Paul Bryant's Reviews > All Hell Let Loose: The World at War, 1939-1945

All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
May 03, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: worldwar2
Read from May 03 to 28, 2012


Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

A fast ride through World War Two. This will be unspeakable, but we must speak.

Here goes.

Poland – the only nation in which there was no collaboration with the Nazis…

when the Soviets invaded Finland the Finns joked "There are so many and our country is so small, where shall we find room to bury them all?"…

A Norwegian officer reported that one British unit was composed of "very young lads who appear to come from the slums of London. They have taken a very close interest in the women of Romsdal and engaged in wholesale looting of shops and houses"…

Eight million French people abandoned their homes in the months following the German assault, the greatest mass migration in west European history…

the London Blitz lasted about nine months. Some 43,000 British civilians were killed and a further 139,000 injured (160 deaths every day for 9 months)…

for almost a year following France's surrender, scarcely a single German soldier fired a shot… …

Germany was not an advanced industrial country by comparison to the USA which it lagged by perhaps thirty years…

while fighting the Italians in Albania a Greek soldier has to abandon his horse : "Starving, soaked to the bone, tortured by endless movement on rocky ground, he was doomed to stay there. I emptied my saddlebags to follow the others on foot, then stroked the back of his neck a little and kissed it. He might be an animal, but he had been my comrade in war. We had faced death many times together. We had lived through unforgettable days and nights. I saw him looking at me as I walked away. What a look that was, my friends. It revealed so much anguish, so much sadness. I wanted to cry but the tears did not come. War leaves no time for such things. Momentarily I thought of killing him but I could not bear to do so. I left him there, staring at me until I disappeared behind a rock"……

"I came to realise that for every man sweating it out in the muck and dust of the Western desert, there were twenty bludging and skiving in the wine bars and restaurants, night clubs and brothels and sporting clubs and race tracks of Cairo"…

"the gunner was smiling at me cheerfully though his right arm was smashed to bits beneath the elbow"…

A total of around 300,000 Russian soldiers are believed to have been killed by their own commanders for alleged cowardice and desertion – more than the entire toll of British troops killed by enemy hands during the course of the war…

Since the 1917 revolution the population of the Soviet union had endured the horrors of civil was, famine, oppression, forced migration, and summary injustice. But Barbarossa transcended them all in the absolute human catastrophe that unfolded in its wake and eventually became responsible for the deaths of 27 million of Stalin's people, of whom 16 million were civilians….

War correspondent Vasiliy Grossman met a peasant carrying a sack of frozen human legs, which he proposed to thaw on a stove in order to remove the boots…

The ruthlessness of the Soviet state was indispensible to confound Hitler. No democracy could have established as icily rational a hierarchy of need as did Stalin, whereby soldiers received the most food, civilian workers less, and "useless mouths", including the old, only a starvation quota. More than two million Russiams died of starvation during the war in territories controlled by their own government…

at the end of 1940 only 16% of Americans wanted the USA to join the war…in the absence of Pearl Harbor it remains highly speculative when, if ever, the USA would have fought…

"I couldn't see anything for the swirling spray. The wind shrieked through the rigging and superstructure. It looked as though we were sailing through boiling water as the wind whipped the wave tops into horizontal spume, white and fuming, which stung my eyes and face. Now and again I caught a glimpse of one of the big merchant ships being rolled on its beam ends by the huge swells sweeping up"…

"The Russians attach little importance to what they eat or wear. It is surprising how long they can survive on what to a western man would be a starvation diet…[they] move freely by night or in fog, through woods and across swamps. They are not afraid of the dark, nor of their endless forests, nor the cold" (Lt Gen Gunther Blumentritt)…

Gen Vasiliy Chuikov said "Time is blood…you send off a liaison officer to find out what's happening, and he gets killed. That's when you shake all over with tension"…

Stalin's orders were simple and readily understood : the city must be held to the last man or woman. …

"We have fought for fifteen days for a single house…the front is a corridor between burnt-out rooms. Stalingrad is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous clud of burning, blinding smoke… animals flee this hell, the hardest stones cannot bear it for long. Only men endure."…

the NKVD report from Leningrad was optimistic: In connection with the improvement in the food situation in June, the death rate went down by a third… the number of incidents of use of human flesh in food supply decreased. Whereas 236 people were arrested for this crime in May, in June it was just 56."…

An Italian general asserted in 1942 that 99 per cent of his fellow countrymen not merely expected to lose the war but now fervently hoped to do so as soon as possible…

Half the British population moved home in the course of the war…

"On that particular day the butcher let me have some rabbit. I didn't want the rabbit cause I'd rather give my small children an egg. So I took the rabbit round to my neighbour. She was so thrilled. On that particular day her son was killed."…

"In this place one's mind returns continually and dwells longingly on food… I think of duck and cherry casserole, scramled eggs, fish, scallops, chicken stanley, kedgeree, trifle, summer pudding, fruit fool, bread and butter pudding".

