Who Started It, Hitler or Stalin?

Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?
Victor Suvorov
300pp.

Following our review of a small library about Russia’s fight against Germany in World War II,  a reader introduced to me Victor Suvorov’s provocativeIcebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? In this book, the author debunks the accepted idea that Hitler was the primary instigator of the war, suggesting instead that it was mostly Stalin’s fault.

The author sets himself against a mass of historical evidence and analysis in his work, and in so doing opens himself to accusations of being an apologist for Hitler. But Suvorov is not that kind of revisionist: his goal is not to exonerate the Austrian Corporal or the Nazis, but to prove that the accepted Soviet/Russian narrative about the war is wrong.

Much has been done to uncover the crimes of Nazism and find the butchers who perpetrated atrocities in its name. This work must be continued and stepped up. But while unmasking fascists, one must also expose the Soviet communists who encouraged the Nazis to commit their crimes, so that they could avail themselves of the results of these crimes.

The task would seem almost impossible given that Soviet historians had 44 years after the war to alter the historical record and eliminate any countervailing evidence. Suvorov manages to make an argument that is interesting to those of us who still puzzle over Stalin’s tactical idiocy in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa. Believing that the whole show was a Stalin set piece, even down to the sacrifice of tens of millions of Soviet lives, offers a rationale that seems to reconcile Stalin’s early bumbling with the Red Army‘s victories during the last 30 months of the war.

What is more, Suvorov is no longer alone in the effort to make Stalin a co-culprit in World War II. Timothy Snyder‘s excellent Bloodlands is a reminder that both Hitler and Stalin engaged in political killings and mass-murders of their own citizens and those of the lands they conquered.

Unfortunately, Suvorov’s book (and indeed much of his other work, including his Inside the Soviet Army) comes across rather less than an academic study and more as a political treatise against Soviet communism. When the book was written in the late 1980s, there was a receptive audience for such works. Today, Suvorov’s tone and approach seems rather quaint (although, I would argue, not as anachronistic as it may seem, given events in Russia.)

Stripping away that foible, though, Suvorov at least opens the door to further academic examination of his points. There seems a vast field for historians to sow in probing the degree to which initial Soviet defeats were calculated by Stalin to secure his own power and provide an opening for Soviet domination of Europe.

How the USSR Won World War II

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler
David M. Glantz
& Jonathan House
University of Kansas
384 pages

The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany, Volume I
John Erickson
Yale University Press
606 pages

The Road to Berlin: Stalin’s War with Germany, Volume II
John Erickson
Cassell Military Paperbacks
896 pages

Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
Catherine Merridale
Picador Press
462 pages

For nearly three generations in the west, and in the Anglophone countries in particular, we have been given a narrative of World War II that focuses on the contributions of the United States and Great Britain to the defeat of Nazi Germany. After a lifetime of this narrative, it is not unreasonable to believe that the war was won by England and America. That belief tends to cast the Russian Front and the China-Burma-India Theater as little more than diversionary sideshows to the core campaigns of the conflict.

Little doubt this was reinforced by the prejudices laid upon our interpretation of history by the Cold War. It is, after all, impolitic to grant your enemies in your present conflict the credit for victory in the last. Since the fall of the Wall in 1989, we have been engaged in a celebration of the “Greatest Generation” of Americans, Britons, and Australians who fought that righteous conflict. The contributions of the Russians, largely ignored during the Cold War, was all but forgotten by the generation that came after.

I was a victim of this collective epidemic of amnesia. A lifetime study of the war my father’s generation fought has left me with a fair appreciation of the Pacific War from the perspective of the U.S. Navy; of the Battle of the Atlantic from the perspective of the Royal Navy; and the fight in Europe from the perspective of the U.S. Army (in particular, Patton’s Third Army.) I say this not to apologize, but to suggest that the scope of the war was so great and the literature so vast (including a trove of government documents declassified only recently) that it is possible to lose the wider perspective.

When the Cold War ended and the Iron Curtain fell, the time had come for the psychological curtain to come down on the history as well. The Russian Front has now emerged from the realm of the scholarly to the realm of popular history, allowing a wider, balanced reconsideration of the role played by the Soviet Union in Germany’s defeat.

