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Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War

Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War

P.M.H. BELL
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npx8q
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    Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War
    Book Description:

    The Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor. Stalingrad. D-Day. These defining events of the Second World War exemplify both the immense heroism and the grievous costs of global conflict. They are the tense, thrilling moments that had the potential to swing the war in favor of either side and in turn change the course of history. In this gripping new look at the twentieth century's most crucial conflict, historian P. M. H. Bell analyzes twelve unique turning points that determined the character and the ultimate outcome of the Second World War.

    Be they military campaigns, economic actions, or diplomatic summits, Bell's twelve turning points span the full breadth of the war, from the home front to the front line. Many are familiar-Barbarossa and Hiroshima among them-while sections on war production, the Atlantic convoy system, and the conferences at Tehran and Yalta emphasize the importance of the combatants' actions off the battlefield. Through these keenly narrated episodes, Bell reveals how the Allied and Axis powers achieved their greatest successes and stumbled into their strategic failures, inviting us to think about the Second World War in a fresh, stimulating way. Ultimately, his close study of these dozen turning points reminds us, often terrifyingly, how easily things might have turned out differently.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16033-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. x-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    The Second World War still holds a magnetic attraction for many of us, as an incessant stream of books, television programmes and films testifies. It dominates the history of the twentieth century, towering over even the First World War and the Cold War, and its fascination seems endless. The war’s sheer length is impressive. In Europe it began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ended with the defeat of Germany in May 1945. In East Asia and the Pacific it lasted even longer, starting with the Japanese attack on China in July 1937 (or 1931, if...

  6. CHAPTER ONE HITLER’S TRIUMPH: THE COLLAPSE OF FRANCE, MAY—JUNE 1940
    (pp. 1-20)

    At 11.15 on the morning of 3 September 1939 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced on the radio that ‘this country is at war with Germany’. No sooner had he finished his broadcast than the air-raid sirens wailed across London, and people took refuge in underground shelters. It seemed that the long-expected Armageddon of bombardment from the air was about to start. In the event, it proved a false alarm. John Colville, a civil servant in the newly formed Ministry of Economic Warfare, played a rubber of bridge with his colleagues in the basement of the London School of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO ‘FINEST HOUR’: THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, JULY—SEPTEMBER 1940
    (pp. 21-40)

    On 18 June 1940, the day after the French government under Marshal Pétain had asked for an armistice, Churchill told the House of Commons: ‘What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’ It appeared that the Germans thought the same. When the Franco-German armistice was signed at Compiègne on 21 June, German radio ended its description of the event with a male choir singing ‘Wir fahren gegen Engelland’ (‘We march against England’). The British had been warned.

    The Battle of France was over, but its effects were...

  8. CHAPTER THREE OPERATION BARBAROSSA: THE GERMAN ATTACK ON THE SOVIET UNION, 1941
    (pp. 41-58)

    Hitler silently abandoned his plans for the invasion of Britain on 17 September 1940, by the indirect means of postponing the date for fixing a date for the operation. Yet several weeks before this the German high command had begun to turn away from Operation SEALION and look eastward towards the Soviet Union. As early as 3 July 1940 General Halder, the Chief of the Army General Staff, began work on a plan for an attack on the Baltic states and the Ukraine. On 31 July Hitler himself told a meeting of senior commanders that he intended to smash the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR PEARL HARBOR, DECEMBER 1941: THE WAR BECOMES A WORLD WAR
    (pp. 59-80)

    On 9 December 1941 Vere Hodgson, living in London and keeping a diary for Mass-Observation, recorded the events of the previous day with a modest degree of emphasis. ‘We are now at war with Japan – and the Whole World is in it’, she wrote. ‘Listened to the Midnight News on Sunday, after they told us at 9 p.m. that American bases in the Pacific had been bombed. Studied the map of the area, found Hawaii, and it looked so far from Japan – but we had forgotten Aircraft Carriers.’ The commander of the Japanese aircraft that had taken off...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY, 4 JUNE 1942
    (pp. 81-94)

    The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 marked the beginning of a series of disasters for the United States and its allies in the Pacific and South-East Asia. Yet on 4 June 1942, six months later almost to the day, the Americans achieved a remarkable victory over the Japanese fleet, sinking four of the very same aircraft carriers that had carried out the assault on Pearl Harbor, and showing qualities of self-sacrifice that might have been thought to have been more intrinsic to the Japanese rather than the American national character. This was the battle of Midway,...

