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Armageddon: The Second World War in Comparative Perspective

Second World War Research Group Annual Conference, 13-14 June 2019

City Campus, University of Wolverhampton

Keynotes: Professor Jeremy Black (University of Exeter) and Dr Jenny Macleod (University of Hull)

Meeting of the key commanders of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 1 February 1944. Left to right: Front row: Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Expeditionary Force; General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief, 21st Army Group. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, Commander in Chief, US 1st Army; Admiral Sir Bertram H Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force; Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Allied Air Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force; and Lieutenant General Walter Bedell-Smith, Chief of Staff to Eisenhower. Each of these officers brought with them extensive military experience developed over many years of service. (Source: © IWM (TR 1631))
‘The difficulties, obstacles, and ambiguities that confront anyone who tries to compare historical events or processes [are many] ... Yet, comparison is truly valuable we must not be cowards and shrink from our obligations’. (Carl Degler, 1991).

The Second World War was not a standalone conflict (or rather series of conflicts). It was part of a continuum of warfare that stretched back into the past and forward into the future. It can be seen as both the culmination of one particular type of conflict and the beginning of another one; as the central event in a short twentieth century that lasted from 1914 to 1991; as the second stage of a European-focused conflict that began at Sarajevo and ended at Potsdam 31 years later; or as the prelude to the Cold War. Moreover, the Second World War was a crucial point in the unravelling of European empires, leading to a series of ‘aftershock wars’, mostly based around insurgencies. The phrase ‘total war’, although not unproblematic, offers a vehicle for assessing the extent to which developments on the various home fronts during the Second World War built upon earlier precedents, and in turn influenced post-1945 trends and events: the debate on the impact of the war on gender is a case in point.

Most senior politicians, officials and military officers of the Second World War had served in a junior capacity in 1914-18, and for many civilians, 1939-45 was their second experience of a major war. Indeed, the responses of the belligerents to the Second World War cannot be understood without reference to their First World War. Likewise, 1939-45 was the formative experience for many in senior positions in the decades that followed. Indeed, memories and interpretations of the Second World War continue to influence discourse and politics in various ways in different countries to the present day, for good or ill. Of course, connections can be traced between the Second World War and conflicts other than the First World War. Arguably, the formulation and conduct of Anglo-American strategy was complicated by the fact that the two nations drew on very different strategic traditions, one reaching back to the American Civil War, the other to the eighteenth century.

The Second World War offers rich potential for historians to rise to Degler’s challenge, and to re-evaluate its myriad aspects in the context of earlier and later conflicts. The 2019 conference of the Second World War Research Group, hosted by the Centre for Historical Research at the University of Wolverhampton, has as its theme ‘The Second World War in Comparative Perspective’.

You can find a copy of the conference programme here.

You can register for the conference here.

For more infomration contact Professor Gary Sheffield ( or Dr Richard Hammond (

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