by Williamson Murray, Allan Reed Millett

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674041301
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 06/30/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 357,571
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Williamson Murray is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defense Analysis, Washington, D.C.

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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

Table of Contents

CONTENTS 1 Origins of a Catastrophe 2 The Revolution in Military Operations, 1919–1939 3 German Designs, 1939–1940 4 Germany Triumphant, 1940 5 Diversions in the Mediterranean and Balkans, 1940–1941 6 Barbarossa, 1941 7 The Origins of the Asia-Pacific War, 1919–1941 8 The Japanese War of Conquest, 1941–1942 9 The Asia-Pacific War, 1942–1944 10 The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939–1943 11 Year of Decision for Germany, 1942 12 The Combined Bomber Offensive, 1941—1945 13 The Destruction of Japanese Naval Power, 1943–1944 14 The Killing Time, 1943–1944 15 The Invasion of France, 1944 16 The End in Europe, 1944–1945 17 The Destruction of the Japanese Empire, 1944–1945 18 The End of the Asia-Pacific War, 1945 19 Peoples at War, 1937–1945 20 The Aftermath of War Epilogue: In Retrospect Appendix 1: Military Organization Appendix 2: The Conduct of War Appendix 3: Weapons Appendix 4: Exploring World War II Notes Suggested Reading Acknowledgments Illustration Credits Index

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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