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Saturday, 20 July 2013
There are tens of thousands of books about the second world war and perhaps there is not much new to say. All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 does not set out to be provide any new analysis, instead it is about the experience of individuals caught up in the war.

The scale of horror incurred in Poland, Russia and Germany is horrific, with large portions of their populations dying. Many of the rest faced rape, violence and constant fear. It is pessimistic in that heroism and nationalism are not heavily featured. Even those that fight are seen as doing so because to not do so is to risk being shot by their own commanding officers. Perhaps some of those fighting it did enjoy the experience, but this book portrays it as overwhelmingly a wretched experience.

The overarching theme is that the Germans fought far better than everyone else on a man for man basis, but strategically they made terrible errors. They found themselves outmatched by the huge combined military power of Russia, the USA and the UK. Biting off more than they could chew they were always going to choke to death. But they put up a hell of a fight.

Most of the fighting was done in the East and this does nothing to hide the fact that Russia paid a heavy blood price for victory. Probably the USA and the UK could have done more, but overall they were happy to let Russians do the dying. They most preferred smaller actions for public relations purposes in relatively unimportant theaters of Africa, Greece and latter Italy. Even the bombing of German cities did little to win the war, but made good PR. The boots on the German ground were Russia ones and they were drenched in blood.

I must confess I was unaware of the famine in West Bengal in which between 1-3 million Indians died, whilst ships were transporting food to the UK. The famine had complex causes, but we could and perhaps ought to have done more.

The war is now fading into the past as few people are still alive who can remember it. Like many people I never really asked much about it and regret that. This book does not do a bad job of giving voice to the dead victims of that war.

I enjoyed this book, although apart form the famine in West Bengal I am not sure I learnt much.