"The Gathering Storm" is the initial volume of Winston Churchill's epic history of World War II. Beginning with the end of World War I, which planted the seeds of World War II, the Unnecessary War, Churchill tells the martial story through the end of the Twilight War in May 1940. He covers the story from all perspectives, military, political and personal.
Churchill brings to light many easily overlooked contributors to the great conflagration. He points out that the Versailles Treaty was the first negotiated by elected politicians who had to satisfy their publics, rather than by princes who only needed to satisfy themselves. He reveals that Germany's ability to pay war reparations was for years made possible only by large American loans. He takes the reader through the attempts to ensure safety through balance of power agreements such as the Locarno Pact and the deterioration of the League of Nations through national withdrawals. The progressive German violations of the Versailles Treaty, unchallenged by the West, paved the way for more serious breaches. German expansion is recorded step by step as the West let each opportunity to cheaply halt its march pass by. All the while the balance of power on land and in the air tilted more and more toward the developing Axis.
Germany growth through the militarization of the Rhineland, and the annexation of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia and Austria set the stage for the invasion of Poland. After allowing other lands to be swallowed up the West, with the balance of power solidly swung against it, took its stand against German aggression. This led to the Twilight War in which Germany took out Poland before turning its attention to France and Britain. Northern actions included the Soviet attack on Finland and the futile British attempt to prevent Swedish iron ore from reaching Germany by the British invasion of Norway.
One service which did take action during the early phase of the war was the Royal Navy, under the direction of the author as First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Stunned by the sinking of the Oak Royal and Rawalpindi, the Navy hunted down the surface raider, Graf Spee, until it was irreparably damaged and scuttled in Uruguay.
This book, along with the others in the series, centers on Churchill and concentrates on British involvement in the war. It definitely presents his views on developments. Although lacking the objective qualities of works by uninvolved historians, it is a highly valuable first person observation of the lead up to and early months of World War II. I first read this series while a college student, not as part of a class, but at my father's suggestion. It was very good advice. "The Gathering Storm", along with the other volumes in the series, is a classic with which every student of World War II must be familiar.
"Their Finest Hour" is Volume II of Winston Churchill's magnus opus on World War II. Beginning with Churchill's ascension to the office of Prime Minister, it continues to the end of 1940. It covers a time of the events of legend. On these pages we read of the end of the Phony War with the Blitzkrieg on France, the evacuation from Dunkirk, the fall of France, the emergence of DeGaulle, and the titanic Battle of Britain that may have been a turning point of the war.
The sudden and shocking collapse of France is told by one who struggled mightily to hold things together as the situation disintegrated around him. Churchill's repeated trips to France to assess conditions and to try to rally the French makes for fascinating reading. Churchill's exhortations to continue the struggle, the French demands for more British commitment, the frantic pleas for an American declaration of war and the incredible offer of a perpetual union between Great Britain and France make for a rapid sequence of unique events that are stranger than any novelist's fiction. As the battle lines dissolved the incredible rescue of the BEF and other forces from Dunkirk saved the troops that were to form the nucleus of the band that would return to France four years later. The fall of France would place the French fleet in jeopardy which led to intense negotiations and the unfortunate British attack at the fleet at Oran.
When the Battle of France was over, the Battle of Britain began. The Battle of Britain was the battle in the skies over Britain in which the RAF and the Luftwaffe fought for the air supremacy that was crucial to any German plans to invade England. When Germany recoiled from the battle the invasion tide receded and the British were forced to seek out other theatres if combat in which to engage the foe, this time in the Middle East.
A gifted writer, Churchill tells the story that only he knew, as only he could write. This book, along with the others in the series, are the indispensable foundations of any in depth study of World War II.
on 21 October 2010
Volume Two of the World War series is fascinating reading, not only for the details on British strategy and approach during the difficult years 1940 and 1941, but also for the issues that Churchill (writing these volumes, of course, after the war) identified as particularly controversial and which might have called his management of the British war effort into question. Wonderful insights into the details of taking on the new face of war in the skies above England and in London itself. This is also something of a lesson plan -- at the highest level -- of organizational management.
