Boomerang Book Bites: Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

Antony Beevor’s latest book completes his histories of the Eastern and Western Fronts of the Second World War. Beginning with the award winning Stalingrad then Berlin and concluding with D-Day and now Ardennes, Beevor takes his comprehensive eye for detail to Hitler’s last ditch gamble of the war in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.
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Review: Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

9780670918645Antony Beevor’s latest book completes his histories of the Eastern and Western Fronts of the Second World War. Beginning with the award winning Stalingrad then Berlin and concluding with D-Day and now Ardennes, Beevor takes his comprehensive eye for detail to Hitler’s last ditch gamble of the war in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.

I was really interested to read Beevor’s take of this battle having previously only read American accounts of specific engagements of the conflict, most notably Bastogne in Band of Brothers and The Hurtgen Forest, which directly preceded the German offensive. Beevor begins with Hurtgen Forest where American troops literally marched from the streets of Paris into what became know as “the meat-grinder” as a combination of over-the-top optimism about finishing the war before Christmas and new “green” troops resulted in massive casualties as the Allies met German forces on home soil for the first time. (If you are a fan of Band of Brothers then the HBO film When Trumpets Fade, which preceded it by three years, is worth seeing). Troops from The Hurtgen Forest were then redeployed  to the “quieter” area of The Ardennes just as Hitler launched his last offensive of the war.

Antony Beevor shows how the Allies were literally taken by surprise, not just by the offensive but also it size and scope. This was Hitler’s last throw of the dice and his plan was dependent on surprise but also a slow Allied reaction. Beevor shows, through extensive research, how the Allies’ ability to react quickly to the offensive was what won the battle. And although the Germans made great advances, inflicted massive casualties and cause wide spread panic, through infiltrations behind American lines, the quick response from Allied High Command meant reinforcements were deployed in time, supplies withdrawn before the Germans were able to capture them and key cross road towns defended in spite of encirclement. Even without air superiority, thanks to terrible winter conditions, the Allies were able to hold the Offensive back in time for supplies to be brought in and for support to breakthrough from the south.

As with Beevor’s previous books he also shows the full cost to the civilian population inside the battle zones. He also shows how the Battle of the Bulge was the closest the Allies came to the ferocity of the Eastern Front as they came up against veterans of those harsh campaigns. A series of prisoner atrocities on both sides also led to some of the most vicious fighting of the Western Front. Then there was the battle of the egos as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Montgomery (promoted to Field Marshall) all fought for control and press coverage, almost jeopardising the campaign in some instances. But nothing on the scale of what occurred on the German side as Hitler’s fully delusional command tried for one last push to salvage Germany from inevitable and total defeat.

Antony Beevor delivers a fascinating account of the decisive battle of the Western Front.

Buy the book here…

Conveys the immensity and horror of a truly total world war

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Review – The Second World War by Antony Beevor

There have been so many books written about the Second World War, as whole and it its parts. For a war that finished almost 70 years ago there is not a lot of new material to be found or analysis to give. Andrew Roberts did it in The Storm of War and Antony Beevor has managed to do it in his books on specific battles of the war (CreteStalingradBerlin and D-Day). So I was very interested see how Beevor wrote about the whole war and what new material and perspectives he brought. I was also looking forward to Beevor’s perspectives on the Pacific War.

When I first became interested in the Second World War Stalingrad was one of the first books I discovered and read. The things I have really loved about all his books, and in particular Stalingrad, have been how he has taken a single battle and shown all its contexts. Beevor has written about an entire war before, The Spanish Civil War (twice in fact) but the scale of the Second World War is immense to say the least. There was no way an 800+ page book was going to cover the whole war in the detail we’ve come to expect from Antony Beevor so there was always going to be parts of the war either not covered or expanded upon as much as some readers would like. For example Kokoda doesn’t even rate a mention and the Papua New Guinea Campaign only gets a paragraph. But while Kokoda and Papua New Guinea are important to Australia’s context of the Second World War it is not as important to the whole war’s context.

However Beevor does heavily favour the European theatre, in particular the Eastern Front, which is understandable because that is where he has done most of his research and it is also where most the death and destruction occurred in the Second Wold War. But he also looks at the Allies in the west which he has only looked at previously with D-Day and Crete. You can almost see a new book by Beevor on the Desert War and I am pretty sure he has said the The Battle of the Bulge is his next book. He covers both in depth but also gives you the impression he could have expanded greatly upon both these battles.

While I felt that the Pacific War didn’t get the coverage I wanted he does cover China during the war in great detail. Previously I had only read about China in the context of the Japanese invasion pre-1939 but Beevor covers China all the way through the war which I found fascinating.

I also found the political manoeuvrings of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin immensely intriguing. Long before the tide started to turn in the war these three were already trying to out fox one another to get what they wanted post-War. Both Churchill and Roosevelt thought they had Stalin’s measure but he played them both off against each other both subtlety and crudely.

Writing about the whole of The Second World War is an ambitious task for any writer or historian. Beevor uses all of his skill to convey the immensity and horror of a truly total world war. Beevor fans will be well satisified and I think this is a great book for those who haven’t read him before to cut their teeth. And judging from the research that has gone into this book I can see at least three new books coming down the line.

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