By glancing at the title of Barry Turner’s book Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II, one would think that this is a complete coverage of the final months of the war in Europe. However, one would be wrong. Turner’s focus is more on the Western Front, with a smattering of the Eastern Front and a line or two about the Italian Front.
Although the book is not as comprehensive as I thought it would be, Turner does a fairly good job in explaining certain elements of the war. In his descriptions of various events during the last months of the war, he brings together accounts from all sides of the action. The Dresden bombings are vividly portrayed in the narratives of the aircrews that dropped the bombs and in the German civilians who shouldered the brunt of the incendiary attacks on their city. Although many people have been brought to believe that the Germans in World War II bore their hardships without emotion, it is hard to keep that perspective when one reads about the utter devastation on the people who lived through the bombings.
Turner also provides an interesting look at the German occupation of the countries in Northern Europe. He details the fledgling resistance movements in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. I particularly enjoyed his explanation of the preparations and problems involved in the operation to kill some of the leaders in German-occupied Denmark. He thoroughly describes the aerial bombing of the Gestapo Headquarters in the Shell House; an intricate joint operation between the British and the Danish resistance.
Turner fully explains the capture and occupation of the first German towns and cities by the American, British, and Canadian forces. Many towns and cities were defended until the bitter end, but many others fell without a fight. He accurately depicts the occupation and administration of these occupied areas. Unfortunately, here and in other parts of the book, Turner depends too much on direct accounts of what occurred. The book sometimes seems to be a pasting together of various perspectives of an event. For instance, I found myself wanting to skip ahead after the third account of a town being captured. Turner should have given one or two of the best accounts to give the reader an impression of what happened and then moved on to a different topic.
Some of the most fascinating reading (especially since I am a Francophobe) is Turner’s descriptions of the French. He details several instances where the French were not at their best. For example, French First Army commander General de Lattre de Tassigny comes off as completely spineless and always checking with, or seeking approval from, General Charles de Gaulle.
The French were always whining and complaining about how they were not receiving enough respect from the British and Americans. Turner explains how the French weaseled their way into the signing ceremony of the German surrender of their forces in Berlin. Even after squeezing into the signing, they complained so much that their flag was not present that the Russians had to make one on the spot.
This book is not a definitive history of the end of World War II in Europe as its title might suggest, but it brings a good perspective of the experiences of the civilians and soldiers who fought in the last months in Western Europe.