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Extrait

chapter one

Time of Hope

Allies of a Kind

The first of September 1944 marked the fifth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, outbreak of the Second World War. The struggle had already continued for nine months longer than the earlier conflict, once called the Great War. The 1914-18 conflict cost the lives of a mere nine million people. Its successor would account for at least five times that number, the overwhelming majority of whom died in the Soviet Union or in China (where their passing remained largely unremarked by Westerners, then or since).

The British people somewhat flattered themselves about their own role. France, Britain and the dominion were the only belligerents voluntarily to have entered the conflict against totalitarianism as a matter of principle in support of Polish freedom, rather than as victims of aggression or in hopes of booty. Churchill's brilliant defiance in 1940 mitigated Hitler's triumph in western Europe that year. Without his genius, it is likely that Britain would have sued for peace. At no time after June 1940 was there a possibility that British arms could defeat Germany, or even play the principal part in doing so. Yet it was characteristic of British self-indulgence that, when Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, some thoughtful people recoiled in disgust from the notion of fighting alongside the bloodstained Soviets, even though their participation opened up the first, perhaps only realistic, prospect of overcoming Hitler.

In Evelyn Waugh's great novel Sword of Honour, the British officer Guy Crouchback embraces war in 1939 as a crusade against the modern world in arms. His faith is lost, however, when he finds his country allied with the Russians. That was fiction, yet in cool reality the head of the British Army, Sir John Dill, said in 1941 that he considered the Russians "so foul that he hated the idea of any close association with them." Dill's successor as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, initially regarded the Soviets with both moral and military contempt. Churchill's government embarked upon a huge propaganda campaign, to convince the British people that "Uncle Joe" Stalin and his nation were worthy friends of freedom. This was so successful that in 1945 it proved a painful task to shatter public delusions, to break the news that perhaps the Soviet Union was not quite such a good thing after all.

Yet if the accession of the Soviet Union as an ally prompted equivocal sentiments, that of the United States provided cause for unstinting celebration. "So we had won after all!" Winston Churchill exulted, on hearing news of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Between that date and May 1945, the United States devoted 85 per cent of its entire war effort to the struggle against Germany. Yet, paradoxically, few Americans ever felt deep animosity towards the Germans, of the kind which they cherished towards the "yellow barbarians" who had attacked them at Pearl Harbor. "I didn't work up a great hate of the Germans," said Nicholas Kafkalas, a twenty-four-year-old captain commanding an armoured infantry company of 10th Armored Division in north-west Europe. "They were pretty good soldiers. A lot of Americans felt less engaged against the Germans than against the Japanese." By the autumn of 1944, largely armed and equipped by the industrial might of the United States, the Allies were in no doubt of victory. But the gratitude of the weary, battered, hungry British people was mingled with resentment as they watched Americans in their tens of thousands, brash and fresh, clean and rich, pour off the ships on their way to join Eisenhower's armies. The New World's soldiers came to harvest the fruits of victory without, as the British saw it, having endured their share of the Old World's pain.

A thirty-two-year-old academic serving as a combat historian with the U.S. Army in September 1944 read British newspapers. He noted the fears these expressed, that the Americans would claim to have won the war on their own. "Unfortunately [for the British], nothing can stop our people from claiming the victory," Forrest Pogue wrote presciently.

They believe the British slow, they over-emphasize their [own] total contribution. The British will never get full credit for their part in winning the war, since their greatest glory was holding on in the 1939-42 period. This was negative type of fighting, and will fade . . . Russia will be played down, perhaps, in later years at home . . . Hers was the positive sacrifice that broke Germany and made the landing [in Normandy] possible. However, ours was the voice and the helping hand that encouraged England to keep fighting, that replaced the terrific loss of matériel suffered by the Russians.

All this was true.

