Academic military historians tend to write for other military historians, and the history of the Canadian army in the Second World War is no exception. Historians have proffered their theses on the subject without addressing the fact that for the general public the story had yet to be told in a cohesive, accessible form.
Into this void stepped Mark Zuehlke, Canada’s leading popular military historian and author of the eight-book (and growing) Canadian Battles series. Zuehlke’s signature achievement has been to offer Canadians that missing story. He writes brilliantly, maintaining a fine balance between objective operational fact and human detail, providing the reader with the emotional resonance necessary to understand what happened, not just know what happened. Zuehlke’s latest continues this approach, expertly blending official reports with first-hand accounts to create a fast-paced, exciting read despite the enormous volume of historical detail.
The last campaign in the final six weeks of the war in Northwest Europe was marked by two starkly contrasting themes. On one hand, rapid Allied advances were abruptly arrested by an endless series of short, sharp engagements across polders, canals, and towns, with the German defenders either surrendering in droves or fighting to the end with fanatical determination. On the other hand, there were the heady scenes of liberation, with jubilant Dutch civilians celebrating their liberators so wildly as to slow the Canadian advance.
Amidst the chaos, truly surprising history was being created. For instance, the Canadian and German forces, locked in a standoff in western Holland, agreed to allow Allied relief supplies to pass through German lines in an effort to limit mass civilian starvation in that densely populated pocket.
The liberation of the Netherlands occupies a place of singular importance in the collective Canadian consciousness. With On to Victory, Zuehlke continues building a canon all his own.