When American machine-gunner Donald Schoo's driver had a hand blown off, the man ran in circles laughing hysterically "I'm going home! Thank you, God! I'm going home!"…

I should add that this is a brilliant book, recommended to all. I think you probably got that.
65 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read All Hell Let Loose.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

07/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Books Ring Mah Bell this looks GOOD. Hastings is a great writer.

message 2: by Paul (last edited May 06, 2012 04:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant so far this is extremely good indeed and is telling me a mighty lot of stuff I never knew.

message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan What I wish is that there were more information for the periods in between the wars/just after. Studying the interwar period for history is ridiculous with the amount of info available being near zilch.

message 5: by Jonathan (last edited May 28, 2012 06:15AM) (new)

Jonathan Yes that type of thing. When looking for that kind of material in libraries while doing research I had to almost dive in among the war journals and letters and recounts to find the few that existed. By the way excellent review I'll buy your sales pitch.

message 6: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala You might also find Vasily Grossman's Everything Flows useful, and a welcome change from history texts. It's an insider's view of the Stalin years rendered beautifully in fiction.

message 7: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Just when I was casting about for a book to give my husband on his birthday, comes your review. This sounds perfect. My husband lived in Norway under the German occupation and consequently has an abiding interest in this subject.

Paul Bryant Guaranteed he'll find this everything you could want from a one volume WW2 history. Or your money back!

message 9: by Harry (new)

Harry Kane The Stalingrad quote reminded me of "Pavlov's house" a small building in Staligrad trying to take which Germany lost more men than taking Paris. The soviet soldiers would dart out of the house during lulls in order to kick over piles of bodies, so that the next wave of attackers couldn't use them as cover...

message 10: by Paul (last edited Jun 01, 2012 04:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant This book really demanded two completely different reviews, an impressionistic one as above and another which was going to be a radical summary of the whole 6 years, and then a summary of the summary, until I reached the essence of the whole thing, which I think would have been something like -

World War 2 was a death struggle between two fantastic tyrants. Everything else was a sideshow. The US/Japan conflict was a sideshow. Britain was a sideshow. Stalin won because he had a lot more soldiers. Hitler ran out of soldiers. Simple.

message 11: by Harry (last edited Jun 01, 2012 05:07AM) (new)

Harry Kane There's a contraversial theory that Stalin was planning to take Hitler's Europe first - because by knocking him down he would also get the whole of the freshly conquered Europe, plus a hefty chunk of the world in colonies. So Hitler attacked before he was ready because that was the last possible chance for a preemptive strike. Thus explaining the enormous losses of the soviets at the start of the action - troops and hardware having been amassed by the border, but not yet organized for pouring into Europe.

A non-controversial theory places the blame on Mussolini's ambitions: had he not attacked Greece without tlaking it over with Hitler, had the Greeks not kicked his butt, had Germany not had been thus obliged to go south through Yugoslavia in order to bail out Mussolini - precious months would not have been lost and Barbarossa would have commenced more months before the onset of the Russian winter.

Anyway, I agree - without Stalin and Hitler WWII would not have been WWII but just a second WWI - empires and pseudo empires having it our over spheres of influence. Not the all out appocalypse it turned out to be and changing the face of the world forever.

Awesome quote about the NKVD optimistic reports!

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Another summary would run something like :

It was inevitable that Stalin would crush Hitler because of geography, population and industrial production capacity.

It was inevitable that the USA would crush Japan because of the same.

The outcome of WW2 was inevitable.

message 13: by Rozzer (new)

Rozzer Not true, Jonathan. There are a large number of books out there, many quite serious, about the interwar period from the American point of view, the British, the French and the German - not to mention the Russian. This is not unplowed territory. And after the war as well. The problem is finding appropriate search terms. For the wars themselves it's easy: enter "WWI" or "WWII". For the before and after it's trickier. But it can be done.

Jonathan wrote: "What I wish is that there were more information for the periods in between the wars/just after. Studying the interwar period for history is ridiculous with the amount of info available being near z..."

message 14: by Paul (last edited Jun 01, 2012 05:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant "Denazification" is a good term to search with.

message 15: by Rozzer (new)

Rozzer Without Hitler WWII would never have happened.

Harry wrote: "There's a contraversial theory that Stalin was planning to take Hitler's Europe first - because by knocking him down he would also get the whole of the freshly conquered Europe, plus a hefty chunk ..."

message 16: by Harry (last edited Jun 01, 2012 06:00AM) (new)

Harry Kane Rozzer wrote: "Without Hitler WWII would never have happened.i>

Well, Japan would have taken on China, America, and the British Empire anyway - an expansive imperialist state back then. Stalin would have attempted to eat up Easter Europe anyway, as he commenced with Poland and Finland. Would a different German strongman have provoked Britain and France into war is unknown.
The makings of a major war were there already - WWI and the Great Depression made it certain. The actual shape was of course very much dictated by the towering individualities of Hitler, Stalin, and Churchill.