The Basic Narrative

Unguided, the newcomer to the study of the Eastern Front will quickly fall into a deep rabbit hole. The story of Stalin’s war against Hitler, begun in hubris and betrayal and ended 46 months later in vengeful retribution is so vast and deep that it invites a lifetime of study. Fortunately for those of us unable to afford such a commitment, three authors have created a superb overview of the Russian theater that will either satisfy the casually curious or entice the serious scholar into deeper study.

The risk of trying to capture the conflict in a single volume of popular history is that important though seemingly peripheral events will be left out. But two of the U.S. Army’s most distinguished military historians, Colonel David M. Glantz and Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan House manage to offer a thorough and engrossing narrative that serves as the ideal primer on the war in the East. Experienced instructors of undergraduates, Glantz and House know their audience, readers who want an overview of the war and plenty of maps to put a litany of unfamiliar places into comfortable context. The authors break some new research ground, but perform yeomen’s service in delivering a history with enough detail to provide understanding without getting us immersed in detail.

The Authoritative History

Glantz and House leave the reader thirsty to know more, and the next (and best) step is John Erickson’s authoritative two-volume history, The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin. In what is perhaps the single best account of the Eastern Front, suited for popular readers and scholars alike, Erickson offers less a military blow-by-blow than a social history of the conflict from the Soviet point of view. Erickson’s achievement in research, conducted when the Cold War was at its height, would have been challenging to duplicate in today’s more open environment – it was a work of genius at the time. His greatest accomplishment, though, is in his restraint: Erickson manages to give the Red Army the credit it is due for its role in the war without creating a panegyric.

Cover of "THE ROAD TO BERLIN (STALIN\'S W...

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At the core of Erickson’s telling is the man FDR called “Uncle Joe,” who emerges over the course of the books as a Machiavellian thug possessed of just enough intelligence and raw cunning to save the Soviet Union and himself after his hubris and ruthlessness placed both on the cusp of oblivion. Hitler, for his part, had co-opted the German officer corps and let them forge the Wehrmacht into the most powerful armed force the world had seen to that point, all in less than a decade of Germany’s repudiation of the Versailles Treaty. Stalin, by contrast, had by the time Germany turned on the USSR reduced the Red Army’s leadership to little more than a corps of incompetent sycophants who commanded an army utterly unprepared to fight a modern war.

Without belaboring Stalin’s error, Erickson shows us how a tiny handful of capable Red Army officers who had dodged the worst of the purges (led by G.K. Zhukov and I.S. Koniev) were joined by heretofore overlooked leaders who distinguished themselves in battle (including V.I. Chuikov, the savior of Stalingrad, and P.A. Rotmistrov, arguably the Red Army’s best tank commander) rallied demoralized, ill-equipped, and ideology-crippled Red Army after eighteen months of defeat and retreat. Their first victories were internal. With the Germans at the gates of Stalingrad, “The Boss” relented and allowed Zhukov to unify the Army’s command structure and relegate the military commissar’s role to that of an indoctrination officer. A seemingly small change, this opened the door for the Red Army to fight the war on military terms and make decisions on weapons and doctrine for purely military reasons. It was a very near thing.

Yet Stalin was the quintessential control freak, and his institutionalized tool for micromanaging every aspect of the war’s conduct, the Supreme High Command (Stavka), was proof that while Stalin would give his commanders some leeway, their ropes were short. Indeed, Stalin arguably involved himself as much with his battle conduct as Hitler did. But after a year-and-a-half and a swathe of blood and destruction from the Bug River to the Vistula, Stalin had learned to give his better generals the benefit of the doubt. Still, earning even that modicum of trust was not easy for Uncle Joe, and he delegated only when detail became too overwhelming.

