Published: 6 November 08
Air & Space Power Journal
Hoodwinking Hitler: The Normandy Deception by William B. Breuer. Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881, 1993, 272 pages, $24.95.
Suffering from a title that speaks the worst about the genre of cloakanddagger fiction, Hoodwinking Hitler disperses all fears of another ridiculous spy novel. What it delivers instead is a ridiculous historical review of the Normandy Invasion told from the fascinating vantage point of "the greatest deception in history." Author William Breuer was an unknown to me, but he shouldn't be. This book is incredible. The characters are recreated so well that I lost myself again and again in the story, usually forgetting that it wasn't a novel!
The story does suffer from an overabundance of characters, and the editor might have helped trim them down a bit or at least cleaned up some of the descriptions so that the maze of personalities didn't become so confusing. However, one of the towering achievements of this book is its scope. At its heart, Hoodwinking Hitler is a tribute to thousands of heroes who fought the good fight. Breuer does a bangup job of bringing back as many of these heroes as possible. And if the text is bogged down a bit because of one more true vignette, so be it. After all, the story is amazing.
From the first page, we know what happens-the good guys win. The Allies landed at Normandy, went on to crush Nazi Germany, and haggled with the Russians over the fate of Europe. Breuer concedes the conclusion and saves the suspense for the smaller events that have been lost to time. Each time I sat down with this book, I felt like I was opening a treasure chest of legends.
On the eve of the Normandy invasion, the Allies were at once united and divided. The only thing in common between the many power brokers was that they all wanted Hitler's war machine to be destroyed once and for all. But how to do it? British generals clashed bitterly with the Americans. At Yalta, Churchill stomped out of a final dinner party, leaving Stalin and Roosevelt in an awkward silence. And British spies everywhere cringed at the simple naïveté of the lone American officer who established an intelligence network in Switzerland, even though he recruited the best Nazi spy in the war, the one that British spymasters had refused to see!
Indeed, the game of spying is what makes the book so hilarious and ridiculous. It's obvious that the Brits, from Winston Churchill on down, were spy freaks. They loved spies, counterspies, and the whole game of it altogether, so much so that they practically lost themselves in it at times. In contrast, the United States had just started its first clandestine service, amid much public protest, specifically to combat the Nazis.
From my perspective as an intelligence officer in the US Air Force, the rawness of operations is stunning. Breuer's book makes me wonder about the usefulness of all those fools bumping into each other. The identities of the spies were open secrets, and their sex games led to more problems than they solved. But after all was said and done, Britain had captured all of Germany's active spies operating in the British Isles, a fact never learned by Hitler's forces.
But even as the adventure unfolds and the Allies spin a deeper and deeper web of lies and misinformation to confuse the Germans (and Russians), one trend becomes clear, and it's a trend not commented on by the author. The only reason Britain succeeded in its effort to deceive the Nazis was because of the technology involved. Certainly, human effort played its part. Certainly, skill and cunning gave the Allies the upper hand. Yet nothing can be considered more vital in the intelligence world of World War II than the efforts of the intellectuals who cracked the German codes. Having access to all of Nazi Germany's radio transmissions, even the encoded Ultra messages, made the difference. And no one deserves more credit for that than Alan Turing, a man who was persecuted after the war by British law, not as a traitor but as a homosexual. Breuer mentions Turing but does not discuss his later suicide.
Clearly, there is more to this story than meets the eye. No nation was purely evil and none purely good. One of the fascinating threads of this book, in fact, is the chronicle of the Schwarze Kapelle, a group of proGerman but antiHitler officers who did all they could to end the Führer's reign before the Fatherland was destroyed. Of them, none is more the tragic hero than Erwin Rommel, Germany's great field marshal.
I particularly enjoyed Breuer's account of Rommel's life. From the great tank battles of northern Africa to the shores of France, the tale of Erwin Rommel is riveting. He is such a noble figure that one can't help but wonder what may have happened if such a good man had led Germany into the 1930s rather than Adolf Hitler. But history is such a strange balance of destiny and free will, full of the power of individuals. Rommel's life is compelling, but so are the lives of Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, George C. Marshall, and the hundreds of others in this fine book.
Breuer presents us with a wellwritten piece of nonfiction that reads like an adventure novel. I enjoyed the book and recommend it because it is both informative and entertaining. You'll learn about war, the history of intelligence, and the heroes who really did stop Hitler, not to mention saving half of Germany from Soviet domination. Good show, Mr Breuer.
Capt Timothy J. Kane, USAF
Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.