The fatally flawed 1941 — analyzing Hitler’s demise

Although Giorgos N. Theofanous begins his book with the intriguing, if often-visited, premise that 1941 was Hitler’s annus horribilis, it ends up veering off into more directions than a spinning top let loose by an enthusiastic child. Ultimately, when unraveled, «The Fatal 1941 – The Decisions that Destroyed Hitler» (Kastaniotis) is a collection of mostly interesting anecdotes and observations rather than a genuine insight into the beginning of the end for Hitler’s plans for Aryan dominance. Theofanous tells us that 1941 was the turning point in World War II because Nazi Germany overstretched itself on the Russian, Balkan and North African fronts while it was also the year that the US joined the fray after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hardly a historical revelation, but at least the author puts his own particular spin on these events by highlighting the repercussions of the need for Hitler to divert his 12th Army to invade Greece after Mussolini’s forces had been repelled. However, Theofanous has elevated this particular passage in Greek and international history to a slightly higher level than it warrants. To compound this overexuberance, he also casts aspersions on the significance of other factors that helped to halt Hitler’s war machine, such as the unforgiving Russian winter. On this point alone, he could expect a line of historians as long as that of the German soldiers that eventually marched out of Russia with frostbite to knock on his door and prove him wrong. Even if the reader overlooks this bias, the most frustrating aspect of the book is that one is dragged all over a historical canvas like a paint brush held by an artist who wants to combine all his paintings into one. For instance, it is very hard to justify why there are references to Henry Kissinger, Archbishop Makarios and Ariel Sharon, among others, in a book whose theme is based on the events of 1941. There is even a whole chapter devoted to the sinking of the British ocean liner Lancastria, which happened in June 1940. Theofanous deserves credit for digging up some instructive passages from newspaper archives and lesser-known history books as well as providing an insight into the struggle against the Nazi occupation within Greece, especially on Crete. Regrettably, there is all too little of this in «The Fatal 1941.» An interesting chapter on Colonel Constantinos Davakis of the Greek Army stops short at five pages in a 243-page book. This is a pity as Theofanous is on less well-trodden ground when analyzing events that took place in the Greek sphere rather than on the wider global stage. Perhaps an investigation into the impact Greece had on Hitler’s grand schemes in 1941 would have been a better starting point for a truly noteworthy addition to the plethora of World War II books.