Winston Churchill, whose irrational stubbornness in 1940 had averted Hitler's triumph, enjoyed the years of victory much less than he had expected. Like his people he was weary, as well a man of sixty-nine might be. He suffered increasing ill-health. He was made wretched by consciousness of his shrinking power in the Grand Alliance of Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. He was haunted by apprehension that Hitler's tyranny in eastern Europe would be supplanted by that of Stalin. In 1940, Britain's prime minister had been warlord of the sole bastion of resistance to the Nazis. In 1942, even if the Soviets treated him with the morbid suspicion due to an old imperialist and adversary of revolution, the Americans deferred to his greatness and to his nation's experience of war. From 1943 onwards, however, Churchill's influence upon the Grand Alliance dwindled almost to vanishing point. The Soviet Union displayed the icy arrogance it considered appropriate, as paymaster of the vast blood sacrifice necessary to bring Hitler's empire to bay. The United States made plain its intention to determine strategy in the west and invade Normandy in summer 1944-Operation Overlord-as its forces waxed in might while those of Britain waned.

"Up till Overlord," wrote Churchill's private secretary when it was all over, "he saw himself as the supreme authority to whom all military decisions were referred. Now, he is by force of circumstances little more than a spectator." Churchill himself acknowledged this: "Up to July 1944 England had a considerable say in things; after that I was conscious that it was America who made the big decisions." In 1944, the United States produced as many weapons as all the Axis powers together-40 per cent of the entire armaments employed by all the combatants on every front in the Second World War. Tensions grew between Britain's prime minister and America's president: "Roosevelt envied Churchill's genius, and Churchill increasingly envied Roosevelt's power," in the words of the historian John Grigg. The warmth of public exchanges between the two men masked a private coolness, and especially the consequences of Roosevelt's impatience with Churchill, which became ever more marked in the last months of the war.

While Roosevelt's life reflected the highest ideals, he was a much less sentimental and more ruthless man than Churchill. Roosevelt possessed, claims his most recent biographer, "a more perceptive and less romantic view of the world than Churchill." This proposition is justified insofar as Roosevelt recognized that the days of empires were done, while Churchill's heart refused to accept the signals of his brain that it was so. Yet any claim of Roosevelt's superior wisdom becomes hard to sustain convincingly in the light of the president's failure to perceive, as Churchill perceived, the depth of evil which Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union represented. It may be true that the Western allies lacked the military power to prevent the Soviet rape of eastern Europe, but posterity is entitled to wish that Roosevelt had allowed himself to appear less indifferent to it.

The British considered that neither the president nor the U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, for all his greatness as lead manager of America's war effort, exercised the mastery of strategy that was needed to finish the war quickly. "As [Roosevelt's] grip slackened during the last year of his life," argues one of the best historians of Anglo-American relations at this period, ". . . the President became in some ways a liability in terms of the effective conduct of United States and Allied business . . . his refusal to face the facts concerning his own state of health . . . suggest, not so much heroism, as is usually argued, but irresponsibility and an undue belief in his own indispensability, if not a love of power." Even if this verdict is too harsh and ignores the likelihood that an elected replacement president in January 1945 would have been less impressive than Harry S. Truman, it is hard to dispute the assertion that Roosevelt's judgement was flawed, his grasp upon events visibly slipping, from his 1944 re-election campaign until his death in April the following year.

Yet American vision about the most important strategic decision of the western war, the assault on the continent, had proved superior to that of the British. As late as the winter of 1943-44, Churchill continued to fight a rearguard action for his cherished Mediterranean strategy. He pursued the chimera of penetrating Germany through Italy and Yugoslavia. He remained instinctively anxious to defer an invasion of north-west Europe, which he feared could become a bloodbath reminiscent of the First World War. Painful experience of the limitations of Allied forces against those of the Wehrmacht, the greatest fighting machine the world had ever seen, dogg... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

"Huge and splendid volume . . . [Displays Hastings'] usual thorough research and clear writing to sustain every case. His book ranks among the very best military history volumes of the year."--Publishers Weekly, starred review.

"Hastings writes with authority, as well as humanity, about the realities of combat--the fear, smells, hunger, humiliation and the horrendous wounds inflicted. His range spans from the lowliest GI crouched in his foxhole in the dread Hurtgen forest to the commanders in charge. . . Every leader contemplating a military operation, for whatever reason, should read this book and take several deep breats. Armageddon is the name of the last stop on the line."--Alistair Horne, The Wall Street Journal


"Hastings does an excellent job of weaving together the war's multiple layers: from the high command and midlevel officers to infantry grunts and confused civilians. Readers get glimpses of the famous and infamous leaders--Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Hitler, Stalin . . . Rich descriptions of displaced families mix with fascinating details..." --Clint O'Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer




