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Okay ... what book(s) radically altered your understanding of a topic you thought you already had a pretty good grasp on and why?
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Before I read The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, I had thought that the war was driven by typical imperialistic moves being made by big powers (which is likely a common 'American kid from the late fifties' viewpoint who maintain WWII as the canonical example of big war). This book demonstrated very well, I believe, that significant pressure from one or two very small countries leveraged/steered a good part of the planet into this conflagration.

Most history books I read teach me something I didn't know; this one corrected my thinking.
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Before reading this I subscribed to the standard picture of Great Britain at the outbreak of WW2 as the plucky ill--equipped underdogs taking on the mighty German war machine.

I left it convinced that Britain was actually very wealthy country, formidable in arms, with a deep and wide scientific, technological and industrial advantage over the Axis. The Germans in developing a blitzkreig and machine based concept of modern battle only drove straight into the cul-de-sac where Britain that the most advantage over them.

The British, indeed Churchillian, vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat by vastly less well equipped enemies. Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision. Like the United States, a powerful Britain won a relatively cheap victory, while others paid a great price.

It concentrates on the European theatre, but from this and other related reading subsequently I suspect that even by the time that Germany declared war on the USA, Britain had got herself into a position from which she could not lose. It may have taken a 20 year Napoleonic time frame to actually win it of course, but the USSR and USA together ensured an altogether quicker victory.

Certainly a myth-buster.
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Terry Lewis
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I highly recommend (for those interested in both WWI and crucial turning points in history), William D. O'Neil's short, inexpensive paperback (which does a great job of including understandable synopsizes of heavier research) entitled "The Plan That Broke the World: The 'Schlieffen Plan' and World War I" (2014 / ISBN: 1481955853 -- available at Amazon).

This book confirmed much of my own reading over several decades and the basic outline of my own conclusions that ran counter to many general conceptions about WWI, and went beyond what I already knew and suspected.

Terry Lewis
(a retired professor with many years of college/university level teaching, including American and European history, 1968 - 2003.
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The knee-jerk response for a WWII buff is probably The Blitzkrieg Legend, but I always kind of suspected the Germans owed their success in France to a lot of luck and successive French failures at all levels. That book sort of confirmed those thoughts for me.

Instead, War Without Garlands was more eye-opening. Years of reading had led me to believe that the Germans were performing solidly up until maybe Moscow, and certainly had reached their limits during Case Blue and Stalingrad. Also, Hitler was to blame for most of the critically bad operational decisions; otherwise, the war could have gone smoothly. That was the myth, at any rate.

Kershaw's book was the first that I had read that showed that the Germans' problems started as soon as they started Barbarossa. The combination of their own logistical issues, and steady attrition caused by tough Soviet resistance, worked against the Germans from the start. These trends would continue throughout the war in the east, and only get worse. Also important: None of these early and ongoing problems had anything to do with Hitler's operational decisions, really, but German military performance at and behind the front lines. If there was any mistake, it was strategic: maybe the Germans shouldn't have invaded the USSR in the first place.

Kershaw's book made this case several years before Stahel.
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Arcology wrote:


The knee-jerk response for a WWII buff is probably The Blitzkrieg Legend, but I always kind of suspected the Germans owed their success in France to a lot of luck and successive French failures at all levels. That book sort of confirmed those thoughts for me.

Instead, War Without Garlands was more eye-opening. Years of reading had led me to believe that the Germans were performing solidly up until maybe Moscow, and certainly had reached their limits during Case Blue and Stalingrad. Also, Hitler was to blame for most of the critically bad operational decisions; otherwise, the war could have gone smoothly. That was the myth, at any rate.

Kershaw's book was the first that I had read that showed that the Germans' problems started as soon as they started Barbarossa. The combination of their own logistical issues, and steady attrition caused by tough Soviet resistance, worked against the Germans from the start. These trends would continue throughout the war in the east, and only get worse. Also important: None of these early and ongoing problems had anything to do with Hitler's operational decisions, really, but German military performance at and behind the front lines. If there was any mistake, it was strategic: maybe the Germans shouldn't have invaded the USSR in the first place.

Kershaw's book made this case several years before Stahel.


Anything by Robert Kershaw is worth reading. Even at the time, the Germans knew what was happening, they called it "Winning to death".
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Arcology wrote:
maybe the Germans shouldn't have invaded the USSR in the first place.

Kershaw's book made this case several years before Stahel.



