Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France

Ernest R. May, Author
Ernest R. May, Author Hill & Wang $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8090-8906-2
Paperback - 608 pages - 978-0-8090-8854-6
Hardcover - 594 pages - 978-1-85043-329-3
Paperback - 594 pages - 978-1-84885-145-0
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The book's title inverts Marc Bloch's classic Strange Defeat because, for Harvard historian May, it is the German victory that requires explanation. In this provocative analysis, May argues that the French and British defeat in 1940 was a consequence of neither moral decay nor military ineffectiveness. In the late '30s, the Wehrmacht was still a network of improvisations, by no means the formidable instrument of later mythmaking. After Poland had fallen, Hitler demanded an immediate attack on France, and his generals balked; an ""encounter battle"" in central Belgium was what the French expected and were prepared to fight. Instead, the Germans famously developed an alternate design, based on a thrust through the Ardennes. May argues convincingly that a major factor in the offensive's reorientation was the German army intelligence service's justified conviction that the French and British high commands would respond slowly to a large-scale surprise. More than enough evidence was available to turn French and British eyes to the Ardennes in the spring of 1940. But since 1933, May argues, generals and politicians on both sides of the English Channel had failed to read German intentions and German decision-making processes. Instead, they sacrificed thought to habit, and put unexpected events into preconceived models. This well-written book, suitable for general readers as well as specialists, offers no easy counterfactuals, no check lists for future guidance, but it illustrates the importance of common sense--its presence and its absence. (Aug.)
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