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Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man [Paperback]

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 May 2007

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man tells the story of the rescue in May 1940 of British soldiers fleeing capture and defeat by the Nazis at Dunkirk.

Dunkirk was not just about what happened at sea and on the beaches. The evacuation would never have succeeded had it not been for the tenacity of the British soldiers who stayed behind to ensure they got away. Men like Sergeant Major Gus Jennings who died smothering a German stick bomb in the church at Esquelbecq in an effort to save his comrades, and Captain Marcus Ervine-Andrews VC who single-handedly held back a German attack on the Dunkirk perimeter thereby allowing the British line to form up behind him.

Told to stand and fight to the last man, these brave few battalions fought in whatever manner they could to buy precious time for the evacuation. Outnumbered and outgunned, they launched spectacular and heroic attacks time and again, despite ferocious fighting and the knowledge that for many only capture or death would end their struggle.

'A searing story . . . both meticulous military history and a deeply moving testimony to the extraordinary personal bravery of individual soldiers' Tim Gardam, The Times

'Sebag-Montefiore tells [the story] with gusto, a remarkable attention to detail and an inexhaustible appetite for tracking down the evidence' Richard Ovary, Telegraph

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore was a barrister before becoming a journalist and then an author. He wrote the best-selling Enigma: The Battle for the Code. One of his ancestors was evacuated from Dunkirk.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (31 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141024372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141024370
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 13.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 53,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A searing story . . . both meticulous military history and a deeply moving testimony to the extraordinary personal bravery of individual soldiers (Tim Gardam The Times)

Sebag-Montefiore tells [the story] with gusto, a remarkable attention to detail and an inexhaustible appetite for tracking down the evidence (Richard Ovary Telegraph)

About the Author

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore was a barrister before becoming a journalist and then an author. He wrote the best-selling Enigma: The Battle for the Code. One of his ancestors was evacuated from Dunkirk.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong account of individual bravery 8 Aug 2006
I inherited an interest in WW2 from my history teacher father and have read many factual accounts from both the Allied and German perspective over the years. This book stands up well against the more recognised military historians like Holmes, Keegan or Beevor.

After the introducions and background are completed this volume concentrates quite rightly on the tales of each beleagured BEF battalion as they fought a desperate rearguard action back to the French and Belgian coast. Tales of individual heroism and leadership are intermingled with corroborative texts from both British and German archives and extracts that give the bigger picture as events unfolded.

The Dunkirk evacuation ended a huge defeat for the British Army and this book does not seek to hide or diminish that fact. However what it does do is demonstrate the resolute attitude of the Officers and Soldiers on the ground that took huge casualties and made great personal sacrifiuces in order to help ensure that as many men as possible could be extracted to fight another day.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and enthralling account 6 Mar 2008
Popular history recalls the Dunkirk story with a chin-up, shiny spirit of resilience and crafty British guile - the first `Great Escape'. `Dunkirk spirit' has now become a tabloid byword for cheery, bulldog tenacity in the face of adversity.

But Sebag-Montefiore's incisive history pulls no punches and wipes the grin off the face of popular myth. He shows how one of Britain's landmark historical moments of the last century was actually tarnished by desperate, bloody fighting with no quarter spared.

Accepted history concentrates on what happened on the beaches. However the author says the battles that really counted occurred several miles inland on the Dunkirk town perimeter.

Here, British troops fought a dwindling rearguard last stand, giving their lives so other troops could live. For each soldier's life lost, precious minutes were gained to aid the evacuation and ensure the British Army could live to fight another day.

And the battle didn't end with the last bedraggled Tommy boarding the last departing ship from Dunkirk. For a further fortnight, stranded British troops retreated in the face of dive-bombers and SS massacres, culminating with a final evacuation from St. Nazaire and the hushed-up sinking of the Lancastria, with the loss of 3,500 men.

In-depth research gathered from archives as far away as Russia and Czechoslovakia, together with detailed maps, fascinating photographs and stark first-hand accounts from the remaining handful of veterans, do the Dunkirk story justice.