Erickson does not venerate the Red Army marshals, even the best of them. To the very last, even when better weapons, hard-won lessons, and the preponderance of forces offered opportunities for tactical innovation, the leaders of the Red Army remained as careless with the lives of their own soldiers as they were with those of the enemy. Arguably Leningrad, Sevastapol, the Moscow campaign and the battle for Stalingrad were desperate battles where the only choice was to win by bloody attrition. To suggest that the Red Army was in such straits as it prepared to launch the final battle for Berlin in 1945, though, is ludicrous. Yet Zhukov, who remains the most venerated Soviet commander of the War, turned Seelow Heights between the Polish Frontier and Berlin into a meat grinder, and the last two weeks of the war cost the Red Army a quarter of a million lives. It is, perhaps, as much a testament to the heavy hand of the Stavka as to the hard-headedness of Soviet commanders that a revolution in battlefield doctrine would have been seen as a counterrevolutionary act. The average Soviet soldier paid the price for such orthodoxy in blood, right up to the moment of German capitulation.

The Average Ivan

The individual soldier of the Red Army and what he indured for Stalin’s ultimate victory is the subject of Catherine Merridale’s superb oral history Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945. Merridale has done historians a remarkable service capturing the memories and memoirs of Russia’s own Greatest Generation while at least a few of that generation remained. The story she assembles compliments Erickson’s in that she tells the story from the point of view of the average Ivan. She makes no apologies for the often atrocious extra-combat behavior of Soviet soldiers. Yet in describing their backgrounds, their hopes, and the psychological effects of living in the early years of the USSR, she offers us a chance to understand what turned these otherwise unassuming peasants into remorseless marauders.

What is more broadly relevant, though, is how so many of these (mostly young) soldiers believed that the end of the war would mean a better life than before. Somehow, reading into the promises of Party propaganda, most of them felt that greater freedom and prosperity would be their reward for the sacrifices they and their mates had made for Comrade Stalin and therodina.They certainly deserved as much. Without denigrating the contributions of the Yanks and the Tommies, it is fair to say that Ivan, his willingness to endure the worst possible conditions, the strongest imaginable enemy, and officers prepared to sacrifice him by the tens of thousands, was the single decisive factor in the war against Germany.

Birth of an Empire

Ivan may have achieved little more than a chance for survival via victory. Stalin, however, had every intention of exacting from Europe and the world the fullest possible payment for Russia’s blood and devastation. From the moment the Red Army turned Stalingrad into a German rout, Stalin began a campaign to permanently neuter Germany and turn the Soviet Union into a hegemonic power. Erickson in particular weaves into his account the story of how Stalin systematically undermined every government-in-exile in Europe (save Greece and France), how he crafted his own proxies, and how he bullied the rest of the Allies into accepting a fait accompli even as the NKVD “disappeared” entire delegations of exiled Polish leaders. With a 19 page summary of the Yalta conference, Erickson makes it clear that Roosevelt and Churchill were neither conspirators nor dupes. In war as in business, Erickson’s account suggests, possession is nine-tenths of the law. Short of taking Eastern Europe back by force, there was no way Stalin was going to give an inch more than suited him.

As much as in the diplomatic salons, Stalin made sure that every move on the battlefield reinforced the Soviet Union’s claim on postwar hegemony. Stalin insisted that the U.S. and British armies stop cold on the previously-agreed demarcation lines across Germany, even though the Allies were prepared to storm across Europe and could have met the Red Army much farther east (on the line Prague-Dresden-Berlin) and ended the war as much as a week sooner. Stalin preferred to bleed Germany – and the Red Army – for as long as it took to ensure he was not going to have to ask the Allies to give up anything that they had taken. General Patton, somewhat less in awe of Soviet ambitions than his superiors, let the forward reconnaissance elements of his force get all the way into the suburbs of Prague, two days before the Soviet 13th Army reached the same point. Stalin pressed the Allies, who pressed Eisenhower, who told Patton to withdraw.

U.S. soldiers returned home to 52 weeks of paid vacation and an opportunity to attend university at government expense. Ivan did not do near as well. Joseph Stalin, for his part, won an empire that just outlasted him and marked the high-water mark of Russian civilization. Whether the cost seemed dear to Stalin the world will likely never know.

