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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory
`History provides many examples of a British Army being asked to operate under appalling handicaps by the politicians responsible for British Policy, but I doubted that the British Army had ever found itself in a graver position than that in which the governments of the last twenty years had placed it.'

Maj Gen Noel Mason-MacFarlane briefing the press, 15 May...
Published on 17 Jun. 2008 by S. G. Long

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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Important Contribution But Maybe Over-Detailed?
I feel guilty about this: someone puts a fantastic amount of work into something that is really meaningful and then someone like me comes along with criticism.

But let me explain why by way of an example. Chapter 3 opens with this:

"By the time the rest of II Corps stated footlogging back to the Senne on the 16 May, the 4th Division had already...
Published on 27 Jun. 2009 by E. Sharman


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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Important Contribution But Maybe Over-Detailed?, 27 Jun. 2009
By 
E. Sharman (Warwickshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Paperback)
I feel guilty about this: someone puts a fantastic amount of work into something that is really meaningful and then someone like me comes along with criticism.

But let me explain why by way of an example. Chapter 3 opens with this:

"By the time the rest of II Corps stated footlogging back to the Senne on the 16 May, the 4th Division had already established a layback position there (a temporary defence-line), and was awaiting the arrival of the 3rd Division. The 11th Brigade was established on the canalized line of the Senne running through the western half of Brussels, and the 12th Brigade was 5 miles further north opposite Vilvorde."

Wow! That is meticulous and no doubt highly accurate. The trouble is that I start trying to orient my thinking to geographical location at the same time grappling with Corps, Divisions, Brigades (and all the other units that get thrown in).

It's a bewildering onslaught of facts of military units, tactics and dispositions. Names of Generals, Commanders, Majors, Colonels litter the pages. For me it's just too much.

The excerpt I quote above is entirely typical of the rest of the book. It's not easy reading and you need to juggle too much information.

Of course, some people will just say I'm thick and just because I can't follow it doesn't mean it's bad. Maybe they're right about the 'thick' bit and it's absolutely true this is not a bad book. It's a wonderful book that no doubt adds additional information and perspective to something that really must never be forgotten.

I am in awe of Major Thompson: his commitment and passion to undertake this enormous task is something to behold.

So please don't take this review as any kind of warning against buying the book. Just make sure you're 'alert' when you read it - and perhaps having a few more detailed maps handy might make things easier.

So back to my opening remark - I feel guilty but before you part with your cash make sure that this is the type of book that suits your reading style.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory, 17 Jun. 2008
By 
`History provides many examples of a British Army being asked to operate under appalling handicaps by the politicians responsible for British Policy, but I doubted that the British Army had ever found itself in a graver position than that in which the governments of the last twenty years had placed it.'

Maj Gen Noel Mason-MacFarlane briefing the press, 15 May 1940

So opens Julian Thompson book on the Dunkirk Campaign, the title is a bit misleading since it covers the whole employment of the BEF in that forgotten campaign of 1940. Julian Thompson rightly points out that within twenty years the best-trained, best equipped and best-command army went to within a hairs breath of total defeat. The army that in 1918 was at the height of its powers `in a league of its own' was reduced to shadow of its former self by political mismanagement and under funding.

The opening chapters make remarkable familiar reading, under funded army deployed abroad, with a coalition partner with differing views of how the war should be fought and what exactly it wanted from its ally.

Julian Thompson also points out that France 1940 was not a forgone conclusion, both the French and the British had more tanks, and more motorised transport than the Germans. However the shadow of Verdun hung heavy over the French Army, in not only the strategy and tactics employed but the fighting sprit and ethos of the French Army. The French were not up for the same level of commintment or sacrifice as in 1914-15 and soon looked for a solution in a cessation of fighting as soon as it became clear that the Germans where up for a fight. Most British units on the other hand fought well and it is now often forgotten how well the BEF did fight in those dark days of 1940.