I recently came to this conclusion as well while reading the logistics details of the German east front operations. Particularly these two:



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The Cousins Wars. Pretty radically altered my understanding of what was going on which led to the American Revolution. I haven't finished the book yet, and I'm looking forward to further insights about the American Civil War.

From what I've read so far, however, I think this book should be made mandatory reading for all high school teachers of US history!
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Wendell
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bob_santafe wrote:
The Cousins Wars. Pretty radically altered my understanding of what was going on which led to the American Revolution. I haven't finished the book yet, and I'm looking forward to further insights about the American Civil War.

From what I've read so far, however, I think this book should be made mandatory reading for all high school teachers of US history!


Read it ages ago, and agree it's a very good look at the antecedents in English history of the American (and Anglo-American) conflicts...
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Icebreaker by Viktor Suvorov

"A historian, the Soviet defector Victor Suvorov tells the story of World War II as started not by Hitler, but by Stalin. He contends that Russia's part in starting the war was very much greater and much more sinister than has hitherto been assumed." ( From Amazon entry )

It contends that Stalin let Hitler act as an icebreaker upon the Europe he then intended to take for Communism.

The reason the Soviets did not mount a good defense against Operation Barbarossa is given as that they were in the process of preparing for a strike, not a defense.

"Suvorov provides overwhelming evidence of Soviet offensive intentions just before the outbreak of hostiities.Huge quantities of Soviet troops were being moved from the rear to the Polish demarcation line - and postioned opposite key targets - such as the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. The Soviet production of tanks designed to roll on German autobahns is most indictive. Even more indicative is the deliberate tearing up of a well-constructed defensive line in western Russia. The Soviet troops were provided with maps of Germany and Poland - none of which would have been necessary if Soviet plans were peaceful." (quote from an online review on Amazon. )

Most will ignore this book or debase it since it upsets the status quo. As the reviewer quoted above points out, since it shows Hitler as defending the west against communism it will be damned as unorthodox and heretical. Hitler was just plain evil and nothing good could come from what he did. I find life, and history much more complex than that. For this reason I found it stimulating.

Even if it is true it will never be claimed by the wargame crowd any more than general history - every Eastfront and WWII Grand Strategic game would have to be redesigned! Yikes! Let alone our whole thinking about the Front, and the War re-thought.
The nearest we get to this is 'Patton in Flames'.

It raises another issue with wargames which goes like this - 'because the Soviets were beat in 1941 they were weak, so give them less strength.'
If they were caught off balance it does not mean they were inherently weak. If they had attacked in 1941 would the Wermacht have been able to hold them? Of course if they are given greater strength.
So much of our wargame assumptions are based on what did happen, even when we try to open options away from that.
Our history is a bit like that too. What did happen is sealed in stone, what didn't happen but might have, and what was happening but was hidden, rarely comes to light.

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Well, it's still true, no matter what Suvorov says, that the Soviet Union suffered more than 13 million casualties in uniform and more than 20 million dead overall. Those facts did not occur just because the Red Army was geared for offense rather than defense. They happened because the Red Army was not prepared for modern war at all in 1941.
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The reason I don't accept Suvorov's work is that much of what he claims does not hold up to the archival evidence that has come to light since. And it hasn't just been done by academic stalwarts like Erickson, Overy, Bellamy and Glantz, but also by Bogdan Musial, who is convinced that Stalin always had designs on Germany.

Most historians of the Russian army seem to agree that the Red Army was not ready for war in 1941 and that the top hierarchy and Stalin were well aware of this.

This has nothing to do with the status quo and most certainly not with designers reluctant to design new games on the Eastern Front. There's still so much coming out churning over the same stuff, that I am sure they'd all love to include new material.


Agip wrote:
Icebreaker by Viktor Suvorov

"A historian, the Soviet defector Victor Suvorov tells the story of World War II as started not by Hitler, but by Stalin. He contends that Russia's part in starting the war was very much greater and much more sinister than has hitherto been assumed." ( From Amazon entry )

It contends that Stalin let Hitler act as an icebreaker upon the Europe he then intended to take for Communism.

The reason the Soviets did not mount a good defense against Operation Barbarossa is given as that they were in the process of preparing for a strike, not a defense.

