James Holland, War in the West and sources
James Holland fully appreciates the last decades’ growing accessibility of the original sources and interviewing still alive veterans of the War. During the course of writing his trilogy, the author has performed active travel to visit Germany, Austria, Norway, France, New Zeeland, Italy, United States, Australia, Canada, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and even India and SAR. It’s a matter of fact, that Holland has obtained the majority of his studies back home in England. Whereas the after-WW2 world was poor on travel capabilities with common diplomatic issues, a modern historian is free of will to travel all over the globe to have access to a number of countries, even on the periphery of the great battles.
The second cornerstone deals with the accessibility of the number of national and private archives, as some of them were restricted to the public within the decades of the Cold War. At the present days, James Holland can easily obtain full admittance to the tones of the captured archives, first-hand records of the diplomatic correspondence and official orders. The modern process of globalization and international outspokenness reveals the hidden secrets of World War Two, such as Stalin’s purges and the Bletchley park operations (once left out Churchill’s notorious memoirs).
James Holland pays tribute to the enormous number of books, written both first-hand by participants and victims and historians on the other hand and published within the past 70 years. The modern evolution of digital media provides a modern historian with a means of access to the thousands of memoirs and academic studies without leaving home. A significant proportion of the books initially written in German, Italian, French, Russian, etc. are now available within English editions. Digital era grants us with thousands of hours of documentary footage and plenty of photos now have been digitalized and restored within the last two decades.
James Holland emphasizes the value of digital photos within a process of operating with sources. While half a century ago a historian had to use a pencil to take an extreme amount of notes with no ability to take documents out, his modern follower can take as many digital photos as he needs, copying the original. The calm academic atmosphere of the sanctum sanctorum workroom gives additional historian accuracy with getting deeper into every particular document.
Personal accounts and facts
James Holland underlines the fact that still living veterans and civilian witnesses of the WW2 were in the late 80s or 90s already during the course of his work on the “The War in the West” trilogy. The modern military historiography has made a notable step forward within the last thirty years, shifting focus from the strategic reviews of the battles to the personal accounts and emotions of the soldiers, politicians, and civilians. The majority of this recollection has made its way over the decades of nightmares and the predominance of the emotions over reality. “The War in the West 1939-1941. Germany ascendant” academically unites personal accounts with the actual documented facts to make them complement. James Holland admits personal drama as a driving force for him to travel the world, spend months within the archives and libraries, collect testimonials and write books on the Second World War.
Live testimonials of the people, taken from the post-war memoirs or the interviews gives a different perspective on the cruelest and destructive conflict in our history. Bare figures and graphics do not give us an understanding of what was happening in the minds of the soldiers and field commanders. James Hollands in this respect uses his academic approach round-trip. The author fills the gap as the memory cannot be considered a truly authoritative source of the factual evidence, varying from one narrator to another.
Emotional testimonials of the Allied veterans, who used to fight with the German Tiger tank, reveals an important account of how this massive weapon influenced the battlefield. Vice Versa the German tankmen tells stump speech full of nostalgia to describe the feeling of fighting for their motherland alongside with the fellow soldiers within the Tiger moving fortress. Therewith, James Holland reveals the technical specifications of this machine in an expert manner. The Tiger was a real mess in usage and repair. Wehrmacht had to use the railway, changing tracks to perform logistic transportation of the tanks to the battlefields. It was greedy for the fuel, which had become of a great shortcoming after 1942. Tiger was almost useless to use it within the cities.
Paying significant academic attention to the archives, published and unpublished memoirs, dozens of the interviews, James Holland has his “favorites”. They are people, from soldiers to generals, Germans and British, French and Italians, personal accounts of which are chosen to take on the job of the first-hand narrator. This approach is not of something extraordinary in the military history of World War Two, as some prominent studies quote some characters often than others. James Holland even puts these personalities in the very beginning of his “The War in the West” book, with the “LIST OF PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS FEATURED” title.