This is an excellent book written by a soldier with soldiers in mind, the summary and appendixes are very good. It is in his Reckoning of the campaign that Thompson makes the most valuable contributions to this new history, firstly he quotes the German report on the British Army which was distributed to the German Army prior to the intended invasion of England, in its assessment of the English [as the British are called in the report] the English soldier was in excellent physical condition. He bore his wounds with stoical calm. The losses of his troops he discussed with complete equanimity. He did not complain of hardships. In battle he was tough and dogged. His conviction that England would conquer in the end unshakable...the English soldier has always showed himself to be a fighter of high value. Certainly the Territorial Divisions are inferior to the Regular troops in training, but where morale is concerned they are their equal. In defence the Englishman took any punishment that came his way. During the fighting IV Corps took relatively fewer prisoners than in engagements with the French and Belgians.

He also gives Gort, the commander of the BEF, the credit for making the decision that changed the course of the war, although not a military genius, he had many failings as a commander as highlighted in the book, Gort however grasp very quickly that without her Army, Britain could not continue the war and by evacuating the BEF much to the French and some British political hierarchy opposition, therefore saved Britain and Europe from Nazi domination.

This book is recommended to anyone interested in the subject or how not to conduct expeditionary warfare.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Want to know about the BEF and Dunkirk - buy it!, 23 Jun. 2010
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This review is from: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Paperback)
As a previous reviewer has mentioned this book is so full of information that it almost totally confusing. It sadly needs graphic aids. During WW2 one could buy a map of the theatres of war along with various flags on pins. The idea being that as the war progressed one could follow the course of events by sticking the appropriate flag in the the map thus indicating the state of play. This book is very much in need of such an aid. It also needs a more comprehensive family tree of the make up of the BEF and its officers at least down to Battalion level. The maps are poor and confusing with various shades of grey for French, Belgium and British forces movements that are not easily distinguishable. And I am not clear what "---xxx---" means on the maps. One map is printed rotated on the page which is trivial but annoying. Otherwise they are well drawn but cluttered.
The Author seems to have very little time for the French and Belgium forces and even less for their officers in general. I feel that the calibre of the individual soldiers of all forces involved was fairly equal but their leaders very much influenced their mental attitudes to the campaign. Their dedication to the task in hand seemed somewhat wanting at time. Communications were appalling due to lack of decent radio equipment and a lot of the apparent pusillanimity of our allies could well be down to lack of reliable information as to what was going on. If this book is correct then the BEF was head and shoulders above its allies in attitude and performance and acquiited itself very well. It is possible to detect a bias in "our" favour in the author's views but this is only right and proper in a British Army Officer.
The good news is that all-in-all this is a first rate book although I don't think for reasons as above it will stand alone. The mass of information is suitably leavened by the accounts and adventure of individuals and small units. General Thompson knows how to write and the book is quite difficult to put down at times. The scale of his research is amazing.
If you have either a desultary or a deep interest in the BEF in the early stages of the war in France and Belgium this book will probably tell you most of what you want to know about their operations in this area. If desultary this will do though there are simpler treatments available. If deep then I think this book is an absolute must, supplemented by what I regard as the "missing bits" in the way of better maps and charts. Which the 'buff' will already have I am sure.
On a personal note my father was attached to HQ 5th Div. (Throughout the war as it happens.) Like most soldiers who fought he was reluctant to talk about his service, amusing tales oh yes! but derring do - no thanks. Very disappointing for a young boy. What little he told me about 'Dunkirk' did not always seem to jibe with accounts I later read. The detail in this book is enabling me to see that his memories were quite accurate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dunkirk, retreat to victory, 11 Sept. 2010
By 
Anders Bull-Larsen (Oslo, Norway) - See all my reviews
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If the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 had not been so successful the Germans would have tried to invade the British Isles in September 1940.Had they succeeded the people of the Western World would have gone into a dark age. This book gives us an exciting description in a professional way of the activities of the BEF during the campaign in Belgium and France and of the evacuation from Dunkirk.As a Norwegian I feel gratitude to the British for their headstrong attitude in 1940./Anders Bull-Larsen
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history, 18 Mar. 2009
When people think back on the Dunkirk episode, mostly they imagine scenes of chaos on the beaches with thousands of troops elbowing each other out of the way in a frantic bid to get on the small boats and escape.
The truth, as this excellent book shows, is somewhat different.
In 1940 the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), as shown by Thompson, was fairly well led with future heroes such as Bernard Montgomery and Alan Brooke to the fore.
The commander, Lord Gort was fairly unimaginative and overly dutiful, but made the crucial decision which saved the BEF - retreat to Dunkirk for evacuation.
The French were furious - but then again, as Thompson shows, they were also responsible for the plight the well-performing British soldiers found themselves.
Meetings at which British Generals watched in horror as their French opposite numbers burst into tears at what was happening are recounted.
The French soldiers are shown to have fought bravely, but were led by men clearly not up to the task, whose response to the German Blitzkreig were to lapse into doing nothing about it.
A really excellent history which goes a long way towards setting the record straight.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but let down by too much detail, 1 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Paperback)
This is a superb history of the Dunkirk campaign but, alas, a flawed history. It has so many good points: perception, a deep understanding of the factors affecting the events and it puts the whole campaign into a new perspective giving me a much clearer appreciation of what really happened. This is an insider's view of the campaign; the soldier's view and it comes across powerfully and with feeling.