  11. CHAPTER SIX THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD, JULY 1942—FEBRUARY 1943
    (pp. 95-108)

    ‘. . . here, on the very edge where the real Europe fades into the Asiatic wastes, a few grand Guards Divisions and local Home Guard who had become the strong bleeding heart of all the Russias saved Continental civilisation, and with it, perhaps, our England too’. So proclaimed a despatch from Stalingrad in theDaily Telegraph, that sound Conservative newspaper, on 18 January 1943. Three weeks later the equally sound Labour paper, theDaily Herald, carried an article predicting that ‘Children all over the world will learn for centuries to come about Stalingrad . . .’. At almost exactly...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN CONVOYS AND WOLF PACKS: DECISION IN THE ATLANTIC, MARCH—MAY 1943
    (pp. 109-129)

    The Battle of Stalingrad typified the war on the Eastern Front – an immense struggle, involving hundreds of thousands of men and vast amounts of equipment and munitions. By comparison, the Battle of the Atlantic was a small-scale affair. The Germans built just over 1,150 U-boats during the whole war, manned by 40,900 men; and not all of these ships and men served in the Atlantic area. On the Allied side, even during the most intense stages of the conflict, there were no more than a dozen convoys at sea at any one time – perhaps about 500 merchant ships....

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT ‘THE PROPER APPLICATION OF OVERWHELMING FORCE:’ THE BATTLE OF THE FACTORIES
    (pp. 130-146)

    Writing in his war memoirs, Churchill recalled his sense of relief when the United States was thrown into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. ‘So we had won after all! . . . All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force.’ Stalin had said something similar on 6 November 1941: ‘Modern war is a war of motors. The war will be won by whichever side produces the most motors.’ He went on to claim that the combined American, British and Soviet production of motors was at least three times that...

  14. CHAPTER NINE THE TEHERAN CONFERENCE, 28 NOVEMBER—1 DECEMBER 1943: TURNING POINT FOR THE GRAND ALLIANCE
    (pp. 147-165)

    At the end of November 1943 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met for a conference in the somewhat unlikely location of Teheran, the capital of Iran. It was the first time that they had all gathered together. Churchill and Roosevelt had met frequently, and established what appeared to be close personal relations. Churchill had once ventured to Moscow, to meet Stalin on his home ground. Roosevelt and Stalin had yet to meet, though this was not for any want of trying on Roosevelt’s part.

    This first meeting of the Big Three was a momentous occasion, because coalition warfare is an extremely...

  15. CHAPTER TEN D-DAY AND THE BATTLE OF NORMANDY, JUNE—JULY 1944
    (pp. 166-187)

    On 6 June 1944 (D-Day in the military parlance of the time), British, American and Canadian troops landed in Normandy. It was the greatest seaborne invasion in the history of warfare. In retrospect, the fact that the technical term ‘D-Day’ has entered the English language is a lasting sign of the significance of the event. At the time, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was to be a decisive event in the Second World War, and probably in the history of the world. In October 1941 Churchill had instructed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN ‘A FATEFUL CONFERENCE’: YALTA, 4—11 FEBRUARY 1945
    (pp. 188-209)

    On 8 January 1945, a month before the Big Three Allied leaders were due to meet at Yalta in the Crimea, Churchill telegraphed to Roosevelt: ‘This may well be a fateful conference, coming at a moment when the great allies are so divided and the shadow of the war lengthens out before us.’ Even allowing for Churchill’s liking for dramatic language, this seemed at first sight a startlingly bleak assessment. After all, by the end of 1944 the issue of the war in Europe was surely decided. In the west, the Allies had won the battle of Normandy and liberated...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE THE DEFEAT OF JAPAN AND THE ATOMIC BOMBS, 1945
    (pp. 210-230)

    The day of 6 August 1945 began quietly in Hiroshima. Michiko Hachiya, a physician at a hospital in the city, went home in the morning after spending the night there acting as an air-raid warden. He recalled the occasion clearly:

    The hour was early; the morning was still, warm and beautiful. . . . Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me – and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or...

  18. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 231-235)

    This review of turning points in the Second World War challenges two widely held impressions of the war: first, that the conflict followed a well-marked, if often rocky, road to an Allied victory which was in the long run inevitable; and second, that the war consisted only of a long and bloody slogging match, punctuated by heroic battles but decided by attrition rather than by any feats of leadership or decisive battles. When we look at turning points, on the contrary, it appears that, so far from an Allied victory being a certainty, there were stages, even as late as...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 236-246)
  20. FURTHER READING
    (pp. 247-251)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 252-264)
  22. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. 265-266)
    P.M.H. BELL