Praise from Britain for Armageddon by Max Hastings

"Magnificent . . . Armageddon is not so much a narrative history as a series of set-piece sections filled with valuable insights and good judgement. . . Hastings in this grand overview of the end of the Second World War has yet again made a great contribution to our understanding of the period." --Anthony Beevor, The Sunday Telegraph

"Armaggedon is a magesterial history of the last year of the war in Europe and a much needed corrective, delivering firm judgments in crisp prose, its acerbic take on the military history is matched by a war correspondent's compassion for human suffering." --Christopher Silvester, Financial Times

"Masterly survey . . . panoramic... Hastings is exceptionally deft at explaining complicated strategy to the layman." --Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday

"Gripping . . . Hastings, already a supreme exponent of important arguments in military history to a general readership, finds a new dimension." --Hew Strachan, Sunday Times

"Superb . . . Hastings's writing is a model of thoughtfulness and clarity. He conveys the pain, hunger and indignity of the battlefield with the same glittering precision with which he illuminates the plans and personalities of the commanders. Armageddon is deep and dark with the power to invade your dreams. A master historian is back and at the height of his powers." --Patrick Bishop, Telegraph --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.


Détails sur le produit

  • Cassette
  • Editeur : Macmillan Audio Books; Édition : Abridged edition (21 avril 2006)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 1405089245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405089241
  • Dimensions du produit: 14 x 10,6 x 3,6 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.5 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
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Par Jeremy Knight sur 10 septembre 2014
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
As with other Max Hastings books, this is a good read. It is well-written and informative and I found it quite hard to put down. It is interesting to read about the personal experiences of both Allied and German soldiers, as well as those of the civilians caught up in the catastrophe.
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Par CELEF sur 4 septembre 2014
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Fills a gap in my survey of WW II history. Long awaited for such a book, most authors make short comment
of the post- Ardennes offensive period.

Author has a gift for selecting short but profound anecdotes among the enormous material available.
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39 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An excellent overview of the last year of the war 26 août 2005
Par A. Courie - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Max Hastings' "Armagaddon" is a fantastic book about the last year of World War II in Europe. In ways, it is a follow-up to his book "Overlord," although Hastings does also devote considerable attention to the fighting on the East Front. Hastings seamlessly shifts his narrative from the big picture to analysis to individual viewpoints, and in doing so gives the reader an accurate and informed history of the last year of WWII in Europe.

Much of Hasting's focus is on the "big picture," the campaigns and battles from August 1944 until May 1945. Hastings describes all of the major battles of the last year of the war - Market-Garden, the Ardennes, the Allied Spring Offensive, the Vistula Offensive, and the Battle for Berlin - while also devoting more print than others to Operation Varsity, the Soviet offensives in the Balkans, and other lesser-known actions. He describes at length the Warsaw Uprising. Sometimes, though, the details of these battles are lost or get confusing because Hastings' narratives of these battles often jump between the "big picture" and the individual accounts of the battles. .

Hastings also analyzes the conduct of the battle and the military leaders of each side. As in "Overlord," Hastings is critical of the American and British leaders who lacked the initiative, vision, and experience to end the war as quickly as they could. He is also critical of the fighting abilities of the American and British soldiers. Hastings contrasts these commanders and soldiers with those of the Germans and Soviet Russians, all of whom he believe were superior to the American and British. Reading Hastings' opinions serve as a counterpoint to those such as Stephen Ambrose, and certainly the truth lies somewhere between the two. Still, Hastings does differentiate between the individual leaders; for example, he is extremely critical of Montgomery while seeming to hold Patton in fairly high regard.

Hastings peppers his narrative individual stories in the war, telling the experiences of the soldiers and civilians caught up in the war. These stories are based on recently-conducted interviews with the participants. He uses these stories to support his larger theses and to color his battle accounts. These personal stories are most telling during "Armageddon's" chapters about the aerial bombing of Germany, POWs, and the Soviet pillaging of East Prussia.