This weighty tome is masterly and scholarly, yet its fast, clear pace makes this definitive work highly readable.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed But Limited 8 Aug 2007
The `miracle' of Dunkirk, as Churchill styled our most famous military disaster, is one surrounded by myths. This book sets out to dispel some of them, but for readers unfamiliar with the story of the fall of France in 1940, it might not be the best place to start, as it does not convey the broad picture very clearly. An entertaining opening of British soldiers visiting French brothels, like children let loose in a sweet shop, is followed later by a detailed account of the `Mechelen incident', when German plans were captured in January 1940. But the implications are less well dealt with, and Colonel-General Gerd von Rundstedt, whose forces performed the decisive German attack through the Ardennes called 'sichelschnitt', or sickle-cut, does not make an appearance until chapter 11.

The use of first-hand accounts conveys the confusion and desperation of the fighting, and the narrative is sometimes intensely personal. There are French and German voices early on, but thereafter it relies on British ones as the book concentrates on the efforts of the soldiers holding the defensive ring while the `little boats' and the Royal Navy set about the work of evacuation. In this it succeeds in creating a vivid impression of what it was like for those desperate men. The book's best sections are those dealing with set pieces, such as the defence of the village of Cassel, the massacres of British prisoners by SS men at Le Paradis and Wormhout, but this is at the expense of the evacuation itself which is covered in much less detail. The book finishes describing the capture of two-thirds of 51st (Highland) Division at St Valery-en-Caux, and the tragic sinking of the Lancastria with over 3,500 lives lost, but it skates quickly over the further evacuations that brought 144,000 British servicemen back from France from points south of the River Somme.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars S Sebag Montefiore: DUNKIRK 29 Jan 2011
By a Flynn
I think one should distinguish between the professional finish and great literary flow of this book, and its value as history. It is almost always factually correct, relates many episodes (including once obscure ones such as the SS massacre of British prisoners) and gets the imagination going. Sebag-M sits alongside Anthony Beevor as a historian of this type. On all those grounds it is worth 5 stars. However 2 hours at the National Archive reading the original RN, RAF and War Office reports, followed by a re-reading of Divine's classic "Nine Days at Dunkirk" take one closer to the people and the facts. There is something just a bit too literary, stylish and middle-class about the text to recall to mind those grimy seamen, gentleman officers, French officials, amateur and professional yachtsmen, and Prussian generals who acted out Dunkirk.
So, a very good book from a very able author, but I kept thinking "This still isn't close enough to the time and the reality".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book tells what really happened
Great book tells what really happened, read and reread its that good. Bought new at a competitive price and delivered on time, would use this supplier again.
Published 7 days ago by james turner
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed yet readable account of our brave fathers and grandfathers
Some history books are written by authors who, while they obviously know the subject inside out, cannot write in a style that engages the reader. Not this one. Read more
Published 2 months ago by tonewheel
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart breaking
It is hard to say you like this. The subject matter is painful. Very well written, well resourced and interesting. Read more
Published 2 months ago by lionheart
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful account
Any attempt to recount the debacle at Dunkirk founders to a certain extent on the lack of information from the French side. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Christopher Amano-Langtree
5.0 out of 5 stars Ive been meaning to write this for 6 years - and now you will know...
I read this book 6 years ago as a take-away for my holidays. I had always had an arm-chair interest in both of the World Wars, but this book reached where no other had! Read more
Published 12 months ago by T. R. Wantling
3.0 out of 5 stars Stick to the print version...
Excellent narrative history but seriously flawed in Kindle version (on iPad) with poor integration of maps which are at very low resolution and do not allow zooming. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mr D Craddock
4.0 out of 5 stars Dunkirk in detail
The book was second hand but in very good condition. It arrived promptly, as promised, and is a very good read. Read more
Published on 20 Aug 2011 by Jack Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so much Dunkirk as the Fall of France
Despite the title - designed to invoke the myth - this is not really about the Dunkirk evacuation at all, but instead how it all came to pass. Read more
Published on 22 Jun 2011 by John Middleton
4.0 out of 5 stars My Dad was there
Fred told me of Dunkirk from as far back into the 1950's. This helps me understand the sheer terror of the events. If you have an interest in WWII it's a must read.
Published on 17 Nov 2010 by Portlander
1.0 out of 5 stars How many s's are there in disappointment?
I looked forward with much anticipation to reading this account of the Dunkirk evacuation but unfortunately like the RAF cover over Dunkirk beach, it failed to deliver. Read more
Published on 14 Aug 2010 by La Panne
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