"Suvorov provides overwhelming evidence of Soviet offensive intentions just before the outbreak of hostiities.Huge quantities of Soviet troops were being moved from the rear to the Polish demarcation line - and postioned opposite key targets - such as the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. The Soviet production of tanks designed to roll on German autobahns is most indictive. Even more indicative is the deliberate tearing up of a well-constructed defensive line in western Russia. The Soviet troops were provided with maps of Germany and Poland - none of which would have been necessary if Soviet plans were peaceful." (quote from an online review on Amazon. )

Most will ignore this book or debase it since it upsets the status quo. As the reviewer quoted above points out, since it shows Hitler as defending the west against communism it will be damned as unorthodox and heretical. Hitler was just plain evil and nothing good could come from what he did. I find life, and history much more complex than that. For this reason I found it stimulating.

Even if it is true it will never be claimed by the wargame crowd any more than general history - every Eastfront and WWII Grand Strategic game would have to be redesigned! Yikes! Let alone our whole thinking about the Front, and the War re-thought.
The nearest we get to this is 'Patton in Flames'.

It raises another issue with wargames which goes like this - 'because the Soviets were beat in 1941 they were weak, so give them less strength.'
If they were caught off balance it does not mean they were inherently weak. If they had attacked in 1941 would the Wermacht have been able to hold them? Of course if they are given greater strength.
So much of our wargame assumptions are based on what did happen, even when we try to open options away from that.
Our history is a bit like that too. What did happen is sealed in stone, what didn't happen but might have, and what was happening but was hidden, rarely comes to light.

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Thanks for the input Jur di. I argue that even if the Red Army had not 'been ready' for war in 1941 the leadership may still have been preparing a pre-emptive strike since Hitler had made plain he was a threat to communism. They may have felt they had no choice.
'Being ready' may be assessed in differently in retrospect and outside the situation than it would have been at and in the time.

About the wargame status-quo, I did not make myself clear. I did not mean that people would not enjoy designing new Eastfront games but that if Suvorov's history is accepted then most nearly evey game on the Eastfront designed up to then would have to revise the relative strengths of Russian - German forces. At present the design for effect is that Barbarossa must be able to happen. What if the Russian forces were de-stabilised on the moment of pre-paring to pounce? Perhaps they were not as weak as they might appear to be if we imagine they were basically trying to hold a defense together.

 
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There seems to be a consensus that Stalin was preparing for war, but not completely on whether that included offensive war. I guess the evidence allows different interpretations.

The strength of Red Army may not have been in it's front line units along the border in June 1941, but in the reserves that it was able to put into combat in the following months.

The front line units gave a mixed account. Badly in Eastern Poland, much better in the western Ukraine. They seem to have decidedly inferior in tactics and operational conduct. Equipment was often outdated and in bad repair. Leadership was uneven as well. At the time all these defects were known to German and allied intelligence.

Obviously, had there been no strategic surprise, they would have fared better

Agip wrote:
Thanks for the input Jur di. I argue that even if the Red Army had not 'been ready' for war in 1941 the leadership may still have been preparing a pre-emptive strike since Hitler had made plain he was a threat to communism. They may have felt they had no choice.
'Being ready' may be assessed in differently in retrospect and outside the situation than it would have been at and in the time.

About the wargame status-quo, I did not make myself clear. I did not mean that people would not enjoy designing new Eastfront games but that if Suvorov's history is accepted then most nearly evey game on the Eastfront designed up to then would have to revise the relative strengths of Russian - German forces. At present the design for effect is that Barbarossa must be able to happen. What if the Russian forces were de-stabilised on the moment of pre-paring to pounce? Perhaps they were not as weak as they might appear to be if we imagine they were basically trying to hold a defense together.

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There are a number of books putting forward this same thesis. I have not read "Icebreaker" but another tome at my brother's place - I would have to phone him to remind me of the title - but I recall being unconvinced.

I will update...
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Whether or not I am convinced that Stalin was preparing an offensive, or that had he been doing so it would have been at all effective, the book has altered my perceptions of this theatre and the war in general.
Unless one claims that the author is fraudulent the picture he presents (such as maps of Germany and Poland issued) does provide food for thought. What if Germany did pre-empt an attack by Russian forces upon Europe? What if the secret politics of the Anglo-American establishment used Hitler and his regime, or at least stepped out of his way so as to save them the trouble? (NB this is not part of the authors thesis but my own thoughts) Deep politics of certain groups within this establishment were(/are still?) aiming to mould the development of Russia under their own lines. This might include trimming and/or containing its development as seen fit.
Or perhaps it goes the other way and a German influence in Russia was undesirable so Communism was left to build up as a bulwark against this.
I don't know but all new perspectives on history are welcome to me considering that a 360 degree view of anything is more desirable than a 30 degree one, even if it means uncomfortable opposites are held in the same circle. After all a mountain can look completely different from the north than it does from the south. The search for truth does not find easy satisfaction. I am just as un-convinced by more mainstream histories as some will be by this book (and others like it), each author comes at the subject from a certain perspective and what they see will be determined by that. The question for me is what can they bring that fleshes out the picture, do they add anything new (is it rubbish?), how does this alter or develop my previous conceptions.

