Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France

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9780809088546: Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France
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Strange Victory is a riveting book about France and Germany in the years leading up to World War II. Why did Hitler turn against France in the Spring of 1940 and not before? And why were his poor judgement and inadequate intelligence about the Allies nonetheless correct? Why didn't France take the offensive earlier, when it might have led to victory? What explains France's failure to detect and respond to Germany's attack plan?

Skillfully weaving together decisions of the high commands with the confused responses from exhausted and ill-informed, or ill-advised, officers in the field, the distinguished diplomatic historian Ernest R. May offers many new insights into the tragic paradoxes of the battle for France.

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Review:

The collapse of France before the German onslaught of 1940 was not, as many historians have argued, the result of the Wehrmacht's absolute superiority or the terrible fury of blitzkrieg. Indeed, writes Ernest May in Strange Victory, France had more soldiers in the field than did Germany, their arms were evenly matched in many categories and superior in many others, and the German army was far from fearless. What carried the day for the Nazi invaders was a greater imaginativeness in planning. France and its allies "made no effort to understand how or why German thinking might differ from theirs," did not allow for surprise, believed that their defenses would shield them, and in any event paid little attention to the intelligence that their spies brought them, including irrefutable evidence that German forces were massing along the little-defended border with Lorraine, avoiding the heavily fortified (and, May allows, highly effective) Maginot Line.

The Allies soon overcame their lack of common sense, May continues in this penetrating study, while in the wake of his French victory, Adolf Hitler "became so sure of his own genius that he ceased to test his judgments against those of others, and his generals virtually ceased to challenge him." The outcome is well known. Still, May suggests, Hitler's comeuppance does not diminish the lessons to be learned from the fall of France--notably, that bureaucratic arrogance, a reluctance to risk life, and a reliance on technology over tactics will quickly lose a battle. Students of realpolitik, no less than history buffs, will find much to engage them in May's book. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Ernest R. May is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University and the author or co-author of eighteen books. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, Susan B. Wood.

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Publisher: Hill and Wang, 2000
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