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JW "dixiedean2003" (Dublin, Ireland)

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The Desert Generals (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
The Desert Generals (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
by Correlli Barnett
Edition: Paperback

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic account of leadership in the Desert War, 18 Dec. 2001
This book is a study of the leadership of the British army in the desert campaigns of World War II. First published in the 1960's, it caused a stir in its attempt to deconstruct the invincibility myth surrounding Field Marshal Montgomery.
Barnett makes a convincing case. His Montgomery is the villain of the book, a self-serving opportunist whose actual military skills never matched his inflated reputation. Barnett is especially indignant over Montgomery's dishonesty when first assuming command of the 8th Army, namely in taking the credit for much of Auchinleck's work and passing it off as his own. Consequently, there's a palpable relish in the way he describes how the famous Battle of El Alamein was unbelievably almost lost under Montgomery direction, and how the ensuing pursuit to the Tunisian frontier was hamstrung by his hesitancy and conservatism.
Barnett is equally highly critical of Churchill's direction of the war in the Mediterranean, for example with regard to the Greek campaign, which he maintains was based on unsound military strategy and fought by British forces for purely cynical political gain. Meanwhile, O'Connor is lamented as a forgotten hero, victor over a hugely superior Italian army. Ritchie and Cunningham are sympathised with as men hopelessly out of their depth. Auchinleck is the hero of the piece, a towering figure of stoicism and dignity, saviour of the Middle East yet virtually betrayed by his superiors in 1942 with his dismissal and replacement by Montgomery and Alexander. Throughout all this, Rommel flits in and out of the narrative, a genius with almost supernatural ability to prevail against overwhelming odds.
The book is virtually a condemnation of the entire British army officer class in World War II who, with honourable exceptions, are dismissed as good-natured yet plodding amateurs, anachronistic in their thinking and no match for a professional, modern German army. Furthermore, the author asserts that the 8th Army was effectively incapable of ever defeating the Afrika Korps in battle without overwhelming material and numerical superiority, and without the benefit of high-quality intelligence, i.e. the Ultra decrypts.
The case against Montgomery seems so persuasive that it is almost necessary to balance this out and seek an opposing viewpoint in his favour, which can easily be found among his own biographers. Barnett to his credit does note Montgomery's undisputed ability to inspire and raise morale among his troops and does admit that he was not a poor general as such. His huge reputation however warrants the most rigorous and uncompromising examination of his overall record, which Barnett is not afraid to carry out.
The Desert Generals is one of the best books I have read on any aspect of the Second World War. Well-written, reasoned and thought provoking, it will appeal to both the serious student of the period and to those with a more casual interest.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2015 6:40 AM BST

The Face of the Third Reich (Pelican)
The Face of the Third Reich (Pelican)
by Joachim C. Fest
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading on the Third Reich, 13 Dec. 2001
Michael Burleigh's recent work "The Third Reich - A New History" was widely praised for its novel explanation of Nazism in the context of religion. Anyone who has read Joachim Fest's excellent book however will, among other things, know that this particular analysis was hardly new or innovative.
In form, The Face of the Third Reich is a psychological profile of both individual Nazi leaders and various sections of German society at the time. Through this approach though, the main causes of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis are explained.
Among other things, Fest lucidly illustrates the essential nihilism of the Nazi movement, whose ideology as such was based on the acquisition of power as as end rather than a means.
The vacuous adoration of and devotion to Hitler was in itself a cornerstone of Nazi philosophy, the Fuhrer cult providing the basis for Fest's religious analogies. He also discusses how initially vague assertions of Aryan superiority and Semitic evil were later focused after the seizure of power and developed and expanded on by Himmler and the SS.
The portraits of the main personalities are fascinating. Fest is invariably amazed by how such unremarkable individuals were able to attain such immense power and commit such extravagent atrocities. He shows how almost all were linked by a moral corruption and a cynical lust for power. The chapter on Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz is particularly arresting. Reading this, one is reminded of Orwell's 1984 and the ability of man to subjugate himself to authority and in turn to deceive himself into committing the most unfathomable crimes.
Fest is one of the foremost German authorities on Nazism and the book throughout is filled with an intellectual disgust and contempt of the regime. For anyone trying to make sense of that period, this book must be read.

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