The Second World War Illustrated - The First Year

The Second World War Illustrated - The First Year

Jack Holroyd
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Jack Holroyd has had a lifelong interest in military history and has given valuable input into many Pen & Sword publications. He has authored two other works of non-fiction (SS Totenkopf France 1940 and American Expeditionary Force: France 1917–1918 ) and also one work of fiction (Lost Legend of the Thryberg Hawk), all of which are published by Pen & Sword. He has also written an illustrated history of WW1 over four volumes, under the pen-name of William Langford.When Jack isn’t researching military topics he spends his time cooking, reading poetry and gardening.

A reasonably weighty first volume in paperback format, measuring around 12 X 8 inches and containing some 279 pages. The book is crammed with photos of all the main protagonists and their equipment, including a 32-page section of coloured or colourised photos edited by Jon Wilkinson.

Following a two-page foreword by Nigel Cave, Holroyd prologues his book with an outline into how the Second Great War happened. He matches the rise of the dictators, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, plus Emperor Hirohito, with the social and economic unrest in Europe following the First World War and the expansionist plans of the "four bullies".

Chapter one is titled "Appeasing the Bullies" and shows the efforts Britain and France went to in their attempts to avoid war in Europe.Hitler's expansion had already begun with the annexation of the Rhineland in March 1936, the bloodless "Anschuss" of Austria in the March 1938, East Prussia followed a week later, then the Sudetenland in September 1938 and the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. It was obvious his next choice was going to be Poland!

Chapter Two begins with the increasing tensions in the West. On August 23, 1939 – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union surprised the world by signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, in which the two countries agreed to take no military action against each other for the next 10 years. This gave Germany the guarantee they needed to invade Poland without facing the Soviets. Following 12 days of diplomatic talks, Germany refused to withdraw from Poland and Great Britain officially declared war on Sept 3rd 1939 at 1115. The British Expeditionary Force assembles and sets sail for France and Belgium.

Chapter Three covers Hitler's attacks on Norway and Denmark were ostensibly to protect the Baltic, but in reality, Hitler needed the Scandinavian countries for their Iron, Copper and other metals. With Finland busy dealing with Russian incursions on their borders, Sweden maintained a stoic neutrality, effectively closing it borders to all combatants.

Chapter Four see the Nazis turn their attention towards Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Hitler's plan was to capture these countries as quickly as possible before turning his attention eastwards. The lessons had been learned by the Fuhrer in the first world war, he did not want to fight a war on two fronts like his predecessors. This chapter also deals with the evacuation at Dunkirk and the loss of thousands of tanks, guns and trucks abandoned around Dunkirk.

The Battle of Britain and Hitler's preparations for invading the UK are given in detail in Chapter Five, showing just how close Britain came to Nazi occupation. Despite Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goering claiming they "would knock the British out of the skies", the boot was on the other foot and it compelled Luftwaffe ace Adolf Galland to reply to Goering's question of how to deal with the RAF by saying "Give me a squadron of Spitfires!"

The final chapter covers Mussolini targeting Egypt with the Suez Canal as the main target. Britain was using the canal as a main supply route for convoys and Mussolini obviously wanted that route to be curtailed. The British, together with Egyptian and Somali forces, although heavily outnumbered, were as tenacious in defence as they were attack and the biggest problem they found was where to house the thousands of Italian prisoners!

This is an excellent book for any student of Military History. It covers the first year of the Second World War in a sympathetic way, not siding with one side or the other. The story is well laid out and written in an easy-going style. Photos are well-presented and well-captioned, neither glorifying nor trivialising warfare. As a first volume, I am impressed and look forward to the following volumes.

Highly recommended, 4 out of 5


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