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The book introduces the reader to little-remembered men (and they are all men) whose ingenuity and innovations were critical. For example, the American inventor J. Walter Christie developed a suspension and chassis that was the basis for the best tank of the war, the Soviet T-34. Major Earl “Pete” Ellis laid out the basic doctrine of amphibious warfare for the U.S. Marines that became the basis for the “island hopping” campaign in the Pacific. British Major General Percy Hobart developed an array of innovative equipment – known as “Hobart’s Funnies” – to clear battlefield obstacles. British test pilot Ronnie Harker and Polish mathematician Witold Challier urged installing a Rolls Royce Merlin engine into an underperforming American plane and, by doing so, created the P-51 Mustang, arguably the best fighter plane of the war.
So unlike most histories of the Second World War, this is not a study of grand strategy, leadership, a breakthrough weapon, or a single campaign. Nor is it an encyclopedic history of the conflict. Instead, it examines the war as a series of difficult problems that the Allies solved with “human ingenuity and sympathetic initiative.”
Ultimately, this is a marvelous synthesis of a vast range material that offers a new and important way of understanding the largest conflict in human history. Superbly written and carefully documented, this book offers fresh and creative insights about the conflict to even the most expert readers. And it will become indispensable reading for anyone who seeks to understand how and why the Allies won.
Terry Hartle is senior vice president of government relations for the American Council on Education.