While examining the process of taking strategic decisions within the Third Reich, the author frequently gets us acquainted with the thoughts of Walter Warlimont, taken from his “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters” after-war memoirs. Legendary memoirs of Winston Churchill are also a common source for the book. Erich Topp, a German submarine boatman, first officer and then a captain himself, dips us in the world of the ‘’Wolf packs’’. Henry Stimson, American Secretary of War introduces backdoor processes before the United States had joined the War in 1941. Edwards Spears, a member of the British Parliament and a personal representative of Churchill within British-French ally. Ernie Pyle, American journalist and war correspondent. Galeazzo Ciano brings the German-Italian Axis into the open.
Operational approach and logistics of War
James Holland’s “The War in the West” book appears to be a unique historical studying in many respects. The history of World War Two and first two years of the War, in particular, is being narrated without a sophisticated dive into strategic overlooks. Book devotes its first pages to the maps and schemes of the campaigns and operations of the 1939-1941 period, rather for illustrative purposes than to have a close deal with. Modern military historiography generally deals with three levels of understanding: strategic, tactical and operational. James Holland’s trilogy is on the point of the last layer, still rare and revolutionary even after 70 years and dozens of thousands of books devoted to the WW2.
Strategic level gives us the big picture of the War, emphasizing the key goals of the opposite sides. Military history employs the tactical layer to get closer to the battlefields and the front line, troop movement, wins and defeats, defense and attack, casualties and trophies. The operational level of understanding of military history explains how the previous two layers were possible. In other words, what actions and processes were necessary to perform combat between troops A and troops B in this particular place, considering the war economy, equipment, and arming, logistics. In what way one battle or another were sustained for a desired period of time.
Former Waffen-SS soldiers praise the high level of equipment and ammunition, still without concerning what was the price and how other military units had been limited with the same “instruments of war”. What was the duration of the working day for foreign prisoners of war to supply one division in order to break through the enemy line in one particular episode of the war. American and British veterans recall a non-stop supply even within the most exhausting battles. Even if one day they had to say goodbye to the Sherman or the Hurricane, the day after witnessing a supply of a new moving fortress without any concerns of how was it possible to deliver a multi-tone machine to France or Germany.
While getting deeper into this complex layer of the military history, we figure out not only peculiarities of the railway logistics, but detail into the quality of ammunition and military equipment, progressive engineering and socio-cultural reality of the people, who participated in the WW2. James Holland takes his reader into the premises of the military warehouses to reveal the uniforms, used to perform the war. What was the real percentage of the WW1 equipment still in use in 1939-1940? The level of the motorization of each army on the map of Europe and the correlation between the volume of civil and military machines. A variety of repair components to maintain more than 1000 types of trucks.
The revisionism of the war “myths”
James Holland’s academic works are generally characterized as revisionist history, without a negative meaning commonly associated with Holocaust deniers and other falsifiers of history. In broader terms, historical revisionism implies a reconsideration of the long-stand myths and stereotypes, which generally are not supplied with the actual facts. Even 70 years after World War Two and thousands of studies on all aspects, modern historiography still preserves some concepts, do not hold the criticism. The majority of these myths has not been revised from the 1940s and the first wave of research.
James Holland points out several basic historical myths and ways of thinking on the WW2, which do not stand with critical evaluation using solid facts. These concepts generally deal with the pre-war period and the 1939-1941 years of war.
- At the beginning of the Second World War, the German army was the most modern, equipped in the best way and trained to have full supremacy.
- German Blitzkrieg in Poland, Norway, France, and Balkans was a thoroughly planned and performed act of strategic and tactical supremacy over the opposite block of countries.
- After a painful defeat in France, retreat from Dunkirk and a loss of equipment and a fighting spirit, the British army was surrounded with the enemies as a single stand against a new global order in Europe, waiting for the growing assistance of the USA and its participation in the War.
