Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Andy H » 31 Oct 2011 17:02

Just in case anyone has missed it Basil Colliers The Defence of the United Kingdom is now available via the good folks at Hyperwar

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/U ... index.html

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Andy H

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by phylo_roadking » 05 Dec 2011 01:00

Which reminds me, I haven't yet put up -

"We Shall Fight On The Beaches: Defying Napoleon & Hitler, 1805 and 1940" by Brian Lavery.

For anyone who might have caught him in recent years on the box, he's one of the leading modern experts on the Royal Navy of Nelson's day...but also on the RN of the WWII era.

This book is comparison of the threats of invasion and the preparations made against them - in 1803-4 and 1940 - set against the social and political backgrounds of the UK in both periods. In the process however he manages to provide us with FAR more information on the defence of the UK in 1940 than any other British author yet has. He's not a british Schenk - but together with Daviod Newbold's Defence of the Uk thesis, and Fleming for a broader picture of the social and political environment and psycholoigcal warfare aspects of the invasion threat period, they form the core of an invaluable canon of British works on the Sealion Period.
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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 09 Jan 2012 21:17

I've just finished reading "Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and the path to El Alamein" by Jonathon Fennell - which Santa delivered for Xmas!

An academic (and therefore blooming expensive!) book, the author has done a great job of discovering new sources and analysing them to trace the morale of 8th Army during the summer of 1942. Using sources as varied as sickness rates, absence rates and most intriguingly previously un-published censor reports which he found in the Australian archives, Fennell's work tends to support the thesis that 8th Army suffered from a serious morale crisis during June and July 1942. His research extended to South African, Australian, New Zealand and UK archives so his work begins to reflect the Commonwealth nature of the 8th Army.

His work also shows that the improvement in morale that followed was not down solely to the appearance of the little man with the "funny hat". As well as the undoubtedly benign influence of Montgomery's arrival and immediate orders, there appears to have been a more general improvement in the standard of training, recruitment and retention of British troops during 1941-42 which began to bear fruit around this time. Combined with the improvements in equipment that were beginning to be supplied, and perhaps the more static fighting environment, these sufficed, just!, to produce success at Alam Halfa and then later in the offensive.

These few sentences really fail to do justice to the depth of research that has gone into this work, which I would strongly recommend for anyone interested in either the North African campaign or the Commonwealth armies more generally. It appears to be the first in a new series from Cambridge University Press - I hope they are all this valuable (although my bank manager might not appreciate the prices!). An Interlibrary loan is definitely recommended if you have the ability to do it.

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Tom

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Attrition » 10 Jan 2012 06:59

Glad to see that it'sa good book. Alas CUP titles don't drop in price much second-hand....

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Gorque » 10 Jan 2012 19:07

March 1939: The British Guarantee to Poland, A Study in the Continuity of British Foreign Policy by Simon Newman. Its an older study from 1976 and published by the University Press in Oxford. Generously footnoted from published and unpublished primary sources as well as numerous secondary sources consisting of books, articles and essays and, unpublished academic theses.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Andy H » 09 May 2012 13:46

Peter Clarke's The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire (Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana).
Published by Penguin Press 2007

This excellent tome covers the period from September 1944 and Operation Market Garden to August 1947, when the independence India signified to many around the world the end of the British Empire. Though it did in fact struggle on for another 15 or so years, this was its pinnacle moment.

The author chronicles Churchill's hopes and beliefs, whilst weighted against those of the US President and the wider nation. We see how the strength/power of the British Empire was gradually but obviously (sometimes viciously) eroded or undermined. Yes the mythical 'Special Relationship' is there but its laid out bare for all to see, as each side fought for there ounce of flesh. From manipulative British politicians, myopic American newspapers, Soviet appeasers within the American Govt to British Empire builders in the British one. It is all ably supported by a litany of impressive characters such as Cripps, Molotov, Atlee, Eden, Stimson, Bevin, Patton, Ike, Monty, Marshall, Brooke, as well as the leading actors of Churchill, FDR, Truman and dear Uncle Joe Stalin himself.

We see through this book the birth and maturing of the US into a political superpower, as well as military/economic one. Also how Britain relinquished this roll, sometimes through clenched teeth and a non to level playing field, whilst on other occasions most willingly.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Andy H » 09 May 2012 13:58

Douglas Hurd's Choose Your Weapons (British Foreign Secretary-200yrs of Argument, Success and Failure)

Though the books starts its tale 1809, the link between thoughts & ideals of the Foreign Secretaries Castlereagh and Canning, who fought a dual, run through all subsequent British Foreign Secretaries. Castlereagh was the proponent of the quiet negotiation, in compromise and in co-operation with other countries. Forming of alliances or international bodies. Whilst Canning was the more brash and bold policy sculpture. An emphasis on independent British action and national prestige, liberal minded and a willingness to intervene, sometimes by force to help these causes prevail.