A Lesson for China

If there is an enduring lesson in the course of Stalin’s war with Germany, it is that the cost in national treasure and blood of a politicized army is prohibitive. Ideology and military necessity are uncomfortable bedfellows in the best of times, and utterly incompatible in the crucible of combat command. The salvation of the Soviet Union was a very near thing, so much so that it is arguably an even more powerful legitimizing myth for Russia than the Revolution, much in the way the Civil War serves as an historic vindication of America. The price to Stalin of political conformity in the military was almost the existence of the USSR itself.

China will likely face no such existential moment, no matter how poorly its forces perform in the field: possession of nuclear arms guarantees as much. Whether a Chinese government could remain legitimate in the eyes of its own people after the rout of its conventional forces is another matter altogether. China is betting on force structure, diplomacy, and bluff to ensure against such an eventuality. But the politicization of the force and its doctrine remains a weakness that would inhibit battlefield performance at every level. It seems, though, that the PLA will be no more able to exercise this problem in advance of combat than the Red Army was seven decades ago.

The Battles Inside the US Navy in World War II

Mark 14 Steam Driven Torpedo

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Administrative histories of military forces rarely make for scintillating reading. Accounts of the activities of command bureaucracies are, however, treasure chests for the military historian. Without taking from the fighting men and women or their commanders, it is usually the force that has its stuff together in the rear and in the higher echelons of command that wins the battles. Administrative histories show us the terrain on which the bureaucratic battles were fought.

Some of those fights were spectacular and were felt on the battlefield. The fight between the OSS, the FBI, and the armed forces, for example over control of strateic intelligence; the denial of the Navy bureaucracy that there was something seriously, fatally wrong with the Mark 14 torpedo; the Army Air Corps’ struggle for independence from the ground forces that made tactical air support and battlefield interdiction permanent poor cousins to strategic bombing and air superiority; and the countless internal fights that determined the way the war would be fought and by whom. These conflicts not only dictated the nature of the battle, but cast the shape of the US armed forces for the remainder of the 20th century. And they are all chronicled in so-called “administrative histories.”

Thus, the Guide to United States Naval Administrative Histories of World War II is a bibliography of the internal accounts of these battles in the Department of the Navy. They serve, therefore, as glimpses into the birth and early growth of modern naval forces, as well as the conduct of the war itself. The resource is indispensible for the serious historian, and, if nothing else, serves as a guide when pursuing research into any significant naval topic.

America’s War in the North Atlantic

On lookout for U-boats in the Second Battle of...

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As much as the U.S. Army’s role in the Pacific War somewhat unjustly fades behind that of the Navy and Marines, the Navy’s role in the victory in Europe is too-often overlooked. Samuel Eliot Morrison tried to rectify that somewhat in his multivolume histories of the U.S. Navy in World War II, but there is precious little grist available to us amateur historians to learn more about the US Navy’s Atlantic fight.

One of the most critical of those fights was the Battle of the Atlantic, the six year effort to thwart Germany’s plan to win the European war by severing the Allies’ transatlantic supply line. Our hindsight makes it easy to forget that the matter was often in doubt, especially after German U-Boats were organized in Wolf Packs, began operating off the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and shredded convoys like the infamous PQ-17. Indeed, the U.S. applied the same strategy to Japan with huge success.

Navy Task Force 24 was the U.S. unit charged with the safe conduct of merchant convoys from U.S. ports to a point where British escorts could assume escort duties. The official account of the Admirals who commanded that unit, Commander Task Force 24, is thus a critical primary source for anyone with an interest in that period.

As with many such government-produced documents, the narrative can be a bit dry, more of a chronology than a thematically-organized work, and it is focused heavily on administrative matters rather than operations themselves. Nonetheless, this is essential background, and anyone familiar with or interested in the conduct of the war in the Atlantic will find the work enlightening.

The Untold Story of the Navy on D-Day

Normandy Invasion, June 1944 A convoy of Landi...

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The Invasion of Normandy: Operation NEPTUNE (Administrative History of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, 1940-1946)

Do not let the otherwise bland title fool you. Nearly seven decades after the Allied landings in northern France, this service history remains the most comprehensive study of the maritime side of the invasion of Normandy.

