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Engineering Hitler's Downfall

Gwilym Roberts

The Brains that Enabled Victory
Whilst living in Liverpool, Britain’s second most heavily bombed city during World War II, the author experienced at first-hand the terrible effects of the war on the civilian population and when studying at Cambridge he witnessed the American heavy bombers and their fighter escorts flying to attack targets in Germany and occupied Europe.

Engineering Hitler’s Downfall features numerous inventions such as the decoding machines developed at Bletchley Park; the hand-held mine detectors that cleared pathways through enemy minefields, firstly at the Battle of el Alamein but also in most subsequent actions; the newly-located factories and tanks that enabled the Russians to repulse the German invasion; the escort carriers and long range aircraft that enabled U-boats to be attacked in the mid-Atlantic; the 4000 plus Bailey bridges that allowed narrow ravines and rivers as wide as the Rhine to be crossed; the Mulberry harbours through which the D-Day bridgehead was reinforced and supplied and the pipelines under the ocean that supplied fuel for invading troops.

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The Brains that Enabled Victory Whilst living in Liverpool, Britain’s second most heavily bombed city during World War II, the author experienced at first-hand the terrible effects of the war on the civilian population and when studying at Cambridge he witnessed the American heavy bombers and their fighter escorts flying to attack targets in Germany and occupied Europe. Serving as an engineering officer in the Royal Navy in HMS Sheffield provided first-hand realisation of the importance of engineering and emphasised that victories achieved in the Battle of Britain and other campaigns were made possible by newly-developed machines, equipment or techniques. These innovations gave the Allied forces a significant advantage and helped ensure eventual victory. Engineering Hitler’s Downfall features numerous inventions such as the decoding machines developed at Bletchley Park; the hand-held mine detectors that cleared pathways through enemy minefields, firstly at the Battle of el Alamein but also in most subsequent actions; the newly-located factories and tanks that enabled the Russians to repulse the German invasion; the escort carriers and long range aircraft that enabled U-boats to be attacked in the mid-Atlantic; the 4000 plus Bailey bridges that allowed narrow ravines and rivers as wide as the Rhine to be crossed; the Mulberry harbours through which the D-Day bridgehead was reinforced and supplied and the pipelines under the ocean that supplied fuel for invading troops. These and many other examples illustrate what was achieved under such immense pressure. The book includes timelines to set it all in context with respect to the course of the war.

ISBN: 9781849953863
Format: Paperback
Author(s): Gwilym Roberts
First Publishment Date: 1 October 2018

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  1. Each chapter covers a single campaign, such as ‘Radar, Battles in the Air’ and ‘Atlantic Agonies’ so that by the end we have, in effect, a potted history of the war from the British perspective. review by JW on 07/03/2019

    How do you detect modern, fast bombers about to attack your cities early enough to do something about it? How do you counter an entirely new threat to shipping from mines detonated by the magnetic field of a ship passing over them? How do you cross a wide river with heavy vehicles when the existing bridge has been completely destroyed?

    These are just some of the problems which had to be solved rapidly and effectively by scientists, engineers, craftsmen and other technologists during the most technologically sophisticated war in history. It brought together a range of very fine brains, both male and female, from all walks of life, who worked under the aegis of both tri- and single service organisations during World War II. The personalities involved, and the tasks they undertook, are the subject of Gwilym Roberts’ book which is lavishly illustrated with photographs, maps and diagrams.
    Each chapter covers a single campaign, such as ‘Radar, Battles in the Air’ and ‘Atlantic Agonies’ so that by the end we have, in effect, a potted history of the war from the British perspective. The chapters are each accompanied by a timeline to further one’s grasp of the historical context and short, separate biographies of the scientists who were involved in devising new weapons or counter measures to problems emanating from what was both a ‘world’ and a ‘total’ war. Some, like Alan Turing are household names, others such as Elsie Widdowson, who helped formulate the wartime national diet, are much less well known.

    Inevitably, in such a short (226-page) book, the author takes us ‘at a gallop’ through a series of very complex topics each one of which has merited an entire volume on its own. To his credit, Roberts recognises this and to compensate provides a decent bibliography for further reference. Curiously though, there are also no fewer than eight appendices. The topics covered seem fairly random: ‘Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD)’ is followed by ‘Anglo-American Air Offensive’, for instance. There is also an appendix entitled ‘POWs’ Ingenuity’ which, one guesses, is included to emphasise the universal need for and impact of scientific inventiveness. Quite why this extra information was not worked into the main text is unclear.

    There is some unevenness: for example the wartime development of ASDIC/sonar merits just two paragraphs while the Bailey Bridge is described in detail across four pages accompanied by explanatory diagrams. Arguably, this is bound to happen in a book of this length about a technically complicated and diverse series of subjects which, at the same time, have to be accessible to a general readership.

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