What a revelation this history is to those of us brought up on a diet of images and films focussing on the British army in headlong retreat, little more than a rabble.

The BEF fought effectively and bravely against the German army and its soldiers were surprised when the retreats began in order to try and keep in line with the French who were reeling from the German breakthrough. How that force has been maligned in the public's eye over the intervening years. In fact, it was effective even as it retreated back to the coast and Dunkirk. The headlong retreat we have all been fed by the media only relates to the last few days as the evacuation had begun. This is a fascinating history. Oh and there's an intriguing story at the end of the book about British plans for a second BEF! Thompson does also highlight the BEF's shortcomings and who he feels is responsible for them.

Its one serious flaw is the almost obsessive listing of all army units involved in every engagement. Here's a typical example: 'The 1st Buckinghamshire's (a TA battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry), part of the 145th Brigade of the 48th Division ...' Almost every page refers to these detailed hierarchies. The effect is to weaken the narrative. I finished up filtering out these hierarchies; I couldn't have finished the book otherwise. By the way, the past master at achieving the right balance in military histories is Max Hastings; every aspiring military historian should have at least one Hastings book as required reading.

It may be flawed but this is an excellent book and one that I hope redresses the balance in the public's perception of the BEF. It certainly has done for me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, 6 Aug. 2010
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This was, for me, an eye opening account of the fateful days leading up to and immediately after Dunkirk, covering the whole of the phoney war, the Adrenne offensive and the experience of the British Army in that context. I had no idea how hard the fighting was, or actually how much damage the British Army inflicted on the enemy and how, relatively, lightly they got off. It also paints a picture of total collapse by Britain's allies and failure at multiple levels in leadership across the allies as well as incredible luck on the German side. The book is written well, and although it falls into the trap that many military history books do of giving whole paragraphs of abbreviations and minute movements the narrative strong and compelling and overall its worth a read. It's clearly well researched and thought through and I'd recommend to anyone who, as I did, wants to learn more about this often misunderstood phase of WWII
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3.0 out of 5 stars Dunkirk - retreat to victory, 13 Aug. 2010
A very comprehensive review of the disasterous three months' activities of the British Expiditionary Force to northern France in 1940 and the relationships with the French military and political leaders.

Once again it is a story of Tommy and his compatriots at the front who do the suffering while the leaders at their top enjoy a nice day out, continuing their usual standard of living! Such was war at that time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 6 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Paperback)
Great details of one of our moments in History.The Title says it all.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 28 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Paperback)
A gift. Very good read
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Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson (Paperback - 1 May 2009)
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