Review of Michael Kerrigan's World War II Plans that Never Happened
By David RobInson from the Scotsman
It went on for five years, was fought by land, sea and air, across every conceivable kind of landscape - deserts, jungles, mountains, swamps and city streets. Over 20 combatant countries took part in a conflict which took in six continents, costing 7
0-odd million lives in all. A lot of stuff happened in the Second World War, in other words. Enough to explain (if not in every case to justify) the scores of books still being published every year. And certainly enough to leave the reader wondering why we might conceivably need a history of what didn't happen.
But Michael Kerrigan makes a surprisingly convincing case. Still, half a century on, he suggests, the defining event of our modernity, the Second World War, is seen in semi-mythic struggle between good and evil. Even relatively well-informed students are too quick to see a seamless narrative, with winners and losers. Breezily readable, generously illustrated, this book is very much aimed at the general reader. Yet it's ambitious even so in attempting a back-of-the-tapestry examination of the unfolding conflict, to reveal "the more mundane struggle … as the combatant powers attempted to direct the drama". "Their decisions (sometimes their indecision)," Kerrigan writes, "played themselves out in the field of combat, nudging the narrative in a new direction here; tipping the balance infinitesimally there."
What sort of thing are we talking about? Everything from Hitler's "Sealion" plan for an invasion of the UK in 1940 to Britain's plan to rain ricin down on Germany the following year. One German plot, to assassinate the "Big Three" Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference, was discovered by the Soviets; Britain considered deploying the Dambusters (617 Squadron) to bomb Mussolini's Roman residence. All good, colorful material, though what really brings these stories alive, however, is the wide array of archive documents, along with other rare photographs.
It's not all plans to abduct the Pope, or make aircraft carriers out of ice. Alternative plans for the conduct of campaigns in theatres from North Africa to the Pacific are set out: seeing how things might have been done differently gives us a clearer appreciation of why they were done the way they were. New super-weapons were devised: the Japanese got as far as building prototypes of its I400 submersible aircraft carrier, though its hopes of using it to bomb the Panama canal were never to be realised. Germany's V2 rocket program was also overtaken by events, though it clearly points an ominous finger to the future. We glimpse that disturbing future too in 'Operation Unthinkable', Churchill's plan to roll over the Soviets in 1945. His previous thinking had to some extent been open to the charge of "fighting the last war" (more specifically, and ironically, his disastrous Gallipoli campaign), so it's quite a shock to find him trying to fight the next war here.
Altogether, the most surprising thing about this book is that it springs a constant succession of surprises. Quirky, offbeat - at times counter-intuitive - its reading of the war is illuminating in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Book Description from Publisher
A Nazi scheme to capture the Pope, an IRA plan to invade Northern Ireland, a British plan to attack the Soviet Union after the defeat of Hitler or a Japanese seizure of the Panama Canal – it may sound unbelievable, but during World War II these operations and others as seemingly far-fetched were seriously considered by both the Allies and the Axis. Based on newly discovered archive material, World War II Plans That Never Happened tells the stories of some of the most secret and outrageous operations that were planned during the war, many of which could have taken place and might well have changed the course of history: from the German plan to seize bases in Spain and Portugal and invade Switzerland, to the Japanese plan to bomb the United States, to the American plan to use Marines to attack V-1 bases in Europe, and the British plan to invade Norway and Sweden in 1939/40.
On a spread-by-spread basis World War II Plans That Never Happened explains the context of each planned operation and explores whether it might have been successful, and what the impact might have been on the war if it had gone ahead. Arranged by type of operation, the book includes easy-to-read factboxes, informing the reader of the date, intended purpose and forces involved. In addition there are rare photographs, illustrations and maps to demonstrate that these were real operation actually seriously considered by the planning staffs.
Authoritatively written and with more than 250 color and black-and-white photographs, maps and illustrations, World War II Plans That Never Happened will prove fascinating to any World War II enthusiast.