Sealing their Fate – David Downing

Russian Front 1941

Sealing their Fate tells the story of the 22 days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941.  The author bravely calls these the 22 days that decided the second world war.  I suppose that’s true in a way.  The last days of 1941 saw the Third Reich overextend itself in Russia, and suffer its first defeat in North Africa, as well as witnessing the entry of the USA into the global war,  but in reality the deciding factor was the USA’s decision to enter the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbour: as Downing says, the Japanese generals seemed to accept that eventual defeat was inevitable as early as this, and Churchill himself was adamant that this was the real game changer.

Sealing their Fate follows the action in all the theatres of war, presenting each day as a chapter.  I was attracted by this approach – I knew something about each of the different aspects, but less about the war in the Pacific, and my knowledge of the African theatre was very vague.  I also had no idea how these different  aspects of the war fitted together from the point of view of timing and strategy.

Much of the book does focus on the Russian front: that is where the action was.  There is also a lot of information about the Africa campaign, though the final denouement in Africa came in 1942, so the reader is left wondering what happened next. The response of the American and British to Japan’s advances in the Pacific gave some insights that were new to me – and some details that brought the scene to life – the lack of preparation at Pearl Harbour, the chaos in the Philippines, and the failure of leadership all over the Pacific theatre in those early days of the campaign.

It is quite difficult to keep track of all the characters and places mentioned in this book, and the maps are only partially successful in showing what happened – some places are mentioned, but not shown on maps.  Nevertheless, despite being quite a difficult read, and one which required concentration, I did enjoy this book and found it valuable.

The BBC history link summarises the Africa campaign, if you are interested!!

BBC History – Africa Campaign 1942

BBC – Jonathan Dimbleby on the North Africa Campaign


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