When does a war end? Is it the day the treaties are signed? Is it the day the last soldier falls? Or is it the day the enemy finally realizes he is fighting a lost cause?
In standard histories of the Second World War, the last six months in the western European arena invariably make a short epilogue. After the German failure in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's bold counterattack across the Ardennes, the war is often assumed to have been over, bar sporadic shooting. As Countdown to Victory shows, this is a long way from the truth. The German army, far from being beaten, fought hard for every inch of ground. This in-depth look at those final months reveals many individual acts of great courage and recaptures the excitement of victory and the despair of the defeated, told by the people who were eyewitnesses to these momentous events.
Countdown to Victory also examines many contentious issues: the race between Montgomery and Patton to become the first to cross the Rhine; the rarely discussed Hunger Winter in Holland, in which the Dutch people were left to starve by the Nazi administrators under the knowing eyes of the Allied forces; the destruction of German cities; Eisenhower's decision to leave Berlin to the Russians and the disagreements between British and American generals; the concentration camps and the question of German collective guilt; and the drama of the last days of the Third Reich. The memories and reflections are set in the wider context of the political struggle among Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, with Stalin winning on points for dominant say in planning a postwar Europe.
Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished American, British, Canadian, German, Dutch and Scandinavian sources, Countdown to Victory is a reinterpretation of those final months through he eyes of ordinary people forced to experience the trauma. These memories and reflections of the soldiers and civilians in the front line will make us rethink the popular images of the last stage of the war.
Searing and indelible, this riveting history puts a spotlight on a transformative moment in the twentieth century, from a historian whose page-turning style will have readers transfixed.