Review by Dennis Showalter
In recent years the British Army’s role in the liberation of Northwest Europe has been significantly marginalized. Its dominant image has been of an attendant lord—one constantly tripping over its own robes. Institutionally and individually the British Army is identified as ponderous and predictable, overly cautious and firepower dependent, capable of mounting “colossal cracks” against an enemy obliging enough to stand still, but consistently bungling more dynamic operations.
John Buckley combines archival sources and personal narratives to establish an alternative perspective demonstrating the importance of context. The British army during the D-Day campaign confronted a rapidly dwindling human and material resource base; a global commitment already stretching that base to its limits; an obligation to contribute enough to Germany’s defeat to maintain Britain’s status in the Grand Alliance; and finally a requirement of being able to underwrite a sustainable postwar peace.
Buckley presents a system that met and overcame its challenges unspectacularly but effectively. He describes the British approach as holistic, focused on conducting war in the long term across a full spectrum of capabilities, as opposed to fighting one battle at a time. British operational and tactical methods in Northwest Europe were accurate, appropriate responses to the strategic and political environment. They reflected what the British army did well. Their cornerstones were firepower, logistics, communications, planning, and not least medicine. These generally enabled achieving objectives with acceptable casualty rates—which were nevertheless frequently comparable to those of the Great War. Their effectiveness was enhanced by enemy tactics that were heavily stereotyped and often counterproductive. For example, the German principle of immediate counterattack looks good in a theoretical treatise on maneuver warfare. In practice it exposed tanks and infantry to destructive losses from rapidly concentrated fire.
In the face of strong troop concentrations in Normandy, difficult terrain in the Low Countries, and frequently challenging weather conditions, the British maintained momentum through sustainability. They efficiently supported and resourced their operations. They maintained effectiveness through high learning curves. Buckley describes a consistent pattern of pragmatic flexibility at all levels of command and operations. Replicating its World War I experience, the British army developed and institutionalized new approaches, both top-down and bottom–up, to facilitate the work of the rifle companies that suffered seventy per cent of the casualties.
The often-denigrated Montgomery is presented here as a commander closely synchronized with his army. With the notable exception of the conceptual failure that was Arnhem, Monty understood his work tools’ strengths and limitations. He had a better sense of his own than is generally accepted. At all levels, in short, the British army in Northwest Europe emerges as a formidable and underrated instrument of war.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dennis Showalter has taught history at Colorado College since 1969 and is a former president of the Society for Military History. He also served as distinguished visiting professor at both the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy. His book Tannenberg won the prestigious Paul Birdsall Prize for best new book of 1992 from the American Historical Association. His other books include The Wars of Frederick the Great and Patton and Rommel, an HBC Editors’ Choice.
- SKU: 000000000001382333
- Author: John Buckley
- Publisher: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
- Release date: Nov 26, 2013
- ISBN: No
- Format: Hardcover
- Commitment Credit: 1
- Book Search Plus: No
- Warnings: No warnings
- Height: 0.000
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January 26, 2014