- An alliance between the German Reich and fascist Italy, tighten with the Berlin-Rome Steel Pact, was an example of the ideological, military and political cooperation. And the main reason for its failure was the superior forces of the Allies.
James Holland does not constantly emphasize these conventional concepts in an attempt to disprove the myths. As a narrative alternative, he implies contrast storytelling with an emphasis on the factual information. For example, a significant part of the book is devoted to the abyss between a propaganda fantasy and reality, while deepening into the Axis ally between Germany and Italy. The author uses letters, memoirs, and testimonies of the common civilians, facts on the arming infrastructure of Italy to reflect a detailed picture of the life and war behind the closed doors of the Axis. Figures of the British war manufacturing, which had surpassed the German ones already in 1940 and the actual correlation between the whole fleet and a number of vessels sank. Lack of agreement within the Blitzkrieg, conflicts between the high officers and tactical fortune of the talented warlords.
Some profound ideas on the WW2
At the time of 1919, Poland obtained its independence first since the 18th century and its long-stand ‘division’ between Austria, Germany, and Russia. Millions of people of different nations and languages were now a part of Poland, a state made agreed after the Great War.
Steel Pact between the German Reich and Italy signed on May 22, 1939, had a more ideological impact for the Germans and influenced poor within Italy.
On the Threshold of the Second World War Britain and France considered the communistic Soviet Union even as a more dangerous enemy than Germany. Totalitarian regime, mass executions, Stalin’s purges just two years before. British Empire as a monarchy could not stand with the assassination of the Russian royal family. Vyacheslav Molotov, a Minister of Foreign Affairs appointed in May 1939 had been an active participant and a perpetrator of the crimes.
In 1939 the 70% of the German homes had a radio receiver both with the radio repeaters in most public places such as streets, shops, theatres, barbershops, and public transport. A common German citizen was under constant ideological pressure with the propaganda details of the Poland campaign. The Germans considered the neighbor as an aggressor who violates the rights of the German-speaking people and violates a border with acts of sabotage and violence.
Even though the fascist government had been controlled Italy since 1922, the country was still a monarchy. Victor Emmanuel and war leaders had enough power to shift the political rulers of the state. This scenario was beyond reality in Germany.
Although only twenty years had passed since the end of the Great War (World War One), at the time of 1939 British expeditionary forces had a lack of real combat experience. The previous most struggling challenge was to deal with some rebellions on the periphery of the Empire.
Whether German propaganda did its best to soften the fact of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty to their people, Italy was extremely confused. Germany had signed a treaty with the ideological enemy for both Steel Pact allies, a country who had been distributing communism over Europe.
A decision of Italy to enter the war in 1940 should be considered as a combination of factors. A state had to preserve self-importance within the Axis in a time when Hitler had successfully invaded Western Europe. For another thing, Mussolini had a dream to expand a new version of the Roman empire and to rule northern Africa by means of British and French colonies.
A fictional style of a non-fictional study. A mastery of inserted history by James Holland
James Holland emphasizes that his goal was wider than just to write another boring survey, looking over the figures on divisions in the West. The author considers his The War in the West trilogy as an accessible narration to reach a wide range of readers, who will enjoy the process and history. Each book and the “German ascendant” in particular is aimed to unite the years of Holland’s studies and the up-to-date historical way of thinking. James Holland is a co-producer of the television documentaries and an author of several historical monographs on the WW2. He is also famous for his fictional books, also dealing with the greatest conflict in human history as a background. The author successfully manages to tell the story in an exciting manner to intrigue us with the events. He constantly combines his principal characters, changes focus of attention between the opposite sides, between ranks and regalias. Holland’s narration reminds a fiction, especially while quoting the memoirs and testimonies. At the same time. The author can fill each chapter with the elements of the inserted stories, shifting focus and adding historical facts without interrupting the wholeness of the idea-driven narration.