Anyway, all this is hijacking a book review thread into a tangle of historical theories and questions unresolved since 1945. I'm bowing out, thanks for the review, Paul.

message 17: by Rozzer (new)

Rozzer Well, Paul: Do you mind if your review is hijacked for a good discussion?

message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Of course not!!

message 19: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I wish the libraries would stock them then. Have you tried finding a book on American democracy during that era? Feminism and America yes, democracy not so easy...

Anyway as my History tutor has been explaining the causes of WW2 are very fascinating. Hitler may have been given so much leeway by the British and French because he appeared to want to conquer the Russians until of course the Russians allied with the Germans.

message 20: by Harry (last edited Jun 01, 2012 06:39AM) (new)

Harry Kane Paul wrote: "Of course not!!"

Jolly good.

message 21: by Rozzer (last edited Jun 01, 2012 07:12AM) (new)

Rozzer Japan had already *been* at war in China since 1931. Manchukuo and all that stuff. And in ten years of constant fighting no other country had seen fit to intervene. It would not have widened into an international, let alone a "world", war. Pearl Harbor happened because most of the relevant countries were very seriously engaged in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. SOME of the Japanese leaders (including some of their military bigwigs) understood full well that their chances vis-a-vis America were very dubious even considering the European war.

Stalin would NOT have made a move on Eastern Europe. There would have been no Russian war had Barbarossa not been undertaken. Stalin understood that he had gutted the Soviet military in the late thirties. It would be quite a number of years before, in his judgment, the USSR would be ready for war. And he was right. Look at Finland.

No one (and I do mean no one) other than Hitler wanted a general war. And Hitler had always wanted one. Read Mein Kampf. He was only able to do what he in fact did because he had become an absolute dictator and maintained ruthless control over his subjects.

WWI and the Great Depression did NOT make a war "certain". Show me any indication at all that the then major powers (Britain, France, America, USSR) WANTED or even vaguely desired a war. Hitler wanted a war and the Japanese weren't against it if they could get what they wanted: uninhibited access to necessary raw materials.

Everyone everywhere at the time was only too conscious of the realities of "the Great War." All people over forty in 1939 well remembered 1914-1918. And no one, not even the Germans (Hitler aside), not even the military people, wanted another war. The war happened because Hitler wanted it and had the power to start it. No Hitler, no war.

There IS a weird fact about WWII that I've never seen sufficiently explained. Pearl Harbor happened, of course, on 12/7/41. Four days later, on 12/11/41, HITLER DECLARED WAR ON THE UNITED STATES. Stunning. Incredible. Had he not done so, the probability is that the United States would not have entered the European war. Keep in mind the intensely isolationist pressures at the time. By no means a minority opinion. WHY did Hitler declare war on the United States? Could he actually have won the European war had had he not done so? It seems all too possible. What absolute craziness prompted him to declare war on America? I don't know. I've never read an adequate explanation. Have any of you?

Harry wrote: "Rozzer wrote: "Without Hitler WWII would never have happened.i>

Well, Japan would have taken on China, America, and the British Empire anyway - an expansive imperialist state back then. Stalin wou..."

message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Rozzer - I completely agree with your points. Re Hitler's war declaration on USA - I will check up what Max Hastings says and come back when i get home.

message 23: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I've never heard a suitable explanation for Hitler declaring war on America at all. Or when he turned on Russia for instance.

What is also argued is that Hitler may not have become ruler without The Great Depression. He wasn't exactly elected to a majority government ever.

message 24: by Rozzer (last edited Jun 01, 2012 08:25AM) (new)

Rozzer Hitler had always been intending a war on Russia. Again, read Mein Kampf. He saw himself as the savior of western civilization (Yes!! It's true! He really did!) battling the evil Jewish Bolsheviks. So Barbarossa was a foregone conclusion. The only question was timing. He saw a window of opportunity before the Soviets recovered from their own self-mutilation in the late 1930's. And as everyone says, Hitler probably would have won in Russia had Mussolini not screwed up so badly in Greece.

The U.S. was different. It's true, America was supplying both Britain and the USSR. But Hitler had the North Atlantic well in hand. Things would only change later in the North Atlantic, when Naval Enigma came on-stream at Bletchley Park and when all kinds of defensive technology had been invented and proven and was widely supplied to the Royal Navy. There was no good reason at all to declare war on the United States. It just wasn't necessary. And If Hitler hadn't done it, there might have been a chance that America would be preoccupied with Japan, despite Roosevelt's European preference.

