West Point History of World War II
The West Point History of World War II combines the expertise of preeminent historians with hundreds of maps and images, many created for this volume or selected from Army collections. The first volume offers a balanced narrative analyzing the rising tide of Axis conquest from 1939 to mid-1942, ranging from battlefield decisions to operational and strategic plans, all set in their proper political context. The closing chapter provides a thematic treatment of the mobilization of the warring nations’ economies and home fronts for the conduct of total war. The West Point History of World War II has been tested, checked, and polished by West Point cadets, faculty, and graduates to make this the best military history of its kind.
“Coffee table books” often don’t deliver on what they promise. Its all too easy to knock together a collection of photographs, add a few maps and write some text to join it all up. None of that is true here.
This is a beautifully designed volume where the photographs, posters and other images really do augment the text. The graphics and maps are models of clear communication. And the text is a bang up to date analysis of the different theatres of the war from a range of historians. Anything written by Richard J. Overy (University of Exeter) is well worth getting hold of. The other professional historians represented here are equally leaders in their field, as you would expect from a work commissioned by the United States Military Academy.
An obvious candidate for any school or college library – this is also a book that will be a pleasure to personally own. It’s not cheap but it is a high quality production and there is plenty to explore here, a book to return to again and again over the years.
The following excerpt comes from a chapter written by Robert M. Citino of the University of North Texas on the ‘The German Years of Victory’. This chapter has a wide range of the supporting material – photographs, maps, a series of diagrams, personal reminiscences – that explore the Wehrmacht Blitzkrieg tactics and how they were implemented:
Once the two rival plans and deployments are understood, the unfolding of the actual campaign in the south is a simple story. The Panzers entered the Ardennes without incident — a long snake of tanks, trucks, and reconnaissance vehicles fifty miles long.
A single sortie by French or British bombers could have wreaked havoc on it, but neither air force was interested in probing deeply into German rear areas. Rather, they were holding back for the slow, methodical war of attrition that the Allied high command was expecting. Instead of scrambling to avoid destruction, therefore, the most anxious moments for the Wehrmacht were the inevitable traffic jams. The Germans brushed aside weak Belgian resistance, little more than roadblocks and demolitions in the forest itself.
Early in the evening of May 12 — just day three of the operation — thee head of the German snake emerged from the forest. It was Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps, heading toward Sedan. Rather than pause and stage a set-piece river crossing me next day, Guderian forced his way across the Meuse that evening on his own initiative. A handful of his infantry in rubber assault boats, as well as a few tanks and motorcycles, managed to establish a bridgehead on the far bank.
The next day, the French Second Army defending along the Meuse took the kind of pounding that only Polish veterans could have understood. There were tanks – a huge mass of them stretching as far as the eye could see — along with heavy artillery concentrations, both 105 millimeter and 150 millimeter, and finally the ceaseless dive-bombing of the Stukas.
Units of the French Second Army broke in panic even before the Germans were over the river in force, and the same thing happened to the French Ninth Army at the two Meuse River crossings to the north: one at Monthermé, where Reinhardt’s XLI Panzer Corps crossed; and one at Dinant, where the Ninth was hit by General Hermann Hoth’s XV Panzer Corps, part of the Fourth Army.
By the end ot the day on May 13, the Germans had torn a great gash in the French line some fifty miles wide. It was not simply a tactical success of local importance, but an operational one that shaped the course of the whole following campaign.
Over the next week, the three armies of Army Group A would pour through the gap. With the Panzers in the lead and the infantry force-marching until it dropped, the Germans slid across the rear of the huge Allied army in Belgium.
This was a triumphal moment for the German com- manders, all veterans of the previous war. Those very places in Flanders that had hung just tantalizingly out of reach in 1918 were falling in a rush: Arras, Amiens, Mont Kemmel. The reeling Allied command could do nothing for the moment to halt the onrushing armored divisions.
The Germans reached yet another milestone on May 20. Late in the day, the 2nd Panzer Division reached Abbeville at the mouth of the Somme River. This meant the destruction of the Allied army to the north: a million and a half men. It was the greatest Kesselschlacht, or battle of encirclement, in military history up to this point.
During their drive across northern France, the Panzers had been nearly unmolested — though the French did manage a pair of counterattacks, led by the commander of the newly formed 4th Armored Division, General Charles de Gaulle. Neither his first attack at Montcornet (May 17), nor a second one at Crécy-sur-Serre (May 19) managed to halt German momentum. The same was true of the single British counterstroke of the campaign, near Arras on May 21.
What all of these counterstrokes did achieve was to shake the confidence of the German high command, up to and including Hitler. The latest German situation maps flowed an ominous picture: long, vulnerable armored spearheads strung out on the roads, completely out of contact with their follow-on infantry divisions.
Orders actually went out to Guderian to halt and allow time for the infantry to catch up. Once they had consolidated a defensive position on his flanks, he could drive on.
Anyone who studied the centuries – long operational pattern of the German Army could not be surprised at Guderian’s response. He ignored his orders and continued on, undertaking a “reconnaissance in force” that included — no surprise — his entire XIX Panzer Corps.
He reached the Channel, wheeled north, and kept on attacking, completing the encirclement of the Allied forces in Belgium. The time was coming when such independent action would no longer be tolerated in the Wehrmacht, but that time had not arrived yet.