Liddell Hart’s History of the Second World War is, in some respects, a complementary volume to his History of the First World War. Both are based on the same fundamental conception of the writing task at hand.
Vast quantities of material have been written about the Second World War from a large variety of viewpoints. Some writing has a moralistic tone, delving into the horrors of such things as the Holocaust and the terrors that millions of people faced during the years of conflict. Other writing has concentrated on the technological aspect of the war, with many pages devoted to such things as aircraft design and performance, or the development of the first atomic bomb. Much writing has had a highly narrative quality, with detailed focus on the action in particular combat situations, or perhaps even the problems faced by private citizens on the home front.
Liddell Hart’s history has considerable narration, but the main thrust of the work is analysis of strategy and tactics employed by both sides in the conflict. It is both expositional and critical. The German conception of Blitzkrieg is examined in depth, both its theory and its specific execution against Poland, the western allies in 1940 and the invasion of Russia beginning in 1941. The same approach is adopted towards the Japanese campaigns in Asia and the Pacific, beginning even before Pearl Harbor. Allied strategies are similarly discussed, ranging from the American victory at Midway, through the strategy of ‘island fighting’ in the Pacific to the final aerial campaign against Japan. The same is done for the desperate Russian counteroffensive on the Eastern Front, the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and the final onslaught on fortress Europe that began with D-Day and ended with final allied victory.
As such, Liddell Hart’s work has much to say about certain aspects of the war and nothing about others. Persons wishing to study Nazi racial theory and the Holocaust, for example, had best look elsewhere, because nothing is stated about either. Although the work is an analysis of causes and strategies, very little is written about the background to the war, although sections are devoted to the more immediate reasons why war broke out in Europe in the fall of 1939 and why Japanese imperialism led to the Asian and Pacific theatres of conflict.
Such topics as Mein Kampf and the rise of the Nazi Party are best explored in other sources. Although the work has a dispassionate and abstract tone, considerable attention is devoted to the personalities who played major roles in the development and execution of strategy, although there is little real biographical material about such persons as Rommel, Montgomery, Yamamoto, Zhukov or Eisenhower.
As an analyst of strategy, Liddell Hart was of primary importance in the historiography of the two World Wars. Others who have written on the same aspect of the conflicts have either followed in his footsteps and have been obliged to make frequent references to his work. Born in Paris in 1895 and educated at Cambridge, Liddell Hart saw active service in the First World War and rose to the rank of captain. A breakdown in health saw him retire from active military service in 1924, but he had established a strong reputation as an intellectual theorist of war, becoming an early advocate of both air power and armoured mobile tactics. He became a personal advisor to the Minister of War, but retired when reorganization of the British forces proved too slow. He was a military analyst to both The Daily Telegraph and The Times in the 1930’s, and was active as a lecturer in several staff colleges and as a writer until his death in 1970. Thus, he had considerable direct experience at a high level of both world wars, and his expertise is unsurpassed. Serious students of the world wars cannot avoid reading Sir Basil Liddell Hart.