Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Alternate Scenarios (Book Review)

Reviewed by John D. Burt
Edited by Peter Tsouras
Greenhill Books, London, 2004

I must start this review with a word of truth in advertising. The latest alternate history book from Greenhill, The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Alternate Scenarios, is not about Adolf Hitler's alternate scenarios for his 1944 Ardennes offensive. I would have expected chapters on the various German schemes put forth during the planning stages of the Bulge, or perhaps an expanded treatment of the Northwind offensive in Alsace in January. In addition, of the book's 10 chapters only one ends with a complete German victory. Thus 90 percent of the book certainly does not deal with anything Hitler might have found desirable.

Instead of what you might expect, the book looks at the significant campaigns of northwestern Europe in 1944 and, in fine alternate-history fashion, tweaks some aspect of the campaigns, leading to different resolutions. The first four chapters concern alternate scenarios stemming from D-Day to Operation Market-Garden. The next five concern alternate Bulge histories, and the final chapter postulates a completely successful Bulge. Unlike his previously edited books, Rising Sun Victorious, Third Reich Victorious and Dixie Victorious, editor Peter Tsouras' versions of these campaigns generally end with the Allies on top. This is a good departure from the previous books, since there was little chance for a German victory in Western Europe during this period.

In my opinion the best alternate history comes from identifying decisive moments within a campaign that had the potential to change things. Nearly all the chapters in this book follow that lead. For example, author Christopher Anderson presumes that the 101st Airborne Division moves to Werbomont, as its original orders specified, rather than being redirected to Bastogne by the First Army. In this version of the Bulge, therefore, Bastogne falls and the Allies withdraw behind the Meuse. Tsouras himself, in his chapter on an alternate Falaise Gap battle, has the 12th SS Panzer (Hitlerjugend) Division join in Hitler's mandated Mortain counteroffensive rather than defend against the Canadian Totalize operation. The Hitlerjugend was actually supposed to be part of the Mortain thrust but could not because of lack of fuel. In this Falaise battle, the Allies manage to close the gap.

There are other chapters whose historical tweaking is just a bit much to accept. David Isby posits that Bernard L. Montgomery's training for D-Day includes more postlanding combined arms work rather than concentrating–as all Allied commanders did–on just getting ashore. This struck me as too much of a change in Monty's outlook. Andrew Uffindell's version of Operation Market-Garden has the British 1st Airborne Division land close to the vital Arnhem bridges, rather than miles away. This, as with Isby's chapter, is pure 20-20 hindsight.

Regardless of the level of historical variation that went into the chapters, all are well written and plausible. James Arnold's "history" of a narrow thrust by George Patton through the Ardennes is probably the best chapter in the book–an outstanding blend of novel and history–even if Dwight D. Eisenhower's alternate decision to support Patton (rather than Montgomery's "narrow plan" or his own historical broad front approach) is hindsight as well.

The final chapter is the most intriguing. Tsouras presumes that the Bulge offensive was successful–reaching Antwerp and cutting off a million Allied soldiers in what is termed the Holland Pocket. Franklin D. Roosevelt dies from an early stroke, and many Allied heads roll as well: Eisenhower, Montgomery and Winston Churchill. Tsouras then weaves a tale that could be the outline of the next military- political thriller, with Patton and Douglas MacArthur trying not only to relieve the Holland Pocket and defeat Germany but also to save the United States from a Communist takeover. While it is a bit more than might be expected in a book subtitled Hitler's Alternate Scenarios, the chapter was fun to read.

Overall, Battle of the Bulge delivers the goods in the alternate history genre, complete with maps and fictitious endnotes (my favorite: George Mangano's Patton and Napoleon: Who Was the Better General?). If you get it for what it is, rather than what the title implies, you won't be disappointed with what you find inside.

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