The appearance of Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s last book, his long-awaited one volume History of the Second World War, is shadowed only by the knowledge that he did not live to see its publication. At the time of his death in January, 1970, he was working on the proofs of this great work, although it had been commissioned as long ago as 1947. But only in 1969 was he satisfied that the printer could be given the text he had patiently built in the intervening twenty-two years.
So often ignored in his own country — to its eventual peril — in the euphoric period between the two world wars, Captain Basil Liddell Hart was rightly honored in his later years as one of the outstanding teacher-historians of this or any other age. His private library and voluminous archives of personal correspondence with such giants as Lloyd George and Churchill; his blueprints of military efficiency were rejected in Britain and the West but taken up eagerly by the younger German commanders like Rommel with devastating results; the notes of the detailed interviews which he conducted after the war with captured German generals, as well as with the leading Allied commanders who had so often turned to him for inspiration and advice; the subject files and private papers placed in his hands by many of his great contemporaries, all became famous, and his home at Medmenham in Buckinghamshire became a place of pilgrimage for statesman and students, soldiers and scholars, of all nations.
The present magnificent work is based largely on that priceless collection of private documents and the author’s constant study of the day-to-day events of the war. For all its clarity, Liddell Hart’s History does not always make for comforting reading. It is a military history on the broadest possible scale, ranging from the frustrating events preceding the war, through all the campaigns and battles of the seven turbulent years, to the final conclusion of hostilities. Trenchant, searching, thought-provoking, it is a study in realism and objective analysis, uncluttered by self-deception. Cherished illusions fade under fresh surveillance; long-held beliefs of justification fall under new questioning; reputations are reexamined by one of the most incisive minds of our time; judgements of our past are made lessons for our present and our future.
Among the startling conclusions reached in this book are the following: The European war could have ended in September, 1944, if General Eisenhower had not diverted gasoline from General Patton’s Third Army to Field Marshal Montgomery’s Army Group, thus preventing Patton from plunging headlong into the heartland of Germany. The Russians and the Germans discussed a negotiated peace in 1943. The massive Allied air bombings of German cities were ineffective and caused needless loss of lives. And, of course, most heart-rending of all, the evidence that this most costly of wars was a totally unnecessary war, a war that could have been prevented by a firm resistance on the part of Britain and France long before Hitler invaded Poland.
Because of its massive authenticity, because of its flinching conclusions, this is the most important work of military historiography to have emerged from the late war. It is a work that every student of military and world history, every serious reader, everyone who was engaged in World War II must read.
By: B.H. Liddell Hart
Hardback, First American Edition (1971)
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York