Covering the complete history of the operation, from its early planning stages in January 1942 until its execution 30 months later, this is an exhaustive study of what had to happen behind the scenes in order to bring together the massive flotilla necessary to make D-Day happen. It is probably one of the best yet least told naval stories of World War II, and it is available for free reading online.

The work itself has, to my knowledge, never been published in book form, though the original manuscript was apparently a key source for naval Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison when he wrote the eleventh volume in his massive operational history of the U.S. Navy in World War II. This it is probably the single best primary source of history about the operation.

A must for any historian, we can only hope that somebody will put it in book, pdf, or Kindle format at some point soon.

The Pacific War According to MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur surveys the beachhea...

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There are histories aplenty of World War II in the Pacific, and the biographies of General Douglas MacArthur would fill a long bookshelf. Anyone interested in the man or the period, however, would do well to read The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Volume 1.

This account of Douglas MacArthur’s World War II, published by the U.S. Army and compiled by MacArthur’s staff, is excellent source material, but should not be seen as a definitive history. Indeed, the work seems a tad more biased than both contemporary and recent works by distinguished historians, and there are those who would read into the portrayal of some of the events and battles an overly flattering picture of MacArthur, his generalship, and the strategic importance of his theater of operations.

That said, the account of the war against Japan could use a little bias away from the accepted narrative, if only to prevent important campaigns from vanishing from memory. As the saying goes, there were two wars being fought in the Pacific, the one between the Allies and Japan, and the one between the US Navy and the US Army. If history is written by the victors, the Navy won the latter, and as a result the role of the US Army in the region has been minimized by a focus on the Navy by academic and popular historians alike.

This begs for some rectification without taking from the sacrifices and achievements of the Navy/Marine Corps team. MacArthur’s account, although compiled by men intensely loyal to the general personally, is a first step in that direction.

So What Did YOU Do in the War, Daddy

Reading through David Brinkley’s excellent Washington Goes To War provided a jarring reminder to this amateur historian that history during that period was made outside of the Armed Forces as well.

For those interested in studying the home front in World War II, an excellent resource is The Administrative Histories of World War II Civilian Agencies of the Federal Government. This is essentially a large bibliography, but it is exhaustive, and thus an outstanding scholarly resource.

How Intelligence Helped Turn the Tide Against Japan

USS Yorktown (CV-5). In Dry Dock # 1 at the Pe...

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On April 17, 1942, Imperial Japan seemed invincible. The nation’s armed forces were virtually undefeated in battle. All of East Asia, including much of China, lay under the boot of Dai Nippon; Australia and India looked to be next; and with the Allies focused on Europe first, the U.S. looked to be at least a year away before being able to take the offensive against even an overextended Japan.

Within 50 days, that had all changed.

While her armies were still rampant on mainland Asia, Japan’s Navy had suffered a sequence of defeats. The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo ended the myth of Japanese invincibility, the Battle of the Coral Sea had halted Japan’s drive into Australia, and the Battle of Midway destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy as a strategic offensive force.

That turning point was enabled by a range of factors, but it surely would not have happened had there not been a series of coups in signals intelligence in the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In A Priceless Advantage: U.S. Navy Communications Intelligence and the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians, Frederick D. Parker gives us a look at the facts behind the legends, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the unconventional team that enabled those (and many other) victories.

If the work leaves one wondering why, in contrast, the history of US intelligence over the last six decades reads like the annals of the Keystone Kops, it also offers the beginnings of an answer. Superior intelligence organizations are often not the conscious product of organizational science, but of brilliant, directed operators who are completely focused and left unhampered in their work.

A superb read for lovers of history and anyone interested in intelligence.

 

U.S. Navy Communications Intelligence and
the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians
Frederick D. Parker

The Road to Catalonia

Cover of "The Battle for Spain: The Spani...

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There are probably any number of reasons someone of my vintage might not know much about the Spanish Civil War.

Perhaps it is because I grew up in America, and there were probably far less than 10,000 Americans involved in the conflict, making it defensible to gloss over in courses on modern European history. Perhaps it is because the intervening years have seen Spain relegated to the back bench of European powers, thus making the civil war easy to ignore. Or perhaps it is because the conflict, waged between Franco’s facists on one side and the anarcho-socialist-communist Republic on the other, gave us anti-Facist and (after 1945) anti-Communist Americans no easy heroes?

