As my current wargame project is the 1940 campaign in France, I thought it was time to dig into the history a bit more. My source was James Holland's new history 'The War in the West'. Volume one covers the period prior to the outbreak of war until the German invasion of Russia in 1941.
If you are looking for a narrative military history of the early war period, this isn't it. Instead the author takes us behind the scenes looking at the underlying strengths of the combatants. In many ways it is as much an economic history as a military one.
For example, while I was aware of the limited mechanisation of the German army, I hadn't appreciated how limited mechanisation was in Germany. Civilian car ownership was far behind Britain and France and therefore so was the infrastructure in terms of motor manufacturers, petrol stations, mechanics etc. Even if the German army had the vehicles, they would have had to train an army of drivers and support units from scratch.
This was also reflected in shortage of raw materials. There was food rationing in 1939 Germany, and simply not enough raw materials to produce enough aircraft and tanks to match Britain, never mind its empire and allies.
I also hadn't appreciated how early the USA had started rearming and switching its huge manufacturing capacity from civilian to military use. Their ruthless standardisation was in stark contrast to the myriad of vehicle types in use in Germany. Even the massive war booty became a problem for Germany due the problem of spare parts.
James Holland also highlights Hitler's poor strategic decision making, even in the early war period. A good example is the decision to invade Crete, an island with no real strategic significance, compared with Malta.
This is a fascinating new book that gives the reader a very different perspective on WW2. A short war was Hitler's only hope of victory and Britain's determination to fight on meant that wasn't going to happen. It may not have felt that way during the Blitz, but victory for the allies was the only likely outcome.