Below are the reading notes for Ernest May's Strange Victory. This is a long
and difficult book; it is also the single best example of intelligence history
that now exists. So we're going to read it all.
That doesn't mean sitting down and plowing through every page. I have
highlighted in red the 100 pages or so that need to
be read closely, with questions for you to consider as you read, questions that
will be brought up again in discussion. You also should start with the
appendices (pp. 466-480) to give you a clear sense
of the decisionmaking structures and some of the key players on all sides. Here
Introduction (pp. 3-12): read closely
- Chapters 1-6 (up to p. 94): skimmable--gives a general sense of Germany's
march toward war; anyone with even the remotest familiarity with the path to
WWII will be fine here. And I'll be covering this material in class anyway.
- pp. 95-126: read closely. How did Hitler use
intelligence? How did Daladier do so? How significant did the intelligence
structures of the two sides differ?
Ask yourself a counterfactual: if Daladier had
ruled Germany and Hitler had ruled France, would the war have come out the
- pp. 127-140: General Gamelin is introduced, but read pp.
133-140 closely, since this will provide you with
your first introduction to the French intelligence establishment.
- pp. 140-178: skimmable, introduction to events in England, followed by
shifts in British and French public opinion after Munich, on pp. 178-202.
- pp. 203-239: this section discusses British, French, and German war plans.
Get a sense of what they are; you need no more
- read these two chapters (through pp. 268) closely.
Do you agree with ERM's assertion on the importance of Liss?
- How sophisticated was the German intelligence apparatus? Was humint or
sigint more important--and why? How did collection and analysis differ? And
how does Hitler use intelligence?
- pp. 248-249: how can we deal with Germany's
reliance on publicly available information to get intelligence? what does that
say about the essence of intelligence gathering?
- pp. 278-281: events associated with Polish war; point on p.
281 about war's effect in a pluralistic democracy
- pp. 281-285: interesting commentary on how Gamelin used intelligence, and
the preconceptions he brought with him to the table.
- pp. 286-294: general summary of the lessons of the German occupation of
Poland; pp. 290-291, 293 point on war in Poland
and DB's intelligence analysis of that conflict is key
Ask yourself a counterfactual: if the war in
Poland had resulted in a German victory in 4 months rather than 4 weeks, would
the course of the war in the west have differed? If so, how? Given May's
thesis that the French defeat resulted from an intelligence failure, does he
understate the significance of Poland?
- pp. 294-99: detailed discussion of Gamelin's belief that there would be a
strike through Belgium. Why were the Belgians not more cooperative?
- pp. 299-305: discussion of odd situation in Belgium
- pp. 306-314: why did the Western governments seem so ill prepared? Good
discussion here of the bureaucratic rivalries. Georges' letter on
p. 314 is important.
- pp. 314-321: continuing tensions with Belgium. Could this have been
overcome through better intelligence?
- pp. 321-346: You don't need to read this--it's a summary of political
developments (the replacement of Daladier with Reynaud in France and of
Chamberlain with Churchill in Britain). It's also a summary of the German
decision to move into Scandinavia before attacking the Low Countries.
- pp. 347-362: What constitutes intelligence
failure, according to May? Do you agree with May's two models (p. 347-8)? In
which was the French defeat? Last para. of p. 348 is very important; why does
May constantly reiterate this theme of the structures of the government
playing a role regarding intelligence failures?
Can we distinguish between intelligence failures
regarding collection or analysis (350-351)? Of which were the French guilty?
- pp. 352-355: did the overestimation of the
enemy matter? What caused it?
- This chapter should be read closely.
- pp. 362-370: Consider--how much did
individuals matter here. Was failure structural, as May seems to suggest
- pp. 371-380: skimmable--ERM covers breakdown of French government before
the onset of the war.
- pp. 383-399: skimmable: ERM discusses the early stages of the invasion,
and the continued confusion in the French response.
- pp. 400-413: ERM's military history continues, but this chapter should be
read more closely, since the hitch at Sedan was
at the heart of the intelligence distinction that ERM describes
- pp. 414-447: skim this--don't ignore it entirely, but you don't need to
have anything beyond a general sense of the course of the war.
- This should be read closely: we'll be asking the
questions in class of why? and what can be