Brute Force – John Ellis

Subtitle:  Allied strategy and Tactics in the second world war

I really wanted to like this book better.  It has some good points, and brings out some interesting angles, but in the end the relentless negativism about, well, everything both sides did in the war began to irritate as much as a pimply pre-teenager who just keeps repeating that everything sucks.

It is crammed full of details about Allied production and Axis lack of production.  I especially liked the measurement of the effectiveness versus cost of the Allied bomber offensives and the U-Boat war.  The bomber cost was especially thought provoking, as for a time the Allies were losing more trained pilot than they were killing even civilians.

He does spend some time attacking the Axis, mostly on the fact that without production to match the Allies they were going to come up short in the end.  But the bulk of the book is just critique that quickly degrades into carping.  Because nothing the Allies do can be right.

Either they were bad at putting their strength into play or committing overkill.  Offensives were bad because they hit the strong points and had no strategy, or if they didn’t hit a strong point they were up against no opposition and didn’t count.  For any particular general he quotes all of his rivals about how he sucked, then when discussing these rivals quotes the original fellow about his enemy.  In small doses this can be amusing, but four hundred pages or so the joke loses its humor.

Near the end of the book, I suddenly started to wonder what year this had been written – 1990.  That made a lot of things come into focus.  In those years it was very fashionable to tear into US and its military ability as a way to try and prop up the old bipolar world view.  The first Gulf War put an end to that sort of thing for the most part.

Normally I re-strategizing old campaigns and pointing out problems and errors.  But you have to balance that tearing down with the fact that matters were not so clear then as today in your easy chair reading or writing a book, and running a war is easier to talk about than to do.  Ellis gives the impression that he thinks he would have been a better war leader and general than all of the rest put together.  Given that he couldn’t lead me to accept his conclusions that I more or less agreed with from the start shows that he wouldn’t have been.