Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble

“Impeccably researched, insightfully observed and superbly written” The Sunday Express
“A sweeping, sobering read, written with all the confidence and aplomb that Beevor fans expect” The Independent
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On 16 December, 1944, Hitler launched his ‘last gamble’ in the snow-covered forests and gorges of the Ardennes. He believed he could split the Allies by driving all the way to Antwerp, then force the Canadians and the British out of the war. Although his generals were doubtful of success, younger officers and NCOs were desperate to believe that their homes and families could be saved from the vengeful Red Army approaching from the east. Many were exultant at the prospect of striking back.

The Ardennes offensive, with more than a million men involved, became the greatest battle of the war in western Europe. American troops, taken by surprise, found themselves fighting two panzer armies. Belgian civilians fled, justifiably afraid of German revenge. Panic spread even to Paris. While many American soldiers fled or surrendered, others held on heroically, creating breakwaters which slowed the German advance.

The harsh winter conditions and the savagery of the battle became comparable to the eastern front. And after massacres by the Waffen-SS, even American generals approved when their men shot down surrendering Germans. The Ardennes was the battle which finally broke the back of the Wehrmacht.

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“Ardennes 1944 is a book that plays very much to Beevor’s strengths, combining the view from the top with the view from below and vividly portraying the dark realities of military combat. Indeed, there are many distinctly ‘Beevorian’ vignettes... it is satisfying to see that the author has not lost his cinematic eye... Beevor has delivered another perfectly judged episode of the second world war, a worthy companion to the works that made his name. Yet again, he has shown that he has the gift of alchemy; that he is able to turn the sometimes dull gun metal of military history into something much more attractive.” Roger Moorhouse, Financial Times
“Beevor has the art of preserving the individual perspective on the battlefield while placing it among the perspectives of platoon, regiment, division, commanders, politicians and civilians. The pointillist whole that emerges is convincing as a portrait of war and startling in its detail. Beevor cares about the soldiers and the readers and the truth, an old-fashioned set of concerns that is balanced with modern literary skill. This book clarifies, without simplifying, the human experiences and political stakes of the battle for the Ardennes in December 1944 and January 1945, bringing realism to the battlefield and coherence to the larger history of the war.” Timothy Snyder, The Guardian
“If there’s one thing that sets Beevor apart from other historians – beyond his gifts as a storyteller – it’s because he is not afraid to look at the most uncomfortable, even frightening subjects, but does so in a way that does not threaten the reader. There’s rarely a judgmental note to his writing. It’s like having Virgil there to lead you through the underworld: he doesn’t leave you stranded amid the horror, but leads you back out again, a wiser person for having undergone the journey.” Keith Lowe, The Daily Telegraph
“The Master of War . . . The Ardennes is the latest of Beevor’s books on the campaigns of the Second World War. It is a superb addition to the canon which has taken us from Stalingrad to Normandy in 1944 and the final gruesome battle for Berlin, not forgetting the masterly single-volume history of the entire war. It is written with all of Beevor’s customary verve and elegance. His remarkable and trademark ability is to encompass the wide sweep of campaigns yet never forget the piquant details of what happened to the individual. . . He focuses brilliantly on the key moments that turned the battle.” Robert Fox, Evening Standard
“Under Beevor’s brisk control the story of Hitler’s final gamble is another example of the kind of dense action-packed, densely informed narrative that has proved such a formidable model. . . Beevor is a a field marshal of facts, organising his armies of chaotic and swift-moving events, deploying these so that the reader will not be confused, and reaching a punchy conclusion.” Nicholas Shakespeare, The Daily Telegraph
“This indispensable book” David Aaronovitch, The Times
“This wonderfully compelling follow-up to D-Day . . . no one has recounted it better than Beevor. His gripping, beautifully written narrative moves seamlessly from the generals’ command posts to the privates in their snow-covered foxholes, and confirms him as the finest chronicler of war in the business. His particular genius is for ferreting out those telling details that paint a picture. “One man,” he writes, “found a friend dead in the frozen street face down with a cat sitting on his back, profiting from the last of the body’s heat”.” Saul David, The Observer
