The Last Ten Days of World War II in Europe
NAL Caliber, New York, 2015, 400 pages
Book Review published on: March 3, 2017
There has been no shortage of superb recent scholarship on the end and aftermath of World War II in Europe, including Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War, Keith Lowe’s Savage Continent, and Ian Kershaw’s The End. And, while these all take a year or multiyear approach to the subject of the war’s end, a new book by Michael Jones narrows the focus to just the ten days following the death of Adolf Hitler, 30 April to 9 May 1945
What can one glean from such a short timeline? The short answer is depth, as well as the ability to connect the dots on key events across time and space. Jones is particularly adept at providing both, guiding the reader across the continent and spanning the levels of war seamlessly and with no wasted effort. Devoting one chapter to each of the final ten days of the war, Jones effectively recounts the seminal events of the period, to include the two major surrender ceremonies at Reims and Berlin, as well as the major combat operations occurring in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other pockets of resistance during the death throes of the Third Reich. Indeed, his recounting of the desperate struggle for Prague is particularly compelling.
An obvious strength of After Hitler is the author’s ability to incorporate vignettes, which illustrate as well as add a human dimension to his major points. Additionally, he brings to life multiple perspectives, including Western and Eastern, representing all viewpoints of the Grand Alliance. As an example, he recounts the liberation of the concentration camps by the Allies in all sectors, and shares first-hand insights from all the liberators—American, British, and Russian alike—thus inviting a comparison of similar experiences across cultures. And, by using extended quotations from letters and diary entries rather than snippets, Jones lets his eyewitnesses do the talking. Their cumulative impact is very effective.
Perhaps the author’s major contribution is to our understanding of the reasons for the two separate Victory in Europe (VE) Days—8 May for the Western Allies and 9 May for the Russians. The author masterfully recounts the interplay between the Western Allies, especially Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, and the Russian leadership that included Joseph Stalin and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. One quickly understands the importance of the strategic context, and that tactical gains, however important, must be considered within a broader perspective. Jones’s account of the dual surrender ceremonies is superb and renews one’s respect for the masterful job Gen. Dwight Eisenhower accomplished in keeping the Grand Alliance intact.
The book’s main drawback is that the author uses a number of secondary sources; hence, some portions might be repetitive for the historian or military professional. For example, the story of Hitler’s final days in his Berlin redoubt has been told often and better than here. Nonetheless, Jones provides enough original observations and insights that make After Hitler worthwhile for the professional as well as the general reader. Well researched and highly accessible, the book is strongly recommended.
Book Review written by: Mark V. Montesclaros, Fort Gordon, Georgia