This is the second volume of Churchill's six volume history of the Second World War, which was written "just as the dust was still settling," in 1948. Of the various phases of the war, this volume covers the one that Churchill was best placed to narrate: 1940, with the rapid collapse of French resistance, Britain had to fight alone. And it was Churchill's actions and rhetoric that proved an essential catalyst in rallying the British people to the task.
The first volume The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm covers over a 20 year period, from the end of World War I until May, 1940. This volume covers not much more than half a year, from May until the end of 1940. The first half is focused on the fall of France, following the disastrous (for the French) German break-though at Sedan. Tough decisions? Adversity tends to concentrate the mind. There is a chapter of Churchill's decision to sink the French fleet in Oran, Algeria. It was one of the tougher decisions he was forced to make: to turn British guns on his former (and still) allies, killing over 2,000 French sailors, since the French Admiral, Darlan, would not undertake the proper actions to ensure that the fleet did not fall into German hands. There are also good chapters on the evacuation of almost the entire British Army from Dunkirk, which allowed it to fight "another day," as well as the German plans to invade England, which were incorporated under the code name: "Operation Sea Lion."
The second half of the book commenced with the Battle of Britain, the air war that featured the outnumbered Royal Air Force defending Britain, and stopping the Luftwaffe. Many still remember Churchill's stirring tribute to the British airman: "Never have so many owed so much to so few." The relentless German bombing of civilian targets was a key catalyst in rallying the British people for the war, as Churchill covered in his chapter: "London Can Take It."
There are several chapters that underscore the increasingly global nature of the war. Efforts are made to support the newly formed "Free French" units, under General DeGaulle, to oppose the collaborationist government of General Petain, whose government is located in the French town of Vichy. The "Free French" need a base to operate from, and so efforts are undertaken to capture Dakar, in Senegal. A British lifeline is the American war materials coming under the Lend-Lease program, and the Royal Navy must defend the convoys from German U-Boat attack. The "Burma Road" is opened, to supply Chinese forces which are fighting Japan. Germany and Russia continue their maneuvers under the "non-aggression pact" that each has signed. It seems both know that war is inevitable, but particularly Russia is trying to buy time, or is in deep denial. In the Mediterranean, the Axis stays on the offensive, with Italy attacking Greece, Crete, and is moving towards Egypt. Overall, it remained a dark period for Britain, but Churchill's final chapter is an up note: British victories against Italian forces in North Africa.
As with the other volumes in this series, there are numerous telegrams and documents reproduced that only the very serious student of the war need read. Each chapter has useful summaries of the salient matters listed at the beginning, which facilitates ready reference. Once again, as with the first volume, 5-stars for this effort.
This is the greatest story ever told by one of the greatest story tellers ever. Churchill was a magnificent writer, fully deserving of his Nobel Prize for literature. His account of the war is positively Tolkienesque, sounding at times almost like the very best of epic science fiction. One gets insights into the grand strategy and global logistics of the war at an extraordinary level of detail, from naval dispositions across the globe down to problems of boot manufacture. We see the war not just as it was fought, but alternative ways it might have been fought, and the tensions that determined the hard decisions that were taken between the alternatives.
Churchill had about as full a life as it is possible to live, and craved risk and adventure even in his years as a war leader, which would have been considered old age for most. In volume IV of this vast 6 volume work we hear of Churchill's epic fortnight journey in August of 1942, that included his first meeting with Stalin in Moscow. The first leg was down to Cairo to sort out the British generals whom Rommel had fought to a standstill in the desert. Auchinleck was sidelined in favour of Alexander, and Gott was to become the new head of the 8th Army. Gott was shot down and killed whilst on his way to Cairo, and Montgomery was the natural choice to succeed him. Thus the stage was set for El Alamein and the first real British victory of the war. The next stop was at Tehran for lunch with the Shah and for meeting up with Roosevelt's envoy to the mission to Moscow, Averell Harriman. Then there was the flight over the Ebruz mountains and the Caspian Sea to Moscow, for three days of very frank talking with Stalin and Molotov. The final night of this visit included a heavy drinking bout with Stalin at his private dacha till 2:30 a.m. before starting the return flight at 5:30, three hours later. All the flying was in unheated bombers that would have been the death of many men his age, much of it too close for comfort to enemy airspace. Churchill, when awake, preferred to travel in the co-pilot's seat, and his descriptions of his dawn arrival at the Nile, and the flight across the Caspian are highly memorable. An ordinary bloke like me can only wonder; what a life?