"Armageddon" gives the reader a great overview of the last year of WWII in Europe. Hastings weaves his history with analysis of the campaigns and with the personal stories of those who were there. He has written an excellent work that should be read by anyone with an interest in WWII. It's just a shame that he couldn't find a better title for his book.
109 internautes sur 123 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Chronicling the perils intrinsic to war's endgame. 18 novembre 2004
Par David J. Gannon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
In Armageddon Mark Hastings has provided an in depth and wide ranging history of the last months of World War II in Europe. This massive tome provides an organized and intimate window into the appalling toll of war, a toll exacerbated by errors overconfidence contributed particularly among the Western allies on the one hand and the incalculable atrocities the vengeance of the Russians contributed on the other.

Hastings effectively shows how overconfidence born from the success of the western invasion on D-day led the western allies into a series of questionable decisions of both tactical and psychological nature. The failure to secure the deep water port at Antwerp and the miscalculation as to the willingness and capabilities of the retreating Germans to continue to battle led to unnecessary disaster at Arnheim and the Ardennes.

Hastings also provides what may be the first authoritative overview of the raping and pillaging of Prussia by Russian troops, a saga of atrocities unparallel in 20th century history and possibly the most savage actions in Europe sine the days of the Mongol invasions.

Although great in scope the book has curious omissions. There is virtually nothing here relating to the war in southern Europe. Although some major characters get the full historical overview, others are given relatively short shrift. And there is a definite element of personal commentary as to certain players (Monty in particular) that are less than objective in my view.

However, on the whole this is an awesome historical review of a major historical event with lessons for today. The perils of the end game in Europe may well have implications as to the possible end game in Iraq. If so, the lessons are not heartening.

So, in the end, this book has value not only as a historical reference but as a warning about the perils that sill face those who wage war today.
26 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
INSIGHTFUL, CHALLENGING WORLD WAR II HISTORY 18 janvier 2005
Par Alan Rockman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
From one of Britain's Best Military Historians.

I have always admired the work of Max Hastings, whether it be his combat reportage from the Falkland Islands or his masterful tome on D-Day "Overlord" where he first challenged the optimism and the skill of the Allied Armies facing the Germans on the Normandy Beaches.

In "Armageddon" Hastings further challenges the myths of the superiority of the Western Allies over the Nazi armies, and whether one agrees with him or not, his findings are cause for serious thought and re-evaluation, especially in regards to the way we fight our wars today.

Some of his findings aren't new - but more novel in the way that he presented and flushed them out. For example, Hastings rips Bernard Montgomery, a fellow Brit across the coals for his twin failures to open up Antwerp Port in September 1944, and for blithely sending in three Allied Airborne divisions without adequate armor or infantry support in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in Holland. In the first case, Montgomery chose to do a "Farragut at Mobile Bay" in reverse. Whereas the Union Admiral chose to take out the harbor forts at Mobile and neutralize the Confederate fleet before assault the city, Montgomery chose to take the city without moving on the port facilities with the utmost urgency. That cost the allies almost two months of supplies - and perhaps the drive to move into Germany in the fall of 1944. Furthermore, by destroying the 1st British Airborne Division at Arnhem, Hastings shows that even if Arnhem had been successful, Allied forces still would have lack the necessary punch to move in force across the Rhine and into the heart of Nazi Germany simply because there weren't enough supplies. Antwerp was the key to ending the war in the west, and Monty blew it badly.

But Eisenhower also deserves his fair share of criticism. Hastings points out that Patton should have been the commander of the U.S. forces in the Ruhr, and had he been in command, would have possessed the fire, drive and imagination to move in force into the German heartland. To put in opposite Alsace-Lorraine was a waste. Furthermore, Hastings finds it unbelieveable that Ike, knowing Monty's weaknesses and his spite towards Americans, would let Montgomery take charge of the major operations designed to end the war in the fall of 1944 and fail completely!

The British soldiers were tired, their officers while courageous lacked skill and imagination. By contrast, the U.S. Army had some wonderful elite forces, i.e., the 82nd and 101st Airborne, and the 3rd and 4rd Armored Divisions to name a few, but outside of Patton and a few unorthodox officers, were either too slow or too hesitant to take the necessary initative.

By contrast Hastings gives the Wehrmacht, fighting desperately on its own soil very high marks for tenacity, and also to the Red Army for smashing through the thick German defenses from the Vistula to the Oder. He also notes that the totalitarian armies were the worst when it came to respecting human rights and lives; but better in mortal combat than the humane Allied soldiers. He also notes that Stalin had clear-cut goals whereas the sick Roosevelt vacillated to the dismay of a worn and pessimistic Churchill.