“Beevor weaves a brilliant narrative out of all this drama. As in his previous books, his gifts are strongest in focusing on telling details from different perspectives. . . a vital historical insight.” Mark Urban, The Sunday Times
“Beevor is as good on the rows behind the front lines as he is on the battles themselves . . . A sweeping, sobering read, written with all the confidence and aplomb that Beevor fans expect.” The Independent
“Exemplary. . . as ever, Beevor writes with an eye for the personal that keeps the narrative flowing. . . Also admirable is the way Beevor addresses both German and Allied courage — and war crimes. Allied crimes have sometimes been underplayed or presented solely in terms of hot-blooded revenge. Beevor is braver, rightly exposing the open approval of a number of Allied generals for a policy of retaliatory execution of German prisoners. This is history as it should be written. . . Hitler’s greatest mistake, Beevor argues, was that he ‘misjudged the soldiers of an army [he] had affected to despise’. This is above all the story of those soldiers, and for that alone it deserves the widest audience.” Spectator
“Beevor’s day-by-day account is rich in detail and drama . . . This enthralling but gruesome narrative has some unexpected pleasures, such as glimpses of celebrities at war.” Francis Wheen, The Mail on Sunday
“Impeccably researched, insightfully observed and superbly written.” The Sunday Express
“Rightly deserves its place on the shelves of any serious historian of the Second World War. Powerful and authoritative . . . Beevor weaves a masterful narrative based on the viewpoints of a vast range of people. Marshalling a coherent narrative out of an unwieldy sequence of localised attacks, counterattacks, deceptions, and feints demands the attention of a master military historian. In Antony Beevor, the Ardennes offensive has found one” Military History Monthly
“If you’re a fan of Beevor’s work, find some space on your bookshelf for this one. If you’ve never read him before, start here and work your way back – it’s history nerd heaven!” History of War Magazine
“First-rank military history with Beevor, assiduous and resourceful in research . . .Beevor’s triumph, however, is to add layers to a book that is gently but precisely judgmental, acute on character and gaudy and grisly in detail. . . With his sure hand on detail and his strong opinion on how and why the German offensive was prosecuted and why it failed, there is a temptation to suggest that Beevor makes order out of the chaos of war. He does not. He does something more clever, more enlightening and more substantial. He shows how plans freeze on icy roads, how individual acts of bravery have significant effects, how generals can be wrong but proved right by the vagaries of weather, fortune or a providence that is unfathomable. . . the profound impact of Beevor’s work. He accepts there is a strategy to battle and that there are factors such as manpower, materiel, quality of leadership and of soldiering that must be annotated before anything can be explained or understood. But there is that aspect of war that is beyond comprehension for those who blessedly have no direct experience of it.” Herald Scotland
United States
“A treasure of memorable portraits, striking details, fascinating revelations, and broad insights—likely to be the definitive account of the battle for years to come.” Kirkus
“Beevor’s intriguing analysis and engaging writing style expertly illuminate both the soldiers’ and generals’ experiences.” Publishers Weekly
“He deftly moves from the fox hole to the command post and provides candid portraits of the leading figures on both sides, frank judgments about strategy and tactics, and a brutally honest picture of the horrors of combat. . . Even readers well-versed on the war in Europe will welcome this book. It is exhaustively researched and full of fresh insights and thoughtful explanations. Those who want to understand how the attack unfolded and why it failed will not find a more valuable addition to the literature on World War II.” Christian Science Monitor
“In Ardennes 1944, his masterly study. . . Beevor paints a searing portrait of a world weary of war but unable to stop it. . . Beevor’s battle descriptions crackle with you-were-there authenticity” Boston Globe
“The confused violence and awful human cost are vividly brought to life. . . anyone reading Mr Beevor’s searing account of the Bulge must wonder again what made young Europeans and Americans capable of doing this to one another . . . a salutary reminder of that thin veneer detected by Freud between the civilized and the primitive in each of us. Ardennes 1944 ought to prompt some careful reflection on our modern age.” Richard Overy in The Wall Street Journal