All of these traits are to be seen in the actions of Grey, Ramsey McDonald, Austen Chamberlain, Bevin and Eden between 1914 and 1946, when war and conflict test us all beyond normal limitations. We see how each man coped with the high office and its strains upon their personnel and professional lives, and in many cases they didn't. For in the end they all paid the price, even when out of office.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Mostlyharmless » 20 Jul 2012 15:37

Andy H wrote:A fairly new publication is Professor David Egerton 'Britains War Machine (Weapons, Resources and Experts in the Second Wolrd War).
...
I am having fun reading this in parallel with Correlli Barnett's series of four books, especially "The Audit of War". They are a classic pair contrasting 'this glass is half empty' with 'this glass is half full'. For example, Egerton notes that Britain received the majority of its imports from its traditional suppliers rather than from Lend-Lease while Barnett notes that this depended on the suppliers extending credit based on an implicit American guarantee and led to the post-war issue of the sterling balances.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by phylo_roadking » 13 Nov 2012 23:45

Douglas Hurd's Choose Your Weapons (British Foreign Secretary-200yrs of Argument, Success and Failure)
Andy, I missed this recommendation back in May. I like Hurd as a writer - suprisingly for those that remember him as the dalek in Spitting Image as well as a politician, he had an early career writing political fiction! His Scotch On The Rocks about Scottish nationalists and independence is a great read...and inspired a longlost BBC serial of the same name in the early '70s I remember as a kid.
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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Attrition » 14 Nov 2012 08:55

"I want my two hondred poonds!" I remember that as well, really liked it. Do you remember the one set in Iceland?*

*Running Blind.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Attrition » 21 Mar 2013 16:41


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Review: Andrew Stewart. A Very British Experience: Coalition

Post by Attrition » 25 Mar 2013 09:22

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=37557

Andrew Stewart. A Very British Experience: Coalition, Defence and Strategy in the Second World War. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2012. ix + 247 pp. Illustrations. $74.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84519-439-0.

Reviewed by Douglas Delaney (Royal Military College of Canada)
Published on H-War (March, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Episodes in British Strategy, 1939-1945

A Very British Experience: Coalition, Defence and Strategy in the Second World War is a fascinating collection of essays from an author well versed in the strategies (and grand strategy) of Britain and its empire during the great global struggle of 1939-45. In chapters dealing with the British Empire Air Training Scheme, the preparations for home defense, the East African Campaign of 1940-41, British generalship in the Western Desert, the rocky relationship with Australia during the Japanese Southeast Asian offensives of 1941-42, the difficulties of the alliance with the United Sates, the political repercussions of the June 1942 fall of Tobruk, and the Royal Navy’s expedient development of a naval base at Mombasa during 1942, Andrew Stewart teases out four prominent themes: the importance of coalitions in British grand strategy, the prominence of Africa in the overall British war effort, the 1940 decision to fight on, and the centrality of Winston Churchill in all strategic undertakings. Ctd....

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Attrition » 14 Dec 2014 18:00

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=40754

John Buckley. Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. ix + 370 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-13449-0; $27.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-300-20534-3.

Reviewed by Jill S. Russell
Published on H-War (December, 2014)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

“That’s not all I’ve got, that’s what I’ve got.” Facing a numerically superior enemy and able to count only a few friendlies, John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance) made this statement in the epic western Rio Bravo (1959). In such moments, there is no point bellyaching; one must simply find a path forward with what resources one has.

Confronted with a legacy of criticisms of the British Army’s performance in western Europe, John Buckley discusses its plan to defeat the Wehrmacht by taking this fair measure as its starting point. Per Buckley, the established canon has created the image of “an unimaginative and plodding force which only prevailed against a dynamic and resourceful foe through sheer weight of resources and recourse to outmoded and attritional methods” (p. 7). He bases this analysis on historiographical trends that are hypercritical of the British Army for what it was not nor never could be, the Wehrmacht, or for failing to complete the campaign without any missteps. Rather than moaning on about what the British Army could not do and did not have, Buckley, like the British war planners, instead takes account of its resources and capabilities, considers the enemy and the objective, and assesses the strategy and supporting tactics that could defeat the Germans and deliver the necessary postwar political context.

