All Hell Let Loose

I was reading a copy of the BBC History magazine the other day when I came across an article by Max Hastings. He has written a book about the Second World War called, ‘All Hell Let Loose’. He says he was asked how it was possible to write yet another book about that period in history. Surely it had been done to death. He counters by providing a number of facts and statistics that may surprise many. The book is written with ordinary people, soldiers and civilians, at the centre of events, rather than the big-name politicians and generals who usually occupy that ground.Not yet having read the book, or even seen it, I am limited to referring to the article only. I confess that I was somewhat surprised by some of what Hastings says:

1)      Between 1941 and 1945, more French people fought on the side of the Vichy Government with the Germans than ever fought with the Resistance. (No surprise to some, I am sure.)

2)      British and American soldiers made up only 2% each of all Allied casualties. Russia accounted for 65%.

3)     Russia was responsible for 90% of German military casualties.

4)      Latest figures suggest that ‘only’ 20,000 people died in the Dresden bombing, revised down from the original estimates of 150,000. On the other hand, 90-125,000 died in the Tokyo bombings and resulting fire-storms.

5)      17,000 American combat casualties lost limbs, while 100,000 workers at home in the US became amputees as a result of industrial accidents.

6)      One seventh of Nazism’s fatal victims were Jews.

7)      Despite modern perceptions (and the best efforts of Hollywood), the War was not about protecting Jews. It was about territorial power. Their welfare was considered by the Allies, but it was not fundamental to the cause.

8)      The chance of an American man dying in the US military during the War, was only marginally higher than that of non military personnel at home.

9)      Approximately 3 million Bengal Indians died as a result of famine during WW2.

This all piqued my interest, so I did a bit more hunting around.

10)  The total number of Allied dead on D-Day Normandy Landings was 4,414 of which 2,499 were American and 1,915 were other Allies. Compare this to the 4,500 British soldiers who died at the Battle of Blenheim, on 13 August 1704, 240 years earlier, or the 19,000 British soldiers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 28 years earlier.

11)  Between 1955 and 1975, 55,000 Americans lost their lives inVietnam. 54,500 Americans died on the roads in 1973 alone.

Actually, none of it is dreadfully surprising, but there is a strong tendency to emphasise certain statistics at the expense of others. Americans, Hollywood especially, have a weakness for blowing their national trumpet with regards to their exploits and sacrifices. In any event, I look forward to reading the book.


11 thoughts on “All Hell Let Loose”

  1. I have read the book and was indeed surprised at some of the stats that Max Hastings unearthed. To put things in a nutshell, Germany was doomed as soon as the first German tank rolled across the Russian border. The Russians just kept retreating into that vast land until the Germans were stretched beyond breaking point. He also says that pound for pound the German Army was in most respects the most professional in any theatre but the British artillery was the most efficient. There is also great and deserved praise for Australian and New Zealand troops and in his opinion Genaral Bill Slimm of Burma fame was the most loved by his troops and the best tactician in the British Army. I commend the book to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the events of WWII and Sipu for a spot on summing up of he book.

  2. Sounds like a must read to me. I think that, at least, I have mentioned here before that the Soviet Army destroyed more German Divisions than the rest of the Allies combined.

  3. Thanks OMG. I must admit, having read Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad, several years ago, I remain awed by the sheer horror of that campaign and have a degree of sympathy and respect for Van Paulus.

    Barbarians at the Gate is about the only film I know of that deals with the subject. And what a great movie.

    The other Hastings book I read and greatly enjoyed was, ‘Finest Years’.

  4. Some of you will of course be wondering what a take over battle between two tobacco giants has to do with the siege of Stalingrad. Well, the answer is nothing. I meant ‘Enemy at the Gates’, not ‘Barbarians’.

  5. Thank you for your very interesting post, Sipu. I have just bought the book for our elder son, at his request, so look forward to reading it later.

    I’m sure the first statistic must be wrong, though. Everyone knows that 110% of the French were in the Resistance.

  6. Hi Sheona. Yes indeed, 110%.

    Actually, that whole Resistance thing did raise a great deal of controversy amongst the Allies. Many thought that they were wrong and did more damage than good. Some, even among the British, described them as terrorists.

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