The chapter on the Soviet push into East Prussia is not for the faint of heart or to be read on a full stomach. Even those of us who cheered the destruction of the Third Reich and of the Nazi killing machine will have very little to cheer over the rapes, tortures and murders committed by the Red Army, no matter the justification, including the martyred Six Million and the countless Russians and Slavs slaughtered and starved by Hitler. In fact, much of our distrust of Russia stems from those days when the reality that Stalin was no better than Hitler finally hit home after Yalta. Hastings is not the first to chronicle the murderous rampage in Prussia, Jurgen Thorwald and James Lucas have preceded him. But he is the first to write of this in relatively unemotional and non-partisan tones.

This is one incredible history of the final 9 months of World War II in Europe. The savagery of the battlefield, the atrocities committed by Germans and Russians, the weaknesses of the West in contrast to the bloodthirsty determination of the Soviets, and accounts by the fighting men themselves (Hastings, like Ambrose and Brokaw wanted to capture the true voices of "The Greatest Generation" before they passed on, and did so with flying colors)...it is all here in "Armageddon".

Hastings, like Jay Winik in his treatment of the last month of the Civil War in "April 1864" has captured the depth and the scope of the killing fields in Europe at the end of World War II.
25 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Very critical of the allies 6 décembre 2004
Par 1. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Hastings has wriiten a book that is harshly critical of the allies during the Second World War. According to Hastings the Western allies missed numerous opportunities to conquer Germany such as after the capture of Aachen and the Battle of the Bulge. Moreover the Western allies were too reliant on firepower and not able to improvise in combat. Hastings also chatises Soviet miltitary abiltity as well, by criticizing the decision to halt the advance into Berlin by pausing to reinforce the northern flank, and Zhukov's frontal attack on that city. Hastings writes that the allies committed numerous atrocities such as bombing and strafing civilians while the Russians crucified and raped women.Plus Hastings questions the morality of the Western allies by provoking the doomed Warsaw rebellion without having the means to support it. The main fault of Hastings's work is that he leaves out the siege of Budapest and ignores the works by David French, Peter Mansoor, and Michael Doubler that contradict his thesis about the military abilties of the Western allies. Despite these criticisms, I would reccomend this book for those who want a new perspective on the Second World War.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Excellent 11 décembre 2004
Par Roger Smith - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
It's been a long time coming, but what is effectively the sequal to "Overlord" manages to overshadow even that masterpiece.

To anyone under 50, the sheer scale of World War Two is staggering. The size of the armies, the number of dead and wounded, and the scale of the general suffering is so great as to be difficult to imagine. Hastings manages the very difficult trick of sustaining a narrative overview while never allowing us to forget that every event involved individuals.

Amongst the many shocking facts he exposes:

The treatment of the Soviet Union's own soldiers who had been captured was horrific. Stalin was worried that in captivity they had somehow become "exposed" to the West and possibly "contaminated." On liberation thousands were shot, while thousands more were sent to the GULAG or internal exile.

The evacuation of East Prussia (now Poland) meant that about two million German civilians lost their lives, whilst the survivors suffered rape, destitution, and abuse at the hands of a maddened Red Army.

The stupidity of the Nazi leadership when they continued to defend the Western front long after any hope of victory or negotiated settlement had passed. This lead to the occupation of Berlin and the East by the Soviet Union, with all the suffering and cruelty that ensued.

The naivety of President Roosvelt, in assuming he could trust Stalin, despite Churchill's misgivings. To be fair, nobody knew the President was terminally ill during much of 1944.

Finally, (yes finally!) a historian is candid enough to critisise "Market Garden" and correctly speculate that even if the operation had succeded, the Allies would have surely been halted and defeated or exhausted to a standstill somewhere else long before reaching Berlin in the winter of 1944.

The list goes on.

Buy this book, read it, and prepare to be amazed and unsettled at what human beings, many of whom considered themselves educated and civilised, are capable of. It's also the perfect antidote to the rancid guff the late Stephen Ambrose plagerised in his "greatest generation" works which often glorify this cruelest and most horrible of all wars.
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