What Buckley sets out to prove is that General Bernard Montgomery (Monty) and the planners did not choose their path out of squeamishness, thoughtlessness, or a concern about the fighting qualities of the average British infantryman; rather, these were sober, mature professional decisions that took account of the full spectrum of realities confronting the achievement of their desired objectives. Whereas the strategy and the tactics they gave rise to were “shaped by the two overarching concerns of troop shortages and morale, conversely [they were] soundly underpinned by the advantage of superiority in resources.” The concept that formed the strategy, drove operations, and set tactics was the use of firepower, tanks, and materiel to wear down the Germans and conserve manpower as far as possible: in the common parlance of the time, to “‘let the metal do it rather than the men’” (pp. 26-27). Sustaining this effort, logistics would be the salve for other weaknesses, a strength on which strategy, operations, and tactics were based. And although it is not directly addressed in this narrative, any sensible reader will remember, in addition to the constraints specific to the European theater, the sum of the British effort in western Europe, stupendous as it was as the denouement to victory over a formidable enemy, was itself only one part of a larger war effort. Notwithstanding the other independent theater in Asia/Pacific, that the fighting forces could stand on materiel riches meant that there was an even larger legion in the maritime services. This was set piece tactical attrition, and it was believed that it could sufficiently weaken the overstretched and ill-prepared German lines, force them back, and lead to significant territorial gains and ultimately victory. That the objective was achieved within a year of landing at Normandy and was the product of the methods chosen is for Buckley a definitive answer on the quality of the strategy and the army, as well as of General Montgomery and his men.

Thus, in many respects this book reviews the British Army’s performance in Europe. Buckley does not rate the British Army on its failure to be another Wehrmacht. Rather, he assesses it against what it had and intended to do and be; and looks at its strategy, as well as supporting tactics, concepts, and capabilities. That is, he examines its plan to dislodge and defeat the German Army in Europe. Given the issues confronting them, the planners and General Montgomery developed an approach that suited and accommodated all of the military requirements and offered a path to contending successfully against an opponent considered superior in tactics and close combat.

In support of this argument, Buckley’s narrative of the campaign shows clearly that where the army followed its strategy it was more than a match for the tactically brilliant German forces. Where Monty allowed or encouraged divergence from that path the results rarely satisfied. The author uses the basic chronology of the campaign and its inherent narrative to develop his argument. He includes enough general information to make the work an essential volume on the history of the British Army in Europe. Those who do not want to read another shallow campaign history can breathe easy because in supporting his argument Buckley makes the narrative much deeper than that. Each phase of the campaign to liberate western Europe from German control and defeat the Wehrmacht is the basis to interrogate the events against his argument, which he does to good effect. The campaign itself is the argument, as the progress of the army in the landings, breakout, offensives, setbacks, and eventual military decision is explained in terms of the interplay between its strengths and weaknesses, which the established strategy, tactics, and concept of operations had been created to highlight and mitigate.

In addition to the plan’s essential wisdom, this work’s fair reckoning of the British efforts means that markers previously seen as flaws and weaknesses are far less damaging when considered within the framework of the plan. Caen, which has ritually been read as a case of British Army sluggishness and lack of proper offensive technique, is broken down for analysis according to the strategy. From this view, Buckley establishes that while it might not have been pretty, much of what was depicted as negative was beyond the army’s control, and moreover, the actions of the British ultimately cost the Germans their foothold in Normandy and demonstrated that the latter’s “tactical methods for assaults had been exposed as hugely costly in the face of Allied firepower, and [their] command structure and central strategy was dealt a mortal blow” (p. 87). Other moments that have been set up as failures or signs of the army’s incompetence have far more reasonable explanations in his book. The matter of Antwerp and the north bank of the Scheldt is one such “error.” While Buckley addresses the costs related to not taking and holding this key piece of terrain early, he is equally on point when he dissects the bravado of hindsight which has asserted that the objective could have been achieved and held with ease.

If General Montgomery is the character whose singular identity personifies the army, then Buckley does well to provide a character of substance to sustain the narrative and argument. It is a refreshing treatment. Because he does not rely on Montgomery as either saint or demon as the answer to the army’s performance, Buckley is able to portray him and his role with a balance that is likely most accurate to events. He points out with similar equanimity where the general was brilliant or foolish. We are given the most in-depth view of Montgomery in the early chapter on the preparations for the campaign where his individual action was most important, whether in crafting the strategy, setting the training objectives, planning the campaign, or making command appointments to his subordinate units. Defining his character in this drama, Buckley contrasts the general’s “unerring ability to annoy most of those he worked with” with his role in the army’s success. Montgomery “identified the most appropriate way of fighting the Germans given the nature and capability of the forces under his command ... [and] adopt[ed] an operational approach that emphasised British strengths ... and avoided weaknesses” (p. 13).