In his masterful The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Anthony Beevor, who has written some of the best popular histories of World War II campaigns like Stalingrad, Crete, and the fall of Berlin, has taken on a far more complex conflict than the others. His task is thus ambitious: given a nation with whom few of us are familiar and a vast cast of characters who are all but alien and irrelevant to your average English speaker, allow us to follow the course of the conflict sufficiently to reach our own conclusions about it.

While there were moments about halfway through the book that I despaired of ever getting it all straight, not long afterward it was all coming together, even without the benefit of a good map or a scorecard of the major and minor characters. Along the way, Beevor makes it painfully clear that the war was inevitable. Spain needed to be yanked out of its somnambulant neo-feudalism, but a democratic republic could not accomplish the necessary changes against the opposition of the church and the landowners, and the radicals that captured and led the republic provoked an inevitable reactionary response.

There are few heroes, but Beevor hesitates just short of making either Franco or his radical opponents into villains. The Caudillo was as vain and power-hungry as the worst Latin despots and a mediocre commander, but one is left believing that if it had not been Franco, it would have been someone else, perhaps Jose Sanjurjo de Sacanell or Gonzalo Quiepo de Llano, Franco’s fellow generals and co-conspirators in the plot to overthrow the republic. The leaders of the republic, portrayed as fractious, squabbling, and mutually-distrustful, are tragic figures.

If there were evildoers in this saga, Beevor subtly points beyond Spain: at the Germans and Italians, who honed their arsenals and armies for World War II in supporting Franco; at the Russians, who supported the Republic but exacerbated its centrifugal politics; at the British and French, who feared giving Hitler an excuse to go to war more than they feared facism in Spain; and to the Vatican of Pope Pius XII, who framed the war as a Catholic jihad and mobilized the faithful around the world against helping the Republic.

Beevor’s other conclusions are even more provocative, but I will leave you to read the book and decide for yourself.

One last thought.

The framers of the Declaration of Independence understood that, at some point, even the most downtrodden of peoples must rise up and replace the government that has kept them there. The history of the past three centuries is replete with examples of successful revolutions, and these have framed our political thinking. But if we learn more from our failures than our successes, it behoves those of us who believe in the value of a modern, participatory state to spend more time studying the failed revolutions than the successful ones.

The Spanish Civil War was a failed revolution. With peoples from Malaysia to Tunisia rising up against their leaders, we must remember Catalonia, the Republic, the Spain that might have been, and we must understand why it was not. Only then can we comprehend the dangers of spontaneous risings as well as we do the opportunities.

Marshall’s Airman

Lieutenant General Frank Maxwell Andrews

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The history of war is written not only by the victors, but the survivors. How much better we remember those who made it through the fight than those who fell, even when the fallen fought on the side of the victors.

One of those soldiers who fell in the allied cause was General Frank M. Andrews, who died in a B-24 crash enroute to take command of the U.S. Air Force in Europe in 1943. Andrew’s most important role in his career predated the war, when he was the organizer and commander of the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), and as such the man who pulled the U.S. Army’s U.S.-based aviation units into a single, integrated operational force. if General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is the man best remembered as the commander of U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, it was Andrews who made Arnold’s efforts possible.

Andrews was the officer, arguably, who sold Army Chief of Staff George Marshall on both the concept of strategic bombing applied in Europe during the war, and on the primary weapon used in that effort, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

In Frank M. Andrews: Marshall’s Airman, a brief but engrossing biography published by the Air Force History and Museums Program, historian DeWitt Coop goes further. He suggests that Andrews, in his advocacy of an independent air arm and the first commander of GHQAF, was one of the leading architects of an independent air force that came into being after the war. Coop thus places Andrews in that aerospace pantheon of air visionaries who, like Billy Mitchell, made an independent air force possible.