As for Hitler's rise to power, keep in mind that the Nazis' share of the Reichstag had increased to 44% at the prior elections in 1932. Non-Nazi German politicians thought they could then co-opt Hitler and use him for their own purposes. So he became chancellor in January, 1933, through entirely legitimate (under the then German constitution) parliamentary maneuvering. Not two months after having become chancellor, and even before Hindenburg's death, Hitler and the Nazis performed a kind of in-house coup d'etat and transformed a democracy into what would become, over the next two years, an absolute dictatorship.

You're probably right, I think, about Hitler remaining a non-entity had the depression not happened. But WWII wasn't automatic. Hitler still had, over the several years after 1933, to prove to the German people and the German military that he knew what he was doing. And both domestically and in his foreign policy he did just that. He had a succession of triumphs, as far as Germans were concerned. And those triumphs were necessary for the development of the kind of power that he exercised when bringing on the war.

Jonathan wrote: "I've never heard a suitable explanation for Hitler declaring war on America at all. Or when he turned on Russia for instance.

What is also argued is that Hitler may not have become ruler without T..."

message 25: by Paul (last edited Jun 01, 2012 11:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Okay, this is what I got, and it's not from Hastings who glosses over Hitler's declaration of was on the USA, it's from John Toland's biography, which I really like.Pearl harbor was 7th December 1941.

One of Hitler's first visitors in Berlin on the morning of th ninth was Ribbentrop with the unwelcome information that Gen Oshima was requesting an immediate declaration of war against America. But the Foreign Minister didn't think Germany was obligated to do so since according to the Tripartite Pact she was bound to assist her ally only in case of a direct attack upon Japan. Hitler could not accept this loophole. "If we don't stand on the side of Japan the pact is politically dead" he said. "But that is not the main reason. The chief reason is that the US is already shooting at our ships...and through their actions have already created a situation of war." His decision to declare war on America was not lightly taken, nor was its motivation simple.

and there's more :

His Foreign Office regarded the decision as a colossal mistake. In addition to the obvious reasons it neatly solved another of roosevelt's domestic problems. The President would not have to declare war on Germany and risk opposition from a substantial segment of the citizenry.

which were, upholding the pact, acquiring a great war ally (Japan), and completing his ideological war against the Jews. He ruminated about the decision later :

This war against America is a tragedy. It is illogical. It is one of those queer twists of history that just as I was assuming power in Germany, Roosevelt, the elect of the Jews, was taking command in the USA. Without the Jews and without this lackey of theirs, things could have been quite diferent.

And he imagined Germany and the USA acting together to smash Communism.

An interesting line of speculation is - what would have happened without Pearl Harbor? The idea is that the Japanese were being pushed into war with the USA because the USA had laid an oil embargo in 1941 on Japan, and the USA had been supplying 80% of its oil. So Japan had to lay its hands on resources, hence the invasion of malaya, Burma, Singapore, etc. It's possible that even with all that going on, and even with Roosevelt in the White House, he would have found a great difficulty in declaring war on anyone - only 15% of Americans supported a war with germany in 1940.

message 26: by Rozzer (new)

Rozzer Hmmm. I'm kind of troubled about those direct quotes in the material from Toland. Could he possibly have access to a reliable source for such stuff? Or is "someone" putting words in Hitler's mouth? As far as concerns the Tripartite Pact of 1940 (Between Germany, Italy and Japan), it was a defensive and not an offensive alliance. Here's Article 3 as set out on Wikipedia:

"ARTICLE 3. Japan, Germany, and Italy agree to cooperate in their efforts on aforesaid lines. They further undertake to assist one another with all political, economic and military means if one of the Contracting Powers is attacked by a Power at present not involved in the European War or in the Japanese-Chinese conflict."

Nor, of course, did Hitler have the least need to declare war on the U.S. because of the North Atlantic war. Yes, American destroyers were trying to hit as many U-boats as they could. Of course. The U-boats were constantly attacking American vessels in convoys to Britain. Why declare war? Hitler hadn't observed such niceties in other situations. (It would be interesting to have, in one column, a list of countries on which Hitler made war, and in a second column a list of countries on which he actually, formally declared war.)

No. I don't believe there was any military or strategic or tactical upside for Hitler in declaring war on the United States. If I can be corrected, great. But Toland isn't going to correct me.

message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant the quotes come from Hitler's war directives

The Testament of Adolf Hitler (recorded by Boorman)

and Trial of the Major War Criminals at Nuremburg

message 28: by Rozzer (new)

Rozzer Well, Paul, what's your personal view? Do you think those are accurate quotes? Do you think the sources they're taken from are adequate sources?

message 29: by Ryan (new)

Ryan You should listen to Anaal Nathrahk's opus, Hell is empty and all the devils are here. Yes

back to top