“It’s hard to imagine there’s anything left to be said about the Battle of the Bulge after Antony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944. . . There’s a deep resonance and inescapable sense of completeness to Beevor’s work.” USA Today
“Antony Beevor, one of the finest narrative military historians now writing, is a master of revealing vignettes. . . Beevor captures the micro-events of battle brilliantly, the ambushes and firefights, the horrors of tanks swerving over foxholes to bury their inhabitants alive, tales of psychological collapse and superhuman courage. . . What makes Ardennes 1944 so effective, however, is not just the vividness of the prose, the clarity of the author’s presentation of tactical events, or his skill at evoking through description and careful quotation the look and even the smell of the battlefield, Beevor also does a brilliant job at weaving together the grand operational and tactical narratives.” Eliot A. Cohen in The New York Times
“A concise and powerful narrative of the biggest, bloodiest and most desperate battle of the war in Western Europe. . . One reason Beevor is such a great historian is his ability to convey a vision of the epic without losing touch with the individual stories that bring war home to the average reader. . . Beevor could lay claim to being the greatest historian of the war in the west and in Russia.” Dallas Morning News
“Combines in his usual masterly fashion the big picture with shellhole –level anecdote. . . A book that that tells in vivid prose the story of a great battle, accompanied by impeccable judgements, deserves celebration.” Max Hastings, The New York Review of Books
International Press
“The best military prose of our era.” El País
“A very great achievement. Beevor is the absolute master when it comes to driving forward a chronological story about something as complex as a big military battle in a brilliant way which makes the great story combine with all the small and personal stories and anecdotes of the soldiers – without letting the the main-currents out of sight.” Jyllands-Posten, Denmark
“It was a short, brutal and ultimately futile battle — the last spasm of a dying regime — and no one has recounted it better than Beevor. His gripping, beautifully written narrative moves seamlessly from the generals’ command posts to the privates in their snow-covered foxholes, and confirms him as the finest chronicler of war in the business. His particular genius is for ferreting out those telling details that paint a picture. “One man,” he writes, “found a friend dead in the frozen street face down with a cat sitting on his back, profiting from the last of the body’s heat”.” Gulf News
“What builds up is an exemplary picture of the misery and horror of this most appalling conflict, in which more than a million men fought in conditions comparable to those on the Eastern Front, and ‘‘the life of the wounded’’, as one American glider infantryman observed, ‘‘is likely to go out like a match’’.” The Australian
“Beevor excels at capturing the reality of the battlefield. . . The whole story is told with Beevor’s usual dash and his deft use of the techniques of bird’s-eye views; long shots and close-ups, both quick and lingering. Among the book’s strengths are its often horrific cameos and miniatures.” Sydney Morning Herald
“Ce moment héroïque, l’historien britannique de la Seconde Guerre mondiale Antony Beevor nous le raconte avec sa maestria habituelle – sens du détail, documentation immense et sens haletant du récit.” Jean-Marc Bastière, Le Figaro
“Un ouvrage passionant” Le Soir, Belgium
“Der britische Militärhistoriker Antony Beevor hat daraus ein Buch von hoher angelsächsischer Erzählkunst gemacht: scharf in der Analyse, lebendig und anschaulich geschrieben, verbindet er in gewohnter Meisterschaft die Linien der Erzählung mit der Perspektive jener, welche die Schlacht in den verschneiten Schluchten, Wäldern und Dörfern erlebten und erlitten.” Süddeutsche Zeitung
“Beevor’s obsession with the singular moment and the unpredictable which reaches beyond itself, and thus recounts the whole, is his trademark. He gives full expression to both regarding the unrelenting conflict in the snow-covered forests and ravines of the Ardennes. Here he ranks in the tradition of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a matrix for that distinct form of Anglo-Saxon literary history which is so engaging on account of its attention to the seemingly insignificant. Beevor’s art consists of just this: to be a writer of history without losing the freedom of telling a story.” Norman Ohler, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung
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United Kingdom Viking Penguin
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