Any historical source documents, which these are, have to be treated with great caution and circumspection, and the factuality of all claims reviewed in the light of alternative perspectives. Indeed it's on my reading list to follow up on Roosevelt, as one does not have to read too far between the lines to guess that the two leaders were not quite of the unified outlook that Churchill liked to paint. Nonetheless, questions of historical accuracy and bias aside, this is extraordinary literature and as good a place as any to start acquiring a deeper insight into the historical unfolding of the war.
There are many reasons to argue that Churchill was a flawed, possibly deeply flawed character. He was an aristocrat and an imperialist through and through, thus he was representative of attitudes that most of us are glad to have put behind us in our era. But he had a great warrior spirit, chocked with contradictions, and was also a truly marvellous writer. He lived an extraordinary life and was able to write to us very clearly about the huge events in which he participated.
This ought to be required reading in schools or just for everyone. What an astonishing story, and what must it have been like for people who saw the threat from Nazi Germany sit and watch as Europe disarmed while Germany rearmed?
Time and time again it seems an opportunity arises for another world war to be averted, only for those in power to turn away. Even when in 1938 the USA offers to help the UK tells them to stay out of it. Wrap a strong cloth around your jaw when you read or listen to this as your jaw will drop repeatedly.
I actually listened to the full audio book of this and the guy who reads it is excellent as he sounds very similar to Churchill.
One thing this book made me do was go to Hansard and read some of the debates that were had in the Commons - it is easy to do, just google "Hansard" and the date, and you can get more details on what was said. If you don't believe it in this book - go and read the words from the individuals themselves, it is unbelievable.
One point I would make about the Labour disarmament program. Something I didn't appreciate from Churchill but you get from the Hansard account is that Labour were for a League of Nations "World Police". So individual nations would disarm but the League of Nations would be armed, and any nation that tried to arm or initiate hostilities would be dealt with by the League of Nations "police" (who would actually be a military outfit, larger than any individual national army, and so able to impose peace on everyone).
This at least sounds marginally better than the simple disarmament program I had assumed they supported from Churchill's account, but unfortunately was so unrealistic given the historical circumstances that it really made no difference.
I wonder if the environment will be another "Hitler" - a major issue ignored by the world until disaster strikes? Unfortunately because "global warming" isn't going to come into the middle of London with a large column of tanks and change the national anthem we'll still be denying it when the seas have risen and the ice-caps melted and our climate gone totally nuts.
It is now more than 70 years since the outbreak of fighting in Europe that was to become the Second World War. The United States was to eventually participate, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor serving as the shocking catalyst. Since WWII, the USA has fought numerous other wars, all too often sordid and inconclusive. And an almost certain nostalgia has developed in regards to WW II, expressed by the phrase: "The Last Good War." Certainly the good and the evil seemed to be more clearly defined; and the entire nation participated, not the very slender percentage in subsequent wars. So, it is all the more striking that the one man generally recognized for rallying the British people in their period alone, during the Battle of Britain, told President Roosevelt, when asked what he thought the name for the war should be: The Unnecessary War. This is the central point Churchill makes in his preface to volume one of his six volume, authoritative history of the war.
The dust had barely settled, and all the bridges and destroyed buildings had not been reconstructed when Churchill wrote and had published this monumental work in 1948. Hardly a cloistered academic, he was a "man of action," and as he also says in the preface, ideally placed, uniquely, given his high governmental positions, to produce such a work (he was First Lord of the Admiralty during much of WW I, and Prime Minister during WW II.) He was able to be both a prolific writer (he has produced several other multi-volume works) as well as holding very demanding jobs, by relentlessly dictating his works to a battery of secretaries. Obviously, they edited and proofed the text, with the result being most commendable.