Once on campaign, while he commanded and was responsible for the decisions (and at times the decision making is the critical point), it was for the men, units, enemy, and events to take the dominant presence on the stage. This balance is correct as this was a massive army and its story cannot only belong to a single figure. Buckley examines more than merely the eponymous general; he also delivers on the narrative of the men who made up the army. At the outset, he provides a broad sketch of the institution as a whole. Breathing life into the story throughout, he uses the voices and experiences of individuals to provide focused insights to points in the narrative. The fairest assessment of the army and its men came from the general himself, as Buckley writes that Montgomery “did not consider his to be bad or poor soldiers, but recognized that they were less proficient than their opponents at the tactical level due to lower levels of experience and their limited exposure to the harsh brutalities of warfare” (p. 24).

Buckley’s work serves its intended purpose—well and engagingly—but it also provokes further considerations. For the military historian, there are two very important points this book brings up which ought to spark debate within the community. The first concerns larger historiographical issues, especially as they relate to national trends. Contending as this work does against the current orthodoxy in British literature, from an American perspective, the divergence between the tones of the narratives and assessments of these allies in the campaign is striking. Whereas Buckley reviews a landscape of negative and pessimistic interpretations, the American tradition is far more upbeat and triumphal. British modesty does not account for the difference. And hence, we are left with the same war, campaign, and outcome, explained in entirely different ways. The second is the criticism he levels at sections of the fields of military history and his analysis on his way to a very compelling discussion of the full terms of military effectiveness. For relying on an irrationally narrow definition of military effectiveness, “the overly technocentric vision of success and failure on the battlefields tells us more about the approach of many male military historians who seek to explain complex issues through easily measurable technical performance” (p. 13). The male aspect may simply be correlative, but it is certainly the case that the world of war has been overtaken by quantification, and I think this point opens up a good avenue by which to question this trend critically.

Finally, in addition to any use where a quality secondary work is desired, I particularly recommend the work to British Army professional military education, Sandhurst and beyond. The argument, that Monty and the British Army took what they had and fashioned it into a force worthy of the German Army of WWII, albeit differently capable, is a keen one to keep in mind during this period of transition, transformation, and austerity. The present moment offers no greater challenges than those of the 1930s, and the British Army, which struggled through that period, eventually went on to win the war, a global struggle against two adversaries, one of which was an arguably stronger (and certainly much storied) combatant.

In a year with important anniversaries—one hundredth of the commencement of WWI and seventieth since Normandy Landings—it is tempting to lose track of where one is in retrospective reverie. However, rather than driving my view back, this work speaks to current issues even more forcefully.

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by Michael Dorosh » 27 Dec 2014 22:09

Marc Milner lectured at The Military Museums in Calgary just before Christmas about his new book, Stopping the Panzers, which features a couple of dramatic new interpretations of the 3rd Canadian Division's role in Normandy.

He has dug into the COSSAC plans and his interpretation is that 3rd Cdn Div was intended from the start not to take offensive action, but to assist the British at Caen, by stopping the major German armoured counter-attack on the main beaches. An analysis of German units, terrain, etc. all indicated that the most likely response would be a tank attack on the beach. For this reason, the division was given equipment to meet this goal. Historians have - Milner argues - ignored this basic function of the division. Look at the fact their artillery was doubled in size and self-propelled. Compare the fact that Canadian divisions landed with American self-propelled 105s while the Americans came ashore with towed guns and one is pointed to the realization that their expected function was somewhat different.

While the Battle of Normandy is presented as a series of disasters in conventional histories, i.e. C.P. Stacey's Official History of the Canadian Army, Milner feels the Canadians actually performed their role well. The 12th SS Panzer Division came at them head on, only to be stopped in their tracks. This is exactly what the 3rd Canadian Division was expected to do according to this new interpretation of the planning documents.

A secondary discussion is the role that 1st Canadian Army played in deception operations such as FORTITUDE. He noted that Patton wasn't identified as the head of the fictitious FUSAG until after D-Day, but when McNaughton was sent home before D-Day, the fact that 1st Canadian Army was changing leaders became headline news in German military circles. Milner admits he hasn't been able to research this angle thoroughly and hopes someone else will pick up the strands and explore it more deeply.

The book's website is: http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/milsto.html

November 2014
400 pages, 56 photographs, 9 maps, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
Modern War Studies
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-2003-6, $34.95(s)
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7006-2049-4, $34.95

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Re: Recommended reading on the British Empire 1919-1945

Post by hackmon » 20 Mar 2015 18:51

'A Thousand Shall Fall: The True Story of a Canadian Bomber Pilot in World War Two' by Murray
Peden. Murray Peden’s story of his training in Canada and England, and his crew’s operations on
Stirlings and Flying Fortresses with 214 Squadron. Day by day from induction. A blend of
excitement, humor, and tragedy and fear. A personal journey by a survivor. Excellent details on his
training and planes he trained in. Crews and missions. Details of Night parachute supply drops to Free French
in occupied France. Just a wonderful source.

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