An option is to agree with a view and then reject others because they disagree. It has been contended that paradigm shifts are pre-cursored by this stance until the weight of contrary evidence shifts the view on to another. This is a bit linear for my taste. Perhaps the old view is true, up to a point, and so is the new view. The paradigm may grow organically to encompass both, and more, rather than than shift from one to the exclusion of the other in a mechanical fashion.

The deeper you look the more fascinating and different history becomes. As per this thread this book helped alter my perceptions.

Dear OP, shall we shift this discussion to another thread so as not to hijack this one?
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Wendell
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Another problem with the "But the Soviets were going to attack!" line of argument (apart from the massive purges of the Red Army and Stalin's toadying attempts to stay in Hitler's good books right up until the very day that the Germans invaded) is it tends to be advanced and supported by people with rather questionable political views as an apologia for those poor misunderstood Nazis. Please note I do NOT intend for this statement to apply to anybody in this forum!
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Bob Zurunkel
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wifwendell wrote:
Another problem with the "But the Soviets were going to attack!" line of argument (apart from the massive purges of the Red Army and Stalin's toadying attempts to stay in Hitler's good books right up until the very day that the Germans invaded) is it tends to be advanced and supported by people with rather questionable political views as an apologia for those poor misunderstood Nazis. Please note I do NOT intend for this statement to apply to anybody in this forum!


Correct or not, that's an ad hominem argument that doesn't address the question. The evidence should be examined, not the motives of the person presenting it. Unfortunately, in controversial topics such as this, there will be questionable motives on both sides. Not taking a position here, myself.
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The Blitzkrieg Legend by Karl–Heinz Frieser

The German drive through the Ardennes created a massive traffic jam that went all the way back to Germany. Allied airpower would've been decisive had they strafed the German columns in that state, yet not a single French reconnaissance plane was found. Also, the Germans didn't break the French lines so much as the French abandoned them when a small penetration was made, due to their WW1–era doctrine believing that once a continuous fortified line was breached it would be rolled up using a flank attack—i.e. the French literally ran away from their defences.

Supplying War by Martin van Creveld

I had no idea that the German campaign in Poland (Case White) was on the brink of logistical collapse, due to widespread sabotage of railroads and the serious ammunition shortage that has plagued the Nazi war economy for a decade.

The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze

The Nazi economy lurched from one disaster to another, yet somehow tactical successes on the battlefield continuously made up for the lack of logistical support and production problems on the home front. Full economic mobilisation towards total war occurred only after the war had developed for quite some time.
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Iron Hulls Iron Hearts. Showed that the Italian armoured divisions in North Africa were very much an integral part of Rommel's victories. But suffered from bad PR (and, towards the end, fatally bad equipment).

Also, Blitzkrieg Legend. Like everyone else!
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kerpob2 wrote:


Iron Hulls Iron Hearts. Showed that the Italian armoured divisions in North Africa were very much an integral part of Rommel's victories. But suffered from bad PR (and, towards the end, fatally bad equipment).

Also, Blitzkrieg Legend. Like everyone else!


I don't deny the Italians' contributions in North Africa, particularly the ones that fought alongside German forces when they arrived in the Spring of 1941 and after compared to the forces in theater in 1940, but I found this book to be a little too Gung Ho on the Italian exploits. Specifically, the Ariete division's contribution in Operation Crusader from other sources, was limited. They brilliantly defended Bir El Gubi against the British 22nd Armoured Brigade but after that action, they lagged behind the German Panzer Divisions and did not take part heavy action. Ditto the performance of RECAM when they took over the defense at Bir el Gubi. Trento and Trieste had minimal impact on the battle with the former holding the line at Tobruk and the latter getting blunted early and hard and making only half-attempts towards Sidi Rezegh afterwards. These other actions aren't described in the book which led me to suspect the author cherrypicked his examples to justify his theme.
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Magnificent Disaster: The Failure of Market Garden, The Arnhem Operation, September 1944

Shows how badly planned Market Garden really was.
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I would be interested in looking at that.

