Churchill and His Generals
On the eve of World War II, the British army was more an international police force than a true combat-ready fighting machine. Raymond Callahan chronicles its trial-by-fire transformation in a new and unflinching look at Great Britain's top commanders in the field.
Callahan reexamines the much-maligned performance of the British army in that war by reevaluating its commanders' victories and defeats, their leadership abilities and flaws, and their often rocky relationships with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose powerful presence looms over every page. Revisiting wartime theaters stretching from Southeast Asia across India through the Middle East, into North Africa, and across Europe, Callahan revises and expands our understanding of how British commanders-both the best and worst-led their troops and executed their strategies.
“Through the experiences of the British Army in World War II, shows the indispensable importance of the primacy of civilian control of a nation’s armed forces and of the requirement to maintain effective civil-military relations between the home government and commanders in the field. As such this study has tremendous relevance today.”
“A deeply thoughtful and original work and a landmark in Churchill studies.”
—HistorianSee all reviews...
“Callahan is a reflective and judicious senior historian who is interested equally in Churchill and his generals and who knows enough about the war to view with humane detachment the significance of their relationships for the men fighting under their orders. The result is a heavyweight contribution to the war effort as a whole, together with some lively engagement in its accompanying controversies.”
—Journal of Cold War Studies
“This is a work of fresh insights in at least two significant respects. Some of Callahan’s footnotes are mini bibliographic essays that highlight gaps in the literature that still need to be filled. But even more important, Callahan has bridged the gap in much of the recent literature between the British and the British-Indian Armies.”
—Journal of Military History
“Thoroughly grounded in the published literature and some of the unpublished personal papers related to the subject, the book, well written and cogently argued. It deserves to be read widely.”
—International History Review
“Incisive and informed, yet highly readable, this excellent book will surprise and provoke even those who think they really know the Second World War. It puts Churchill in his place, firmly yet fairly. Ranging across North Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia, Callahan turns Britains Forgotten Army in Burma into the memorable centerpiece of this vivid story.”
—David Reynolds, author of In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War
“A very fine and compelling work by a seasoned scholar and superior to John Keegan’s Churchill’s Generals. It’s a pleasure to read.”
—Harold R. Winton, author of To Change an Army: General Sir John Burnett-Stuart and British Armored Doctrine, 1927–1938See fewer reviews...
Callahan explores the way Churchill, with his own ideas about the army's goals and concerned about the precariousness of his political fortunes, dealt with his generals, who often held views different from his own. He probes the relationship between Churchill's political goals and war aims, the army's capabilities, and its generals' battlefield performance, while assessing the roles of such leaders as Alan Brooke, Bernard Montgomery, Archibald Wavell, Claude Auchinleck, and Harold Alexander. He also reveals why William Slim should be regarded as the outstanding British commander of the war and Britain's best field commander since Wellington-and how other generals such as Neil Richie, Henry Wilson, and Oliver Leese exemplify the role of chance in history.
Past criticism has tended to ignore both the obstacles confronting the army and its dramatic improvement by war's end. Callahan sets that record straight while offering insight into the evolution of the British wartime army within the contexts of coalition warfare, the constraints of a far-flung Empire, and Churchill's political concerns and desire to retain a British presence on the world stage. He considers problems posed by manpower, training, doctrine, equipment, and new military technologies and strategies as the army faced a multifront global war that pushed an already overextended fighting force nearly to the breaking point.
Churchill and His Generals is the most comprehensive analysis of this wartime relationship, an account of institutional transformation under extreme stress that balances Churchill's own self-serving memoirs. It clearly demonstrates that what political leaders demand from their armies is less important than what those armies are designed to do—and that this oft-recurring disconnect lies at the root of much wartime civil-military tension.