THE ANGLO-AMERICAN ARMIES are rolling again in this volume, battling their way from the D-Day beaches to triumph over the Third Reich. The familiar figures play out their well-known roles -- Ike sweating the weather reports before the Normandy landings, Patton roaring eastward out of the Normandy bridgehead, Montgomery launching a massive assualt across the Rhine. Although David Irving is not a great master of combat narrative, such as Cornelius Ryan or Jack Toland, he can move a story. The narrative is lively, the pace quick, and some of the battle episodes are gripping. The scene in which Brig. Gen. Norman "Butch" Cota, an American assistant division commander at Normandy, strode about Omaha Beach under murderous fire to rally his troops, protect the wounded, and save the beachhead, is such an extraordinary tale, and told so effectively, that is left this reader clutching the book with excitement.
The general focus of The War Between the Generals is not, however, front-line combat, but conflict within the Allied command. Irving adds some new information about the notorious sqabbles among Ike and his nominal subordinates, especailly the incessant complaints made against Field Marshal Montgomery by his American (and some of his British) colleagues in Allied headquarters. The author also dredges up spicy, but usually inconsequential, diary gossip in which the generals recount their vices and say nasty things about one another. More significantly, Irving has some new evidence related to the strategic decisions which were made following the breakout from Normandy. Ike does seem to have vacillated excessively at this stage. One day he would decide to let Montgomery carry the weight of the attack on the left wing, only to turn back a few days later to his favorite notion that the whole Allied force should move forward on a broad front. Again, this version of events is not new. But Montgomery seems to have been more straightforward and consistent on this occasion, while Ike was even less decisive, than historians had heretofore assumed.
Although the range and depth of the material in the book is formidable, the most serious challenge posed by The War Between the Generals is the idiosyncratic approach of the autor. For those unfamiliar with the peculiarites of David Irving's views, the first encounter may be disconserting. In this volume, as in all his works, Irving treats Germans with great affetion, portrays the Fueher as an heroic figure who is seldom, if ever, wrong and dismisses most of the author's fellow Britons as a rather clumsy lot, doomed to decline and loss of empire. In consequence the reader is liable to come across surprising interpretive gems at any point. Late in the book, for example, Irving remarks in an offhand manner that the Malmedy massace was really not an atrocity at at, but merley a "shoot out" between Americans and the Waffen SS, following which the SS men, apparently obsessed with the idea that Ordnung muss sein, arranged the American dead in neat rows and thereby unwittingly created the impression that they had been gunned down after capitulation. There is no mention of the large number of American eyewittnesses who contended that they say the SS troops shoot the American soldiers after they had surrendered.
Such vagaries are paralleded by the lack of footnotes and of printed sources in the bibliography as well as a tendency to start stories but not to finish them. The policy struggles over the decision to land in Southern France in August 1944 (Operation Anvil) are described in detail, and we are allowed to see the forces land. But then Gen. Alexander Patch's army simply disappears from the narrative; there is ;no advance up the Rhone, and the reader is left in the dark about the actions and significance of this invasion force. Some such gaps -- President Roosevelt simply goes missing after Yalta and we don't learn that he has died until a side comment to that effect is made at the time of VE Day in mid-May -- are surley due to simple organizational failures. But others tend to mask important inconsistencies which would be obvious if Irving's description and interpretation of a particular event had been followed through to the end. The most important instance at which he drops a subject apparently to protect his interpretation is the struggle between Ike and Montgomery over how to advance into Germany. Irving recounts every detail of the controversy and decided not ony that Ike was wrong ultimately to settle on a broad-front advance, but that this decision gave the Germans a breathing space to build up a defensive system which could wear down the Allies and prolong the war.
A matter of opinion, but fair enough.
But them Adolf Hitler chose not accept this gift which would have forced the Allies to slog forward on their broad front, with extended supply lines, while he wore them down from behind fortifications and interior lines of defense. Instead the Fuehrer decided to try the wild gamble of the attack of in the Bulge. This cost him his strategic reserve along with much of his remaining tank strength and tactical air force. He thereby made it possible for Ike's broad-front advance to move ahead smoothly and easily.
How does David Irving meet the obvious point that it was Hitler who turned Ike's broad-front strategy for invading Germany as of mid-December (the time of the Bulge battle) and never raises it again. By this silence we are led to believe that Ike was strategically wrong, the Fuehrer was tactically clever, and the latter's strategic blunder is completely ignored.
Yet the reader should not put off the book by the author's sleight of hand or even the labored attempts to include all the elements of a blockbuster novel in this volume. The application of the standard recipe -- a teaspoon of sex, a pinch of graft, a tablespoon of alcohol, a a dash of racism -- does become wearing. But the book is good reading and if one remembers that it is primarily a well-staged historical melodrama in which there are a few heroes and many villians -- including the author on occasion -- it can be really good fun.