In "The Gathering Storm" Churchill covers the period from the end of WW I, to the invasion of France. Fittingly, the first chapter is entitled "The Follies of the Victors" which refers to the disastrous terms the victors of WW I, particularly England and France, imposed on Germany. Vindictive and short-sighted, the terms led to the conditions which paved the way for the rise of Hitler to power. Half the book covers the events leading up to Germany's invasion of Poland on September 01, 1939, and these included the military re-occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, "union" with Austria (which Churchill calls the "rape" of), the Munich pact, and the subsequent seizure of the Sudetenland.
The second half of the book is entitled "The Twilight War" and today is generally referred to as the "Phony War." After the invasion of Poland, due to treaty obligations, both France and England declared war on Germany, but there was no military action on land. At sea however it was a very different story, and Churchill gives and excellent account of the trapping of the German "pocket battleship" Admiral Graf Spee off the River Plate in South America by the cruiser HMS Exeter, and destroyers HMS Ajax and Achilles. The Graf Spee had to be scuttled. The author also gives good summaries of the action in Scandinavia, both the fighting between Finland and the Soviet Union, as well as the German invasion of Norway.
For the first-time student of WW II, this six volume work might not be the best place to start. A reasonable amount of history and geography is assumed (I remember wondering, in pre-Google days, where is this Dieppe he is talking about - now I've been there!). And there are numerous telegrams and documents that authenticate his statements, but may cause eyes to glaze over if they are all read, particularly the ones in the Appendix. Still, this is a remarkable, authoritative work by an equally remarkable man who was so often at the center of the action. As for his suggested name for the war, can it be appended with enough numerical suffixes, for aren't they all? 5-stars.
on 28 December 2010
Reading this series is like reading a series of thriller novels which reveal bit by bit in great detail, without boring the reader, the history of the greatest war in history and by a man who was right in the thick of it the whole time. An absolutely amazing read. This isn't just the best history of the war I have read so far, it is also the best history written in contemporary times. I wish we could give it 10 stars. It would deserve every one of those ten.
on 18 February 2013
Having read 'The Gathering Storm', and noted a few typographical and typesetting errors I had hope that 'Their Finest Hour' would have benefitted from a closer proof-reading exercise by either the publisher or Amazon. My hopes were dashed.
The quality of the writing, the story told and the insight given to anyone interested in the political and structural workings of Government at this crucial time of the World War remains good; however, what would have otherwise been a smooth, enjoyable read through of the events were continually foiled by the need to determine specific words, phrases and emphases as a result of errors both in spelling and typographical translation.
Having not read the paper version of this book, I cannot know for sure, but I speculate that neither Mr Churchill, nor the original publisher would have allowed the manuscript into public circulation without a closer scrutiny of its quality.
Now I really hope Volume 3 is subject to a magnifying glass! Must do better Amazon.
on 12 May 2012
The Gathering Storm is the first book in Churchill's six volume history of WW2.
For a while this was the definitive history of WW2: no longer. Churchill had to keep some things secret (such as Ultra and Bletchley Park) when he wrote this, so there are gaps. But it is the only personal account by any of the 'Big Five' leaders in that war and as such it's still a very important source for anyone reading up on this area of history.
In this first volume, Churchill covers the Interwar years from his own viewpoint. He became convinced very early on that Germany was set on a path that could end in another World War. While it's common to portray him as 'a voice crying in the wilderness', his access to high level government information (shown in this volume) makes it obvious that many of the political leaders and civil servants had a much higher regard for him and his views than they could afford to publicly express.
The second part covers the early war months, where Churchill was in charge of the Admiralty and the sea war - the most active theatre of operations in the 'Phoney War' period. The volume ends when Chamberlain's government falls and Churchill becomes Prime Minister.
As well as being an M.P., Churchill was in the 1920's and 1930's a well-regarded writer and popular historian. While his style is of his time, the book is both logically presented and very well written. It also contains a large amount of Churchill's own letters and memoranda, so it's full of primary source material.
I do have one minor niggle with the Kindle edition: the proof reading wasn't very good. There are more than a few typographic errors - which at times became a bit irritating.