masses; and on and beneath the sea. The Germans led the way toward combined arms warfare with their Blitzkrieg of air and ground forces in May 1940, an assault of weeks that enslaved Western Europe for four years. But the Allies adapted and developed their own forces for air-ground warfare that eventually proved superior. Equally impressive, Allied amphibious forces—a fusion of air, land, and sea units—made possible the landings in Africa, Italy, and France. The air-sea-undersea-amphibious naval campaign in the Pacific doomed Japan.

    Logistical superiority was crucial to the Allies' victory, and America's role as the "Arsenal of Democracy" made a critical difference. Not only did the United States carry most of the burden of the naval campaign in the Pacific and an increasing load of the combat in Europe as the war progressed, but its Lend-Lease program was essential to the military operations of its allies and to the functioning of their wartime economies. In contrast, the Germans and the Japanese, undoubtedly misled by the successes their military forces initially achieved, did not mobilize their own economies until the tide had already turned against them in 1942-43. Their desperate efforts to match the Allies soon attracted the assaults on their economic systems launched by Allied air and sea forces.

    While the Allies' economic strength weighed heavily in their eventual victory, reinforcing and accelerating the tempo of military operations in 1943-45 material superiority never by itself proved decisive. Intelligence about the capabilities and intentions of their opponents became increasingly important to the belligerents as the conflict deepened. In the contest of intelligence, the Allied powers won handily. A complete misestimate of the capabilities of the Royal Air Force cost the Luftwaffe what little chance it had of achieving its objectives in the Battle of Britain. Worse was to come. In planning the invasion of the Soviet Union, Germany misjudged the Soviet ability to absorb defeats. The result was a catastrophic stalemate in front of Moscow, despite a series of impressive earlier victories in Operation Barbarossa. This failure was followed by Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States—an unnecessary strategic error based on a complete misunderstanding of America's economic and military potential to wage war against two enemies. The Allies slowly achieved an intelligence advantage over their opponents as the war continued. With information gained by breaking German and Japanese codes, Anglo-American commanders were able to shape battles to their advantage and to mount deception campaigns that misled their opponents. The Russians used secret agents and signals intelligence to the same result.

    With all their advantages in combined arms, logistics, and intelligence, the Allies still confronted the grim task of destroying their enemies town by town, island by island, in terrible killing battles that exhausted victor and vanquished alike. In that struggle, the greatest advantage the Allies enjoyed over the Axis was the capacity to make strategic decisions that balanced ends against means. At first the Allies were no better at strategic decision-making than their opponents. Perhaps the shock of their initial defeats provided the sobering learning the Allies needed to guide their strategy as the war continued. The Germans, by contrast, never questioned their confidence in their planning superiority—a bit of hubris that proved fatal.

    In this book, we have concentrated on the conduct of operations by the military organizations that waged the war. We have not ignored the strategic and political decisions that drove the war, but what interests us most are issues of military effectiveness. We have attempted to explain the battlefield performance of armies, navies, and air forces; the decisions made by generals and admirals in the face of extraordinary difficulties; the underlying factors that shaped the outcomes of battles and campaigns; and the interrelationships among battles separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. Thus, we have written a history of World War II that examines the reciprocal influence of strategy and operations. We try to explain how military decisions were made, and how those decisions made a difference to the outcome of the fighting. We are aware that as historians, with access to documents and accounts from both sides, we can understand events as they unfolded in a way that the participants could not. In every case, we have attempted to judge the decisions of military leaders and statesmen on the basis of what they could reasonably have known at the time that they had to act.

    We also believe that individuals at every level of leadership made a difference. From Lieutenant Richard Winters, whose squad-sized force captured a German battery and its protecting company behind Utah Beach, to the German panzer commanders like Irwin Rommel and Hans von Luck who destroyed the French Army in little over three weeks, to Dwight Eisenhower who kept a strong-willed group of senior commanders focused on defeating the Wehrmacht, individuals guided the course of events. We have attempted to identify and discuss those who made the decisions that turned the tide of the war. Although we have not written an everyman's history of the conflict, we have not overlooked the hundreds of thousands of men in arms who bore the terrible burden of carrying out those decisions.

    To the best of our ability, we have incorporated the expert research that has become available over the last thirty years into a full analysis of the war. The revelations of Ultra intelligence in the early 1970s and its operational implications have only recently achieved a balanced place alongside other factors that contributed to the Allied victory. The partial opening of the Soviet archives following the collapse of the Soviet Union has altered the West's understanding of the war on the Eastern Front—a historical event too long told from the German perspective. As students and teachers of military history for much of the postwar period and as veterans who profited from our own modest military experiences, we believe that we have written a history of World War II that does justice to that war's complexity and meaning. This, then, is our account.

Williamson Murray
Allan R. Millett

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What People are saying about this

Amid the immense literature on the Second World War, it is remarkable that one niche has not hitherto been filled: a one-volume history focusing on military operations. This book remedies that omission and does so superbly, with accuracy and interpretive flair. There is nothing else quite like it.
Douglas Brinkley
Without question A War To Be Won is the most compelling single volume history of the Second World War ever written. Murray and Millett are superb historians imbued with a trenchant gift for analysis, detachment and synthesis. A noble, grand, and sweeping achievement.
Douglas Brinkley, Director, The Eisenhower Center, University of New Orleans
Robert O'Neill
An excellent history of the Second World War, which offers a new and deeply illuminating view of why the major operations were launched and of the effectiveness with which they were conducted. The story is enriched by an original analysis of the ideas, ideological aims, technology, social consequences and international impact of the most intense conflict that the world has seen. A comprehensive, well-founded and enlightening single volume history.
Robert O'Neill, Chichele Professor of the History of War, All Souls College, Oxford
William W. Starr
Thousands of books have been published about World War II, but very few have possessed he level of scholarly perspective, encompassing scale and insightful detail to be found in this one. With its penetrating view of operational strategy on all sides during the war, it is among the finest of WWII studies and the best one-volume account of the military conflict I've ever read.
William W. Starr, Columbia State
John W. Vessey
Murray and Millett have done an enormous service by providing a wonderful, one-volume history of the fighting of World War II. Those of us who fought the war must applaud them. It is a book for everyone, not just for the military history buff. I plan to tell my grandchildren that to understand World War II, the defining event of the Twentieth Century, and the generation that fought it, they must read this book.
John W. Vessey, General, United States Army (retired), former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Russell F. Weigley
Amid the immense literature on the Second World War, it is remarkable that one niche has not hitherto been filled: a one-volume history focusing on military operations. This book remedies that omission and does so superbly, with accuracy and interpretive flair. There is nothing else quite like it.
Russell F. Weigley, author of The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy

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