Book Review: Eighth Army against Rommel

Very pleased to have been invited to review this for the Wavell Room, and many thanks to Mr. Colvin as the author for providing me with the review copy for free.

#WavellReviews “Eighth Army versus Rommel” by James Colvin

The book provides a close examination of a disastrous period of the British Army’s performance, one that continues to be refought in books and newspapers.  Things went horribly wrong for the British in the Middle East for at least seven months, and there is still a lack of clarity around the underlying reasons.  Perhaps this is so because the true answer is an uncomfortable one for the British reader.  This wasn’t a failure of equipment, or Churchill’s interference, or a failure of doctrine i.e. the ‘it was all Fuller’s fault’ school of thinking.

I would highly recommend this book. My summation is quoted below.

The book provides a close examination of a disastrous period of the British Army’s performance, one that continues to be refought in books and newspapers.  Things went horribly wrong for the British in the Middle East for at least seven months, and there is still a lack of clarity around the underlying reasons.  Perhaps this is so because the true answer is an uncomfortable one for the British reader.  This wasn’t a failure of equipment, or Churchill’s interference, or a failure of doctrine i.e. the ‘it was all Fuller’s fault’ school of thinking.

Instead, it was a failure caused by the men who had been promoted to positions of great responsibility.  Cliquishness, personal animosity, classism, all these flaws of British society congealed into one giant train wreck, resulting in battlefield outcomes that can only be considered tragic embarrassments.

Mr. Colvin takes a long, hard look at the performance of the British commanders, and his willingness to criticize them is refreshing.  It does however appear that Mr. Colvin has developed an affinity for some of the personalities he discusses, more so than others, and is in consequence kinder to their memories than they perhaps deserved.  He proves in discussing Generals Dorman-Smith, Lumsden, McCreery, Messervy and Tuker that he does not shy away from being clear in an observation of failure and character flaws.  More of that forthrightness might have been appropriate for others as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s