However it should be no surprise that Market Garden was under-planned. There is a tendency to look at it in isolation and be hyper-critical whilst ignoring the context - that it was just the latest of over a dozen airborne operations that had been planned and cancelled since the Normandy Breakout as land operations overran the airborne objectives.

Market-Garden was originally a one-and-a-half Division affair called Comet that had been continually postponed, and was only expanded to a 3 and a half Division affair on 10th Sept.

Actually I think whether it was under-planned or not is sort of a red herring. It was perhaps one of only two times in the War that Monty asked too much of his men (the other was the failed initial break in at Mareth) and should never have been launched. Antwerp and the Scheldt should have been cleared instead as a strategic priority but Eisenhower didn't exert any grip (as indeed he failed to do ever to do following his assumption of Land Forces command as well as Supreme Commander on 1st Sept).
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I have three or four books that altered my perceptions or clarified points for me.
1. THE LUFTWAFFE WAR DIARIES:
At the time I read this book, the word was that the Polish air force was 'caught on the ground' on the first three days and destroyed.
The Luftwaffe, though, was stymied ...as the Poles saw what was coming and dispersed the aircraft. The end of the Polish air force came not from initial attack bombing but from active operations and the air bases getting their supplies of fuel and parts cut off.
Here's another 'common wisdom' item that wasn't.

2. THE BALKAN CLUE:
There are those who think the Axis could have attacked the Soviet Union prior to June 22, 1941, and that they should have done so. Where many often point as a delay for Barbarossa is the Balkan campaigning of 1941.
The most frequent rebuttal is usually the weather of Spring, 1941, in the Soviet Union which was the awful Spring Thaw that prevented mobile operations as was found later while campaigning.
What the BALKAN CLUE pointed out, studying archival material, ...is that the Germans really just weren't ready. They were still equipping and moving divisions to the main front. This point suggested that common wisdom maybe shouldn't have been 'common'.

3. SECOND FRONT - NOW:
As a wargamer, I'm used to seeing the OBs for the forces in the West in 1942-1943, and it sure never looked promising at those times to return to the continent of Europe's mainland. This book, though, painstakingly demolished the Seven Reasons usually given to not invade in 1943 but wait until 1944.
Some of these reasons are a bit exaggerated. For example, I don't think the Western Allies could know that the defenses of the coast would be so greatly improved in '44 versus '43. After all, the Germans had been holding the coast since 1940 and hadn't improved the defenses much. Also, the Western Allies would also not know that the Sherman, competitive still in late '42 and 1943 with the Pzkv IV would be so greatly disadvantaged versus the much heavier and purposefully Anti-Tank vehicles like the Panther in 1944.
Even so, other reasons were eye-opening:
*. Was there a landing craft shortage? There wasn't IF the Allies concentrated the landing craft in NW Europe rather than spreading them all around the world.
*. Were there insufficient divisions? Ah, the author tracks the movements of divisions and it is significant that once it's decided to not invade in '43, US and Brit/Commonwealth divisions also scatter about the world.
The purpose of the book was to suggest that the decision to not invade in '43 was purposefully to have the Germans weakened further by fighting on the Eastern Front....and possibly allow the Germans to also thus weaken the Soviets as well before the Allies invaded.
Whether you agree with the purpose or not, the details are eye-opening and the theory thought-provoking.

4. THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS:
This one was eye-opening in many ways.
It was written with regard to the US as the new sole global Superpower, starting from Spain's global empire. The discussion of economic strength corresponding to military might....and the decline of such economic strength affecting one's ability to maintain global concerns was fascinating. Also fascinating, though, was the analysis of nations before WW1 and WWII. Part of this analysis was because Great Britain was the second global Superpower. Yet, as Paul Kennedy shows, economic competition ate into the ability to be the sole global superpower. Great Britain, in essence, refused to believe in the new realities and did not tailor the global commitments to match the newer economic Realities. As Mr. Kennedy points out, the reason the U.K. abandoned various former colonial possessions was that the U.K. really could not afford empire anymore in 1947.

Since reading the RISE AND FALL of the Great Powers, I've been wanting to buy copies and mail them to USA Presidents, Senators, and Representatives!






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The earliest use of the Balkan delay excuse I've found is this diary entry from April 3, 1941 claiming a 5 week delay. It's at the very top of pdf page 711 (page numbered 702).
 
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