Richard Overy. Why The Allies Won

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Richard Overy. Why The Allies Won. New York, W.W. Norton Company, 1995

The Allies won World War Two due to a couple key factors that Richard Overy explains in his book, Why the Allies Won. Those reasons are due to their combined economic strength, their shared hatred of Hitlerism, better leadership and technology, and a combined moral belief that what they were fighting for was right. Overy shows us what these reasons added up to, and how they played out in the decisive battles of World War Two-the Battle of the Atlantic, the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk in the Eastern front, the Allied bombing campaigns, and the invasion of France.

Without control of the Atlantic, shipping lanes between the United States, Russia and Great Britain would have been cut off, or severely choked. Shipping lanes were the backbone of the war, and all operations overseas depended on the control of the Atlantic. German U-boats decimated Allied shipping vessels and troop transport ships alike. The quick response of the Allies resulted in new Naval warfare strategies specifically tailored toward countering U-Boats, such as the Tracking Room that used intelligence to track the U-boats, and the development of Air to Surface Vessel radar that severely hampered the effectiveness of the U-boats. Lastly, the invention of radar systems on all ships and depth charges also helped win the battle of the Atlantic. Why is this important? This battle showed the Allies were quick to react to challenges put in their way by the Axis powers in war, and how “organization in staff [of] far distant seamen and ships” (60) between the Allies led to the effectiveness of intelligence and new technology.

The Russian front was a front fought on the homeland, so for the Russians a loss meant the loss of their own country. The stakes were too high for a loss, and yet, for a good while, it seemed as though a defeat was on the horizon for the Russians. Through increased means of production, better weaponry models that were easy to make, and a pure will to protect their country from certain collapse, the Russians prevailed and pushed back the Germans all the way to Berlin. Between both the Battle of Kursk and Stalingrad, one thing remained the same, that the farther East the German forces went, the more “tanks and aircraft were difficult to maintain” (75). The German armored divisions had multiple tank types, and didn’t produce enough spare parts for engineers to keep them going. Likewise, German manufacturers valued “quality over quantity” when it came to producing anything. German generals had their hands in the productions, so every little improvement had to be done. After a while, so many improvements meant dozens of different types of weapons being produced simultaneously.

During the Battle for Kursk, due to the Russian’s two tank types, engineers were able to keep the bulk of damaged tanks going and get them repaired enough so they could go back and fight the battered German armored divisions. The Germans, however, weren’t able to do this, which led to their defeat in both Stalingrad and Kursk. Axis Generals were not given free reign to do what they thought was necessary to win battles. For instance, Von Paulus wanted to link up with the 4th Panzer army during the German counter-offensive in 1942 (the objective being to break into Stalingrad and help out Von Paulus who was surrounded by Russians). Paulus couldn’t do what made tactical sense because Hitler ordered him to not leave the city under any circumstances. General Chuikov, on the other hand, was free to do whatever made tactical sense. He analyzed the German strategy, and came to the conclusion that German troops were not good at close quarters combat, and would hinder bombers from accidentally bombing their own men. Chuikov in the end relied on “good intelligence so that he could use his depleted forces as efficiently as possible” (76). The result of the Eastern front is largely due to the resurgence of the Russian spirit to fight. It wasn’t just the troops, but the civilians as well that led to the victory on the Eastern front. The spirit was “fueled by very visible consequences of invasion” (99). Atrocities such as in Leningrad, Smolensk, and any other part of Russia that was occupied by the Germans showed what would come if the Germans took over Russia. It was not just fear from their own government to work and sacrifice, but it was for their own lives, and the future of their country that they believed in.

The Allied bombing campaign was designed to break the will of Germany as a whole, and beat them into submission without having to step on foot on German soil. Although this was not to be, the will of German workers was broken down, and constant state of fear ravaged the country. New innovations in long range bombing and air support further bolstered the effectiveness of Allied air power in the war, and the bombings brought together the Allied nations a little bit closer. Ever since Operation Barbarossa, Stalin had been begging and pleading with the Allies to do something, to open a second front in Europe. The United States wanted to get right into France as soon as possible, but without the support from Great Britain, it was not going to happen. Great Britain and the United States had to show good will towards Stalin, and so a bombing campaign on German factories was a good middle ground. The Allies selected industrial targets in the Ruhr, Rhineland and the Saar and cities alike. Bombing at night was instituted by the British RAF to counter enemy fighter aggression, and it was highly successful, the drawback being it could only be “attempted when it was a clear moonlit [night]” (108). The next step was to drop aluminum foil strips from bomber bays to confuse German radar, rendering the radar useless. New improvements to fighter escort, such as the p-51 Mustang, fitted with oil tanks under its wings assured a greater distance to escort bombers into Germany. Citizens lost their will to work and fight, ‘tired [and] highly strung and disinclined to take risks. . . Industrial efficiency was undermined by bombing workers and their houses” (132). Germany lost half of the weapons destined to go to the front, which made their situation much worse, and the economy slowed to a halt, while the bombing campaign helped the Allie’s economies by keeping production lines pumping out bombs, planes, and transporting fuel, all while furthering their technology.

