Publication of the week: Professor Lloyd Clark

5 September 2016

Lloyd Clark, Blitzkrieg: Myth, Reality, and Hitler’s Lightning War: France 1940 (New York: Atlantic / Grove Atlantic, 2016). 480 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8021-2513-2.

BlitzkriegIn the spring of 1940, the Germans launched a military offensive in France and the Low Countries that married superb intelligence, the latest military thinking and new technology to achieve in just six weeks what their fathers had failed to achieve in all four years of the First World War. It was a stunning victory, altering the balance of power in Europe in one stroke, and convinced the entire world that the Nazi war machine was unstoppable.

But as Lloyd Clark argues in Blitzkrieg, much of our understanding of this victory, and blitzkrieg itself, is based on myth. Far from being a foregone conclusion, Hitler s plan could easily have failed had the Allies been even slightly less inept or the Germans less fortunate. The Germans recognised that success depended not only on surprise, but on avoiding being drawn into a protracted struggle for which they were not prepared. And while speed was essential, 90% of Germany s ground forces were still reliant on horses, bicycles and their own feet for transportation. There was a real fear of defeat. Their surprise victory proved the apex of their achievement; far from being undefeatable, Professor Clark argues, the France 1940 campaign revealed Germany and its armed forces to be highly vulnerable – a fact dismissed by Hitler as he began to plan for his invasion of the Soviet Union.

Read more on the Grove Atlantic website.

Lloyd Clark is Professorial Research Fellow in the Humanities Research Institute at Buckingham and Course Director of the University’s MA in Modern War Studies and Contemporary Military History programme based in London. He is also Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Comments on the book:

Lloyd Clark has written a lucid, intelligent and thought provoking re-appraisal of a campaign never satisfactorily covered since Alastair Horne’s To Lose a Battle in 1969. His ground breaking detailed research will make it the seminal work on the fall of France in 1940. The story of the break-through unfolds at a fascinating and cracking pace. His revisionist re-interpretation of an oft studied campaign skilfully interweaves tensions at staff with the brutal realities their decisions had on the ground.  Blitzkrieg is a remarkable book that will reshape many of the traditional assertions made about this battle.

Robert Kershaw

A breakthrough book, bringing the drama of Hitler’s May 1940 offensive in France vividly to life – alongside a major re-appraisal of the campaign’s significance. Excellent.

Michael Jones

This genuinely revisionist account of the Battle of France in 1940 proves a deeply shocking fact – we are essentially still in thrall to the view of Blitzkrieg tactics that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels wanted us to have, even over three-quarters of a century later. Lloyd Clark’s brilliant analysis proves that Fall Gelb (the Germans’ Plan Yellow) wasn’t all about unstoppable, superior panzers and Stukas, but was in fact an audacious, highly risky infantry-based plan that could have gone badly wrong given a different Allied mindset. Clark is excellent at showing the interaction between decisions taken by staffs and the terrifying reality on the ground, and elevates the vital contributions of a number of German generals, such as Rubarth and Balck, to the level of their much more famous counterparts such as Rundstedt, Rommel, Guderian, Kleist and Manstein. Above all, this fine military historian satisfactorily answers for the first time the key question: Why did Blitzkrieg tactics work so effectively in May 1940 when the Allies had already seen the way they’d ripped through Poland’s defences a full nine months earlier?

Andrew Roberts