The Allies Strike Back, 1941–1943: The War in the West, Volume Two

Image of The Allies Strike Back, 1941-1943 (The War in the West)
Release Date: 
October 2, 2017
Atlantic Monthly Press
Reviewed by: 

“provides a fresh perspective on the strategic options each combatant faced as the once European war became truly global in 1941 . . .”

The second volume in James Holland’s trilogy covering World War II from the perspective of Britain, America, and their western allies, this book picks up immediately from where his first volume ended with the German invasion of Russia in 1941.  

Holland continues his unique perspective on the war, not writing a traditional military history, but interweaving a more holistic look at the war with several personal narratives to bring home the human nature of the conflict.

This book has a definite Anglo-centric flair to it, not surprising since Britain shouldered the lion’s share of combat in the West after the fall of France; however, the unique evaluation of the logistical factors in the war provide a fresh perspective on the strategic options each combatant faced as the once European war became truly global in 1941.

The traditional narrative of the brave and outgunned British holding off the Nazi onslaught is certainly true from a political and military point of view for most of 1941 into 1942, but a strong case is made that by the middle of 1941, the British were starting to overtake the vaunted Nazi war machine in terms of economics and industrial and agricultural output. 

The inability of Hitler to bring Britain to terms at the zenith of Germany’s might in 1940 meant that the war effort became more about mobilizing resources for an extended struggle than it did tactical acumen. Ironically, the western democracies were able to mobilize their industry and manpower to a far greater extent than either Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, ensuring that although Britain was still not strong enough to defeat Germany on its own, it was no longer in danger of losing as long as the U-boat menace could be defeated. 

Holland’s narrative of Britain mobilizing the vast resources of their global Empire makes a compelling account of the challenge to provide these resources across North Africa, the Middle East, and increasingly Asia, while still defending the home islands and fighting the Battle of the Atlantic.

The battlefield sagas of the North African fighting are very well done, and Holland spares no criticism of the generally poor British generalship in the theater, noting that the Battle of Gazala in 1942 could and should have been won by the British and was lost only because of poor British command.

The volume ends with the Allied victory in Tunisia and the surrender of all Axis forces in mid-1943. At this point, American material, if not martial, might has begun to dominate the Allied war effort and the strategic decisions on where to conduct the next phase of the Allied strategic offensive start to become more critical and controversial.

This is an ambitious trilogy, and the second volume continues to upend conventional wisdom about the war. A strategic maxim holds that if an alliance has a sound strategy, it can develop tactical ability, but if an alliance has a poor strategy, no amount of tactical brilliance can produce victory. This is the entire basis of Holland’s logic-Britain and America had a sound strategy and the economic might to produce victory even through many initial battlefield setbacks while Nazi Germany, in spite of tactically gifted generals, did not have any strategic plan to end the war in their favor. 

This volume clearly shows that even though Germany would fight on for another three years, by late 1941, the war was strategically lost. Even though Britain would need time and the intervention of their key allies, the United States, their eventual victory was almost assured.