I was listening to Gary Sheffield's podcast on his former colleague at Sandhurst, John Keegan. Most famous for his book The Face of Battle. The following day I was browsing through our local Oxfam bookshop and spotted a book of his I hadn't read, The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War Two.
This is a slim volume, published in 1995, essentially a historiography of the Second World War. The problem with historiography is that it quickly becomes dated, so he covers the classics. He starts by describing some of the significant controversies, not least the causes of the war. Much of this takes me back to my A-level history course on this subject. Keegan is somewhat more critical of A.J.P. Taylor than my teachers were.
He is kinder to Churchill than most histories today, particularly over Greece, less over his Mediterranean strategy, but he was part of the wartime generation. There is a schoolboy error referencing the Ionian Islands rather than the Dodecanese, which I hope was addressed in subsequent editions. However, I'm not convinced there is any evidence that Hitler was planning on invading Turkey in 1941. In fact, he went out of his way to negotiate a non-aggression treaty. Keegan concludes that Turkey may be regarded as the most successful neutral of WW2. I'm not sure the population more generally felt they were successful given the economic hardship, but if success is measured solely by casualties, then he has a point.
He is not uncritical of David Irving, but kinder than most historians would be today because of his holocaust denial. I'm afraid I cannot view him as 'a historian of formidable powers', given how he has perverted those apparent skills.
At least we are spared some recent revisionism regarding the war in Yugoslavia. Milan Djilas' book Wartime gets special praise 'as one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the Second World War.' It is on the Eastern Front that his analysis looks the most dated. He was writing before access to Soviet and other Eastern European archives. He also underplays the role of the Wehrmacht in atrocities in the Eastern Front and the Balkans.
His chapter on the brains and sinews of war is also a bit dated. However, even in the 1990s, the view that Germany outmatched the Allies' equipment 'in quality and arguably in size' is debatable. Most would argue it was strategy and tactics that gave Germany the edge.
It's an interesting wee tome if a bit dated. You can pick it up today for very little, which is probably just as well. As Gary Sheffield pointed out, his later works have been criticised, although that should not diminish the groundbreaking work of The Face of Battle.