In A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, the distinguished military historians Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett have synthesized the knowledge borne of years of studying World War II. The result is a splendid analysis of the battles and campaigns of the second world war. Murray and Millett are careful to note that theirs is an operational history of the conflict. The focus is on the waging of war; topics such as diplomacy, industrial organization, and home front morale are treated only in relation to military operations. Within their self-imposed limits, Murray and Millett have produced a book that will appeal to general readers and scholars alike.
The authors’ chief interest lies in gauging the military effectiveness of the various combatants of World War II. They trace the complex interaction of strategy, tactics, and weaponry. In marked contrast to some contemporary histories, Murray and Millett take pains to emphasize the importance of individuals, from ordinary fighting men on the sharp end of battle to the great commanders who marshaled armies. This makes for an engaging and colorful narrative, and the authors are able to recapture the drama of events that television and textbooks have made familiar. They also offer stimulating, and sometimes surprising, interpretations of key campaigns and commanders. Murray and Millett argue, for instance, that the German blitzkrieg tactics of 1939-1941 were not a revolutionary innovation in operational doctrine, but were in fact the evolutionary result of experiments in German combat practice dating back to 1917. German generals lionized in early histories of the war, find more measured praise here, while Russian commanders, from 1943 on, receive their due. Amongst American generals, MacArthur and Bradley are seen as overrated, while Eisenhower and Patton shine. Exciting, yet judicious, A War To Be Won is well worth reading.