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Great Battles of World War II

1 rating: 3.0
A book by John MacDonald

Recreates twenty-five of the most memorable battles of the Second World War, from the invasion of Poland to Okinawa.

Tags: Books, History
Author: John MacDonald
Genre: History
Publisher: Chartwell Books
Date Published: January 01, 2004
1 review about Great Battles of World War II

Good, But Not As Complete As it Should Be

  • Apr 15, 2006
Pros: Clear concise, easy to read prose; great maps, images, and diagrams explaining the battles.

Cons: Does not cover ALL of the great battles.

The Bottom Line: When all is said and done I would have few reservations about recommending the book to an aspiring amateur war historian despite the detailed omissions.

Like most men I am an amateur historian and war buff. I know war is a terrible thing, an inhuman transgression that is quintessentially a flawed human endeavor, though I am sure other species practice it in other realms in the galaxy. And certainly other species here on the planet are not immune to violence, though it usually has a higher purpose other than you shoot my Prime Minister and now 15 million people must die (WWI), or you humiliated my country and now 62 million people must die (WWII). But I digress…

World War II was the last war we humans fought amongst ourselves that truly encompassed the world and touched every continent with its madness, save Antarctica. Battles were literally fought all over the globe in an effort to defeat the Axis powers who sought to dominate Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America; did you know for instance the Germany encouraged Mexico to invade the United States in the opening salvos of the war, and the Nazi agents were active in Mexico during the war?

So in an effort to better understand the worst conflict in (recorded) human history, I bought a book (several books actually) that outlines in great detail the significant battles of WWII, aptly called Great Battles of World War II.

Within the folds of the 192-page book, the greatest battles of the Second World War are re-created, from the European and African fronts, to the Pacific theater, on land and on sea. Great Battles of World War II is full of color illustrations, detailed maps, and stark black and white photos from the battles, and at its heart contains a four-page, full-color gatefold depicting the U.S. Forces landing at Normandy.

Originally published in England, Great Battles of World War II is a fascinating to look at and will absorb the reader in the fineries of the battles that shaped the world. Utilizing computer graphics applications the author painstakingly recreates the topography of battle; indeed the topographical illustrations present striking depictions of land battles, thus providing new perspectives for study and understanding. These are combined with words and pictures, of those involved in these historic actions, providing the reader with excellent illustrations, maps, diagrams, photographs, and portraits from their unique perspective.

The text is well written and easy to read; the author makes it easy for the layman to understand the language of war by providing a flowing narrative bolstered by boxes and sidebars. These touches add significant information in inviting little bites. Great Battles of World War II also includes photographs and explanations of weapons and equipment. But more than that the author explains the significant background circumstances that led up to the battle, the significance of the battle as it ensued and the effects the battle had on the over all scheme of the war on both sides.

The text certainly lends the reader a broader and far deeper understanding of the battles than any high school or college text could bring to the table. And I believe that in order to not repeat the sin and mistakes of the past, it (the past) must be understood in fine detail.

I could tell that computers were used throughout the book to augment conventional maps of important battles to create painting-like battlefield reconstructions showing troop movements, weapon deployment, and weather conditions—from a variety of vantage points. And some photos were retouched and colorized as well bring a sense of the modern to the text, perhaps appealing to the younger set in the audience.

Great Battles of World War II covers (almost) every major action of the war, from Dunkirk (May – June 1940), which saw the British Expeditionary Force barely escape from the shore of Europe as the Nazi’s advance, to Okinawa (April to June 1945), wherein the American military begins the invasion of Japan and suffers mightily for it. But for all that the book covers there are a few battles that are not detailed within.

For instance the Battle of Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942), the first of the Pacific War's six naval engagements between opposing aircraft carrier forces is not detailed; it is only mentioned in passing when the author covers the Battle of Midway. A tactical victory for the Japanese (the U.S. Navy lost the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington (CV-2) and the carrier U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) was heavily damaged) it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, insofar-as it prevented the capture Port Moresby, located on New Guinea's southeastern coast.

A Japanese air base there—in Port Moresby—would have threaten northeastern Australia and a large support base in that area of the Pacific basin would have supported plans for further Japanese expansion into the South Western Pacific. And a strong Japanese presence on the island with major air, naval and land contingents would have certainly help drive Australia out of the war and would have enhanced the strategic defenses and goals of Japan's newly-enlarged and aggressive oceanic empire.

Another example is the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June 1944), a seminal battle in which the Japanese sent 9 aircraft carriers with 473 aircraft into the battle, and lost nearly 200 in the opening afternoon of the engagement. Three Japanese carriers were sunk in the battle, and the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) lost nearly 500 carrier and land-based aircraft in two days. As a result of the destruction of their air groups the IJN’s carriers, which at the start of the Pacific War were the spearhead of the Japanese offensive, were reduced by the time of the Leyte campaign to the role of decoys. Thus ended the carrier threat by the IJN.

This left the task of destroying or at least harassing the Allies (Philippines) invasion fleet to the IJN's battleship and heavy cruiser forces, which were still largely intact. The presence of this force and need for the Japanese to prevent the invasion of the Philippines lead directly to the battle of The Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944), which is also not covered by the book. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is important because it broke the back of the IJN and cleared the way for the final invasion of the Philippines and the Japanese home islands.

There are more examples, chief among them the Battle of Salvo Sound (9 August 1942), the Battle of Iwo Jima (February – March 1945). These were all action that took place in the Pacific which the book pays little attention to. But it could be, as most of history is, the authors perspective on what he thought was significant. Needless to say I would include them in any text relating to the great battles fought during WWII. After all, the author did detail the sinking of the Bismarck, which while significant, it pales in comparison and scope to the aforementioned battle he did not cover.

Overall though, I enjoyed reading and studying Great Battles of World War II. The battles it does cover—The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Moscow, The Malta Champaign, The Battle of Midway, The Guadalcanal Champaign, The Battle of Stalingrad, The Normandy Champaign, The Battle of the Bulge, etc.—are brilliantly detailed and very informative. I continue to use the book are a reference source however incomplete. When all is said and done I would have few reservations about recommending the book to an aspiring amateur war historian despite the above detailed omissions.

Book Details:

Author: John McDonald
Book Type: Hardcover; 192 pages
Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated
Publishing Date: September 1986
Language: English
ISBN: 0-02-577350-X


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