History has not been kind to Andrews or his vision. Andrews was virtually forgotten after his tragic death, eclipsed by Arnold, LeMay, and others who survived him. The ultimate benefits of the strategic bombing campaign he was to have led in Europe, once taken as a given, are now a matter of hot debate among historians. And the value of an independent air force, appreciable in a day when few non-aviators understood the role of aviation on the battlefield, is now much less so in an era of pervasive aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles, and combined-arms doctrine. But there was no way of knowing any of that then, and at no point has it been suggested that Andrews was anything but sincere in his beliefs.

I am a member of what I believe to be a small group of historians who think that we have more to learn from failed beliefs, doctrines, and strategies than winning ones. Understanding Frank Andrews, what he believed, and why he believed it offer us a mirror for our own passionately held beliefs, whether in war, in business, or in life.

Airborne Assault on Holland

Waves of paratroopers land in the Netherlands ...

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This book gives us the perspective of the US Air Force on the story made familiar in Cornelius Ryan‘s epic A Bridge Too Far. As you read through this account, even if you’re familiar with the events of Operation Market-Garden, you’ll realize that the Air Force’s side of the story has not been well told.

What is most fascinating about this account, however, is the Air Force’s own admission that while it did everything that it could to help beat back stiff German resistance, airpower was unable to secure the victory. This must come as a sobering realization to airmen dedicated to the proposition that air power is decisive in battle. Clearly at a tactical level in World War II, this was not the case, despite the presence of some of the best close air support tacticians, practitioners, and equipment ever produced.

If you have read other accounts of this campaign, you’ll find this work to be of great interest.

Air Power for Patton’s Army: The 19th Tactical Air Command in the Second World War

Otto P. Weyland

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One of the most consistently underrated factors in the Allied victory in Europe during World War II is the quality of tactical air support to the troops on the ground. Each for its own reasons, the Army and the Air Force tend to underplay the importance of tactical air support to their operations.

By delving into how General George S Patton worked with his counterpart at the XIX Tactical Air Command, General Otto P. Weyland, this book underscores how strong air-ground coordination actually changes the traditional rules of battle, and arguably was much of the secret sauce behind Patton’s successes in his advance across France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

A fascinating read for historians of the period.

The Army Air Forces in Northwest Africa

Reviewing history through the lens of the Allied victory in World War II, it is easy for us to forget that the only armed forces (arguably) prepared for war at its onset were those of Japan and Germany. Both had experienced cadre and formations, Japan’s honed in China and Manchuria, Germany’s in the Spanish Civil War. The Allies, lulled into complacency by a combination of popular wishful thinking and artful propaganda, were, even in 1942, still catching up with the Axis forces. Nowhere was this more the case than with the American forces thrown into combat in North Africa.

For the U.S. Army Air Forces, still far behind the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe in experience and equipment, North Africa was the beginning of a brutal learning curve in arts of tactical air support and what was then known as pursuit aviation. This book, while a service history, gives a good overview of operations without getting so granular as to make it pedantic. A worthy addition to the library of anyone with an interest in the period, or in the history of aviation.

Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II

Before the Second World War, the idea of moving large groups of soldiers to an objective by air was so much science fiction. After the war, it was doctrine.

Getting there was a brutal learning curve, in particular the airborne phases of the invasion of Sicily and Normandy and the effort to supply the Chinese army by air over the Himalayas. But learn the Air Force did, and the result was the most air transportable armed force on the planet.

This book covers that transition, forged in battle, that made air mobility a core tenet of U.S. strategic doctrine.

Air-Ground Teamwork on the Western Front

Elwood Richard Quesada

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The U.S. Army Air Corps, and later the Air Force, have always viewed what is known as “attack aviation” as a tertiary function following air superiority and strategic bombardment, and probably behind tactical air transport. One only need look at the history of the Army’s eventual development of its own aviation branch to find the evidence.

I suspect, therefore, that the Air Force is attempting to combat this perception with the publication of accounts of its history as a ground-support force. In their defense, when some of their number have dropped out of the clouds to focus on providing direct support to ground troops, (most notable among such aviators is General Elwood Richard “Pete” Quesada, pictured) they have done well. That’s why this book is such a worthy read.