The invasion of France was the start of the end for Germany in World War Two. This amphibious landing was to be the largest amphibious operation up to that date, and what the Allies were going up against was still a very strong opponent. Deception, intelligence, careful planning, and powerful airpower were needed in order to gain victory. First, Britain and American generals needed to come together to find a common ground solution tactically that would satisfy everyone. The United States traditionally fought head on warfare, whereas the British preferred small, calculated miniature campaigns relying heavily on strong naval power. Where the “British saw calculated attrition, American soldiers saw action that was piecemeal and indecisive” (141). Stalin was very eager on this “second front” the Americans wanted to create, and so, reluctantly outnumbered, Britain agreed to Operation Overlord. Once a build up of supplies and troops began, Allied Intelligence began planning on ways to trick the Germans into thinking the main invasion would be somewhere else. The 1st army division was created to make a diversion to make it seem like a huge military build-up was going to be at the Pais de Calais, the smallest gap between England and France, and a more direct route into Germany herself. They even placed General Patton as command of this ghost army to convince the Germans that the actual invasion would happen there. German spies in England had been rounded up at this time and were turned into double agents, giving misinformation to Germany. A wall of radar and fighter defenses even blocked most reconnaissance planes as well. The “German intelligence on Britain was poor. The high level codes for Allied communication proved impenetrable, and air reconnaissance remained scrappy and unsystematic” (150). This misinformation cause Rommel and Von Rundstedt to spread their troops thin, and have only a Panzer division in reserve near Normandy that could only be ordered into battle by Hitler himself (again, here is where German command hierarchy fell short). The German Luftwaffe pilots were barely trained when they hastily took to the skies during the invasion, making easy targets for Allied fighters and leaving the Allies to target whatever they had to with little to no opposition. In the end, two main reasons for unlikely Allied victory in Normandy rested on the invaluable of airpower, “reconnaissance, battlefield support and the bombing of enemy supplies and communication” (178). The second reason was due to Allied intelligence and misinformation. Without deception, the German’s forces would have been more concentrated and ready for the Allies in Normandy.

In conclusion, Overy suggests in Why the Allies Won that there were a few circumstances that are largely overlooked that led to the Allies victory; Moral high ground and shared hatred of Hitlerism that inevitably brought the Allied countries together, and “turned their economic strength into effective fighting power, and turned the moral energies of their people into an effective will to win” (325). In my review, I have skipped over valuable chapters near the latter half of the book, but this was intentional and due to how the book itself is organized. Overy starts off the first half of the book talking about the major campaigns he believes were essential to the Allies winning. It is not until the second half of the book where Overy enlightens the reader on what the causes were that led to those victories and led up to the essential Allied victory. Seeing how the two correlated (the different campaigns and battles to the reasons why the Allies won those battles and campaigns that then led to overall victory) I decided to meld the two together and explain why each campaign was won, what it meant in the grand scheme of things, and how it helped the Allies achieve the overall victory. I also intentionally left out any mention of the Pacific theater, seeing as in the preface Overy shrugs it off by stating, “the battles in the Pacific must take a back seat” (preface). For the first half of the book, Overy keeps the reader guessing as to what his thesis actually is, basically saying that “it could be this, but here is why it isn’t this reason”, and never gives the reader the reason why these battles are important or why exactly they led to Allied victory. It would be wise to put the reasons why you thought the Allies won, or your thesis, at the beginning of the book and then listing examples to back it up, not the other way around. Lastly, the biographies of Hitler and Chuikov (on pages 10 and 73) were completely unnecessary. In closing, Overy has a very interesting take on why the Allies won. Though it is a confusing read, he illustrates the importance of morality in citizens just as well as soldiers, something most historians shy away from since it is hard to measure that in any capacity. Overy does back up his claims with many examples from decisive battles and operations that were the basis for victory in Europe.
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