You can’t help but… with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, ‘Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn’t be facing what we are facing today.’… Norman Schwarzkopf

There is almost no action that, under review, better alternatives could not have been chosen. That having been said the practice of GOTCHA! history is not something that we find particularly useful. It is one thing to draft a lessons learned plan for teaching and quite another to write a they were no good and the fact that they lost proves it  polemic is neither instructive nor useful. Unfortunately it is a staple genre of British historians who will exhaust their criticism of their enemies and detail the failure of their allies and never concede what a bunch of bunglers they have been from Hastings to the Falklands – and well beyond. Other than the index there is nothing useful in either of these books.


The third book by this author reviewed here mercifully makes no pretense at being anything other than fantasy and this may be his metier. The problem of course is that when you have someone drifting back and forth between fiction and nonfiction the former loses its art and the latter loses its authority. We prefer to watch the PGA tournaments as they are played rather than watch someone simulate one on a video game and we certainly would not back a vidiot to enter the ranks at Augusta and that is analogous to the way we feel about Downing!


Sealing their fate: the twenty-two  days that decided World War II  Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009  David Downing World War, 1939-1945  Hardcover. 1st Da Capo Press ed.  and printing. xv, 368 p., [16] p.  of plates: ill., maps; 25 cm.  Includes bibliographical  references (p. [334]-351) and  index. Clean, tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. VG/VG

As the Japanese fleet prepared to  sail from Japan to Pearl Harbor,  the German army was launching its  final desperate assault on Moscow,  while the British were planning a  decisive blow against Rommel in  North Africa. The British  conquered the desert, the Germans  succumbed to Moscow’s winter, and  the Japanese awakened the sleeping  giant of American might. In just  three weeks, from November 17 to  December 8, the course of World  War II was decided and the fate of  Germany and Japan was sealed. With a vigor born more out of  prejudice rather than the  historical record, David Downing  tells the story of these crucial  days, shifting the narrative from  snowbound Russian villages to the  stormy northern Pacific, from the  North African desert to Europe’s  warring capitals, and from Tokyo  to Washington.

The devil’s virtuosos: German  generals at war, 1940 – 1945 New  York, Dorset, 1993 David Downing  World War, 1939-1945  Generals  Germany Hardcover. 256 p., [4]  leaves of plates: ill.; 22 cm.       Bibliography: p. [249]-251.  Includes Index. Tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. G/G

In this study of the Second World  War, the author has examined the  decisive European campaigns from  the point of view of German  generals who exercised the  greatest influence on their  planning and direction and battle  field outcome. In doing so he has  created a unique picture of the  generals in action – a select  group of highly skilled and  disciplined men who led their  armies across the length and  breadth of Europe, carving an  empire which surpassed that of  Napoleon — and who finally led  their men back to the ruins of  Germany.

First and foremost among the  generals mentioned here are three  men: Guderian, a man who dared to  shout back at Hitler, who forged  the panzer force and led it,  through Poland, through France and  to the gates of Moscow; Manstein,  the master strategist, who planned  the French campaign and declined  to join the anti-Hitler  conspiracy; and Rommel, the bold  panzer commander who won laurels  in France and fame in Africa, yet  ended his career tragically trying  to defeat the allies in Normandy  and Hitler in Berlin. These generals and others who  figure prominently in this book  such as von Kluge, Model, von  Rundstedt and von Bock, are seen  fighting several battles at once:  the battle against the slow, but  relentless, Soviet tide; the  battle against the overwhelming  weight of American resources in  the West; the battle against their  own Führer, who thought he knew  best how to direct the war and was  more than willing to cast aside  300 years of military tradition in  favor of his own growing  megalomania which left the  generals bereft of equipment,  leadership, or a clear cause for  which to fight.

The book argues that ultimately  the generals’ strengths became  their weaknesses. The early military victories which made them  military heroes became the  political victories of the leadership which doomed them to  stumble through a political morass which they were not equipped to  understand. Each one tried in his own way to salvage something from  the wreck, but in Germany’s defeat their failure was as total as the extent of their earlier victories.

The Moscow option: an alternative Second World War London: Greenhill Books; Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001 David Downing World War, 1939-1945 Miscellanea Hardcover. 223 p.: maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 218-223). Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

This provocative alternate history looks at World War II from a new angle – what might have happened had the Germans taken Moscow in 1941. Based on authentic history and real possibilities, this book plays out the dramatic consequences of opportunities taken and examines the grotesque possibilities of a Third Reich triumphant.

On September 30th, 1941, the Germans fight their way into the ruins of Moscow, and the Soviet Union collapses. Although Russian resistance continues, German ambition multiplies after this signal victory and offensives are launched in Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Hitler’s armies, assured of success, make their leader’s dreams reality, and Allied hopes of victory seem to be hopelessly doomed. David Downing’s writing is fluid and eminently believable, as he blends actual events with the intriguing possibilities of alternate history. The Moscow Option is a chilling reminder that the course of World War II might easily have run very differently.



Comments Off on You can’t help but… with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, ‘Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn’t be facing what we are facing today.’… Norman Schwarzkopf

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.