Today we’re happy to bring you an interview with Paul Winter, author of Defeating Hitler: Whitehall's Secret Report on Why Hitler Lost the War, a book that gives new insights into Hitler's personality and how Nazi Germany's military and intelligence apparatus operate. Now available in paperback, Defeating Hitler is the book that published for the very first time the top secret report Some Weaknesses in German Strategy and Organisation 1933 - 1945 which was prepared by Whitehall's highest intelligence body, the Joint Intelligence Committee, and presented to Britain's Chiefs of Staff in 1946 to 'set down certain aspects of the War whilst there are still sources available who were closely connected with the events described'.
Paul Winter sets this unique and important document in its historical setting, providing biographies of key figures referenced in the report and a timeline of the crucial events of the Second World War. This is an important book for anyone interested in how the Second World War was won and lost.
Dr Paul Winter specialises in wartime intelligence and has published articles in Intelligence and National Security and in War in History.
What particular areas or themes of history interest you and why?
As is evident from my work, the history of warfare and military intelligence fascinate me. In particular, the Second World War has always held a special resonance and significance. In part, I can explain this through a very personal affinity with the war in that many members of my own family fought in the Battle of Britain, the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy and in the Far East. Yet on an intellectual level, World War II stimulates my interest due to the great technological advances made between 1939 and 1945, namely radar, computers, jet-engines and increasingly sophisticated weaponry. Furthermore, the manner in which warfare itself was waged by all combatant nations prior to the eve of the atomic age also captures my imagination. To my mind, the Second World War was one of the most incredible and epoch-making episodes in the history of the modern world whose lessons should be studied and digested by present and future students of history.
How would you describe your
book in one sentence?
A ‘first rough draft’ history of the rise, decline and fall of Adolf Hitler’s war machine as viewed through the prism and focus of British Intelligence reporting.
When did you start researching
for this book?
I began the research for this book when I was reading for a PhD in history at the University of Cambridge. Having drawn on this invaluable document for my doctoral thesis, I thought it a good idea to publish ‘Some Weaknesses in German Strategy and Organisation, 1933-1945’ in its entirety and to disseminate it to a wider audience.
Which part of writing a book
have you enjoyed most?
As the book is based almost entirely on an official report compiled by Britain’s highest intelligence forum, the Joint Intelligence Committee, I can only take credit for the chronology, the dramatis personae section and the introduction, which I did enjoy writing.
Any tips for people reading the
Due to the fact that my introduction is a comprehensive guide to the document, setting it in its proper historical context, my greatest tip to readers is to always bear in mind that this intelligence report was compiled before the Second World War had even finished. It is therefore a tribute to the perspicacity of the report’s authors, that seventy years on ‘Some Weaknesses in German Strategy and Organisation’ is so accurate and reliable a primary source. Furthermore, students of history should always remember that one of the great secrets of historical writing is, in the words of the German scholar Leopold von Ranke, to recreate on paper ‘how it really was’. Despite the passage of time and a multi-fold increase in our knowledge about Hitler’s Third Reich, it can now be seen that the British intelligence officers who presented their findings to Whitehall in the autumn of 1946 succeeded in doing just that.
Where will your research go
I am still planning to convert my doctorial thesis into a book, but at the moment I am embarking upon a major volume addressing British Generalship since 1945. Therefore any future expansion upon the material set out in ‘Defeating Hitler’ will have to wait. That said, I will continue to mine the relevant archives for fresh primary sources pertinent to the subject, a process which, incidentally, is becoming rarer and rarer among professional historians in the UK, who now rely heavily upon the synthesising of secondary sources to produce their own books. This is a dangerous and highly-regrettable development which, in light of the threat posed to history by the social and political sciences, must be reversed if the standard of historical scholarship in our universities is not to depreciate.
If you could have dinner with
one world leader, past or present, which would it be?
It would, without a moment’s hesitation, be Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston S. Churchill. In my view, the perfect place to attend a dinner with Churchill would be at the great man’s country house, Chartwell in Kent. Ideally, the inevitable ‘table-talk’ would be accompanied by a typical English roast dinner washed down with a pint Bottle of Pol Roger champagne and finished off by a Romeo y Julieta Havana cigar.