cover image Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty-Two Days That Decided World War II

Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty-Two Days That Decided World War II

David Downing. Da Capo, $27 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81620-8

Midway, Stalingrad, El Alamein: these great battles of 1942 are the conventional turning points of WWII. Downing (The Rise of Enemies ) advances the decisive events by a year, making a provocative case that the German failure to take Moscow, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the British launching of Operation Crusader in North Africa established the conditions for Axis defeat. All three took place within 22 days, and Downing uses a narrative approach to establish the connections among them. Crusader, he says, demonstrated the importance of logistics even in high-tech war: the British Empire could sustain operations on a scale impossible for the Germans and Italians. The attack on Moscow was a final desperate lunge after victory in a campaign characterized by the massive overextension of German forces and resources. Pearl Harbor was an effort to escape a dilemma generated by brutally aggressive policies in Asia. The originality of Downing’s argument is the strength of his indictment of “stupidity, incompetence, short-sightedness and evil in high places” on all sides. But it took almost four years and millions of lives for overwhelming force to grind down feckless ambition. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps. (June)